Sunday, 24 February 2013

Nutcracker and North-West Gully

"Nutcracker" (II/III*) climbs the ice on the right hand side of the deep central gully.
I finally got around to climbing "North West Gully" (II/III**) on Stob Coire nam Beith this morning, after bizarrely never having climbed it before during 4 winters in Glencoe.

This wandering and weaving route was this morning my way-up to the base of an almost unheard of route, a climb that was going to surprise me in a very good way.

 On the ramp in "North-West Gully"
 The Ben

Above the NE shoulder of the mountain is a small buttress shaped like a ship's prow, with a deep gully ("Nutcracker" II/III*) between it and the next buttress to the right. It was only recorded and named in March 2010, it's not very long, and is probably almost always dismissed in favour of the numerous classic routes on either side.

The "prow" shaped buttress, with the gully to its right.

From the description in the 2010 Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, I'd expected a gully with "icy steps" that should be passed on their right hand side. Today however, a beautiful ribbon of snow-ice filled the entire right hand side of the gully.

With the great "prow" guarding the route to its left, it looked an aesthetic and inviting climb…and in my opinion far more attractive than many of the classic routes on the mountain. I climbed up to the base of the first Grade III icefall on the route, and sunk my axes into the most superb and re-assuring ice.

I found myself soloing up ice at an angle that would usually make me concentrate hard without a rope, but today I seemed to float up it…first-time axe and crampon placements everywhere, the "thwack, thwack" of my tools echoing within the deep cleft. 

Soloing superb Grade III snow-ice.
 The route from a different angle. Just right of centre.

The ice snaked up the depression of the right-hand side of the gully in a continuous  ribbon, 85 metres of some of the most enjoyable and high-quality snow-ice I've ever climbed. I found myself moving upwards in a state of surprise, I wasn't expecting this from a recent and little known route.

It's a great feeling to have that much fun and find such great conditions on an obscure climb. Classic routes often deliver, but can have a tendency to disappoint as well…it's brilliant what you can find if you go out with an open mind.


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