|Date: 12 - 15 Feb 2010
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
Love is... sharpening your girlfriend's crampons with a hand file. Several years of abuse on the mighty Scottish winter and Alpine peaks had blunted the points on both mine and PJ's crampons to rounded nubs. So several wrist-aching evenings were spent bringing them back to their former pointy glory for our Feb Scotland trip. I kept expecting my neighbours in the Brummie apartment to batter on the door complaining about the shrieking sawing noise but planned to answer the door with a sharpened axe in hand. "YES, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!"
Initially there was a proposal to spend Valentine's in Brum but who wants to spend a weekend clubbing when you could be marching up a snowy Scottish hill? And who said romance was dead? We wanted to do something original and thus the idea to traverse the Cobbler was born, especially after I saw images of "Threading the Needle" on Centre Peak.
We met in Glagow Airport, jumped in the hire car and tootled up to the Glenbruar B&B in Crianlarich via Tiso's (not many bargains despite the huge 50% sale signs) and the Drover's Inn where we spied a damnably loud American in gaiters at 1pm. Was he off the hills this early? Hmm.
Friday was a crisp clear day and temperatures were to plummet to -9 overnight; Saturday was more of the same so we swapped days and decided to do the Cobbler on the wetter Sunday. What could we do on such a fine winter Saturday? Why only the Grade III Aonach Eagach was deserving!
That night we had a few beers in the Rod and Reel (beating the locals at pool) and our loud American friend was there waxing lyrical about his many climbs. Still in the gaiters. Cue eye rolling and "Chump" name calling from the Crianlarich Hotel chef. We came to the conclusion he just liked to wear the gear to impress his VERY young girlfirend.
Dinner in the Crianlarich hotel was probably the best fish and chips ever and a hearty fry from friendly Ben in the Glenbruar set us up for the long long slog up Am Bodach. We set off about 9:00 and were soon passing a sweating puffing group of 3. We'd parked the car below the ridge with the aim of begging every party we met for a possible lift back from the Clachaig Inn at the end. This party however were not going to complete the ridge. The next few parties we met (including a jolly ex-RAF man) were doing the whole ridge but we eventually left them all so far in our dust that we gave up asking and just settled on paying a taxi.
The last time I went up Am Bodach with George it near killed me but things have changed since then and I found myself racing a few solo climbers to the top (well they didn't know they were racing but I did!). PJ and I geared up, planning an Alpine assault, but our RAF party suggested there was little need for gear or rope, so we set off unroped with 1 axe in hand and never changed that set up for the rest of the day, apart from abseiling the Chancellor.
We just missed a few guide-led parties having a major faff on the Chancellor and a Newcastle-accented party complained of an hour long wait, but they were soon away and we were down quickly too. The first chimney we came to was well snowed up with dense crisp snow and it was immensely satisfying to THUNK! the axe in for the first time this year. It was quickly dispatched and our smiles got broader as we set off towards the summit of Meal Dearg.
From here the infamous Pinnacles had to be teetered and delicately picked across with some brilliant exposure and mildly nervy moments. It was rare to need the axe at all, though the newly sharpened crampons were very necessary. Only once did a party ask to "play through" and we watched amazedly as the duo skipped like mountain goats away from us, dressed in shirt sleeves and tatty waterproofs. By about 2:30 we were at the last pinnacle and this one gave us more pause than anything before it. "Rope up?" I suggested but PJ was in front and came back "Nah, it'll be OK." after a satisfying swing into frozen turf. Solid axe placements did make it much easier than first viewed. We stopped for lunch above with an excellent view of the many remaining parties scuttling along behind under a clear blue sky.
A bit of a slog up to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh finished the day's fun and from there it was all downhill walking. The guidebooks say to avoid the SSW drop off the summit, though George and I descended here previously. It being winter though we took the longer, easier option of dropping to the shoulder of the Pap and down the crappy path to the road between Glencoe and the Clachaig. We found a snow filled gully and bum slid / pointed most of the way down, taking a bit of a shortcut through the trees near the end. The mile or so to the Clachaig took forever and the cold pints at the end were very welcome. 7 hours road to road, not that we're ones to brag...
Everywhere in the bar you could overhear groups talking animatedly about the day's exploits. "And then I stuck the toe on this wee edge..." "The reach up to that crack..." "I could barely feel me fingers..." At the table next us were the sweaty puffy group we first passed on Am Bodach. Far from attempting the ridge they'd hit the snow line, practised a few ice axe arrests and descended. "What did you 2 do?" they asked their friends. "Oh we walked round the base of the Buachaille." "Ah the classic wet day's walk" they burbled. PJ wanted to reach over and smack some gumption into them.
