Thursday, 13 March 2008

Winter Rumbles On

So with the car still in tatters in the Edinburgh Skoda dealers I fled back North to the peace and solitude of the hills. Steev, Jo B and Chris came up too to try and make the most of a Fort William base and to get some climbing done on the Ben.

It started badly.

Sitting in the car in the north face car park at 6.30 a.m next day with the incessant rain dribbling down the wind-screen. I utter the words that put an end to any climbing plans: “any-one want a brew back at mine?” No-one really fancied the slog up to the routes in the ming, so before long we were stationed back in the crucible and supping the life-blood of the climber – tea.

Next day dawned much better so this time we actually started walking in. Chris and I had originally planned to head for some icy gully action, but since it was dumping with snow we decided that a buttress route would be a safer bet. There was a huge amount of fresh snow lieing about and blazing the tracks up to Number 3 Gully Buttress was a real ball-breaker. Never the less, we romped up the ‘three star grade III’ (I thought it was more like a 1 star grade II, but hey, what does it matter) into a festival of misery on the plateau. Part way up the second pitch Chris decided to quit winter climbing, so the lead was all mine. Poor chap. Wind-thrown graupel battered our faces as we sorted the gear, so we rapidly descended down the zig-zags and legged it back to the car. Steev and Jo B had the usual fight with a powdery Slingsby’s Chimney so decided not to continue up North-East Buttress. Good mountaineering.

The sanctuary of the plateau: Chris not long after giving up winter climbing

We sat Monday out as ‘the biggest storm ever, in all eternity, officially’ was on its way, but didn’t get further north than Yorkshire. Mind you, they did have 46mph winds in Birmingham. Imagine. 46mph. I’m surprised anything is left standing after such a wave of destruction.

Tuesday, however, was a stonker. The MWIS forecast lead us to the Cairngorms, and although Jones and I had planned to head to Hell’s Lum in the Loch Avon basin, a threatening looking plateau sent us scuttling down into Coire an’t Schneachda. We climbed Fluted Buttress Direct, a continuous groove up the centre of Fluted Buttress, obviously. It’s a good IV,4/5, and was fairly buried, but Jones did really well on it. I feared that blootered funky Cairngorm granite grooves would be a bit too much for Jones’ fledgling winter climbing repertoire, but she soon demonstrated that it’s really not that hard. Go girl!

Biggles on Fluted Buttress Direct

Jones under a pretty buried Fluted Buttress, after 'sending' it (her words).

By the time we topped out the blue-skies of earlier were long gone and the frontal system from the west was in full affect. A swift descent saw us back at the car in time for tea and tiffin. We bumped into Steev and Alex on the way down and they had backed off something hard on Carn Etchechan (not Route Major, which they had aimed for).

Today (Thursday) Jones and I fled the ming in the Fort and headed for a walk on the Ardnish peninsular, in Morar. A pleasant path weaves across the headland to the Peanameanach bothy. Despite only being twenty-odd miles from the Fort, the weather over there was much better, with sunshine and a gentle breeze for most of the way. Marvellous.

Peanameanach Bothy: it's somewhere in the middle, honest.

On the way back I heard some good news about my car: they took it for a long drive and it broke down on them. A new drive shaft is required. At long bloody last!

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