Worth a punt?

There’s a lot of guesswork involved in Scottish winter climbing. Making decisions about where to go, and whether conditions will be amenable to climbing. It’s been even more of a gamble this year, with a lot of stormy, wet and much milder conditions than we’ve been used to in recent years.

The weather forecast for this weekend was particularly uninspiring. Saturday was wet, wet, wet and the freezing level above all but the highest summits, and Sunday was only slightly cooler, with showers and strong winds. But we decided that we’d try to get out on Sunday. It poured the whole way as we drove up to Glencoe on Saturday and we couldn’t see much snow on the mist covered mountains. So we weren’t feeling too hopeful about our chances of any winter climbing on Sunday.

But after an evening at the Clachaig, (where we met a couple of Yosemite climbers on vacation, who seemed to love Scotland and even think the weather was great – strange!) we packed all our climbing kit and set our alarms.

When we awoke on Sunday it still seemed to be raining quite heavily and it didn’t feel cold at all outside, so we took our time drinking our tea and coffee and then drove up to the car park. It was still raining, and quite blustery and we couldn’t see much in the clag, so we waited a bit longer, searching for some motivation and hoping it would clear up a bit soon.

It didn’t really get any better and time was getting on, so we decided we would need to set off anyway. We got pretty damp in the drizzle, heading up to the coire and there was melt water everywhere, running off the hill. So we almost resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d not get anything done. But at least we’d been out and got some fresh air and exercise.

We were quite surprised when we arrived at the coire and we could see everything was white and there were lots of teams already out climbing routes. There was no-one on the classic SC Gully, so we decided that we would go and take a closer look.

The cliff of Stob Coire Nan Lochan, with Sc visible in the centre (Photos courtesy of Gordon Smith)
The cliff of Stob Coire Nan Lochan, with Sc visible in the centre (Photos courtesy of Gordon Smith)

When we got nearer we could see that the first pitch looked a bit melty and hollow, but we built a belay, and Adrian put in as much gear as he could find and lead off up the ice steepening, it was tricky for a few metres with insecure placements but it soon firmed up into more reassuring neve and Adrian found a good peg belay.

The second pitch looked STEEP! So I was feeling quite intimidated by my fast approaching turn to lead. Adrian spotted a high runner, so I placed that first and then descended and traversed across to the steepening. As soon as my ice axes touched the neve, I was reassured. It felt so solid, and secure. So I set off up the pitch. It actually turned out to be reasonably secure neve all the way and quite an enjoyable pitch to lead although gear was a little thin on the ground.

The steep middle pitch
The steep middle pitch
Hiding from the spindrift!
Hiding from the spindrift!

The last pitch was just a long runout up the gully on more neve to the cornice, which wasn’t too terrifying either.

Adrian also commented that the bumsliding conditions on the descent were some of the best he’d encountered!

Fine Scottish Conditions on SC Gully
Fine Scottish Conditions on SC Gully

Good fun was had by all, and it was great to be out on a day when we really didn’t expect to be able to climb anything.

3 thoughts on “Worth a punt?”

  1. Awesome effort guys to be out on such a day – I know I’d have found it very difficult to leave the car sat looking at the mizzle! 🙄 But I guess it’s a simple as those who get stuck in get rewarded. :mrgreen: Shame on the rest of us for not trying, wish we’d been there with ya…

  2. Yes I wish it always worked like that! There have been lots of occasions when I have made the effort to get up and walk in somewhere only to have to retreat due to weather or conditions. 🙁

    A stranger took the photos (Gordon Smith) but he was kind enough to post them on UKC afterwards. :good:

    The new helmet is great, def won’t lose it in the snow, and it was so reassuring to have one on my head after managing without last weekend!

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