Our taxi was driven by the chatty Johnny, a bit of a Derren Brown fan, who didn't mind that we had to return for a missing car key and coat. It was back to the B&B to read maps and the Crianlarich hotel for more excellent food and traditional musical. The banjo player would have given Alan a run for his money and was taking special requests. If you wrote them on a £20 note.
The legs were a bit stiff next morning and the steep walk up from the Arrochar car park to the dam never let up. Think the initial forested section of the Alt a' Mhuilinn path to the Ben x 2. After this though the path levels out considerably and it's a fine walk up to the Narnain Boulders and beyond. The guide books describe the Cobbler traverse from South to North but we wanted to start with Chockstone Gully (Grade II) and do it in reverse so there was a bit of faffing and messing about on the boulder field below before we spied the unique arch mid way up the gully.
We ploughed up the snow in just boots and single axe to begin with but 20m up reached a bulge and regretted the lack of crampons. But we muscled over it and paused to rope up Alpine style before I led off. There was very little gear though and I was 20m under the arch before I found another friend placement. The gully wasn't as snowed up as expected and what was there was damp and sugary. I reached a thin rib with little in the way of snow and a blank face on the right leaning out over it. This face tried to push you outwards as you moved up so I had PJ belay me from a spike below and bridged up quickly. A few more metres and the angle eased under the big chockstone but the question then was "How the hell do you exit from here??"
Fat boys need not apply for one thing. There was 2 options of a very tight squeeze under either side of the chockstone or a very blank face on the right. I removed the rucksack, pushed it through and then squeezed my svelte form under the left side, giggling like an idiot at the ridiculousness of it all. Once through I stood up and laughed some more as my head poked out about a foot above the snow line, gopher style. 2 good axe placements pulled me up and I rigged an axe belay with a huge smile on my face. PJ was quickly up and enjoyed the moves just as much (see the photo).
From here we figured the best way up was the gully to the saddle between the North and Central peaks, a Grade I kickstep. The North peak is an amazing bit of rock, you circle your way up from the saddle, always close to decently large drops until you reach the cairn which is about 3 feet away from edges that drop 100s of metres to the valley below. It was unnerving watching PJ tiptoe to the edge for a wee look and I wasn't going over there until she came back and made some room. I wouldn't want to be up there in thick mist!
Back on the saddle we picked up the rucksacks we'd dropped and headed for the Central Peak that I'd read so much about. The "Needle" isn't immediately obvious until you pick your way over to the cluster of boulders on top but once there I stuck the head through to check out the ledge. Hmm. About 2 foot wide, some crusty ice, slightly outward sloping, looks doable. I dropped the axes and took off the gloves, the better to feel my way along the rock, squeezed through the needle and crabbed to the right edge of the ledge. Imagine stepping over the edge of Fairhead's Prow, unroped, onto a wide ledge. You'd probably do worse setting up an abseil. My heart was in my mouth but I ignored the 50m drop and just concentrated on how to get over the 2 boulders onto the summit. There was a bit of feeling around, double checking each hold (including one which broke off!) and some careful balancing but nothing worse than V Diff level moves. After the victory pose on top (made all the sweeter by 2 other climbers arriving) I did have an "Ooh Mummy" moment as I eyed the icy corner back down to the ledge and the drop beyond. But I got on with it and was soon back on safe ground grinning like a big eejit to PJ. Sure isn't scaring yourself what it's all about?
It was now 3:30 and the South Peak called for 4 pitches of climbing so we just called it a day and descended the steep gully between South and Central and back to the path. What a bugger of a descent that was, the path seemed to go on forever, zig-zagging endlessly down that last 300m. Another well deserved pint was had in the Ben Arthur Bothy watching the gulls dive for fish on the north shore of Loch Long. Very pleasant.
It being Valentine's I'd ordered the champagne and roses laden limousine to arrive by 7pm and it was on with the designer gear for the glittering ball at the ... actually we staggered tiredly over to the Crianlarich Hotel again. The nearest we got to designer gear was a clean tshirt. But once again the food was top notch, the staff now knew us by name and it was a very cosy evening.
Monday was just the usual wander home, this time via Cotswolds in Glasgow and the shell shocked "where did the weekend go?" wrapping up pints in the airport departure bar. A brilliant weekend.
17 Feb 2010
Sounds like you had fun. Threading the needle is something else. Congrats
18 Feb 2010
Long winded American? sure he wasn't a Derry man! Sounds like great trip but what with the hotels and B&B.Going soft