Sunday 20 February 2011

Winter climbing on Ben Nevis and a winter mountaineering route in Glen Coe. February 17th & 19th 2011

After a well earned day off, Iain was out again - once more with people from UKClimbing - Terrance Glancy & Dan Pinkney

Terrance (left in photo 1) is Irish and currently staying in Fort William, Dan, however, had travelled from Oxfordshire to take part in the proceedings. Terrance was already known to Iain - having spent two days on the hill with him this winter at the end of January when he joined Iain & Mark Collie for a day on Dorsal Arete as well as a winter skills day in Coire An Lochan. Dan had previously done some summer rock climbing and had ice climbed in France. Both were keen to try something harder and so Iain chose to take them on to Ben Nevis to climb. As can be seen in photo 1, Thursday dawned perfect. It was calm, still and clear - a rare Ben Nevis day!

Having been able to gain access for the Allt A Mhuillin top car park, the team got off to a good start and were at the CIC hut shortly after 9am. We had stunning views all around and there appeared to be very few climbing parties moving up in to Coire Na Ciste so Iain was hopeful that his intended climb - Thompson's Route (IV'4) on No3 Gully Buttress might be free.

Photo 2 shows the view towards No3 Gully Buttress from Coire Na Ciste. The buttress is just right of centre and just left of No3 Gully (the obvious slot in sunlight). Two parties were heading for Green Gully and one for No3 although they too were heading for Thompson's, as it turned out.

This was not a worry for Iain as we were in no rush and as it was, the pair ahead climbed the route rapidly and disappeared up above the crux just as Iain set off to lead the first pitch.

The route was reasonably well iced (it is renowned for staying in condition late into the season and being in condition generally due to its high altitude)
although, as usual, was steeper than it looked from below.

Iain led all four pitches and here in shot 3 looks down on Terrance who is climbing ahead of Dan up the crux chimney. Iain employs parallel rope technique when working with two climbers as it allows each independence fron the other so they can climb at their own pace and remove running belays at liesure. It also means that should we need to abseil from the route for any reason that we have 2 x 50 metre ropes to do so with - allowing for a much faster escape than if we climbed in series using only 1 x 50M rope.

The conditions were good and so was the climbing; and we ascended rapidly. One of the problems with parallel rope technique is making sure that ropes don't get tangled and we managed to avoid this problem reasonably well.

In Photo 4, Terrance & Dan belay Iain who is heading up the final short pitch straight up to the plateau.

Both are well organised with the ropes lap coiled over their attachments to a multi-point belay with no tangles in sight anywhere and as with the previous three pitches, both are clear about what is to follow and who will move off first. It all went pretty much like clockwork!

Having reached the plateau we needed to get back down again into Coire Na Ciste. The usual descent is into No 4 Gully which, at its top, generally has a fairly steep but short slope to be negotiated.

Many people choose to solo back climb down this and most do without incident. If one was to "come off" here it is unlikely that you would tumble the length of the gully but of course with crampons on your feet and axes in your hands - injury is still possible, to someone else if not to you!

Because of this, Iain always takes time to dig out a bollard (there is nearly always one at the top of here anyway!) and set up a stacked abseil in which all clients are attached prior to Iain departing the abseil station first. Once at the bottom, he can hold the ends of the "ab" ropes to make sure no-one else falls.

In photo 5 Terrance descends first followed by Dan. We then pulled down the doubled rope and walked down the rest of the gully and out to the CIC Hut before packing up our kit. A grand day out and a great route.

On Friday we were meant to go on to Aonach Mor to climb an easy but long grade 2 route called Golden Oldy. However, on arriving at top of the gondola, we were warned that due to the high windspeeds - it was likely to shut early. This would have meant a long additional descent at the end of the day and the weather was already looking ominous. We decided to quit whilst we were ahead and have a rest day instead.

The final photo here is from Saturday and is taken in the middle of Zig Zag route (GII) on Gearr Aonach in Glen Coe. Whatever it looks like Dan is about to do to Terrance - well, he didn't! At this point we were descending towards distant Glen Coe having short roped up this way, on to Gearr Aonach and all the way up to the summit of Stob Coire An Lochan before about turning and short roping back down. The guys enjoyed the day and have a much better understanding of what short roping is about and that it is not "moving together" but something altogether much safer!

On our way up to the top, we did see four climbers on one 50M rope moving together up beyond Boomerang Gully with apparently not one running belay between them. This technique gets described as "death roping" or as Tom Patey put it "two or more roped climbers simultaneously falling to their deaths". Iain was glad to get out of sight of this and was somewhat relieved later when the party of four appeared on safer gound whilst we were on our descent.

Finally, it was back to the vehicles and then off to the Clachaig for more beer & food before saying goodbye to the lads who were very grateful for their two days of tuition. Today (Sunday) was meant to be a rest day for Iain but as you can see it hasn't been. Three more days of work start tomorrow, then Iain gets another two (shall we say - non climbing days!) before the annual OM Winter Skills course commences. Watch out for the next blog update!

You can view all of the pictures from Terrance & Dan's two days out with Iain here.

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