Friday, 28 March 2014

Sgor na h-Ulaidh's North Face

 The quiet and unfrequented North face of Sgor na-Ulaidh, Glencoe

A crampon breaking in my hands is the thing I always associate with the North face of Sgor na-Ulaidh. It was during my first winter living in Glencoe - Alex and I had been gearing up at the base of West Gully when my crampon bale split as I fit it to my boot. I think we kind of saw the funny side of it, and I turned around and went back to my afternoon shift in the Clachaig whilst Alex continued alone.

I never returned to climb in this unfrequented and often forgotten part of Glencoe, and I suppose it had become the only major corrie in the glen that I hadn't climbed a single route on. Until this morning I thought it would probably remain that way as well, so it was a bit  of a surprise to be climbing here when I'd set out from home intent on the Loch Avon Basin in the Cairngorms.

Overnight fresh snow and thick hill-fog above Aviemore was hardly inspring me this morning so I just started driving South and West with an  open mind. There can be such a prickling excitment about those moments when suddenly plans go out the window and you are left without a clue what the day might bring. Soon enough I found myself in my old home Glencoe, a fond smile spreading over my face as I turned that corner and Aonach Dubh's West face rose up like a wave.

The south flanks of Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach

Two hours later and I was checking my crampons very carefully indeed, my superstitious streak brought out by the realisation I was standing in the exact same spot that my left Grivel G12 had died a premature death 4 years ago. Odd to think that I've put to rest about 150 winter climbs in the time that it has taken me to get from the bottom of West Gully in 2010, to the top today.

West Gully (II)
Glen Etive 
Firm snow and brittle ice on the upper chimney weren't the most forgiving conditions for my tired legs, but who cares when some years the winter is long over by the end of March? Double Scoop (II) was a quick second route of the day, and then it was time for a long and slippery descent and a catch up with old friends in the Clachaig. Whenever I visit it still never feels like I've left the glen, but I'm glad I ended up climbing here today as these might be my last winter routes of this season. A big life change is just around the corner, next week in fact. More on this later!

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