Andy was working this weekend and I was keen to go out and climb an established route, particularly keen to do either Central Buttress on Lochnagar or Pinnacle Gully 1. That wasn't to be though as I couldn't find a partner for the East coast, bar a timewaster.
I did manage to get in touch with a guy called Eugine that I'd met a couple of times via other folk, and who I'd meant to climb with before now, so that was nice to finally meet up for a route.
Euge was climbing on the Ben on Sunday so was keen to do something in the West. A quick phone call to friend Jamie http://www.ice-factor.co.uk/instructors/jamie-bankhead.html and we made the decision to give Glencoe a miss and head up to the West face of Aonach Mor, meeting at the car park at 9am.
Driving up in the morning, it rained pretty much the whole of the way up the A9 and across Laggan and I was highly dubious, it seemed so mild. Another wash out of a day? However, the rain had pretty much stopped by the time I arrived at the carpark and by the time Euge arrived and we were organised, it was around 10am and had cleared up nicely. We were now faced with the problem that it was late in the day, would we make the last gondola back down the hill, or have to do the 'walk of shame?' The woman at the ticket office said the last ride down was at 5.30pm whereas the board at the top station said 5pm.
The walk in to the West face seemed to take hardly any time at all and before long we were faced with the decision as to which route was which in the swirling mist. The ribs here are notoriously hard to pick out in anything but clear weather but as we made our way up to where we knew the routes to be, opposite to the NE ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach, and sat up in a little bay, we determined the line of Western Rib, which was the route we wanted. We'd both done Golden Oldie previously and Western Rib was meant to be slightly harder and a *** route. We soloed up the easy grade I flanks of the route right up to the start of the first steepening. There was a wee ice bit on the flanks which Euge had a play on, but I chose to go up a turfy groove to the side of it thanks. There was still a bit of ice about in the gullys to the left of the ribs which was quite surprising. What it's quality was like I can't attest to however.
Euge and I roped up at the steepening, Euge taking the gear first and setting off with about 15m or rope between us. We seemed to move quite fast as a pair which was ideal and there were plenty of blocks and cracks to keep 2 or 3 bits of gear between us. The first steps were fun, with a few grade III moves but nothing too taxing and there was a really funky wee chimney near the top of the step. I thought it looked hard and bulgy but right at the top of the snowy groove inside the chimney was a big foothold, then another big foothold on the sidewall, followed by loads of glorious frozen turf over the bulge. Nice! Euge had run out of gear so it was my turn to go in front. The route above was easy going, snowy ramps and blocks took me to more easy ground but I'd run out of slings. I asked Euge if he wanted to solo but we decided to keep the rope on and just weave it round blocks, either of us jumping off the other side of the ridge if the other were to fall.
I was really glad I'd kept the rope on however, as the easy ground took us to a narrowing of the rib. It was so narrow that in 3 seperate places I had to sit on a snowy arete, leg dangling either side and bum shuffle along au cheval. That was hard work! In other places I had to decide which side of the sharp snow looked more inviting to side step across and at other places I had to perch myself across and over narrow blocks. At one point I was faced with a downclimb. Eeek! I hate downclimbing! It was much easier than it looked thankfully. There was a small block on the top and I flung my extendable quickdraw around that. Then I cleared snow away down below and unburried a nice ledge for a foot. I dropped an axe and used the upper block as a hand hold and lowered myself down onto the small ledge. There was a gap at the bottom of the downclimb that was filled with snow. As I cleared that snow away, there was nothing but more snow beneath. Hmmmm. If I stood onto this snow, was it going to collapse underneath me and send me plummiting down into the gully below. Well, not quite as I had that sling as gear above me. I gently lowered myself onto the snow and kicked in my foot, solid, phew! I then traversed around a couple of blocks and onto another snow arete. I could climb this one by a foot either side but dug into the snow and axes plunged in either side.
By this point I was boiling! There wasn't a breath of wind and I had my big hard shell jacket on and my thermals! Total overkill. I hadn't drank or eaten anything since we geared up and my belly was grumbling furiously and I was really dehydrated. I kept rubbing snow into my face to cool down and shoving a hard block of it into my mouth to sook on. The ground got easier again near to the top and I felt twinges in my knee, rats! My neck had been really sore earlier on, with the bandolier of gear really digging in and causing horrible muscle spasms. Thankfully, having to concentrate on those narrowings so much made me forget about the pain. But coming to the easier ground brought it all back. I was knackered! I was moving faster than Euge, and kept feeling the rope come tight which didn't help, though did give me an excuse to stop and have a breather. At the top was a snowslope but it was so misty and there was so much snow, that I couldn't see a thing. It was disconcerting not knowing where I was going and I kept trying unsuccessfully to peer into the mist to see if I could see the top. It was a case of take a few steps and stop for a breather and then the ground started to level out and become more wind scoured, I was nearing the top. Poor Euge was moving much as I was and shouted up a few times, 'were we near the top yet?'
'Nearly there!' I shouted.
4 o'clock. Could we make the gondola? We were both starving! Stop and eat and miss ride down? Or tank it and eat once there. We decided on the tank it option, both of us grabbing a sugar hit as we packed away our gear. There was no tanking it however as it was just far, far too misty. I took a bearing due North that should keep us away from cliffs on either side of us. Luckily, Euge's eyesight is much better than mine and he was able to discern the top of the West face so we were able to use that as a handrail to keep us away from the cornices and cliffs of the East side. Before long we could see the ski tows peering out of the mist and it was compass away, head down and try for the gondola. If the last ride was down at 5 then we might just make it, if it was 5.30 then we were laughing.
It was 5.30 and we were down for 5, so were able to relax for a while, have something to eat and get our crampons off. I was pretty chuffed with msyelf. Last time I'd come to the West face I'd gotten the early climber's gondola up at 8am, had done an easier route than today and had still missed the last ride down. Today I'd started 2hrs later, done a harder route and had gotten down with half an hour to spare. Just shows how a couple of years can make you move faster and with much more confidence.
On the Sunday, D and I had a leisurly start to the day so I could have a nice lie in after yesterdays hard work and also let the showers pass through and clear up. We left home around 2ish and drove up to Corgarff to bag the Corbett, Carn Ealasaid. There was more snow left than I thought there would be but no need for crampons as it was all soft, Spring snow. We took turns breaking trail up the SE spur and onto it's broad top which seemed to go on forever. Took around 1hr and 15mins and it was time to decide whether to carry on over Beinn a' Chruinnich (or Ben Cornflake) and do a horseshoe, or just head back the way we came and down to the Allargue Inn for something to eat. It was very tempting to go back down, but I'm thinking about a planned trip to the Alps in July and know that I need to get a bit fitter so we decided to carry on. The pull up to the top was further than it looked and we cheekily cut a corner and missed out the top, contouring round to the hills SE side instead. Then it was a case of following the tops of the Lecht ski tows down onto Carn Mhic an Toisich and down the S spur to Carn Meadhonach. I remembered seeing a bit of a cornice in this area on the way up and wasn't sure if we'd come across it or not. Come across it we did! D was infront at this point and stopped at what seemed a dead end in the path. I carried on for a bit, and the snow seemed to just ripple in waves and come to an abrupt stop before a steep edge. Hmmm, no this didn't look good. I recalled seeing a path going leftwards but we decided to go rightwards instead and down a heathery slope towards the Burn of Loinherry. That was a good call as it was much quicker than following the path. We then skirted around the corniced area. Looking back, the cornice was pretty big and you certainly wouldn't have wanted to walk over the edge of that one!
That was the excitement over for the day and it was a straightforward, albeit slushy walk back to the van and to the Inn, for some food.