Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Central Buttress of Lochnagar

 First light catches the top of the beautiful Central Buttress (II**), today's solo.

An absolutely magic dawn this morning started off my best day of climbing so far this winter. It's amazing how quickly the day can seem to take the shape you want, after you've watched the sun rise from a mountain side.

A stunning sunrise as a pair of climbers gear-up.

I was stood at the windy col beneath Meikle Pap, and the golden lighting of the dawn made the great corrie of Lochnagar look absolutely immense. The December storms have caked the cliffs with a huge amount of snow, and today I was here because I knew the conditions were going to be a real treat.

The Black Spout area, heavy but firm snow cover.

During the long drought last summer, one day I was in the corrie intent on climbing the impressive Central Buttress. I didn't even start it, the dripping and slimy moss covered rocks at the beginning of the route quickly persuading me to go climb something else. But my lasting impression was that it looked like it would be a really good climb in winter.

The legendary corrie of Lochnagar. Central Buttress prominent on the left.

 Looking down the initial gully to reach the buttress.

And so it promised to be today, the moss covered rocks hidden under several feet of perfect nevé and a thick covering of snow from bottom to top. The violently gusting wind at the col had moved elsewhere, and I counted all my blessings that I was here at the right place at the right time.

The long and steep climb up to the crest reminded me a bit of "Stairway to Heaven" on Beinn an Dothaidh, turfy steps which are sometimes a little more awkward than they look. About half way up I had to do a bit of head-scratching, a choice between a hollow icy ramp or a short, awkward groove that throws you off balance. I tried both, then tried the groove again and found a buried placement for my left axe which made the whole thing easier.

Soft morning lighting.

The upper crest, big exposure on each side.
A steep section above felt quite exciting to solo, the kind of thing more often found on Grade III's, but with well-frozen turf like today I was soon up it. Then the level areté of the crest appears quite suddenly. A short traverse move around an exposed block which I'd been slightly apprehensive about after seeing a photo, actually proved far easier than what had come before. Then the long slope of hard nevé above to reach the plateau…I'm glad I never came and did this route under powder.

Massive cornices along most of the corrie rim.

My first winter route on Lochnagar, and I already can't wait to get back there. I don't think that view of the gentle curving arc of buttresses and gullies will ever get old.



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  2. Hi James
    I was the soloist that followed you up Central Buttress... We certainly picked a cracker of a day. I'm really enjoying your blog and great photography by the way - stay safe!