Int Scottish Winter Climbing Brilliant!

So fueled with enthusiasm from last weekends winter climbing, I was feeling psyched to get out again, all I needed was a partner and a plan. I called on my friend Ian, he seems to have quite a high tolerance for fear, at least I haven’t managed to put him off yet! Ian was enthusiastic too, until I let slip the plan, that I wanted to try a grade IV 5 called Pygmy Ridge but I reassured him that I could (almost) guarantee his safety.

We left Glasgow at 5am in the Morning for the long drive up to the Cairngorms and we arrived just after it got light, and started the walk in to Coire an T-Sneachda, the weather was really beautiful, really still with the sunrise lighting up the coire with a pinky yellow glow. Unfortunately I jinxed it all, by telling everyone I met what a fantastic day it looked like it was going to be!

After assessing the options, I decided we would try for Pygmy Ridge so we set off to solo up Central Gully to the start. At the top of central gully we encountered a wee ice step, the ice was very brittle and kept dinner plating off, so I decided it would be prudent to rope up for the step and the traverse across to the base of the climb. As the more experienced climber it made sense that I went first, but when I got over the step, I realised that there would be quite a lot of tricky downclimbing to get to the base of the route and there was little gear, fortunately Ian managed it alright.

As I arrived at the base of the climb, I looked up at the heavily rimed improbable looking wall above, and started to think, oops this was not such a good idea. I had told myself it is a moderate summer rock climb, how hard can it be?

We assembled a belay and I stepped round the corner to have a closer inspection of the steep entry groove, and noticed a rusty peg just above head height. I managed to find a couple of reasonable hooks for my axes and pulled myself up just high enough so that I could clip the peg, and then lowered myself back down to psyche myself up for a proper attempt. The groove was really tricky. At one point I was hanging off one of my axes in a small hook, with my feet resting on a poor sloping ledge, poking around above my head with the other axe for the next placement, I couldn’t find one! But after panicking for a couple of seconds, I just straightened my arms and swapped over my axes to shake out, before trying again. What a huge sign of relief I felt when I found a the next good hook for my axe. The whole pitch was pretty hard, and was nicely contrasting with the start being quite balancy. There were several moves where I basically had to lean my weight in against the rock and move my feet up to the next ledge without really any axe placements to secure me. I was extremely relieved to arrive at the first belay and shouted down to Ian to follow.

Ian finishing the first pitch

By the time Ian had arrived, hindsight had already turned the terror into triumph and I shouted down to him as he approached, “that was a great fun pitch wasn’t it?” He replied “you need to be locked up”!!!

The rest of the climb was interesting but pretty straightforward climbing over a blocky exposed ridge, and feeling relaxed with the first pitch into the bag I really enjoyed leading them despite the deteriorating weather.

By the time we arrived at the summit, it was very cold, snowing, visibility was pretty bad and the wind was really getting up, so we hightailed it back to the car park as quickly as we could and just made it back before dark.

I just love winter climbing!

Deteriorating weather on the ridge

3 thoughts on “Int Scottish Winter Climbing Brilliant!”

  1. Too good a post to remain without comment, so I will add a Colin-type comment 😀 It seems a work of dedication to commute from Glasgow to the northern corries like this ❗ Is there nothing ‘in’ on Ben Udlaidh, Glencoe or Ben itself ❓ Certainly, the first of these can give very good early season climbing 😛

    Sneachda itself is now a sad little crag, hammered to death in winter 🙁 Have you seen it in summer 😥 It all took off after the TV filming of ‘White Magic’in 1994. Also, it seems to have a preponderance of falling and avalanching bodies in winter – I once saw somebody fall out of Red Gully and wipe out a roped party of four crossing the slopes below 😯 Nobody killed but helicopters circling all day 🙂

  2. I am feeling very glad now that I got some early season routes done as it has gone mild and looks like it will stay this way for a while 😎

    Yeah it is quite a long drive but its a good place to go this time of year, when the daylight is short because its a short walk in, the routes are short, and many can be climbed under powder and the masses don’t really swarm until January. We were the only people on Pygmy ridge on Sunday 🙂

    It’s not been cold enough for long enough for the ice to form on Udlaidh yet, and the weather hasn’t been as good in the west, but I am sure I will get out that way later in the season and hopefully a bit more off the beaten track too as I like exploring new places!

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