Friday, 1 March 2013


 Soloing the classic ice guily of the Southern Highlands, Taxus (III***)

 Soloing "Taxus" on Beinn an Dothaidh is something I'd wanted to do for a while. It's one of those routes that had gained an amount of personal significance to me - when I started soloing a couple of years back, I guess it was one of the routes that I was aspiring to climb for the first time alone. And I'd almost gone for it several times since then, but never quite committed until today.

Taxus is the obvious steep left-slanting gully, just left of centre
 The bottom icefall of Taxus on the left - the only route still in condition apart from West Gully

It's a route that has always interested me - its slightly fickle nature, its location away from the reliable and often crowded ice-climbs of Lochaber, its need for a good winter to be in safe condition late in the season, its enigmatic name…

The superb weather and climbing conditions of the last two weeks have kept me so busy that I'd hardly noticed March was just around the corner. From past experience I know just how quickly the winter can turn to spring….and how routes on your "wish-list" suddenly have to wait until next year.

But despite really wanting to climb Taxus this winter, I felt no pressure to get it done today as I walked up into the North-East corrie. So many great routes in the last two weeks - if I got it done today it would be a bonus, but I felt I'd be happy to walk away from it un-climbed as-well.

Yet another blue sky day

 The cornice above West Gully - avoidable on the right
Oddly enough that frame of mind is probably the most ideal for soloing a route that you care about. So it was with a slight smile and a pleasant sense of calm that I found the first icefall of Taxus to be complete, and that today was indeed the day.

In the easy angled middle section of the route.
 Looking up the steep initial icefall.

The key to the route is this first icefall, and although it was a bit thin and water was starting to flow underneath the ice, it was amenable to climb with plenty of good hooks. I found myself climbing without feeling any of the pressures that you sometimes feel when on a route you've wanted for a long time.

Two more short ice pitches followed, the conditions improving with height on the route - the clear skies overnight undoing some of the damage caused by warmer daytime temperatures.

Looking down "Taxus" - a line of footprints can be seen on the right where you exit onto a ridge the exit slopes.
And for yet another time in this excellent winter, I found myself privileged to be climbing a great route under a blue sky, moving at speed alone up a climb that I was delighted to be soloing.

The last 12 days have probably been my best ever run of routes in the mountains. Nine routes climbed, all of which have been great and under blue skies, some solos of classic Grade III's, and approximately 20,000ft of ascent. Time for a wee rest I think.


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