Dec 11 15
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I headed to the Cairngorms on Saturday with my friend Koon for our first winter climbs of the season.

As we set off from the car park the weather was looking very unScottish, clear blue skies, very little wind, what was that all about! So anyway we decided to head to Coire an t-sneachda, and set off on the shortish walk in, but it still felt quite hard as we were just getting used to carrying a full weight winter pack.

On arrival at the Coire it was pretty mobbed which can be quite typical for the Northern Cairngorms, it is pretty much the Stanage of winter climbing. Anyway a buttress called the Mess of Pottage looked in good condition so we headed up to that. In the rush to ensure our place in the queue I didn’t check the guidebook and in the process of gearing up and chatting to the guys in front of us, I discovered that I was just about to embark on a much harder route than I had in mind, so I ran across the base of the crag, one crampon on, the other still in my bag to the correct queue, this caused much hillarity and confusion for everyone standing around watching.

So I lead off up the first pitch of the Haston Line III,4. it was quite straightforward to begin with until I reached the crux of the climb which was a steep and tricky looking corner. I managed to arrange some good gear and pulled myself up on my ice axes which were in some good hooks to have a better look at what was above, it didn’t look easy. I went up and down several times, every time I managed to move my feet up, my arms pumped out, so I lowered myself gingerly back down again. In the end there was nothing for it, but to sort of launch myself over the top and hope for the best and I made it!

Below the Haston Line

We decided to finish up the top pitch of Hidden Chimney III to make the rest of the climb more exciting. I have lead Hidden Chimney before so I suggested it might be a good one for Koon to try as it’s well protected, but quite tricky in early season condition without much ice in the chimney. Koon did really well on it, looking in control the whole way up and making short work of it even though she told me afterwards that she was terrified! A fantastic days winter climbing.

Koon on Hidden Chimney

The Cairngorms

Sunday dawned and we were both feeling really tired and unenthusiastic about slogging into the climbs, but we managed to muster enough enthusiasm and set off for Coire an Lochan, a slightly longer walk in than the previous day. The walk in felt especially long and tiring, I don’t think I’m fully sherpa fit yet, for the winter walk- ins!

The coire was again really busy, we settled on a less well known grade III route called the Iron Butterfly. There was one team ahead, but they were sheltering in a cave at the base from all the wind and spindrift and offered to let us go ahead, so we accepted. As soon as I got round the corner from the belay and started trying to ascend the groove of the first pitch I immeadiately regretted it! The groove was totally buried in powder snow with no ice or neve in it, so I was having to labouriously dig around to find small ledges etc to stand on which took me ages. I got to a reasonable sized ledge about half way up and managed to place a couple of reasonable bits of gear in an overhanging crack off to the left. I dug out a bit more of the groove and couldn’t find any ledges, ice or protection, so decided that a better option would be to ascend the overhanging crack. I managed to get a couple of good axe placements over the top and then jammed my foot in the crack to gain a bit of height and sort of belly flop over the top! Nice!

Koon lead off on the second pitch which was a balancy and very exposed traverse, quite exciting even on second!

The rest of the climb was slighly easier but still varied and interesting, we were glad when we reached the summit, as we were both pretty exhausted, but very satisfied.

What a great way to kick off the 2011/2012 winter climbing season, I can’t wait for the rest of winter!!!

The final pitch of the Iron Butterfly

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