Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Racing the thaw

 The Stuic (I**) - a classic winter scramble, making the best of a frustrating week.

For the last week I have been a tormented soul, frustrated and irritable. Good winter climbing conditions arrived, but a mix of bad luck and other responsibilities conspired - and I was left empty handed without climbing a single route.

Every evening I have watched the list of this week's winter ascents grow, and for once I haven't been able to contribute to it. My energy levels had risen to a point where spontaneous self-combustion felt inevitable, my mind a whirl of a thousand thoughts of winter.

This morning I was finally free. Just in time for the thaw to arrive….

Getting two hours sleep after my shift before leaving felt like yet another obstacle in my way. I thought of the summer, when I can indulge my "coiled spring" moments by not going to bed at all…leaving at the end of a night shift and arriving for the dawn. Things are easier in the summer. Yet it still seems like a mere interlude to endure between winters.

Beinn a'Bhuird....drool.

The Stuic - a good winter grade I with harder lines optional throughout

The lower and less steep part of The Stuic.

Heavy rime on the crags, but an extremely rapid softening of the turf started mid-morning.

I can't remember the last time I did a 19km round trip in the mountains in order to climb a grade I winter route. But a two-star classic grade I mountaineering route that is "climbable in all conditions" sounded pretty damn sweet to me this morning. As the temperature rocketed and a light drizzle started half way up "The Stuic", I was endlessly grateful I was here rather than turning around empty-handed from a harder route that was being rendered unclimbable by the thaw before my eyes.

For the first time ever, circumstances have meant the start to my winter hasn't been a good one. I guess surely that can only be a good thing…


Sunday, 10 November 2013

A stunning morning on Ben Macdui

Incredible clarity of light and great early winter conditions in the Cairngorms

I won't lie - it was a frustrating sight to see, team upon team of climbers heading into the Northern Corries towards hard mixed routes in perfect condition, knowing that there's very little in condition for me to solo yet.

But my reclusive nature was on overdrive yesterday morning, so it wasn't difficult to turn my back on the busy corries and head over the deserted Ben Macdui plateau instead.

I'm not sure even climbing a route in perfect nick would have been more worthwhile than the remarkable show of natural light that I experienced on the plateau. The winter is off to a good start.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Above the Loch Avon Basin

A stunning winter day on the Cairngorm plateau

Patience, the virtue that eludes me so often, seems to be with me for once.

Nothing for me to climb just yet…the turf remains unfrozen and there are almost no routes in conditions yet I'd be willing to solo. So instead of the usual tearing-out-my-hair-in-frustration which comes with the first snows, today I went winter hill-walking without feeling close to bursting point, possibly for the first time ever this early-season.

If you have never been into the Loch Avon Basin, then check it out some time. I lived in Glencoe for 4 years and on Skye for a month and it remains one of the most impressive places I've ever seen in Scotland. Climbing here in summer was brilliant, but today for the first time I got to see it under a foot of snow.

I can't wait to winter climb here when the conditions arise. But for now, as a spectator…what a place!


Monday, 4 November 2013

Winter begins

Fiacaill Ridge, 4th November 2013. Winter's arrival!
The summer this year was a confusing time for me. Leaving Glencoe in the Spring was absolutely the right decision, but I had no doubts that I would come to miss it greatly. And miss it I do, despite now living in a similarly wonderful part of the world.

At first I didn't feel it at all, but it crept up on me during the summer. I didn't anticipate just how big a hole that being away from the glen would leave in me. Not being in that constant state of total immersion in the landscape felt alien, and for a couple of months I struggled with making sense of life outside of the bubble of the Clachaig and the intoxicating atmosphere of Glencoe.

Now that I am more into the rhythm of things, I am finding my new and different relationship with the mountains very rewarding. And my summer ended up being one of my most successful seasons ever, with many great days climbing amazing mountain routes on Skye and in the Cairngorms.

And some things never change. Since the end of August, as always, my thoughts have often settled on the coming winter climbing season and the brightened reality that I exist in during the colder months of the year. October arrived and I spent much of my spare time bathing in the glorious lighting and colours of a Cairngorms autumn.

This week, winter began. I climbed Fiaciall Ridge this morning to breath it in and soak it up, and to mark the start of my favourite season. All my thoughts today are the coming months, my fifth winter season living in the Highlands.

Have a great winter everyone, see you out there :-)

About a foot of fresh snow on the Cairngorm plateau.
Rime covering the rocks everywhere, but the turf hasn't frozen yet.