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.
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!