Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Alpine conditions

  Alpine conditions for a solo of Curved Ridge (II/III,3***), Glencoe.
The sound of my own laughter made me jump yesterday in Coire an-t Sneachda, chuckling at the novelty value of soloing Aladdin's Mirror Direct in grade II conditions. Conditions are remarkable in the mountains just now - an astonishing amount of snow that has now turned into neve, rendering some routes almost unrecognisable from their usual selves. But a whole new challenge has now become the order of the day - climbing safely before the warm sun softens the snow and avoiding the gigantic cornices which are starting to collapse. It all feels as Alpine as can be up there.

 Bidean nam Bian

Along the ridge of Buachaille Etive Mor
It has been 11 months since I left Glencoe to live in the Cairngorms. Although I miss the Glen less than a few months back, I still get pangs when I think back to endless care-free mornings winter climbing in the sunshine before going back to a shift in the Clachaig. For the first time, this season hasn't involved Glencoe for me at all. Another day of perfect weather was forecast for today...maybe it was time to pay a visit to my old haunts?

 The good old Buachaille.

A very dry Rannoch Wall

Grand conditions on Curved Ridge

Hilarious to think that despite just how much time I spent exploring Glencoe, until today I'd never actually got round to doing Curved Ridge in winter. I don't even really know why, I think there was just always something else to do and I usually wanted to be away somewhere remote. But today I wanted as much sunshine as I could get, I wanted more views of unbroken sunshine and I wanted more perfect neve and more of everything I've craved all season. Time to finally get round to doing Curved Ridge as a winter route.

 Sunrise over Rannoch Moor

 Views South.
 The Black Mount
I was stood at the start of the route by 7:30am and it was already feeling warm. The snow was squeaky neve and all the rock steps bone dry, and I could tell the snow would start getting soft pretty quickly. So I moved quick but not quick enough to miss out on the sheer enjoyment of it all, a relaxing and chilled out ascent of a classic route with not a single cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. The Rannoch Wall peered down on me and I wished I'd brought my rock shoes, and again it all felt so Alpine.

 Underneath the Crowberry Tower

 Dry rock and neve on the steeper steps
By now a lot of people have seen photos of the massive avalanche in Coire na Tualaich a couple of weeks ago. But it is really something else to see in person - the scale of the debris is quite staggering to see and genuinely has many of the attributes of a glacier. The crevasses and seracs are pretty huge and the bottom of the corrie has been scoured out with boulders and rocks stuck into grey ice on both sides. I wonder how long it will take for that lot to melt?

 The extraordinary debris trail from the Coire na Tualaich avalanche

Giving scale to some of the debris. 

Tomorrow the weather starts to turn again. It was only a brief high pressure this time, in the midst of wild and stormy winter. But for a few days there it all felt pretty much like paradise.

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