Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sneachda - 26th/27th Jan

Not long back from 2 days climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda, my least favourite climbing ever.  But midweek it is actually not too bad.  Still busy, but not hoaching!  And an early start on both days meant we were first on our chosen routes.
We had planned to go to Hell's Lum on Wednesday but it was raining heavily on the drive up to Andy's house and we reckoned that would be falling as snow high up, still we were hopeful.  But it dawned clagged in and drizzly and the winds were strong from the North to North East, so I decided not to risk it and just go in to Sneachda instead.
Andy had been leading clients up Spiral Gully the day before and said that conditions were really good on it, with Red Gully not being so good.  Red Gully is only one pitch really then a plod to the top, so we decided to do Spiral.  I'm happy doing easy gullies and ice routes for the time being as being more of a mixed climber, I rarely climb ice or gullies and they make me a bit nervous, but I'm determined to get used to them!
Once in the Coire, I spoke to someone who regularly reads my blog and that was nice, in fact, the whole day was quite sociable, with stops every now and then to blether to various different folk, though I was happy when a group of 3 decided to go up Wavelength rather than Spiral.  Wavelength looks a really nice route.
I led the 1st pitch of Spiral, a bit of a snow plod, but with icy bits nearer to the top of the pitch.  Right from the word go we were having trouble with my new ropes.  They are seriously kinked, often happens with new ropes, but I've never had ropes kink like this before, they were constantly jamming up in the belay device and I was having to stop every so often so H could sort it out.  I was certainly glad we had chosen something easy under the circumstances!  I carried on leading the 2nd pitch and was having trouble with the ropes too when belaying H up.  I took the left icy groove on the 2nd pitch which looked marginally more interesting, followed by a wee groove to the right of the normal route.  H led the 3rd pitch, up and round the diagonal part of the gully and then I led the last wee smidgeon to the top.  It was an okay route, but I found it pretty easy really, low end grade II and didn't think it worth 2 stars, though the top pitch had okay scenery.
I'd been climbing in my new pair of boots, Nepale Extremes and was finding them pretty sore on the walk out, ugh!  But my new axes are fantastic and we managed to place one new ice screw.  We went to descend via the Goat Track but it was blowing a hoolie at the top, so much so that the wind and needle like snow was blinding me.  Got my goggles out, only to find out that Lidl's cheap goggles are completely and utterly gaff!  As soon as I put them on they were misting up and I couldn't see a thing, so I was blinded either way!  In the end we decided to just walk around the top and it wasn't that windy up there anyway.  It was pretty pea soup though so we had to take a bearing off point 1141, walk on it for about 500m, then I reckoned we should bear more to the right to meet the ski tows.  I don't think we went right enough though as we met up with the ski tows and never once saw the main track down, but that was okay.

The next day we set off early again, but I was so slow it was unbelievable!  I can't believe I was actually struggling to get into Sneachda!  I get this weird thing because of the irritation to my spinal cord, where my legs go wonky and I feel like I have to think about how to walk and how to move my legs, rather than just automatically walking.  My legs feel weird and weak and my balance and proprioception goes all a bit wonky.  But we got there eventually, and cut off towards Fiacaill Buttress to go up Fiacaill Couloir.  We had to don crampons fairly early on on the traverse round as the ground got pretty icy and then it was a total slog up to the base of the route.  It didn't help that it was a clear and sunny day and I had on base layer, fluffy and cozy fleece, windproof and gortex jacket!  I was like a boil in the bag Sonya!  It was torture and wasn't helped by the fact that I was getting sciatica in my upper leg and my upper back was sore with my sack.  Things only got worse after that.
The 1st pitch looked easy, so I said I'd do that, so H could try leading some harder bits.  I ended up having quite a hard time, burning pain in my leg because of my back and weakness in my arms, not helped my horrible calf burn either!  It was awful and I was grunting and groaning and 'ughing and arrging' all the way up the pitch.  I felt bad for those below as I was making an awful racket!  The 1st pitch is seriously run out and even though there were bits were I probably could have scraped away to find some gear, I just couldn't stop there as there were no ledgy bits and the snow and ice was rock solid.  The ice was pretty horrible on the 1st pitch, really brittle in places, but okay in others.  I ended up running out the whole 60m without placing one bit of gear, but I just had to keep moving to get up to a good belay ledge where I could stand in comfort and easy my back and legs.
The 1st belay was palatial and a total luxury, but I was struggling with the ropes again bring H up, grrrr!  I asked H if she would lead the next pitch so I could have a rest and she maanged to get in 3 bits of gear, 2 slings and an ice screw.  The 2nd pitch finished up a snowy bit barred by a chockstone.  H was belayed just a little under the chockstone and to the left and we got ourselves organised so that H could lead the next pitch again.  The 3rd pitch was fun!  And I was kicking myself for resting as it was more like mixed climbing than a straight forward gully.  The chockstone was great fun!  There wasn't much build up under or over the stone but luckily the crack between the chockstone and the right wall was filled with useable ice.  The ice on top of the stone was hopeless however.  H slipped a little but got up just fine after that and then disappeared out of view, shouting down that she was going to take the direct grade III finish.
A while later it was my turn to go.  You had to get right up to the chockstone, reach over into that crack on the right, then bridge up onto a ledge on the right wall.  Almost doing the splits, I then had to get my left foot up, but typical, I didn't have the flexibility to get my weight over onto that high foot.  I matched my axes in the crack and just sort of leaped across and up, praying my axes would hold, which they did!  I could see that H had decided against the III finish and had decided against going down to the left also.  She had traversed upwards and leftwards instead.  She said that the icy wall at the start of the direct finish had horrible thin ice on it and no gear, so had decided against it.  The other way was nice though.  You traversed up and leftwards, then down a little groove for about 10 feet, then traversed up and left again and round a corner to an easy finish.  I climbed past H and pulled the ropes up over the top, giving H a body belay up the last leg.
It was stunning up there!  Clear blue skies with an inversion below, not much wind at all and crisp, clear air.  We were happy sitting around for a while, eating and drinking.  I was parched and starving, having forgotten to take any nibbles in my pockets for the belays.
The Goat Track was a doddle today, with soft snow all the way down so you could just walk down outwards.  I had wondered where Andy had gotten to, as we had seen him with his clients on Invernookie but it turned out he'd already finished and was bring his clients up the 1st pitch of Goat Track Gully as we headed past!
The walk out was hell, worse than yesterday!  B3 boots are evil, evil, evil to walk in and the bottoms of my feet were throbbing and my old ankle injury kept searing too.  I felt old and crooked today and annoyed at my bodies failings ruining what would have been a perfect day otherwise.    I sure hope those boots break in quickly!

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