Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Dragon's Tooth

"The Dragon's Tooth", and "Left Buttress", on the left...
Since last Thursday the mountains have been battered by some savage winds, relentless Easterlies which have dramatically altered the distribution of snow in the corries and tops.

Conditions have been tricky and quite complex, so with a good forecast for yesterday I headed out into the Mamores to see what had been revealed now that the cloud was lifting. In order to avoid avalanche risk I'd headed to an East facing crag, but hadn't anticipated just how drastically the winds had been shifting the snow - and found that my intended routes had nearly been stripped bare by the gales.

Very deep drifting on some slopes
So a change of plan was in order. A quick descent back to my car and some head-scratching to figure out if I still had time to climb anything before my shift started at 5pm….

It was shaping up to be a stunning day, and I couldn't let it go to waste. An hour later I was stood in knee deep snow in the forested corrie above Ballachulish looking up at my Plan B.

"The Dragon's Tooth" (Sgorr a' Chaolais)  is a beautiful ridge and a fairly unique mountain feature that to me has always been the defining feature of Beinn a'Bheithir. The mythical perch of a dragon that supposedly lived above Ballachulish, it is a compelling route and one I've been meaning to do for years.

The full length of "The Dragon's Tooth"
But it's one that isn't in good winter condition very often due to its relatively low altitude and close proximity to a sea-loch. It needs a good freeze, a dump of snow down to low levels and fairly cloudy conditions.

After an hour or so of wading through some surprisingly deep snow drifts in and above the forest beneath the Tooth, I almost resorted to swimming through some of the accumulations in order to reach the base of the route. The wind has created some very deep drifts indeed.

In order to get on steeper ground as soon as possible, I decided to climb the route by a harder and more direct start - "Left Buttress" is an unremarkable Grade III that I climbed quickly and soon reached the crest of the tooth.

The ground well frozen, but snow starting to strip off in the sunshine.
For a route that is so neglected and often forgotten, I thought it was one of the most enjoyable mountaineering routes in the area. A nice exposed pinnacle mid-way along with a enjoyable "hand-rail" traverse, a short abseil off a steep section further along and with great views towards Lochaber and Ardgour.

Looking back to the abseil off the pinnacle.

Although not remotely challenging it was a great day in perfect weather. There is something special about finally getting round to climbing a route you've wanted to do for a while, especially winter routes like The Dragon's Tooth that aren't in good winter condition very often.

On a different note, the Bidean nam Bian avalanche on Saturday that so tragically killed four mountaineers, has rarely left my thoughts for the last few days. Being in charge of the Clachaig boots bar on Saturday was a hard and sad experience, the bar full of climbers worrying and discussing the rescue that was still in progress, not knowing that the outcome was to be one of the Highland's worst mountain tragedies of recent decades.

I held a minute's silence at 9pm, the only time the Clachaig has been silent on a Saturday night since the Buachaille Etive Mor avalanche of 24th February 2010 which killed Chris Walker and Robert Pritchard.

Glencoe awoke a deeply sad place on Sunday morning. To Lochaber and Glencoe Mountain Rescue Teams, I am humbled by the work you did on Saturday, as always. And to the surviving two victims of the avalanche, and the victim's friends and families, you are in all our thoughts.


1 comment:

  1. An enjoyable and reflective read.

    I stayed in one of the Clachaig chalets last summer and visited the boots bar on more than one night. I guess there aren't many reasons that would see a quiet bar.