A life time of training for something so ephemeral as winter climbing can be challenging on the mind. Are conditions in, not in ? Will it be good in a few days, maybe a week ? Should I play it safe and just go rock climbing in Spain ? For sure I'm fortunate to have these dilemma's in my life, and It’s something I don't take for granted.
That’s why making the right choice in what I'm doing and when, stresses me out! Climbing is my life, the only thing I know and something that brings me happiness (and pain !) Trying to balance fitness for rock climbing, mixed climbing, and alpinism all around the same time is an impossible task, to be performing at the level in each discipline that I want to be at is something I need to accept rather than constantly beat myself up about.
After weeks of looking at forecasts and blogs, the Alps were dry and Scotland looked to be coming good for a while and worth a trip. Besides which, I was more keen to maximise some winter conditions rather than go to Spain at this time. Winds coming from the north brought snow Wednesday through to Friday, then temperatures where due to stay cold for at least a week, bringing the cliffs into condition. Game on...
Being able to be spontaneous, I boarded a flight to Edinburgh and met up with Nick Bullock in hope of some quality product. We’d both committed for 2 weeks, so psych was high driving up to the CC hut in Roy Bridge that evening. Nick had already arrived. Walking through the door I was confronted with “Have you seen the forecast?. It’s changed. A thermo nuclear meltdown on Sunday is now on the cards! Looks like we have one day... two at the max.”
Still optimistic, we headed into Stob Corie Nan Lochcan in Glen Coe on Saturday. The mountains were covered in snow and in the morning sunlight looked stunning as we approached the crag.
It was great to be back out with my old mate again and the walk up seemed to fly by as we caught up on each others news. The crag was “in”, looking white if not possibly a little verglassed! We decided on climbing the “East Face Direct Direct” VII/7 on the central buttress. A route I’d never done and that Nick had always wanted to do. The line looked fantastic. Conditions on the route where tricky with verglas, so felt pretty solid for the grade.
Protection and placements were hard to get and what might have been good foot placements were covered by bullet hard clear ice, so climbing was at times a little unpredictable and “wiggy”. With the turf in places not being fully frozen it made for a few exciting pulls! We topped out and arrived back at the car just before dark.
Checking the forecast that evening made for disappointing reading. The warm spell was incoming and looked to be staying put for a while moving west to east.
The following morning we drove to the Cairngorms, watching the outside temperature gauge of the car go from 0c to 5c, back to 1c in Aviemore to 3c and rain at the car park! We stepped outside to get a feel for things but already both knew we were fucked! Nick said “I don’t need to go out in that” and I agreed. The cliffs would already be black and out of acceptable climbing condition, so we bailed and headed down to Glenmore Lodge for a coffee and catch up with Matt Pycroft who was up for some filming and Calum Muskett. Callum had been in the car park just before us with Dave MacLeod and had also decided not to bother which helped ease my anxiety about our decision !
The rest of the day was spent catching up with friends and drinking huge amounts of coffee. A day later I’m sat on a plane heading back to the Alps.
I will return to Scotland once conditions come good again. Some folk may wonder why all the effort for something that is so condition dependant and unreliable. The answer is simple. Scottish winter gives the best mixed climbing in the world. The mountains may be small but the adventures are far from that. We’re also lucky in the UK to have a great community of climbers sharing the same passion and enthusiasm, looking out for each other and sharing information when things come good. A strong scene.
Thanks to Nick for some of the images above, already looking forward to the next hit mate....