Sunday 20 February 2011

Sron Na Lairig, Glen Coe, Tuesday 15th February, 2011

After their success on Dorsal Arete the previous day, Neil, Paul & Dave were keen to attempt another grade two winter route to put their refreshed winter mountaineering skills into practice.

The original plan - had the weather been good, was to go and ascend Summit Gully on Stob Coire Nam Beithe - however, strong south easterlies were loading all NW facing slopes up to avalanche category 4 making Summit Gully a potentially dangerous proposition and so we decided on Sron Na Lairig - a little further up Glen Coe in the Lairig Eilde and photo 1 shows the ridge - facing us as we started the walk in.

Sron Na Lairig is a popular Grade 2 winter mountaineering route and as well as being a ridge making it safe from avalanches, it is also north facing and protected to a degree from south easterlies, by the E/W ridge on to which it joins.

We missed out the first part of the route and chose to join it slightly higher up where it becomes a ridge proper. As, during the previous day, Dave had spent the entire time being the middle man on the rope, today, he was propelled into the role of lead climber for the entire ridge - with the support and coaching of Iain.

We led up a few pitches anfd then found ourselves on easier ground and so, as in photo 2, Dave got to have a go at short roping Neil & Paul up to the next steep buttress. So far, the weather had been reasonable with clear skies although, as we climbed higher, we began to lose the shelter from the approaching ridge and the wind began to blast us with powder snow.

Photo 3 shows Dave belaying Neil & Paul up to the top of the second buttress - just before the arete.

Having gotten on to the top of here, one descends slightly and then re-ascends on to the narrow arete.

Here, belays were sparse, it had clouded in and the wind had picked up to a degree where communication was becoming difficult. It was clear by now to Iain, that the teaching part of the day was over and that he needed to lead the party over the next bit of ground as quickly as possible.

Photo 4 shows the view from the final belay. Neil and Paul are traversing the final part of the arete which finishes in a snowslope going straight up on to the main ridge.

This area was covered in deep windslab which appeared to be stable and so Iain was able to bring the party up swiftly to the final rock buttress above which loomed the main ridge - only about 20 feet away; and, also, a fair cornice.

Having left the team attached securely to a spike, Iain led up the final slope towards the cornice. The slab got deeper as the cornice reared up and Iain was forced to dig a progressively deeper slot as he climbed up to maintain contact with the neve underlying this snow.

The wind was blowing in an absolute maelstrom as Iain hacked through the cornice - at one point flailing with his adze as he couldn't open his eyes for powder snow. Still, he quickly got up and though and found to his amazement that there was hardly any wind on the main ridge - what was all that about??

Setting up a belay from some nearby rocks, Iain brought up the rest of the party (photo 5) and then after packing up the kit and some food and drink, we made our way down east to a shoulder and dropped
back into the head of the Lairig Eilde. An hour later, we were back at the vehicles. 15 minutes after that, we were tucking into our first pint at the Clachaig (surprise surprise!) followed by some of their excellent food - a great end to two fantastic winter mountaineering days with Kendal Mountaineering Services.

The trio went on two days later to traverse the Aonach Eagach from end to end in under six hours using the skills they had learnt from Iain who has suggested that next time they tackle some steeper ice routes. Green Gully?? Well, we'll see!

All of the photos from Neil, Paul and Dave's two day winter mountaineering course with Iain can be viewed here.


Unknown said...

Hi Iain, Another great day out and excellent pictures as well.

Iain Gallagher said...

Thanks Neil. It is always uppermost in my mind to make sure everyone I work with has a great day out and gets the chance to learn whilst in comparative safety. It was an interesting day, but you certainly went on to use those skills I have taught you well - the Aonach Eagach is a great winter tick for anyone - and to do it in 6 hours. Good going indeed!