Thursday, 9 January 2014

A dawn solo of Hidden Chimney

Deep snow for a solo of Hidden Chimney (II/III*), Coire an-t Sneachda

One day last July all my attitudes towards Coire an-t Sneachda changed in just a couple of hours. I'd always been put off by how busy it gets, but that morning the corrie was deserted as I spent a beautiful dawn soloing Finger's Ridge with only the pig-squeal calls of the ptarmigans to break the silence.

I've become far more fond of the place since that day. At dawn this morning I found myself standing underneath the Mess of Pottage without a single other climber in sight, the ptarmigans squealing overhead and the crags looking beautiful under huge amounts of snow.

The Mess of Pottage - buried.

Last night's frost felt like a god-send - the sheer amount of snow lying in some of the corries is pretty impressive for the time of year, but it was in real need of a freeze to make it more stable. This morning was my opportunity but I only had a few hours as I needed to be back home for midday - so I headed straight towards the classic Hidden Chimney.

Hidden Chimney can just be seen a the top right of the photo.

I'd able been a bit dubious about doing Hidden Chimney for the first time as a solo, though I can't quite explain why. Perhaps I'd been put off by the rounded Cairngorm granite which I don't find as confidence-inspiring to climb as the flakier and rougher rock of the West coast.

The route is barely recognisable from its usual leaner self, heavily banked out in the lower section with most of the rocky steps buried. I found a mix of great nevé and useless crud but I made quick progress up to the chockstone, which was almost hidden by a bulge of snow. I couldn't find any hooks for my axes around the chockstone but thankfully there was some really firm snow above so a wide bridging move and solid axe placements had me above the crux and into the battering wind of the top-out.

Looking up towards the chimney

Lots of firm snow about but still areas of windslab and instability on route top-outs and gully rims.

Half an hour later the solitude of the corrie was a distant memory, as team after team made their way in and I made my way back. It looks to get colder and more settled after the weekend - fingers crossed.


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