It's still buried, the Ben. The snow just refuses to budge and climbers are still ticking the classic ice routes that streak those hallowed walls. Despite this, however, I've pretty much taken the decision to hang up the tools for another year. I say 'pretty much' because if some routes that I'm hankering for come in I'll head up, but I just can't be bothered with the continual condition checking anymore.
I've got a circuit of websites that I constantly check whenever I go online: the SAIS avalanche forecast, MWIS weather forecast, BBC weather forecast, UK Climbing winter forum, Abacus Mountaineering, Highland Guides, Mountain Plan, West Coast Mountain Guides. What routes are in? Will it be frozen? Will the slope release when we try to get to the route?
After four and a half months of it, I've lost interest. I just want to climb rocks in the sun. It's so mush simpler. In a way, I feel a bit guilty. I think it's because the Ben is just above town, and I'm constantly reminded that I could still be winter climbing with a passion. Maybe I'm a soft-cock. Just a half-hearted winter climber, whose running for the convenient option as soon as it shows itself, but hey. I've done most of the routes that are getting done now anyway, so there.
(photo: Rik Higham)
So, the winter that was: a low down
Sadly, thats an easy one. Number Three Gully Buttress is well regarded as a great grade III, but when Chris and I did it in early March it was banked out with bomber neve, was pissing snow, graupel and windy as hell. After breaking trail into Coire na Ciste in knee-deep freshies we got amongst it. Excluding belays I think I placed two runners in four pitches. It was the easiest III I've done, and because it was minging I wanted to get off the hill as soon as possible so just legged it up the route. Oh well.
Being cheesy, they say there’s no such thing as a bad day. To an extent I guess that’s true – there’s always something to take away, even if it’s that you should have stayed in bed. There were a few times this season when I’ve been sat in a car park as the rain lashes down or the wind howls, and in my heart known that leaving the warmth of the car is pretty daft. I guess there’s a time for optimism, throwing reason to the winds and ‘avin it in the heart of the maelstrom. There’s been a few times too when it’s gone the other way, and we’ve had to jack it in on the walk in. Those are always the worst days.
What did I learn?
Go leashless! This year I went leashless for the first time and it made a huge difference in all aspects of climbing, especially on mixed ground. Using leashes just seems daft now.
So, with about 15 routes in the bag (not counting a few days playing), 3 bailed attempts, a days skiing and 5 days avalanche service work, that is the winter that was. Bring on the summer.