Wednesday 23 February 2011

Winter skills and winter climbing. Coire An T Sneachda, Cairngorms. 21st & 22nd February 2011.

On Monday, Iain met up with pals Lee & Paul who had grabbed Iain's offer of free winter climbing tuition during their stay in the Aviemore area.

Lee was reportedly a grade II/III winter climber who was regularly seconded by his mate Paul and both wanted to take the opportunity to get on something harder and learn some new skills.

Unfortunately Monday started out somewhat different from the MWIS forecast of high cloud and moderate winds easing as the day progressed. Instead, as can be seen in the first photo, the trio experienced whiteout conditions and a strong steady wind blowing straight at us as we attempted to get into Sneachda making walking difficult and often, we couldn't see a thing!

On eventually arriving at the stretcher box in Sneachda, we could see quite a few parties milling around in the murk. One team set off to climb Terms of Endearment (III) on Aladdins Buttress and re-appeared fairly quickly - having discovered fresh windslab forming rapidly in the vicinity of their intended route.

Nothing could be seen of the cliffs above, although Iain knew that
the SAIS had indicated category 3 for north facing slopes that day and that there would be big cornices at the
head of the slopes. Climbing was off the menu for today!

Instead, Iain discovered that Paul had no experience of snowcraft nor had he tried ice axe braking before so, instead of just canning the day and walking out (it was only midday) he spent the afternoon demonstrating various techniques and the guys had a chance to practise all of them - including ice axe braking as seen in photo 2.

The wind did ease and eventually the cloud did clear so - the walk out was much better. The forecast for Tuesday had also changed from strong winds to a much more settled picture, so Iain decided climbing could be on the cards. Another MIC had recommended a little used buttress between Central Gully & Runnel Route as a useful venue for teaching climbing so Iain decided to check this out as a possbility.

On Tuesday, the avalanche category was still 3, so a buttress route was a safer option than one of the gullies. We were late setting off on this day and arrived into Sneachda to find all of the easier safer routes mobbed - apart from our buttress - so we went for it!

In photo 3 Paul leads off up the route whilst Lee, normally the man in front, belays from the first stance. The guys behind Lee had just returned to the buttress foot having soloed up Runnel Route to the cornices - you can make up your own minds about the wisdom of their actions!

Having moved up the first pitch placing running belays along the way, Paul then constructed a multi-point belay with Iain's help; and dug out a stance for Lee to join him.

Paul then brought Lee up and in this shot - having collected the remainder of the rack from Paul, Lee is now heading off up pitch two. In all, both guys got to lead two pitches each; although after pitch three, as time was getting on, Iain chose to organise anchors for the pair who wanted to be away not too late as they were driving all the way back to Birmingham that evening.

The whole route was buried under a layer of consolidated slab making finding "gear placements"
fairly hard work for all three of us. Still, it was better being on the buttress rather than in either gully. Both had hefty, impassable cornices at their heads and only a fool would have tried to get over them.

In the final photo in this post, Paul tops out on the route belayed by Lee who had enough rope to climb up above the edge, place a deadman and set up a bucket seat belay.

The final pitch was a real snow plod up the r/h side of the buttress but there was no cornice above, so whilst gear placements were poor on this pitch, it was, in reality, very easy, but at about the limit for the guys.

Both were very happy with how the day had gone and felt they had gained a lot of information from Iain which would help them with their future winter climbing aspirations.

We walked out in clearing conditions marvelling at the massive cornices overhanging the top of the slopes around the Jacob's Ladder area as we passed through the area. According to MWIS last night, the temperature was to rise to +6 - 8 degrees C and it would rain making the whole area a high avalanche category (4). Iain was meant to be out climbing again today but what's the point in sticking one's neck on the block! Thwarted by the weather again. The rest of the photographs from Lee & Paul's two days out with Iain can be viewed by clicking here.


Woodland Solutions said...

You can go off people Iain ;) Looks like you've been having a great time with your clients. Hope to join you again soon.


Iain Gallagher said...

And how could you possibly go off me eh Matt! You know where I am if you want to join one of my adventures - I've just put up the itinery for the May Cuillin Ridge Traverse, you really should join us on that.