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The Winter Ascent of 'Castle Gully' and 'Blue Tit'

Date: 9th January 2010
Submitted by: Columba McLaughlin
 Today the group was Alan Tees, Marty (where’s me crampons and where the hell did I leave me lid) McGuigan, Valli Schafer, Emmet Johnston and me. All hands were up early. Agendas were discussed over breakfast. I wanted to look at the Gullies to the west of No. 2 Gully on Castle Buttress. However, Alan’s enthusiasm to climb ‘Castle Gully’ and the fact that in such conditions it would be a wonderful winter’s 1st ascent won sway with everyone and off we went up the Poisoned Glen again. Castle Gully splits the huge face of Castle Buttress and shares its start with Central Gully. At about half height it branches off to the right. Castle gully is much wider than Sruthan na Bearna which Alan and Iain had climbed yesterday. The initial pitches of Castle Gully were chocked with good quality snow and on most occasions there were places that you could actually get your ice axe into. There is nothing a reassuring as your ice axe sticking into a piece of frozen turf. It was really pleasurable mountaineering and height was soon gained. 

 At about half way up it, the gully splits into two. While Central Gully follows the central line and an almost vertical ascent, Castle Gully is gentler and veers off to the right and cuts deep into the mountain. At this point the rock architecture became very prominent, looked awesome and some ice smears started to appear on the rock walls. It was time to tool up and Alan led the climb to the narrow crux Chimney. This chimney can be bypassed on the left using a ramp but the chimney was so fat with ice, that we all wanted a crack at it. Alan led it in fine style and then belayed everyone up after him. For the record, Marty climed this pitch without crampons - however, it must be understood that he was well protected by his guardian angel and very well belayed by Alan. This pitch was absolutely brilliant. I went up last and Alan asked me to lead through – thank you sir for the privilege.

 The remainder of the gully was a 70m quite steep snow slope. We were expecting some ice in this final pitch or even some frozen snow. However, it was mainly unconsolidated snow with some patches of frozen turf in the right places. The left wall of the gully provided excellent dry tooling opportunities. Emmett, being belayed by Martin, was up ahead of me. I did not have any gear with me and I asked Emmett if I could clip into his gear placements (cheeky begger that I am). Gentleman that he is – he agreed. So I did and topped out, used my two ice axes as a belay point and Valli and Alan then came up, followed by Emmett and Martin. We all posed for the usual summit photograph and agreed that it was a brilliant winter’s climb.  

 We headed off towards Windy Gap or sometimes called 'Bearna’s Gap' and descended here. After descending about 100m we stopped at the frozen waterfall on the left wall and nothing would do Martin (I wish I had me gear) but he wanted to climb it. So using Peter McConnell’s Ice Axes, Alan Tees’s Crampons and Alan Tees’s Lid and being belayed by me - away he went with a cheesy grin on his face. Valli was appointed official photographer for this climb. I went up 2nd, followed by Valli and then Emmett and then Alan (who had been reunited with his Lid and Crampons at this stage). 

 Martin wanted to call this ice climb ‘Blue Tit’. Other more graceful and wintry names were suggested but Martin had made his mind up and stuck to his guns. So it was called 'Blue Tit' and given a prestigious Winter Grade III. In my opinion, it was as good as any comparable climb in Scotland. Back we went to the pub for a pint and then back to the Hostel for a well deserved communal dinner and celebratory glass of wine and some small talk. It was a great day and Castle Gully was one of the best gullies I have every climbed. In my humble opinion it was much better than No. 2 Gully on Ben Nevis and is deserving of a 2** Winter Route.

22 Jan 2010
Anthony Feeney

Brilliant! I am so jealous. Ah well The Cobbler is looming in the very near future. Yous can all be envious in return then. :)

23 Jan 2010
Columba McLaughlin

Enjoy the Cobbler in the Arrochar Alps. You'll love the wee tunnel. Wont be jealous - been there done that.

Photo of Route