Where to go, where to go, where to go! The forecast high winds made a new route Andy had his eye on, out of the question and the thought of crowds upon crowds of folk on The Ben, all rushing up for the same routes wasn't inspiring. Lochnagar was a possibility but again lots of folk heading for the same routes and would involve an early start I insisted as no way was I climbing a gully with folk above me chopping ice down and being too slow. Andy grumped a little at the thought of one of my early starts and then I felt guilty at being so pernickity as to what I will and won't do! In the end we decided that we'd go to Aonach Mor as even though it was likely to be busy, conditions were likely to be very good and with heaps to choose from that we could more than likely avoid the crowds.
God, I've forgotten was a slog it is up to the top of Easy Gully! The going was actually ok, bare of the sheet ice that I remember from my last visit up there but it's a steep slog and the top chair lift wasn't running so we had to walk a whole hour and a half, shock horror!
Wasn't long before we were gearing up though and ready to go. Peering over the top of Easy Gully, hmmmm, tis steeper than I remember it! Yes, I'll have the rope on option please! Over the edge I went, and it's not actually that bad at all. The only problem I was having was my blasted arms and shoulder. After down climbing just 10m my arms were going weak and my shoulder was hurting. Pissed off! How long have I had this stupid injury and how long have I had useless Physio which isn't making any difference in the slightest. I'm annoyed, but trying my hardest to resign myself to the fact that I won't be trying to lead any steep ice today. Frustrated but not going to let it spoil my day.
At the bottom of the gully we veer off away from the voices and clank of gear drifting in and out of the mist, for we have unclimbed ice to hunt out away from the popular routes. I am curious about the classics of course, but the thought of other people climbing and the lure of a new route is far too much to resist. And here we are at the bottom of the cliff, I'm anchored on and Andy starts off up a bulgy step of ice, looks nice, looks steep, are my arms going to cope with it? I start having my usual mental turmoil and chit chat, 'what if my arms are *too* sore to climb this? Is Andy going to be disappointed or annoyed if I'm in too much pain to continue? Is the belay going to be good enough to hold me if I fall off because of the pain?'
Andy is off like a shot though! Meaning the going is easy enough, so I stop fretting as much.
Funnily enough, my arms were fine, not a whiff of pain! My calf's however, aaaaaarg gaaaaawwwwwwwd they're screaming and burning! Because I'm so used to mixed and not ice climbing, and none of this front pointing business, my calf's just aren't up to it and I have memories of similar pain a few years back after doing The Web. Keep pushing on up though, battle through the pain. A wee brief respite on a more stepped bit and Andy whips out the camera, 'c'mon, hurry up, need to keep moving!' Then I'm there, aaaahhhhhh pure relief!
2nd pitch isn't so steep, but oh my, look up above..................Cornice of Doom! It's big, it's overhanging and it looks mean! But thankfully I'm stood in relative comfort and I can let Andy deal with it (I can offer moral support from below if need be :oD
My first big cornice. There's no digging through this Momma, it's over the top we go! Axes in to the body of it, step up, axes in again, haha I'm climbing overhanging snow! Axes over the top, thwack thwack, throw a leg up and over and heeeeeeeeeeeeeave! Wooooohooooooo!
Off to the hut for some light refreshment in 40mph wind and it's back down easy gully we go. My arms hurt again going down and I figure it's the repetitive motion of easy ground that does it, just like my arms hurt when plunging my axes on easy ground and the reason they don't hurt on steeper ground as the movement isn't so fast and consistent.
Below another unclimbed icy step. 'I'll lead this one,' I say, the words out my mouth before I can feel nervous about stepping into the unknown. We swap the rack over and I'm ready to go. I know after the ice step it's not going to be steep and I'll have run out of rope before I reach the steep rock I can see poking up above. It's nice going, the ice is lovely and chewy and my axes sink in with pleasure, ever upwards. And up and up and up and there's no gear, nothing anywhere! The higher I go the more conscious I am of the big run of rope hanging below me (I remember this from last time too!) I veer of leftwards to a small rock section but there's no gear to be had there.
'How much rope left?'
Right, I can reach the steep rock above in 20m I reckon, so off I set. '10m shouts Andy!' Eeeeeeek, am I going to make it, yes, just! And looky at that, 2 perfect cracks to take a bomber nut and a wee block to fling a sling round. Sorted. And then the agony in my arms as I take in the rope.
I can't see where Andy goes next as it's up and to the left round a wee corner. The rope is moving slower, hmmmm, harder then? And it's just as well I couldn't see what was coming next or I'd be bricking it!
A very steep groove, with just a thin and melting smear of ice. Have to be very careful and thoughtful here. There's a wee rounded edge I can use for my left foot to keep off the ice, and 2 good ledges of the right to bridge out on a little. Grrrrrrr, this is steep! I'm groaning from the exertion of it, praying my axes will purchase on the ice enough to hold otherwise I'm going to ping off with a bit of force as I'm having to lean right out to see my feet as it's so steep! And what is there at the top of the steep wall, but the sexiest bit of turf ever poking it's wee green tufts out through the ice, TWHACK, solid! Nae matter about dodgy ice for my feet now, that beauty will hold anything!
And I'm up, 'but what the hell is Andy doing?!'
He's perched up on a rocky tower, like a wee pixie, 'just you use that block down there to belay from,' he says, 'it's a bit awkward up here!' I'm wondering why he just didn't use the block himself but don't question it (he questioned himself later!' I wish I'd taken my camera, as he looked rather comical up there!
And again, it was the cornice of doom! Andy tried up and left first, but then we decided that up and right looked smaller. A long traverse through the top of a very steep gully ensued and the he was over, hurrah!
'Try and do this quickly Sonya, it's 20 past 4!'
Oh bollocks! 40 mins to climb this, back to sacks and back to gondola for 5, aye right!
The traverse is scary! I'm not thinking much about the rope above me, though I am conscious of Andy giving it a few wheeechs so it's sitting above me. The snow has a tiny soft surface but is rock solid underneath and you really have to boot your feet in to get purchase. But I'm across, and the cornice isn't as bad as the first one and I can wack my axes over the top first time off. Getting my leg up is harder though and knees come into action and much heaving. But I'm over, no time for chat, we're off in shot! Half past, no way in hell we're getting that gondola!
Half of me can't be bothered with the rush, pessimism, convinced we'll not make it, the other half of me is screaming inwardly at myself, 'c'mon, run run, you can make it, think of the pleasure when you do sit down on that rocking seat!'
It's so bloody hot! No time to get the Montane off, no time to get balaclava or helmet off. Just a brief moment to unclip crampons when the snow gets softer and we're going so fast it's like skiing downhill on your feet! There, what's that light just down there, poking through the mist? Oh yes, it's the top station, 9 mins to go, we're going to make it!
And make it we do! Sweet relief, the effort worth it and I'm buzzing from the run! Took us 1 and half hours to walk up to the top from the gondola and just 20mins to get down 550m,not bad!
Conditions were pretty damn good early in the day. Traversing along the bottom of the cliff, there was good bluey ice all along the bottom of the area where the Web is. The steeper buttresses looked a lot leaner and it was much too misty to see much else. The ice was fantastic, axe just sinking in and even when the pick was only going in a little, it was enough to hold. Turf was solid in most places also. Temps were milder than forecast however (and wind was lighter too!), just hovering at around zero we reckoned at summit level and milder than zero later in the day as the ice was starting to thaw and drip and the summit snow which was hard in the morning, was slush by later in the day.
2 new routes near where The Three Kings is, one gradeIII yet to be named, the other Lord's Groove IV4