Tuesday 28 January 2014

Scottish Winter Mountain fest. Saturday 18th - Sunday 26th January 2014

Some followers of our website and blog may recognise this photo taken of Chris Upton (foreground) & Adam Dawson taken during one of our successful trips to traverse the Cuillin Ridge of Skye in May 2008.

That particular trip to the ridge was actually, our best ever, to date! The weather was perfect and we managed a complete traverse of the ridge including an ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle and a traverse of the notorious Thearlaich Dubh Gap.

Chris & Adam have both attended a number of our courses in addition to the Cuillin Ridge trip. These include a lake District based Scrambling Skills Training Course and both have attended our Scottish Winter Skills and Winter Climbing Courses.

The pair have become firm friends with Iain and now descend upon us annually to share the fantastic experience that is the Kendal Mountain Festival taking place here each November

During the last visit, Adam & Chris discussed the idea of a week of Winter Climbing in Scotland in January and asked Iain if he would like to join them? From Iain's perspective this would not be a work trip, so would it be worth it? Well, you'll have to read on to find out!

The dates were set from Saturday 18th until Sunday 27th January. The plan was that Iain would drive up from The Lake District and Adam would get the train up from London on the Friday evening, both arriving at Chris's home in Kirriemuir, Angus.

Chris is a member of the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club who have a hut in Glen Doll - home to great winter climbing venues such as Winter Corrie and Corrie Fee. However, the lack of winter weather we had not banked on; and for the entire weekend, we found ourselves lashed with rain. Photo two shows Chris & Adam as we walked into Corrie Fee on Saturday afternoon where we almost made it to the summit of Mayar before turning back in the cold, wet & windy whiteout conditions to be found high up.

After a night in the club hut drying out in front of the logburner, we again ventured forth on Sunday. The River South Esk had risen dramatically and was now lapping at the nearby picnic bench. We decided to walk a circuit taking in the valley of the South Esk and then cutting across high up to return via the head of Glen Doll back to the hut.

Walking up the Esk Valley, the flooding was dramatic and really, wellies would have been more appropriate. Iains feet remained dry until we were forced to cross the stream in photo three, fortunately we had nothing larger than this to ford today!

The rain continued to lash down as we ate lunch in the dramatic larch woodland of Bachnagairn. Upon heading over the bealach to upper Glen Doll, we briefly encountered winter conditions when the preciptiation turned to snow! Evening was spent once again drying out in the hut and enjoying some beers in the nearby Glen Clova Hotel.

Monday saw us return to Chris's in Kirriemiur, shower; and pack to head north to Aviemore via Perth where Adam bought a new pair of Scarpa Manta Pros to replace his leaky walking boots. It was a pleasant drive in good weather and we arrived in good time - dining at the nearby Winking Owl that evening - having already prepped for the following days climbing planned in the Northern Corries of The Cairngorms.

On Tuesday, we awoke to the sound of the wind roaring in the trees outside of Karn House. This did not sound a good omen and indeed, on setting off for the ski area at Coire Cas, Iain noticed the ominous cloud cap covering The Cairngorms (photo four).

When the view is like this, you can forget any prospect of Winter Climbing in the Northern Corries. We visited Coire Cas anyway where uplift was "on hold" and the car park was being blasted by a gale. No climbing in the Northern Corries today then!

As an alternative - for a walk at least, Iain suggested heading into Glen Feshie and taking a walk up Coire Garbhlach. This corrie can be seen like a giant ravine - cutting into the western edge of The Cairngorm Plateau when driving north to Aviemore on the A9.

The rim of the corrie has a considerable number of short winter climbs from grade II to V in difficulty although today, topping out after a climb into the roaring gale and maelstrom of spindrift would have been a fools plan. As it was, we followed the Allt Coire Garbhlach all the way to the cornice at the edge of the plateau where Iain poked his head out and then retreated back to Chris & Adam waiting below (photo five).

The final gully made for interesting winter scrambling both up and down and there were some very interesting ice formations to be found in the stream. This were the closest we had come to "full" winter conditions so far on our holiday!

The MWIS and SAIS forecasts for the following day showed both less rain and less wind. Slope aspects from NW through to NE were indicated as having "considerable" avalanche risk, however, west was ok and with a decrease in the speed of the predominantly southerly wind, we decided to go in to Lurchers Crag at the foot of the Lairig Ghru.

In order to get there from the Coire Cas access road, one parks at The Sugarbowl car park and walks SW for some 4 &1/2 km passing through the Chalamain Gap (photo six) - the site of a serious incident in February 2013 in which 2 separate groups were caught & buried by an avalance - one of them, a Glenmore Lodge party!

