Monday, 2 February 2015

Back to the Scottish winter

 Back to the beauty and the cold of Scottish winter climbing. A climber amongst mad ice scenery on The Croc, Beinn Udlaidh yesterday.

After weeks of moving-house related muddle and chaos, my yearning to make a return to the Scottish winter had reached boiling point. I felt bitter envy as a stable high pressure arrived the week we were moving, only for it to end the day I became free to climb.

I now live on The Black Isle north of Inverness with Nicole. The North-West Highlands, by far my favourite place to climb anywhere, is now my nearest mountain area and I can be in Torridon in an hour from home.

A visit to Liathach's corries a few days ago ended up being a false start, and January ended without me having climbed a single winter route. My last 5 winters have been periods of obsessive winter soloing, so to say this felt like an unusual situation would be an

Dawn light over the Southern Highlands. I've missed this!

Yesterday was the window of opportunity. It was the usual game after a big dump of snow - where could I go that wasn't going to be an endless wade through powder, or involve nearly dying on the roads driving there? As much as I was craving the wilds of Torridon, Skye or An Teallach, heading South instead would mean the best weather.

Glencoe on the drive back home.

Bidean nam Bian glowed at me through the dark as I drove through Glencoe, and even by the light of the moon I could see the huge amounts of fresh snow lying on the mountains. A 3am wake up alarm, a few close calls with red deer on Rannoch Moor, some skidding on the icy road down Glen felt like I'd never been away.
I was first into the corrie as planned. West Gully (III*) was a good memory from the 12/13 winter, when I soloed it in amazing condition before an 11am shift in the Clachaig. The crux was much thinner yesterday and more steep. There was water running behind the ice but swinging axes again felt amazing. The top half of the gully was banked out on snow, nothing like the fat blue ice which had been there two years ago, and very soon I was at the top admiring first light turning the hills pink.

West Gully (III*)

As I descended the top half of Central Gully (II) the corrie filled up with people all at once. I hate soloing with lots of other climbers around, so I happily spent the next hour on photography instead. Being back amongst it all was just the best feeling.

The first other climbers begin arriving.

A busy day on the ice.

I won't be able to climb anywhere near as often as I used to when I lived in Glencoe and the Cairngorms, but surely that just means I'll await the next time even more eagerly? The NW Highlands are waiting!


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