Already its been an amazing Scottish winter compared to the wet, mild dampness of the last. With regular snow and some healthy melt freeze cycles, keeping the climbers, hillwalkers and skiers happy, at least for the moment!
When Scotland's in, it's seriously on and in my own opinion unbeatable anywhere in terms of the quality of the mixed climbing and the ambience of the mountains, especially in the hour before the sun sets on a rare blue sky day, with the mountains blanket white fading down into heathers and mosses of deep browns and greens, with mirroring reflections from the still sea lochs. As the sun dips and turns the highest summit bronze in colour a moment to stand, being thankful and absorbing it's energy with friends is a privilege. Moments like this stay with us and makes all the effort of early mornings, long walk in's and the normal daily weather battles, worth it. Many of those out in the Highlands this past week will agree, I'm sure.
Teaming up on the Friday with Pete Whittaker, a rock climbing weapon but winter newbie, he was on day 3 of his winter climbing career. I'd previously climbed with him a few weeks before on the classic "Central Grooves" in Stob Coire nan Lochain and "Strident Edge" on the Ben. I knew I had my work cut out when he asked for a postcode for his car's satnav to a small remote parking spot where we would meet the following morning. A POSTCODE!!!!. Then after watching him spend 10 minutes to work out how to put an axe onto a pack, alarm bells started ringing but was impressed with his attitude and "can do" personality. Being such a talented climber as he is for sure, gives him a good head start but adapting to winter isn't easy. It's not just about how many lock offs you can do, its about learning to take care of your body in a challenging environment to be able to continue in bad weather, to suffer and push on when your freezing your arse off and when abseiling would be an easy way out. With Pete now nicely warmed up and sort of knowing what to do with axes and which way to put his crampons on, I felt I could sign his apprenticeship off! It was time to step it up but that said Pete still insisted shouldering his axes and hand jamming wherever it was possible. He's such a Wideboyz!
Walking in to Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Biam, conditions where perfect apart from having to break trail all the way in. It's a savage enough walk as it is steep and in your face from start to finish but the banter and the view of the buttress nicely rimed in the morning light was enough of a motivator to get in.
We wanted to attempt "Church Door Angels" VIII/9, a Donald King route from 2014. The line looked great so I set off, climbing the lower front face of the tower to Flake route, with some great face climbing on tiny but mostly good hooks, before a few wiggy moves higher up to pull onto a big ledge. I chose to belay here to get Pete moving to stop him chilling down and also retrieve some small wires which looked like would be needed higher up.
Pulling tricky moves into the right hand facing corner above, with some unreliable gear in icy cracks, I locked into a good hook to shake out and sort some gear for the harder moves that looked to be above. The corner crack became flared and the feet disappeared. Leaning out torquing the axes, three deep lock off's followed, smearing feet on nothing in the corner and onto the right wall, I pulled through and out left onto a ledge before two more droppable "moves" onto the top of the pillar and the belay. Pete came up and followed Donald's description to the top of the Arch and the abseil. Speaking with Donald later he confirmed our 2nd ascent of his route, which we both thought gave brilliant 3 star climbing.
Abseiling off the top of the Arch, I spotted a line that to my knowledge hadn't been done before and it looked amazing. Pete equally psyched, meant that we both knew what the plan was ready for our next day out!!
A day later and this time joined by Nick Bullock, we heading back up the long slap to Church Door Buttress, although time passed in a breeze playing Pete's FFFF game, which was forced upon me and Nick but we only went along with it to pass the time!! The weather was bluebird, with not a breath of wind. The plan was to go for a possible new line up the right hand pillar on the Arch in two pitches and to then continue above climbing new ground to the top of the buttress. Perfect, a pitch each then. Pete fancied the look of the opening pitch for his first "proper" winter lead. No surprise a wide crack to a step left around a bulge to the belay, with a mix of hand jams, finger and ring locks and with the odd axe torque thrown in, he did a top job to get us established beneath the 2nd pitch. Myself and Nick followed to a rather uncomfortable hanging belay off a hollow flake. Looking up the line looked amazing.
It was my lead. I followed a left trending crack before a move right to join the bottom of the main splitter coming down the wall from the bay above. Thin feet with one big rockover whilst leaning out hard on the axes became the crux, before sustained moves above to frozen turf and a belay in the back of the corner. Nick followed first, Bullhorning his way up in style and clipping any tricky gear removals from his rope onto Pete's for him to get out instead, showed all his experience! Pete then followed, smashing in a few jam's and fighting with removing gear. Nick looked down smiling!
Nick racked up and made short work of the bulging corners above in his typical drag the axe until it stops on something, no matter how shit, then pull and commit style. Climbing with Nick always makes me smile, apart from being out with one of my best mates, I always get inspired by his confidence on unpredictable placements with wiggy gear. Nick took an intermediate belay above and right of the top of the Arch, following a steep rightward trending line to a leftward facing hanging groove, then pulled through and followed a ramp left with some useable ice in to the top of the buttress just before dark.
Myself and Pete followed, topping out to the most beautiful sunset. You could have almost been in the Himalayas with the mountains white as far as the eyes could see. Days out don't get much better than that......
1st ascent "Dark Angel" VII/8? Church Door Buttress, Bidean nam Bian, Glen Coe.
Above the line of "Dark Angel" VII/8 The climbing is fantastic and worth more ascents....Go get after it.