First of the season #ScotWinter22/23

A last minute unexpected shout and Davy and I were on the road at 6am 2 days before Santa arrives, Cairngorms bound to try out luck and see what if anything was in nick in Coire an t-Sneachda if at least get a walk in. Hopes weren’t too high given the “turbothaw” of the last 2 days but we have been lucky in the past me and him. Would our luck hold?

Rolls and sausage, and car coffee fuelling us as we made our way up the A9 in the dark, we arrived at Aviemore and the Cairngorm ski gate not in the highest of optimism – there was a lot of black earth showing around the hills… park up, jump put and wham!

2 things hit us.. one – its BALTIC! Id forgotten how cutting and cold that Cairngorm car park wind is in winter and i was very glad of my new Jottnar jacket and pants (full test post coming very soon), and my hat , gloves and buff just to get my gear pulled together ! and Two.. there is SNOW – optimism scale just went up !

Davy Wright (of My Outdoors) along with Fraser Brown is a fairly long time hill buddy (both in Scotland and in the alps – we summitted the Monch , 4107m together). Along with Fraser , Davy is someone I’d happily follow anywhere on a hill. His fitness, doggedness and experience are superb, so being on a hill with him always instils an extra bit of confidence in me , even if I do end up breathing out an orifice not intended for breathing out of, trying to keep up with him!

Myself (L) and Davy (R) on the snowy walk in to Coire an t-Sneachda

As usual he set off at a pace and by the time we got to the corrie I have forced us to stop about 5 times and was very much looking forward to the break I’d get stopping to gear up for the route . What did motivate me however for the last 20 minutes walk or so was the very clear amount of snow at least in the gullies – were were defo getting on something that might involve sharp pointy things on feet and in hands!

Coire an t-Sneachda .. and snow !
Aladdin’s buttress across the boulder field and frozen lochan (the dark mass middle left of photo), Aladdin’s Couloir runs up the left hand side of it

As the rock was very lean and its been a fair while since either of us has done anything too taxing in winter we decided to be sensible and take one of the easy gullies. The easiest route (albeit I hadn’t been on it before) is Aladdin’s Couloir , a simple Grade 1 so we decided we could solo it it , being well within our comfort. It was clear from the outset though that i was also leaner than usual, steep all over and we could see even from the route base there was going to be a short but fun step to negotiate about 50 metres from the start. (That could be off , I didn’t have a tape measure 😉 )

Tramping up to the route start, occasionally finding a nice hole that we could fall into thigh deep we got on the route and Davy led off, both of us moving relatively fast without a rope to manage . Ill cut a long story short and let the pictures tell it but we headed up, enjoying getting our arms and feet back on snow, some areas starting to firm up to a neve that would be in with a good cold blast. The step did indeed prove to be fun and offered a good training for getting back into steeper climbing but didn’t present any difficulties before we headed up the main chute before moving onto the left hand running ramp and up to the plateau.

Lower ramp up to the route proper (Davy)
Davy with me trailing behind… as usual 😀
With the spindrift I was glad of goggles.
Davy tackling steep step
Yours truly finishing the step

As we neared the top the wind was up, spindrift was getting up and visibility on the plateau so neither the trudge home via Corrie Ciste or even trying to locate the top of the Goat Track (our usual return route when climbing here) were particularly inviting so we opted for the most obvious return, heal planting back down Aladdin’s, knowing wed need to down climb the step. By now the wind was definitely increasing speed and things were getting colder.. and more “spindrifty” Our recent footprints and kicked footholds were almost filled now so it was definitely starting to come in a bit.

Its these views that I do it for – adventure on our doorstep
The team we passed on descent

We had met a group on the walk in and they had come on the route behind us , doing some winter mountaineering training, 2 teams of 3 on rope and we met them now coming down just above the step, which was am obvious “no passing” pinch point so Davy and I dug out seats and prepared for a seat and a wait. Soon the lead of group1 came up to the rock in front of us to set up a belay and had us chatting away while she methodically prepped and set up the belay, brought up her team then moved off just as the second team arrived to do the same.

By this point the chills were setting in so gloves pair number 3 – the big warm guide gloves were on and my fingers were starting get cosy again, As soon as the teams (from RAF rescue up to do Christmas cover) moved off we stated to downclimb, giving each other plenty space to avoid any real problems and once both down the step (much more fun on downclimb), back down the lower ramp of the route , a tricky wander over the rocks and back onto the path before our walk out and a coffee once we got back to the ski centre.

Looking back down to Loch Morlich

It may have been a simple route but getting out on a winter route after so long away, having the views that the Cairngorms offers up and spending the day with a good buddy made it one of the best in some time ! Couple of hours in the car and it was feet up, dinner and a tipple to reflect on a brilliant day out.

Here’s to many more to come !! Oh and Davy , you left your hat in my car !

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