Coire an-t Slugain, Glenshiel
About 20 hours ago I was lying flat on my bed, with a sense of panic starting to rise within me. A totally perfect weather forecast for today, yet I was immobile due to a bad back and even just standing upright was painful. Missing opportunities due to being injured is one of my greatest fears, and it was looking almost certain that I was going to miss a blue-skies and nevé day in the mountains and be spending it nursing a sore back.
I lay flat for 11 hours, and when I woke at 4:30am my prayers had been answered…the pain had almost totally gone. A perfect starscape outside and a frost in the air, there was no way in hell that I was going to let this day escape my grasp.
Alpenglow lights my morning approach.
I've spent a lot of time in Glenshiel in the last few years, but until this morning I'd never climbed a winter route here. My decision was firm last night that if my back allowed, I would try and get a "grab-and-dash" route climbed before my afternoon shift in the Clachaig.
Pioneer Gully (III*) caught my attention a couple of years back from the road, a narrow, straight and steep gully that splits Creag Coire an-t Slugain and one that has always alluded me until now due to me never being quite happy enough with conditions for me to commit to it solo.
Pioneer Gully (grade III*), the narrow gully directly in centre-frame.
"Alpine conditions" in Glenshiel
For only the second time this winter, I found myself approaching a route on hard snow and easy terrain instead of breaking trail through deep unconsolidated drifts. Alpenglow set the mountainsides on fire and the sound of my crampons biting squeaky snow brought back a dozen memories of my first winter in Glencoe, when blue skies and hard snow seemed in endless supply.
Amazing views opening up from the top of the route
Great views to KnoydartPioneer Gully looked in thin condition from below. I decided to climb up to the base of the first ice pitch with all intentions of retreating if the conditions weren't safe, but to my joy I found firm snow in abundance and the ice, although thin, was in good condition.
Looking down on the steep groove above the ice pitches.
Lean but good conditions.
Sunshine catching my axes as I climb through the cornice.
An inversion layer over Lochaber
Blue haze over the Ben