After passing through the Chalamain Gap, we found ourselves being lashed by a stronger than expected southerly blowing through the Lairig Ghru and also getting wet from the unexpected rain! Conditions were very damp and very cold.

After getting some food and donning waterproofs, we all geared up below some easy looking lines on the northern end of Lurchers Crag, which fortunately, was now starting to appear from under the cloud. Photo seven shows Adam leading the way on a nice little four pitch route at about grade II+ in standard. Chris can be seen belaying from the rocks below & to the right of Adam. Climbing the route took about three hours and the pair were pleased at finally being able to get stuck into what we had really come to Scotland for, unfortunately, it was to be the only real climbing that we did all week!

At the top of the route, the wind grew stronger & colder; although more gaps were appearing in the cloud through which we could see down into the Spey Valley and towards Aviemore.

We found a large rock behind which to shelter and where we could "de-kit; although we decided to keep crampons on and an ice axe handy each, as up here, the snow had a very hard crust between the layers of slab that were forming.

We headed back over the northern shoulder of Lurchers crag intending to avoid having to traverse the rocky Chalamain Gap on our return to the car. At times it was hard to stay upright because of the wind and we endured periods of whiteout along the way. Eventually, the weather cleared out though; and with the Chalamain Gap in sight, we took off our crampons in the sun (photo eight) before dropping lower - back into more rain en route for the car.

Unfortunately, Thursdays forecast was looking extremely windy again and therefore it looked as though climbing was off the agenda. Of course, as well as this holiday being about climbing, it was also about getting fit again after the excesses of Christmas. So, it was decided that a low level walk into the valley of Glen Einich would be good for us.

Photo nine sees us beyond Loch Einich and in the remote but pretty Coire Odhar. On this day we walked 25km in total gazing wistfully at the cliffs to the west under Sgorr Gaoith & Sgoran Dubh Mor where there looked to be some amazing winter lines on the buttresses above.

Photo ten looks from the northern shore of Loch Einich up to the corries under Einich Cairn. Here, there was clearly a lot of snow and some very big cornices! Down the valley, it was not particularly windy, but we could see snow being whipped up way above us.

The day had started rather windy and we had endured some heavy snow showers on our long walk in to Loch Einich; although the weather did improved during our walk around the loch. Glen Einich is a truly remote place and this was Iain's second only visit to this valley.

Despite not achieving our real goal to climb, we had a satisfying day that ended with us sampling the hospitality at the nearby MacKenzies Inn into the small hours - not the best plan for another early start on the Friday. In any event, Adam awoke to pain from a strained knee and once again in Aviemore, the wind was roaring! Friday was spent taking a rest!

On Friday afternoon, we packed ready for an early start on Saturday, driving by way of Tomintoul and The Lecht Ski area to Ballater on Deeside and on to the Spittal of Glen Muick. Objective for the day, Lochnagar.

We set off at around 9:30 again, in rain and with a roaring wind. From Iain's perspective, there seemed little point in what we were doing - particularly as conditions were only likely to be worse higher up.

After trudging through rain and slush, winter appeared at the 750m contour. Above here were "full" winter conditions indeed. We struggled on against the arctic blast, eventually reaching the summit of Lochnagar (photo eleven) around 1pm.

In view of the time, Adam in particular, was keen to bag another Munro despite the conditions. So after a short and chilly lunch stop at Lochnagar's summit, we headed west into the wind to try to locate the summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach some 2.5 km distant.

This was not easy due to the whiteout conditions that prevailed, but Adam & Chris successfully found the summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach confirming so by way of a Garmin Etrek (GPS) and an Iphone 4!!

We continued on in whiteout conditions toward the head of Glas Allt Falls (photo twelve) with the cloud clearing as we reached Creag a' Ghlas Allt. All that remained was a 5 km walk alongside Loch Muick back to the car and a two hour drive to Kirriemiur where after cleaning up, we hit town for several Stellas and a good hot curry.

So thats it, seven days in what was largely, a stormbound Scotland. Did we achieve our climbing objectives? Not really. A combination of wind, weather and avalanche forecasts put paid to that.

However, for Iain, the visit to Chris's home at Kirriemiur, our stay in and visit to Glen Doll, the walk around Loch Einich, the climb on Lurchers Crag and the winter ascent of Lochnagar were all new. Each day was an adventure!

Despite the poor conditions preventing us from meeting our main objectives, we had a lot of fun and some great experiences. We worked hard, got battered, soaked and frozen by the weather, everyone's morale probably hit rock bottom at some point, maybe more than once! But each day, something would happen to make us all think "yeah! that was worth it!" The company and crack also contributed to what was really, a great week; and Iain would like to thank Chris & Adam for inviting him along.

Next time - Rjukan!

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