Tuesday, 1 December 2009

WINTER IS HERE! - 28-30th Nov

Not before time!
Andy and I got out climbing for my 1st winter route of the season on Saturday, Andy's 2nd.  At long last there was the prospect of snow on the cliffs coinciding with me feeling well and it being a weekend.  Wasn't too sure if Andy would make it out at first, having come down with the flu bug that seems to be making the rounds.  But come Saturday he felt fit enough to get out.
We were originally going to go out into the Northern Corries and my heart sank a little at the prospect, crowds upon crowds upon crowds would surely be there this weekend.  I'd tried to persuade Andy to go somewhere different, Lurcher's?  Sgor Gaoith?  Sputan was even half heartedly mentioned but seemed too far under deep snow for even my liking.  So I was delighted on Fri evening when I arrived at Andy's that he was inspired enough to forget about a short day and we could go down Glen Einich.

We were off at sunrise, walking up via Meall Tionail and Buidhe to the col between Sgoran Dubh Mor and Sgor Gaoith and the pines poking through the mist of the edges of Inshriach Forest, and the early morning temperature inversions with swirling cloud down in the valleys below as we got higher, made the torture of heather bashing up to Tional more bearable.  The snow level started around 850m, surprisingly firm with a crust on top, annoyingly breaking through though, making the going tough seen as I'm a bit out of condition.  We had turns about at breaking trail and before long we were searching for the descent down to the cliffs below Sgor Gaoith.
The gully descent was easy, grade I ish, but the snow soft enough that we could face out and tromp down carefully, just one little step requiring facing inwards. 

The first pitch of the ridge line Andy had spotted was a bit hairy, with conditions not being perfect, and care was required (ie, it was terrifying!)  I led the 2nd pitch, following up the groove, over a turfy bulge, further up the groove to a knife edge arete.   Hmmmm, I'd run out a lot of rope with only one runner and was a bit dubious about getting onto the arete, so chose to belay below, digging myself into a bucket seat and braced stance to bring Andy up.  I'd worried over nothing though, the moves were no problem, although I probably wouldn't have had enough rope!  The 3rd pitch had an interesting down climb wich looked hard from above, but easy enough.  Then followed a tricky and thuggy wee groove to be wedged in between a flakey pinnacle block and a blank slab.  My pitch?  Er..........?   Hmmmm.......?   I tried to stand on the flake and lean across onto the slab to hook my picks onto nothingness, one foot on top the flake, the other moving across to a tiny edge on the slab.  No way!  That felt way too precarious for my liking!  I tried it a couple of times, but bottled it in the end, passing the lead to Andy.  I was still utterly sh*ting myself though, as Andy leaned across from the flake to the slab, I was perched underneath him, crouched down low, a sudden slip would see me getting a face full of crampons!  Not a pleasant prospect!  Teetering above, Andy made the moves and I relaxed until I realised I still had to climb the damn thing!  I did so with the aid of a VERY tight rope!  And I mean aid when I say aid, as I think I'd have fallen had the rope not been tight and kept me in balance as my crampons skited about all over the shop!  My discovery that slabs in winter are just as horrible as slabs in summer!
My pitch had a wee step, followed by troughing up through deep snow on the ridge line and an easy solo up to the top.  First new route of the season, hurrah!  And a nice route it was, Gaia III 5, tech 5 feeling quite sneaky for a first route of the year!

We were up and down the hill and route in 8 hours which felt pretty good going and on coming down I met up with D, we had a quick cuppy at Andy's and zoomed off in the van to Fersit for the night.  Thankfully we weren't up too early, and it felt all too good to be cozy and lazy in the van before finally setting off for  Stob Coire Sgriodan and Chno Dearg.  The day started off boggy and haggy and upon walking up the side of the Alt Chaorach Beag, we heard then saw a chopper hovering over Sron na Garbh-bheinne, circle round, hover again, before dropping down a winch, pulling back up and flying off in the Fort William direction.  
Slippy up on those rock perhaps, neither of us had bothered with an axe and decided to cut up an easy ramp and keep to the soft snow and up onto the ridge of Sgriodan, a single crow hovering like a dark omen, and I was reminded of that poor girl on Ben Alder last New year and wondered what became of her, if she was okay.

We met someone coming down from the hill and asked if they knew what the chopper about.  Neither of us caught what the guy said fully, but I'm sure the word stretcher was used.  The guy also commented that he had bailed from going up to the summit as the wind was strong up there.  Certainly, upon reaching around the 850m mark, and into the snow proper, the wind was biting!  I was getting weary, blood sugar dropping and had to stop for something to eat.  Amazing how you perk up instantly with that hit of food!  We braced against the wind and carried on to the top, no views apart from a thick ish mist and the cold of the wind for company.  We played about with D's Anometer for a while and I was surprised by it's low reading, thinking that the wind was surely gusting 50.  Whatever the wind speed was, we both decided to forget about Chno Dearg as we'd started late in the day and the thought of the wind, mist and having to navigate all the way round to C.D with no prospect of any views was less appealing than going back down to the warmth of the van, and a chippy for tea in Fort William.

Monday was a far finer day and after another enjoyable lazy morning, we set off for Chno Dearg.  My god that hill is a slog!  The munro books have these hills as being an easy day, and I dunno if I was just knackered after the previous 2 days, but I found it one of the toughest hills I've been up!  There was nothing but bog, heather and tussock to fight your way through, all the way up to around 800m-ish, then the snow line where the heather was shorter thankfully.  My legs were screaming at me, and after breaking through a hole and wrenching my knee again, I made a half hearted attempt at being stubborn but was trully happy for D to go first.
I quickly came to the conclusion that winter hillwalking is much, much tougher than winter climbing!  And I'm amazed at D's ability to keep going without as much of a breather, whilst I'm struggling and gritting my teeth, every step utter torture!  The summit was beatiful though, worth every painful step, with views down to Glen Coe, Etive and across to Knoydart.  I could have stayed up there with D forever, 2 icy statues embraced and frozen in time upon the hills of Glen Spean, it was so lovely.  D pointed out distant hills and lochs and some of their meaning in Gaelic, places he'd been to and high camped at and I'm astounded at his memory for all these things.  I seem to take things in and then instantly forget and I wish I could retain some information about the place names of hills and their meanings.
We decided against carrying on round to Sgriodan again, and just went down the col to the loch between 2 hills, nattering occasionaly about this and that, but both enjoying the peaceful silence that a weekday on the hill can often bring.  Well, peaceful until my curses that is, after slipping and wrenching my knee again.  It was an utterly gorgeous day on the hill and I felt sad to leave and go our seperate ways.

My knee has been awful today, swollen and painful with horrible spasms which cause my knee to lock and buckle underneath me.  Started to get irritated by it now, and worried it's going to stop me in my tracks at some point.  I'm hoping a few days rest will see it calm back down so I can enjoy another bout in the hills soon.

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