I think this was my last day to try and get out winter climbing and I'd been in touch with Rob the previous week about getting out today. We decided on an early start and meeting up at the Loch Muick carpark to climb on Lochnagar. I'd seen a photo of the cliffs on the SAIS website http://www.sais.gov.uk/ and it looked to me that with freezing levels hovering at the 1000m mark then the turf might still be frozen on Central Buttress. It was hard to tell from the photo how white/black Central Buttress was as the pic of that area was obscured by trees, but I thought that Pinnacle Gully 1 might go if the buttresses were too black and both were routes I'd like to do.
Driving along towards Ballater, I could see that the cliffs looked pretty black looking so I thought it more likely that we'd be climbing a gully. The walk in was easy going and it seemed to take hardly any time at all to reach the Col. We could see straight away that Central Buttress was a no go, and that every other buttress was completely stripped of snow, bar spots of translucent ice stuck to the rock as if by magic! From the Col, it looked like even Pinnacle Gully 1 looked in dubious condition. The route starts up a rib/groove/ramp and that was pretty much devoid of snow, bar a few patches and would have to be climbed on rock and bare turf. We thought it might just go if the turf was frozen enough and lead us into the gully proper above which would surely have snow in it.
Passing by Douglas Gibson Gully we could see that had a large and steep rock step at the very top. Parallel A Gully was falling down as we passed by, with streams and waterfalls of ice raining down the gully, looked quite horrific and didn't bode well for our route! Raeburns Gully was the leanest I'd ever seen it and looked impossible at grade II. What thin ice was left would peel away for sure. Pinnacle Gully was most definitely not in condition and ice was raining down the side walls of the Black Spout Pinnacle itself. The rock here was so bare that given a couple of days drying time, it would be inviting enough to go rock climbing on.
We decided to go up Black Spout Gully Left Branch and see if the gully Crumbling Cranny was in nick. On peering into the left branch and seeing how bare the walls were on the left side, and the ice still raining down the side walls, we decided against it, and just slogged up the main branch of Black Spout itself. The ice step in the left branch was fully banked out and non existant and I'd been up that branch anyway, but never the main branch.
The snow ran out near the top, bar a wee thin cruddy line which looked ready to collapse. We took the mixed option on the right and over rock and turfy steps and up to the right side of the cornice. It was easier to drop the axes and use hands for the rock step. Then it was into the gusty wind and showers of graupel blasting my face. Up to the summit to shelter from the wind and pack our harnesses which we'd put on where the first aid box used to be (where has that gone?) in the vain hope of climbing. We'd thought to traverse round to Dubh Loch as the day was yet early but since it was so windy, showery and the clag was down we decided to head straight down the NE spur instead, contour around the bottom of the Pap and back to the path. This seemed to take forever as it involved boulders and soft snow fields where even laid back Rob gave a couple of growls of frustration at falling into hole after hole.
Home now with my knee and back sore, but eagerly looking forward to a weekend of good weather out in the hills.