Monday, 16 February 2015

North Buttress, Glas Tholl

The view to the An Teallach ridge from Glas Tholl.

Days on An Teallach always seem to deliver. Of everything that I love about climbing in the NW Highlands, I think it is the solitude amongst incredible scenery that attracts me the most. 

Despite being a recluse by nature, I do actually really like the atmosphere on Ben Nevis or in Coire an-t Sneachda during the busy season. When the climbing conditions are good there is a great sense of excitement in the air, and I always see lots of friends and familiar faces. The Ben has been in amazing condition for weeks, and if I'd gone there yesterday I'd have had a long list of classics in great nick to choose from.

But I wanted a day in the North West. Despite two attempts, I'd not actually managed to climb anything yet in my new nearest mountain area. And to date my experience has been that is doesn't really matter what you climb in the North West, just being there is something to be treasured.

Glas Tholl.

The beautiful North-West. Liathach from Loch Clair on Saturday.

After very nearly being somewhere else I ended up walking up towards Glas Tholl on An Teallach. Nearly all the routes here are strong lines, and the corrie is a wild and very beautiful place. I simply headed towards the part of the crag that looked the most wintery, and ended up on the line of North Buttress (II).

It had been almost 2 years since I'd climbed such iron hard neve. I managed to find snow-ice on a lot of the routes I climbed last winter but most of it was a bit soft, but this stuff wasn't taking any prisoners. A fortnight of gentle freeze-thaw cycles had put the snow in bomb proof condition.

North Buttress takes a line central in the photo, finishing up the narrow gully left of the rounded central buttress.

Despite there being no difficulties, just sustained steep snow, it was definitely a place for concentration. The last time I'd climbed in this corrie it had been quite warm and I'd kicked steps easily in the snow up another route without any feeling of exposure.

Calm conditions in the corrie, brutal winds on the ridge.

I could hear the wind howling over the ridge above me. As I topped out I knew I was in for a bit of battle, and five minutes later I was fully knocked off my feet by the wind and the air was blown out of my lungs. Something hit me in the eye and blinded me for a few seconds, and I spent a minute or so behind a rock working out the safest way off the mountain.

In the next half an hour I struggled against some of the strongest gusts of winds I've ever experienced in the hills. Descending down verglassed slabby rocks wasn't optimal given the situation, but at least it reminded me to give all the points on my crampons a sharpen when I got home.

Out of harms way, I walked down through the quiet corrie and a golden eagle made a quick fly over Bidean a'Glas Thuill. I hadn't seen another soul all day, on a half term holiday sunday.


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