Sunday, 16 February 2014

Post Box Gully

The view from above the top of the great Post Box Gully (II***), Sgorr Ruadh.

A friend recently told me that she has only ever seen the Highlands in monochrome. I was surprised at first, the Highlands being to me a place with a unique quality of light and colour. But I've been spoilt for sure, my 5 years up here having coincided with some of the greatest winters of recent times and some of the longest periods of fine weather.


An Ruadh Stac

I thought about this a lot today. In this winter of near perpetual storms, the Highlands have so often been in monochrome. I've craved the crisp light and strong colours that I've been guilty of taking for granted during some of my previous winters here. 


 
Mainreachan Buttress
 
Today the sun shone bright and the shadows were crisp as I climbed to the top of one of the great classic routes of the North-West Highlands. Unrelenting snowfall and cruel winds that never stop seemed like a faint memory. Everything was perfect just then and there, and I reminded myself again that every single day like this is a blessing, every single one of them. Perceptions of normality can shift so much from where they once were, can't they?


Post Box Gully joins this ridge on the other side.



Sgorr Ruadh won me over last summer, a memorable solo of Raeburn's Buttress Direct leaving me determined to return in winter. I'm starting to think its sweeping curves and shapes make it one of the most beautiful of all the Scottish mountains, and under the amount of snow it was holding today it was quite a sight. With a less inspiring background I might have been worn down by the very 'physical' day it turned out to be - knee to waist deep snow to break trail through at times, for quite a long way.


Sgorr Ruadh.

Liathach.

I'd not known quite what to expect from the cave/slot that gives Post Box Gully its name. I was excited but a little apprehensive to find out, but it turned out pretty different to how I'd thought. The subterranean pitch that is usually found in the bottom part of the route was totally blocked with snow. I dug a tunnel up a short way into the cave until I realised there was no point in continuing, as I'd never have got through safely, and I doubt I'd have got through at all.


The cave. Totally blocked by snow, so a traverse up and left was needed.

A bit of nosing around followed, and I found I could bypass the cave on the left and join the gully above. Whether this is usually possible I have no idea, as the gully was very banked out compared to every photo I've ever seen of the route. Mostly the snow was a bit moist with an icy crust, but with some good neve on the steeper sections. There were some large areas of windslab as well but these were almost all avoidable, but I think they'll have grown a fair bit later in the day with the strengthening wind.


The main ridge of Liathach.

The fabled Mainreachan Buttress on Fuar Tholl was the backdrop as I topped out, with Liathach's unrivaled profile on the opposite skyline. My face felt warmed by the sun, and the woods in the glen below were alive with birdsong as I descended.
Would it be too odd to say that by afternoon it felt like spring?

James

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