The winter continues…

February 17th, 2010 by Simon C

Our February meet in Scotland has traditionally been immediately preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year, as the cold weather continued. 🙂

We were staying at the Ochils MC hut in Crianlarich – an old favourite, especially now the mice have gone! The good conditions meant a big turn out for all three nights of the extended weekend.

Nigel and Clare set off from York well before the crack of dawn on Thursday, so had time to bag Ben Challum when they arrived. The rest of us appeared in drabs and drabs until well into the early hours.

On Friday, Carmen, Clare and I headed for Beinn an Dothaidh with the intention of climbing Taxus (III 3 ***) with the possibility of taking in the Icefall Finish (IV 4) if I was feeling brave enough. A not-quite-early-enough start saw us leave the car park shortly after 8am, just after another group of 3. A route march up the hill saw us overtake 2 other pairs, but the other team got there first. Several other teams could be seen approaching in the distance. Obviously lots of people had the same idea of getting this popular route done on the Friday, before the crowds descended at the weekend!

A couple of short ice pitches alternated with snow, and it wasn't long before we were at the decision point, where the normal finish turned left up more snow, while the grade 4 alternative carried straight on up nice looking blue ice. The decision was easy – the normal finish would have been a bit of an anti climax, and the ice was just too inviting to ignore. It turned out much easier than expected, and a couple of short pitches saw us with just one pitch left, presumably relatively straightforward. Of course this turned out to be the crux, up steep and a very exposed wall with just enough ice for some well-placed hooks, but not enough for protection!

We topped out into glorious sunshine at about 3pm, so had enough time to take in the summit and follow the SE ridge before descending to the col and back to the car.

Rob and Will also did the same route, but started an hour later – which meant they spent much of the day queuing at belays. 🙁 The last pitch had been beaten to death by the time they arrived, all the ice was gone leaving rock with a little battered turf, so probably a bit harder than earlier – as well as darker, as the sun was about to set!

Meanwhile, Tom Fliss and Nick headed for Beinn Eunaich and Beinn a Chochuil. Nigel, Peter and Annie climbed up Ben Vorlich, and then continued to Stuc a Chroin via the NE ridge (a grade I climb, though they didn't realise it until it was too late!). Some well-gritted teeth from Nigel and a copious amount of swearage from Annie led them to safety though. 🙂

Due to Rob Soupmeister's late finish we went without a starter for the evening meal, but Carmen's veg curry and Mr Sainsbury's fruit pies and custard meant no-one went too hungry!

The next day, Nigel continued his Munro quest with an ascent of Beinn Chabhair. Most of the others did a traverse of the Ben Lui hills starting in Glen Lochy and taking in Beinn a' Cleidh, Ben Lui, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig. Rivers had to be forded to begin and end the day, which finished well after dark.

Rob, Will, Carmen and I returned to Beinn an Dothaidh to climb whatever didn't have a queue! Of course the place was practically deserted, even Taxus – obviously everyone had done it the day before! Will and Rob went for West Buttress (III 4 ***), a mixed route in 5 pitches, while Carmen and I took a fancy to Cirrus (IV 4 ***), up a narrow chimney/gully to the right, despite the guidebook referring to its difficulty in thin conditions.

The ice on the first pitch, a steep chimney, was certainly thin! I faffed for ages trying to work out how to get up, eventually leaving my rucksack in the cave at the bottom, wriggling up the back of the chimney to place a nice ice screw in fat ice, before traversing back to the light and thrutching/back-and-footing up the chimney with a couple of axe hooks round fragile looking icicles, with a final swing into the upper groove and welcome thick ice and snow. The second pitch was up a splendid looking icefall, which started up a narrow undercut ice ramp – good ice for the axes, but very little for the feet, and off-balance until a hidden ledge appeared on the right allowing a bridging exit.

The last pitch looked much easier, but wasn't. After some more faffing trying to set up a better belay and retreating to the original, I led up steep cruddy snow and ice into the upper gully, and eventually emerged at the top, completely exhausted. It had taken us something like 6 hours for a 135m route! One step too far for me out of my comfort zone, it was all a bit too worrying (though with a few days hindsight for the bad bits to fade from memory I've now begun to have enjoyed it!).

To make up for the night before, Rob made 2 soups, followed by Peri's splendid sweetcorn and bean gunk with chilli sauce (sorry Peri you'll have to make it again) and then the traditional cake and custard from Mr S.

A thaw was forecast on Sunday afternoon, so Will, Rob, Peri, Carmen and I were up at 6am. Rob was so surprised at this, that he went back to bed for half an hour. The destination was the fabled icefalls of Beinn Udlaidh, which we were assured were up there somewhere in the clag. Just one pair in front of us, and of course they headed directly for the route we'd planned on doing, West Gully (III *). So a bit of faffery later we switched to White Caterpillar (III *), which starts in the same place but head left up an icy ramp.

A fine route it was too. Will and Rob went first, heading up the direct variant (IV 4) as it looked too inviting to ignore. Peri was going to head right on the original version, but the gully was not in condition, so I led through up the direct instead. The thaw had well and truly arrived by now, and the icicles were all dripping, but the ice quality was improved by the slightly milder temperatures. Steep but well protected climbing up superb ice, well worth it. Unfortunately this was followed by steep cruddy snow, and a traverse left with good axe placements but feet slipping all over the place – Peri bravely led this without placing any protection! No time for anything else, a quick descent and some hut-tidying and we were off home.

Meanwhile, after a couple of false starts – forgetting gaiters, and parking in the wrong place – Tom, Fliss and Nick climbed Ben Vorlich – the Loch Lomond one. The top was covered in mist, and it looked very like many other Scottish Mountains – white with a few rocks lying around. Inattention meant that they came down the wrong valley from the summit, sounds familiar.

Carmen and me

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3 Responses to “The winter continues…”

  1. pebbles says:

    but I LIKED the mice! Exposure to too many cartoons as a kid to blame…
    Very impressed by Simon's smooth lead of the steep direct section on WC- which was gorgeously sculptural (the ice formations, that is, not simon)

  2. pebbles says:

    ps peri was too $$%^ing cold after half the meltwater on the crag had trickled up her sleeve to be over keen on stopping to place pro on the traverse!

  3. lithos says:

    In the guide West Buttress is give III (no technical grade) but a few bits were quite stiff on P1 and P2. The gear is generally pretty good – placed no screws at all, but rock gear and warthogs were well used, recommend it as a nice route through the cliff. Taxus was a bit disappointment for me- ruined by the crowds, the low ice pitches were pretty short and uninteresting. The icefall was fun and the mixed finish very run out and scary. Sunset on top was great though. its a safe easy descent as well down the walkers approach ridge.

    I was a bit blinkered on Caterpillar, but also in some considerable discomfort by the end fron a twinging back every time i placed my left axe, and i couldnt turn. But the climbing was on good safe ice and much fun.

    Good effort from WiIll driving back as well – despite the traffic.

    Another top weekend

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