The West face a few days back. Number 3 Gully (II/III) directly in centre-frame.I've been taunted in the last week by the huge cliffs so dominant in the view from my home at the Clachaig. The gullies of the West face of Aonach Dubh in great and surprising condition for April…but other commitments preventing me from sampling their mysterious confines.
My solo of "Archie's Ridge" (III,4*) on F Buttress in December had been memorable, serious, and one of the best days winter climbing I've had. There is a niggling feeling of commitment quite specific to soloing in winter on the West face…the huge run-outs, complicated escapes and continuous steepness everywhere making it feel like a stern undertaking.
The West face today. Number 3 Gully furthest left.
Number 3 Gully (II/III) is a route I'd always really fancied. It doesn't come into good condition very often, far less so still when it comes to almost mid-April. But this winter has made me more open-minded than ever, and at 6am this morning I was indeed slogging up lower B-Buttress towards Number 3.
Stob Coire nam Beith and the great icicle of Elliot's Downfall bottom left.
The Screen.After diverting around a large cruddy ice-fall below Middle Ledge, I was stood in dusty heather underneath the bone-dry rock of B-Buttress but putting on crampons to climb a heavily banked-out Number 3. I moved a few feet to my right, and stepped from spring into winter.
Inside the top half of Number 3 Gully, heavily banked out.
And there I was, moving fast up one of the straight and narrow lines of snow and ice that I'd been gazing at from the Clachaig and watching develop and grow all winter. Not once did I think I would climb it this late in the season.
Stob Coire nan Lochan still in great condition
I escaped up "2B Scoop" (II) on mainly hard nevé, before an area of unstable snow forced me to break up onto the buttress to the right in order to reach the shoulder of Aonach Dubh.
A glimpse of the Ben from the top of Aonach Dubh