Sunday, 30 March 2014

Another winter to remember

Though my winter climbing season often doesn't finish until the end of April, that's it over for me this season. It's been another mad one, as they all seem to have been for the last 5 years.

To say I've been fortunate would be a massive understatement, the experience of having an entire winter off work to climb full-time is easily amongst the best things I've been lucky enough to do. Another 32 solos of winter climbs put to rest is not something I'd have been capable of if I'd been tied to a job, the weather windows sometimes only hours long and the conditions game particularly hard to play this season.

But if you were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, then you could find yourself on a route in near unbelievable conditions. I climbed routes this winter in the kind of nick I never thought I'd ever see, and there was a pretty high novelty value in getting to the top of some climbs under such monumental quantities of snow that they were unrecognisable.

For most of the season it was all about the North-West, with Torridon quietly holding on to the best conditions for weeks on end. So this was where I spent a lot of my time, and my word is it amazing. Winter climbing up there in fine weather and conditions seems to push everywhere else down to mediocrity, until you have a great day elsewhere of course. The landscape is so pristine and the views so outrageous, that even if the routes were average you'd have a memorable day. But they aren't, the climbs are superb and proud lines that have retained the mystery that has been lost from so many of the routes further South.

I don't think I'm alone in saying I'm looking forward to a bit of dry rock climbing?Until then, here's some of my favourite photos from this winter.

   Climbers gearing up during at dawn on Lochnagar. Central Buttress (II**) proved a memorable solo.
The Trinity Face of Liathach. A solo of Central Trinity (II*) followed by the Traverse of Liathach was one of the best days I've ever had in winter.  
 At the top of the great Post Box Gully (II***), Sgor Ruadh.
 The central tower of Ling, Lawson and Glover's Route (II***), Sail Mhor - a classic mountaineering route of the NW Highlands.
 Crisp light on the Cairngorm plateau
 Looking down after squeezing through the caves in the legendary Deep South Gully (I****), arguably one of the best winter climbs in Scotland.
 Views to Slioch from Sail Mhor
 The Traverse of An Teallach (II****). For some reason it took me 5 years to get round to doing it, but it is really, really good.
 Hell's Lum Crag, Cairngorms. I came here on 6 occasions intent on soloing Hell's Lum (III***), but could never justify a solo in the conditions. Next time!
 Back in my old home Glencoe. Views from the top after a chilled out dawn solo of Curved Ridge (II/III,3***).
 Views to Torridon from An Teallach.
 The unequalled Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Eighe. Anyone ever seen a photo that actually starts to do it justice?
Storm force winds scouring The Forcan Ridge, Glenshiel.
 Views to one of Scotland's remotest places from the top of Post Box Gully, Sgorr Ruadh.
 Very lucky to see the best display of the Aurora Borealis for 11 years in the Highlands. Pretty mad.
 Late season lines on Glas Thol, An Teallach.
 Carn Etchachan, overlooking the wonderful Loch Avon Basin. I've only done 5 routes down in this hidden cleft in the Cairngorm plateau, but I'm very glad to have got to know it at all. Catch it on a clear summer morning and it is one of the most impressive places in Scotland.
 The Traverse of Liathach (II****)
 The familiar sight of a sunrise over Rannoch Moor. I was lucky to see this countless times during the amazing and unusual winters that I spent in Glencoe.
 Heavy snow cover on the Cairngorm plateau. Some areas of the Highlands have seen the most snow in living memory this winter.
 Views along Buachaille Etive Mor in Alpine conditions. Hot sunshine by day, hard frosts by night.
The ever charming ptarmigan.
Mountaineers enjoying firm snow after 10 weeks of near continuous snowfall on the mountains.

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