Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ceannacroc Couloir

 "Ceannacroc Couloir" (II**) takes the wide gully just right of centre.
"Alpine" is the best term I can think of to describe the superb conditions high up in the mountains just now. Perfect styrofoam snow-ice in the shade, rapidly softening snow in the sunshine, slumping cornices, burning sunshine…the last few days have needed an approach not unlike that required in the Alps.

With the superb conditions continuing in the highest corries, I really wanted to tick off another item on my "to do" list today - a climb in one of the remote and unfrequented corries on the North side of the North Kintail ridge. 

A stunning morning in Coir Lair

The potential of these wild and huge snow-faces first caught my eye during my first winter in the Highlands, when I was enjoying winter-walking in Glenshiel during an amazing season. They are amongst the biggest mountain corries in this part of the Highlands, yet the difficulties involved with approaching them are not inconsiderable and most climbers visiting Glenshiel will climb on the Southern side of the Glen instead.

Snow starting to soften in the hot sun.
Despite aching legs and sore feet from a very busy week, I trudged up Coir Lair on Sgurr nan Conbhairean this morning intent on descending North and finally climbing a route in one of the biggest of these corries. But sore legs and feet don't seem to matter on days like this… a golden eagle silhouetted against first light on Creag a'Mhaim was more than enough to convince me that it was going to be a great day.

 The massive snow faces on the North side of the North Glenshiel Ridge

After reaching a bealach at about 900m I made a long descent North down steep snow to reach the base of Sgurr nan Conbhairean's East face. The strength of the sun was quite staggering, and the blue of the sky was so deep it looked almost purple. In such conditions my objective looked magnificent.

Ceannacroc Couloir is a giant snow route, a 900ft long Grade II gully that split the East face. I've wanted to do it for ages, simply because it is known as such a good route in a wild and lonely place. It looked in perfect condition this morning, apart from one complication - the strength of the sun.

 Looking down the 900ft length of Ceannacroc Couloir

I could see that the top layer of snow was starting to soften wherever it was exposed to the sun. The approach snowfield to the Couloir was mainly in the sunshine already, so I suddenly knew that I was going to have to climb quickly in order to get to the top before the sun's influence made the gully unsafe.

Amazing panorama over Glenshiel

The wild land North of Sgurr nan Conbhairean

Thankfully the confines of the gully itself were almost entirely in shadow, and I enjoyed climbing hundreds of feet of untouched nevé with a wild view opening up behind me. Unlike most gullies where you top-out onto a plateau, the couloir stops at a shoulder on the North-East face, and I had to weave my way up steepenings to join the East ridge of Sgurr nan Conbhairean.

The finish of the route was spectacular, a narrow and perfect snow areté that looked remarkably like a miniature version of the summit ridges of 4000m peaks that I've climbed in the Alps. With the sun starting to burn my face and fresh cornice collapses in sight nearby, I could very well have been in the Alps when I topped out directly on the summit.

 The spectacular finish along the East ridge.

My third day this week in unbroken sunshine, on perfect snow-ice, and climbing another route I've wanted to do for ages. The Highlands are at their superb best just now!


1 comment:

  1. Awesome route, awesome post. Thanks for sharing.