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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A weekend of two halves.

A while ago we had come up with a plan to spend a long weekend winter climbing in Torridon. With the dates set, it wasn’t long before Ryan had used his connections to book beds in the Ling Hut. Everything was looking great until I went for a boulder on Thursday night and strained my neck. The next day, I sat at home swallowing painkillers and self pity with the prospect of not being able to climb. By afternoon, things , including my head, were looking up and this was enough to get me to the hut that night.

At the hut we were met by familiar faces from the Leeds Mc, a club I had been a member of a few years ago. They had been in Torridon for few days and were not optimistic about conditions. With the motto ‘Nothing ventured, Nothing gained’ we decided we would have a look anyway and agreed on going to East Buttress IV/5*** on Beinn Eighe.
We woke at 5.30 in the morning and headed out into a very mild morning. The walk around to the crag was pleasant enough with no gruelling uphills or gale force winds to contend with. After a few hours, we came to the loch and looked up in disappointment at the ‘lean’ conditions. There was the odd strip of ice, and some snow lay on the terraces but the rock looked bare. We decided that having made it this far we would go up in any condition, and in the back of our minds hoped we might find a pitch ‘in nick’ further up.
The traverse to the foot of the climb included a very exposed step but we were soon kitted up and ready to go. Leaving the ice axes in the bag, Ryan led off with crampons. It proved to be good Diff climbing but with loose rocks waiting to be kicked off by the careless climber.
We led through four pitches and saw only snowy ledges and the odd iced up crack. After this we roped up to together and scrambled out the top pitches.
The climb, although not a winter route, was good practise in climbing with crampons. We quickly headed down the south side, glissading the snow and surfing the scree. We got back into the hut as the sun set and the rain began to fall.
Torridon was off, so we decided that we would find out the conditions and head east. The next morning we woke at 5 from a very comfortable night in the warm and cosy hut and headed off to the Cairngorms. After following a slow convoy of cars up the ski road, we met up with Henning and Adam who were going over to Coire an Lochain. We decided to go the other way and head up into the Coire an t-Sneatchta.
After overtaking a myriad of parties heading our same way, we kit up at the rescue box. Looking up it was obvious that Patey’s route was in condition with the Alton Towers length queue. On my list was Fluted Butress Direct IV/5***. Fortunately this was free so we slogged up the slope and took a belay below the chimney.
Nerves were playing in my mind as I set off and wasn’t helped by chossy ice and illusive gear placements. Coming to what looked like a particularly choosy and protection less section, I spent an age cursing and faffing around finding gear. At one point shouting “I’m not going with out any gear” which was bluntly replied with “Well there isn’t any!” Unperturbed, I eventually hacked away and found a bomber nut and a good foothold. Confidence restored, I shot up the rest of the pitch.

Ryan’s patience was rewarded with cold feet and hot aches but he joined me in no time at the thread belay. Ryan headed off up the next pitch to be met by more chossy ice and even less protection. He kept his cool, not one expletive heard, and worked his way to the crest. This was followed by a protection less, tricky rock step which I, on second, almost came off.

After suffering the hot aches myself, I set off on the next pitch which was an enjoyable scramble over boulders that brought us quickly to just below the top. Ryan came up and we walked off to the plateau to be met by the madding crowd. A total contrast from yesterday, were even the lone deer, on Beinn Eighe, seemed glad of the company.

After de-kitting and taking off crampons we headed down the goat track with a good bum slide. At the rescue box we were met by four members of the Moray MC club ( Sarah, Dan, John and Illona) which Ryan was a member of. All six of us walked down and went into Aviemore for choclate chaud (Very good from SKI DOO café) and butties (They didn’t sell cake!). A good weekend, lets hope it begins to freeze over soon.

By John Forester.

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