Thursday, 18 July 2013

Black Spout Buttress of Lochnagar

Soloing "Black Spout Buttress" (Diff**), Lochnagar

An adder took me by surprise in Glen Muick. Looking into its piercing eyes brought back fond memories of the hot and dry summers of my East Anglian teens, when climbing mountains was often in my thoughts but seldom a reality. I took the warmth and dry for granted back then, as I simply didn't really know anything else.

It's strange how things change, and I always find myself in slight disbelief when the Highlands are treated to a period of "real" summer. Proper rain hasn't come for weeks in the Cairngorms now, at least never more than briefly. A bit of a dream come true for someone who likes climbing on the high and cold cliffs of the mountains.

Black Spout Buttress is the obvious buttress crest to the right of central gully

I always assumed my first route on Lochnagar would be in winter. But the drought here has fully taken hold in the last few weeks and the corries are possibly the driest I've ever seen in Scotland - the kind of conditions that have prompted me to re-consider some summer routes I'd rejected as possible solos…

Old snow resisting the hot temperatures

The upper walls of the route

Walking underneath the crags of yesterday was a bit like being underneath the North face of Ben Nevis…wherever you look the routes above you are amongst the most mythical and finest in the country, and there's a definite feeling of being amongst greatness.

The classic route I was heading for, Black Spout Buttress, is one that I've always been dubious about climbing solo for the first time. Reports of vegetation and slimy rock always ring alarm bells. But the summer route is usually started opposite the fork in the Black Spout itself, avoiding the heather-bashing of the lowest part of the route by a traverse in from the gully.

A climber on Black Spout Pinnacle
The snow has lingered more than usual this year, and I wasn't sure about traversing out of a gully that was snow-filled until only very recently. But the temperatures over the last week have been impressively high, and I figured I would probably never find the corrie drier than right now. It was fine, but traversing across steep and damp grass out of a grade I winter gully is never the most enjoyable experience. Luckily the glimpses of what lay ahead were enough to leave me in no doubt it was a good call to come here.

Some large areas of snow remaining

Looking up from the central level arete

"A deceptively difficult short chimney" said the guidebook. I had wondered about this…would it be like the grim struggle up the crux chimney of the North-East Ridge of Aonach Beag? Thankfully not at all, but I had to try a few different positions before managing to wedge myself into the slightly overhanging start and make my way up.

Looking down the "deceptively difficult short chimney".

Looking back at the central arete.
Basing things on the chimney it could almost have felt like a West-coast Diff, but then the route changed to the totally different character of a Cairngorm route. Beautiful clean granite walls with rounded holds and smooth horizontal cracks. The 30ft crux wall was every bit as good as it looked, steep and continuous, and a superb ending to a long mountaineering route.

The top 30ft wall. 
Topping out from a route in a corrie you've never climbed in before always feels great doesn't it? This one especially so - I can't wait to get back to Lochnagar


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