Sunday, 2 December 2012

A memorable winter solo on Archie's Ridge

 Looking down "Archie's Ridge", Grade III,4*

All of yesterday I'd been racking my brains about what I could climb this morning. Options are still pretty limited at the level at which I solo, as there is still a fair bit of un-frozen turf around under the snow.

So my thoughts turned to a snowed-up rock route instead. In February 2010 Bob Hamilton and Steve Kennedy did the first recorded winter ascent of "Archie's Ridge" on the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glencoe, a grade III,4* mixed route which I'd climbed before in summer conditions.

 Archie's Ridge takes the left ridge of the three ridges just right of centre.

From my summer ascent I knew that it was indeed mainly on rock with only limited turf. Based on climbing "Troglodyte" on the West face two days ago at the same altitude, I knew that if the turf was fairly exposed it was likely to be frozen. 

Another stunning morning in the glen.
So I decided to go and have a look. Climbing on the West face of Aonach Dubh is always a memorable experience, as even getting to a lot of the routes involves traverses along spectacular ledges amongst intimidating surroundings. Today I followed a fox's pawprints in the snow along the narrows of the Upper Rake to get to my route, crossing the wide exposed bowl at the top of Number 5 Gully to reach Upper F Buttress.

The mad scenery of Number 4 Gully Amphitheatre
Not much on the face is in acceptable winter condition at the moment, with little ice and most of the buried turf unfrozen. But Archie's Ridge looked to be just as I needed it, covered in snow but not very deep, exposing what little turf there is on the route to the frosty air.

Standing underneath the route, I knew it was going to be a challenging solo, at the upper limit of what I'm willing to climb un-roped at the moment. But there was a clear and windless sky, the route looked in good condition and I'm feeling very fit at the moment - so I decided to climb it.

Sunshine on Aonach Mor in the distance
The route started with a steep groove/chimney in order to reach the ridge-crest above. The second half of the groove was pretty narrow but a contorted squeeze on poor footholds saw me up it. And I was delighted to find that indeed 90% of the turf was well-frozen.

The snowed-up rock crest above was enjoyable climbing, leading to the crux of the route - a scary step around on the crest on a small foothold, then a wide step between two narrow pinnacles. This technical Grade 4 section is exposed and memorable climbing, but would be easy to fall off so I had no qualms about placing a sling around the first pinnacle and clipping myself in so that a fall would be less likely.

Looking down from above the crux
After teetering my way across the crux I just had a few more mixed moves then a steep snow-gully to negotiate. It was a really good route, one of the best I've soloed in winter and a memorable way up my favourite mountain face.


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