Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Old Man's Ridge, Am Bodach East face

Old Man's Ridge (Grade III*), East face of Am Bodach, Mamores.

On my mind this week are thoughts of unfinished business, of not wasting opportunities, of making the most of the precious time I have in the mountains.

One of the common themes of climbing is rarely being satisfied for very long. Every winter I manage to climb quite a lot of routes, but I always have things that I'd never get around to and leave until the next season. I question myself occasionally…would I have climbed some of those routes if I'd just been a bit more opportunistic, a bit braver, a bit more willing to take a chance?

Back in early December I was slightly annoyed to find out that somebody had made the first ascent of a route on Am Bodach that I'd been eyeing up as a new route. Andy Nisbet, the unstoppable "old man" (no offence, Andy) of Scottish winter climbing had climbed it at grade III and named it "Old Man's Ridge".

Old Man's Ridge is the obvious ridge just left of centre

I was slightly gutted to have missed out on its first ascent as Andy Nisbet had reported it to be a good route, and almost a classic if it had been more inescapable.  But why should it no longer being a new route stop me from climbing it?

It was really exhausting work, breaking trail up underneath Am Bodach's East face this morning. A thin crust of unsupportive harder snow on top of deep drifts of powder made for slow progress, and I found myself briefly envious of climbers on the tracked-out approaches to less obscure crags.

 Plenty of ice and some very deep snow

I had never stood underneath this mountain face before, and I doubt many other climbers have either, but I was really struck with how aesthetic some of the routes looked. And of the buttresses, Old Man's Ridge looked the best - almost like a steeper version of the Forcan Ridge in Glen Shiel.

Perfectly solid turf made for enjoyable upwards progress, and much-needed relief from the considerable depth of drifts that I'd waded through to reach the route. The route soon revealed itself to contain a familiar (and my favourite) kind of climbing, turfy ramps and steps, in many ways similar to buttress routes on the Bridge of Orchy hills.

Looking down on the last two pinnacles, with I diverted on the right.
The route steepened with height and was broken by lots of pinnacles, some of which I took direct but I also diverted around some as I wasn't feeling my bravest today. The higher I got the more it reminded me of the East ridge of North Buttress on Stob Ban, and was quickly re-enforcing my opinion of the Mamores as a great place to winter-climb.

A beautiful snow areté lead to the route's sting-in-the-tail, a small cornice to overcome in order to reach the plateau. Thankfully there was quite a lot of nevé by this point and some reassuring axe placements allowed me to haul myself over and to safety.

Approaching the small cornice
Some good nevé in places, but in general very variable snow conditions.

Almost certainly a second-ascent of a really good route…I'm happy with that. Maybe if I'd taken the chance last winter I'd have made the route my own, but you can't let hindsight cause regret - any opportunity at all to climb somewhere as obscure and unfrequented as this is privilege enough.


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