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Scotland March 2009

Date: 13th March 2009
Submitted by: George Carleton

On Friday 13th March Martin Bonar and I caught the 8pm Larne boat for Scotland with the prospect of getting in a week of winter climbing on the ridges and gullies of Glencoe, The Ben, and the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms.

On the Saturday morning we awoke to the wind and rain pummelling the van in the car park beneath the Buachaille, after a little deliberation we decided on a dry day and headed to the indoor ice wall at the Ice Factor, then a section on the climbing wall to finish off.

That night we had the comfort of the Bank Street Lodge so after a good night’s sleep and with the wind easing I suggested trying Aonach Mor in search of half decent climbing conditions.

We where amongst the first on to the gondola, and the first climbers on to the top of the mountain where the snow was soft and there were no signs of recent activity at easy gully, the decent to the east face.

We had to set up a snow bollard to get through the soft cornice safely; the snow was soft and sugary but seemed reasonably stable. We made our way across to the start of White Shark IV****, I had to back off after a few metres, the ice having turned to slush.

Not wanting to give up on the day too easily we gave Temperance Union Blues III* a go which was on the way back to easy gully.

There was no ice on a loose rock wall at the top of the initial steep snow pitch, and with very poor gear and hearing the boom of what was probably a cornice collapsing in the distance we decided enough was enough. I descended and we went back up easy gully, then back to the gondola.

With conditions being so poor in the west, the next day we headed for the Cairngorms. It was still mild but at least there was less risk of avalanche, with most of the cornices having already gone.

The first day we climbed in Coire an t-sneachda. I led Central Gully I*; a pleasant and straight forward climb, and Red Gully II/III** which had almost no ice, only a lot of very loose boulders which made for careful and scary climbing.

Martin led the Runnel II* in good style; an excellent climb which actually had a bit of ice on the final section.

The next day conditions where much better after a hard freeze over night. We got away early and were the first in to Coire an lochain.

First up was The Vent II* with a short but sweet ice pitch. We descended through The Couloir I** and traversed to the Start of The Milky Way III**, the climbing was a bit thin but enjoyable and it was over all too quickly.

On reaching the plateau we didn’t fancy front pointing our way down The Couloir again so we headed over to Coire an t-sneachda again where Martin led Fiacaill Coulior II/III** which was well frozen at the start and had a cruxy choke stone to get over further up due to the thin snow conditions.

Not being too late we decided to get in one more climb. We descended from a snow slope below the Fiacaill ridge and traversed around to the start off Invernookie III4**, a good climb giving pause for thought on a few sections.

Tired but happy after a good days climbing we descended the Fiacaill ridge, being the quickest way back to the car park.

That evening after a good dinner we left the hospitality of Martins SARDA friends with whom we had stayed the previous night and headed for the north face car park at the back of Ben Nevis.

The following morning we set off early along with a number of other hardy souls who spent the night in their vehicles.

It was a beautiful morning as we made our way up the Alt a Mhuilinn towards the CIC hut. There was not much snow on the lower sections of the mountain but the higher gullies and ridges seemed to have a reasonable covering. We settled on Comb Gully IV4** and made our way up to the start of the climb.

The initial steep snow pitches led to a reasonably long ice pitch which gave good climbing if a bit run out due to the thinness of the ice at the top of the pitch, and then a final snow slope led to the cornice.

We topped out around 12.30 and could have gotten in another climb but with the heat of the afternoon sun conditions were deteriorating and we both were wrecked after the long walk in and climbing of the previous days.

On getting back to the car park we made the decision to call it a day and head for home, driving back up through Glen Coe there was hardly any snow to be seen and the sun shone on dry rock making it feel like spring had arrived and time to swap the ice axes for a chalk bag.

25 Mar 2009

You salvaged a lot!

Photo of Route
Martin near the to of Invernookie, Corie an t-sneachda