Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Staghorn Gully and The Sash

 Looking up at the top section of Staghorn Gully (III***), Creag Meagaidh - the route passes between the two obvious buttresses.
"What next?"….a thought that never seems to be far from my mind during the winter climbing season.

My morning yesterday soloing Pioneer Gully in unbroken sunshine had been superb. I'd felt great all day, fulfilled and satisfied. But by the evening, all my thoughts had turned to what to climb the next morning.

Days of unbroken sunshine, good snow-ice and zero wind really don't happen often during Scottish winters. But having two days like that in a row is a bonus that simply has to be embraced fully. However much sleep and rest are temptations, I make a habit of trying to ignore them whilst the sun shines.

 Creag Meagaidh in great condition.

I had no idea until almost 1am this morning that I would end up soloing Staghorn Gully (III***) today. My intentions were towards something more local, but a bit of information off the internet immediately changed my mind and I set my heart on finally climbing this famous and classic route.

Creag Meagaidh always takes me by surprise. No matter how many times I have walked or run into Coire Ardair, I am always taken aback at how the cliffs suddenly seem to loom out at you as you reach the lochain. Sometimes a feeling like that can be detrimental to the mind of a soloist, and your ambitions for the day suddenly seem less realistic. But today I just couldn't wait to get up there, and I felt no reservations about climbing this route that I'd always written off in the past as a solo.

 Alpenglow hits the top of the Post Face

It's an unusual gully. The long approach ramp could almost seem like a bit of a chore if it were not the awesome surrounding which it takes you through, and I was buzzing this morning as the sunrise quickly brought life to the icy vertical world around me.

The famous snow areté which leads to the upper gully is truly classic, and as soft dawn lighting lit its slopes I was transported straight back to days in the Alps…this felt like a world apart from the hooking frozen turf and fighting through blizzards that is so common to Scottish winter climbing.

 The famous snow areté at mid-point on the route.

 Not a bad place to spend a sunrise.

Into the steeper section of the gully, and through the giant "gateway" that gives entrance to the North Pipe. In the past I had always felt enough fear at the thought of soloing the North Pipe to stop me committing to it, but today I found myself climbing over the crux icefall in total calm. Conditions couldn't have been more perfect.

 An ice "umbrella" on the crux icefall.

 Looking down from the upper snow basin.

And then all of a sudden I was at the top of Staghorn Gully, and feeling my face warmed by the already hot sunshine of 9am. I couldn't have asked for a better day to solo a classic route.

Down to the Inner Corrie, and up "The Sash", a pleasant grade II that takes you underneath the intimidating icefalls of Diadem and The Wand. Small fractions of ice fell constantly from above, the sun softening the cornices above.

 "The Sash" (II*), takes the obvious snow gully and trends up and left via a shelf system.

Two totally perfect days in a row…I think that might even be enough to stop me thinking "what next?", for a little while at least.


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