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A Winter Highland Jaunt

A Winter Highland Jaunt. February 2015, By Chris Comerie

I received a generous offer from my long-time friend and climbing partner Paul Cleary, he had secured a reserved week in a time share apartment situated on the shores of Loch Rannoch, and the idea was to invite some friends up for a week of winter climbing. Whilst this location is not an ideal base for such an activity, it was too good to miss.

On route, to what eventually turned out to be a tired ugly concrete box of an accommodation, we took a swerve to the left through Crianlarich – Tyndrum then into the Glen Orchy. Beinn Udlaidh is an ice climbing venue of which I had never visited and knew absolutely nothing about. A relatively short trek revealed an impressive amphitheatre of ice, appearing as if candle wax had been poured over the cliffs from some heavenly crucible. The most appealing line was the classic of the crag, Quartz Vein Scoop (IV4); we had soon soloed up to the start and duly constructed a solid screw belay, an essential before taking those first tentative moves following a long absence from steep ice. The climbing was in good nick, albeit a little hollow sounding in the lower section! But it held to produce an excellent route and a good afternoon out.

From thereon in the routine was to rise at 5am each morning, followed by a couple of hours driving to the area we had chosen to climb.

Creag Meagaidh was the next arena, Paul and I chose Centre Post Direct (V5) as our objective. There was clearly too much snow and less than ideal conditions which had probably something to do with the fact that there were only the four of us at the crag!! Jamie Gartside and John Gilbert opted for the Pumpkin; we parted on the approach and were not to set eyes on them again until we got back to the car after dark. The ice was steep and a little lacy in parts, ones picks pulled through on occasion, raising the heart rate somewhat! A committing climb in deteriorating conditions. We lost the light as we topped out in high winds and next to zero visibility. My too relaxed approach had meant I had left the map and my head torch in the car, but I did have my compass and some limited knowledge of the plateau and its orientation, we found the way off and descended without incident, a long hard day.

It had been a long standing wish to climb Savage Slit (V5) in Coire An Lochain, its winter coat firmly in insitu, coupled with a beautiful day, it made it irresistible. It did not disappoint, a superb technical route with good protection made for a stunning day out, for me the best route of the week. The following day I had an easy day at base camp making inroads into my stock of Schiehallion whilst, Paul and John headed back to Beinn Udlaidh only to find that the whole lot had fallen down, probably something to do with that hollow sounding Quartz Vein Scoop?

Then there were only two, all had departed leaving Paul and I to head up to Aonach Mor in decreasing visibility although, soon after down climbing over the point where the cornice becomes passable, the sun shone through providing us with a magnificent panorama appearing through the mist. We chose Grooved Arête (V5) a technical mixed route up a narrow buttress. Things were warming up and conditions were getting soft, on the first pitch and some distance above my last protection, I managed to pull off a large block about the size of a fridge which, proceeded to scribe a beautiful airborne arc before plunging into the steep snow slopes, thereafter gouging a continuous line to the Lochain in the Coire below, exciting stuff!! The rest of the route was a delight, although I had the dubious honour of hacking my way through the cornice to exit the face, an exhausting task of an hour or so. Pulling onto the soft snow of the plateau through my hard gained slot, provided some entertainment for an unspecified amount of time, I resorted to using my adze to gain sufficient purchase to enable an unceremonious belly slither to finish the route.

I would suggest that was a pretty good week.

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