Monday, 15 December 2008

Sgurr nan Clach Geala - Sun 14th Dec '08

Yesterday, Andy and I had a walk in to Sgurr Nan Clach Geala (or a slog in I should say!) There was more snow than expected, with a crust on the top, which made for more difficult walking conditions higher up. And once we arrived at the gearing up boulder, the mist was well down and it took us a little bit of time to find the descent gully.
Having to down climb into the mist, not knowing whether we were in the correct gully or not or on a slope above a steep cliff, was very, very spooky! But after about 20m it was easier to see that it was indeed a safe way down. But having the mist there really added another element! After a little descent, you have to traverse along and then cross Slanting Gully, then traverse a terrace above the lower cliffs. Unfortunately, due to the mist I was unable to 'wow' at the steep and long line of Skyscraper Buttress.
It didn't take long to reach the bottom of our intended route (1st winter ascent of one of Andy's summer V.Diffs, Alpha Crest) The 1st pitch was a bit scrappy, it follows the crest just to the left of Alpha Gully and the Gully walls were short enough that it felt too easy to escape if need be. The 2nd pitch was harder (much harder!) Involved the sort of climbing I really hate! I felt out of balance a lot of the time and it was steeper than the initial slabby section. There was a step right back on to the crest proper which felt really tenuous and committing and it seemed to take me ages to figure it out.
But what a 3rd pitch! Lovely and sensational! Firstly, a long traverse (sphincter clenching stuff!) leftwards involving draping yourself over a slab, with axes into turf on the top (thankfully frozen!) and blindly feeling with your feet and praying they wouldn't dangle into nothingness below! Shuffle across, axes into more bomber turf (thank god placements!) and thin for the feet, knee on a ledge and round and up into a groove. And a bloody steep groove it was too! With a big bulge pushing you outwards, but an excellent hole in between 2 rocky bits to hook my axe over and good turf for the other axe, saw me able to lean right out, get my leg up high and heave! It was very strenuous climbing but the placements were excellent (apart from at one point on the steep groove above where it took ages to find a good enough bit of turf, my axes initially bouncing off rock and making sparks in my desperation to find something!
And above, followed grade I ground for what seemed like an age to get to the summit (knackered by this point, and a dislike of trudging upwards on grade I ground, too hot!)
I haven't got a clue about the grade, it just felt HARD! I thought it just as strenuous as the hard pitch on our route on Sgurr Ruadh, but with much better placements and not as tenuous. Andy thought the 2nd pitch to be the crux, whereas I found the 3rd pitch more strenuous, but in the end agreed that the 2nd pitch was harder as it was more tenuous and thinner. But the 3rd pitch was quite serious to lead, with one bit of gear at the start of the traverse but nothing until you were well established in the groove up and round the corner, so a big swing if you came off, for leader and for second! Once up the groove, the position was amazing! Just a wee slopey slope and the whole cliff plummeting down below you, sensational! We gave it IV4 in the end, with me having much grade discussion on the way home, finding it hard to get my head round the difference between a IV4 and an IV5. But the route was quite serious in places and IV5 would suggest better gear for the crux, which there wasn't, so I think that is how it works.
Unfortunately, neither of us bothered taking our cameras down due to the mist. A mistake in retrospect because the mist lifted after the 2nd pitch and the views were fabulous, both from the route and from the summit, which we reached at dusk. And thus began the trudge back down to the car.
Photo of Sgurr nan Clach Geala above, courtesy of Fimm from UKC.
And photo of view of Sgorr Mhor from top of cliffs, and of the cliffs themselves (our route is the crest, just to the left of the first gully on the left, on the main cliffs) courtesy of Andy's old slides.

Conditions - snow level down to about 600m, starting to consolidate on more western aspects, still soft on eastern aspects and powdery. Some minor sloughing in east facing gullies. A good bit of cleaning required for gear and placements, but turf well frozen where exposed and middling frozen else where, with some clumps of not very well frozen when super burried.

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