Arrived up at Andy's around 3ish to a driveway full of new, fresh snow and had to spend the better part of an hour digging so I could get my car in. Then spend the rest of the day baking flapjack, a rather hot chilli and trying to do some maths study, until Andy and Ed got back from the North West.
We spent some of the evening eyeing up one another's axes (Ed has a ridiculously luminous handled pair or leashless Black Diamond jobbees which got us onto the discussion of leashless and clipper leashes) So, I ended up borrowing a pair of Ed's clipper leashes from his Grivel Alp Wings and fitting them on to my Tech Wings for a shotty to see how I liked trying out clipper leashes. Sad as it is, I was quite excited at the prospect of trying out a new toy!
Andy and I were up at 5.30am for the long drive up to Assynt (3rd day in a row for Andy!) The forecast looked like the very North West might catch the best of the weather, with cloud not coming in until later in the day. Certainly, the trail that they had broken in from the previous day was filled with icy footprints which bode very well indeed for conditions above.
The drive up was fantastic as I'd never been this far North in winter before, and seeing my favourite part of Scotland garbed in all it's winter glory was a sight for sore eyes. I only wish I'd thought to stop the car and get out and take photos of Ben Mor Coigach and the Fhidhlear Nose as that's one impressive piece of cliff! Makes my heart skip a beat every time I see it in summer, so seeing it plastered in snow was a dream!But a dream it shall remain, as we had our sights on other things. It didn't take long at all to walk into the Western cliffs of Quinag and before long we were gearing up at the bottom of what Andy had thought might be a gradeIII gully. From afar it had looked simple enough, a wee steep step at the bottom, followed by an easy section, then another steep step at the top. Hah! Well, the steep steps were steep alright! And my neck and shoulder problems chose today to play up again, making my arms as weak as a kitten! The initial steep step would have been a little easier but the ice at the back of the gully looked a bitty dubious so it had to go mixed at tech5. Andy had said it was tricky and I was nervous as hell! It involved a really thin hook over a tiny chockstone in a crack, balancing up on this and then backstepping onto a small sloping foothold to reach up for a better chockstone above. And then being spreadeagled above and udging across a traverse. Andy had placed a big hex down in the bottom of the corner before the hard moves and said it might need a wack to come out. So, I gave it an almighty bosh upwards with my axe hammer and the whole thing came flying out the crack and winged up to hit me square on the nose! Aaaaaaaaaarg, my eyes were streaming and it took a good bit of self control not to burst into tears and say, 'waaaaaaah, I've had enough, let's bail!'
I led the easy middle pitch which was a doddle and then Andy led on to the next steepening. Only there was no belay to be found and I had to undo my belay and move up so Andy could find a belay higher, moving up steep ground with just one bit of iffy gear between us! I do so hate these moments! Oh there was ice and snow raining down as Andy tried to unbury a decent belay from somewhere, so much so that I had to climb up some more and find shelter in a wee corner lest I get knocked down by flying debris! But finally a belay was found and next followed a really balancy mantle shelf onto a ledge, followed by a wee axe traverse and then a huge thug over a bulge up to where Andy was. Thankfully the belay was ace, and next followed another steep corner at the back of the gully, with more precarious and rounded foot holds. I sure am fast learning that my crampon points will hold on the smallest and most dubious of footholds!
Anyway, I thought it was an evil, evil gully, really bloody hard! And I bitched and moaned about how gullies were horrible dank nasty places. But, by the time we were back at our sacks I was saying, well, it was ok really, actually the technical climbing was actually quite nice and involved. And it felt rather warm and glowy knowing that when others were plowing there way through deep, deep snow or on on thawing cliffs, we had this glorious mountain all to ourselves. And ok, the snow wasn't neve but it was okay, the ice was rotten as it was too low down but the turf was totally solid and extremely helpful (apart from the bottom pitch, where the turf was of the heathery kind!)