Scottish Winter – that season we all crave – ice, snow, neve.. climbing gullies, ice or mixed when prep includes sharpening point things, planning how many pairs of gloves you might need (I take at least 3) and the travel decisions include who’s car isn’t rear wheel drive to cope with icy tracks.
Its long , cold, dark (but somehow also sweaty) walk-ins with a pack that I’m sure gets heavier every year despite me training more.
Its wondering what conditions will be like, will it go? will it still be there after that slight rise in temperature.. will there be another 50 people also trying to get up it meaning the long, slow freezing wait on belay stances.
Its frozen ropes, sodden gloves, painful and somehow also numb fingers, running noses and feet of frozen pins and needles.
Its “hurry up I’m bloody freezing” or “slow down I’m trying to get this gear out this icy crack”.
It’s bloody brilliant and we are all waiting for it – especially after a poor season last year.
Last weekend we saw it start.. mid week social media posts of rimed up rock and teams out on serious grades taunting us weekend warriors.
Sunday? Quick hit says Davy? .. tricky , got a dinner. Aye. I’m in!
6.30 we set off from mine to get to Glencoe for 8.15am.. the aim to be at the base of Boomerang Gully in the high bowl of Stob Coire nan Lochan after the torturous 800m trudge up from the valley floor by 10.30. “They don’t call it the Hurt Lochan for nothing” says a passing climber.
We made it .. it hurt.
That final steep push out of the valley and pop out up to the lochan now, the black walled amphitheatre that forms our objective behind it . Routes all across it , all grades.. and surprisingly empty.. then again with so little in nick its not really that surprising but fortune favours the brave so …
mmm … a lot of Andesite black.. not so much snowy white .. ah lets give it a bash.
Up over broken ground, more rock than snow, into the mouth of the gully. up into deeper, light but slowly hardening snow then into a rock to gear up.
Davy moves off taking first lead, moving together, little abject danger. We arrive at a rock step that normally in winter would be fully banked out. Choss, dirt and some semi frozen turf is all that on offer as Davy puts some running protection in and manages over it, me following.
I swing lead, laying the footprints higher up the gully, breathing hard, swimming at times but every stop to look around reminding us of the sheer joy it brings. The steep route below us, to be perched high and exposed looking across the whole range of mountains around us from our vantage point.
Davy swings again to lead, timing is everything and he is again at the sharp end when we hit the next small mixed section. Some fun with axes and hes over and up. I follow and while making my move up my crampons fail to catch and i take the full weight of my slightly out of shape body on one axe…. bomber ! (That ice wall practice paying off again). The shock brings a smile … now we are climbing !
We easily make it up now and out, the hoolie of the wind tearing at Goretex. we strike right across the top of the gully and to the descent to top of broad gully to drop back into the quiet, muffled protection of snow and out of the wind.
Its steep and not too full of snow so downclimb to start then turn and trudge down and out.
Late, that dinner I need to go to.. off we go , getting back to the car in a quad-killing, heart pounding 1hr15mins… and off we race back to Glasgow. Excruciating cramp spasming through my legs as I drive.
Was it the perfect bluebird winter climb – no.
Was it brilliant day, climbing in beautiful mountains with a good mate? You betcha!