Saturday's forecast was pretty poor - low cloud, rain and snow and a strong wind, so I wasn't really sure what to get up to. I didn't have a partner anyway so decided on a wee walk up to the CIC Hut to see how things are coming along up high. For those not in the know, the CIC Hut is a wee shelter found at the foot of Ben Nevis's incredible North Face. It's the starting place of many a famous expedition in Scottish climbing's rich history.
Fortunately, the forecasted apocalypse stayed away until I was on my way back down the hill, and the clouds were kind enough to reveal enough of the crag to satisfy my reconnaissance mission. There was a fair amount of snow up high and on the rocks. Coire na Ciste is filling up well, as is Observatory Gully, and the classic gully lines (the Point/ Zero/ Comb etc.) are all white, but there won't be any worthwhile ice in them yet. There is a bit of ice forming at the top of the Curtain and on the Organ Pipes under Carn Dearg, but that was bout it. The one area that looked promising was the steep mixed lines on the sides of Number 3 Gully (Darth Vadar/ Gargoyle Wall etc.). From down by the hut they looked nicely hoared up, and I wasn't surprised to discover that Souix Wall was done on Friday. Nice one.
White Rock: Mixed hard things around No. 3 Gully
The forecast in the East was quite promising for Sunday, so I grabbed a lift with Danny and Em over to the Norries and we made a team escent of Fiacaill Ridge. Sadly the 70% chance of cloud free Munros didn't seem to apply to Cairngorm and it was a pretty wild day with zero visability on the top. After the ridge we dropped down into Coire an t'Schneachda for some shelter while we had a bite and then trudged back up under the Mess of Pottage to the plateau before getting lost and eventually working out the right way back to the car. In the Coire the crags were looking in prime nick for Cairngorm style mixed climbing and there were a fair few teams out making use of the early season conditions. I felt quite dissapointed that I hadn't decided to go for a proper route, but I didn't have anyone to climb with anyway. Hopefully as the season kicks in properly this won't be a recurring problem.
It was great to be back out in the hills in winter though. I love the way all the different aspects add up to make something as simple as Fiacaill Ridge a bit of excitement. The slog up to the ridge and the freezing hands as we stopped to put crampons on on the wind-scoured hillside reminded me that this wasn't Bowden on a sunny evening. After a good few months without using an axe it was amusing to remember the funky moves of hooking and high stepping on mixed ground, digging and scraping at the rime to find the rock. I even managed to scrape about a square milimetre of red paint from my new axe. Now I'm just stoked for as much climbing as I can get, so if anyone, anywhere wants to go climbing, I'm here!
Em and Danny stomping up the side of Coire an t'Schneachda
It's looking like there's a thaw going on at the moment. I havn't seen the top of the Ben for a couple of days now for the clag, and it looks like a series of fronts are passing over Scotland this week, so it might be a wee while until the conditions come back. However, a decent freeze and a bit of snow are enough for most of the norries routes to come in, so fingers crossed.