Friday 28 January 2011

Rules of the Road

An' though the rules of the road have been lodged              
It's only people's games that you got to dodge” Bob Dylan

To be honest, this winter has not been the most successful for me from a climbing point of view. This has been due to a combination of factors; more work than in previous years, a decision to put some effort in training for rock climbing and a knee injury. I hope to write about some of these in the near future. Anyway, I recently decided to make an effort to get out winter climbing. With a good weather forecast, and Donald was super keen to try a new route that he had his eye on I decided to turn down an easy day’s work to get out climbing. However, things did not go entirely to plan…

The evening before our planned climbing day, Donald called round mine for a brew, and announced that he had just come over from A&E, where he had spent the previous few hours, and that he could not climb the next day. To save his energy for climbing, he had decided not to go on the hill, but to go for a mountain bike ride instead. Unfortunately he had taken a tumble over the handlebars and landed on his shoulder. Although not broken, it was pretty sore, and climbing was not really an option. Luckily, Donald had found me a replacement climbing partner, Andy, who would head up from Glasgow in the morning. This meant that Glen Coe was a much better option than Ben Nevis.

Andy looking at a rather dry looking Coire an Lochan

I had been working over in the Cairngorms for a few days, and had lost touch with exactly what conditions were doing in the West. I assumed the higher crags in Glen Coe would be okay. Summit Buttress was looking quite black from the carpark, but we assumed that was due to the fact it was still semi-dark. However, arriving into Coire an Lochan we saw that things really were black. There was some neve on the ledges, and the easier routes were in good nick, there was no snow or rime on any of the steep routes.

We did discuss doing East Face Route Direct, a large steep groove which did have a few blobs of neve in it. However, it reminded me of a time back in 2003 when being I had climbed Inclination in well frozen, but not very white condition.  Although it was probably acceptably white; no-one ever commented about the conditions we climbed it in, and there were plenty of other teams out on steep routes that day, I always felt I had some thing slightly wrong or that our ascent was slightly tainted. It is a similar feeling to having rested on gear on some classic rock route that should have been cruised. I have always wanted to return to do Inclination in proper winter nick, to restore honour, as it were.

What constitutes a route being in acceptable winter condition varies from person to person, and depends on a lot of factors. Andy said that he thought that the conditions people accept as winter conditions as slightly different than ten or so years ago, and that by the standards of today, East Face Route Direct would have been acceptable.

I don’t know whether other people get this tainted feeling by doing routes which are not super white. However, I know that had I climbed East Face Route Direct, it wouldn’t have felt right, and it would have and it would have hung around the back of my mind like Inclination has, until I finally did make a winter ascent of it.

In the end the did Spectre (V,6) which was in good condition, and then soloed up easier ground to the summit of Stob Coire an Lochan. It was not quite the day I had originally envisaged, but that is often the nature of Scottish winter climbing.

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid Blair that, as your favourite artist sung/wailed, "The times they are a-changin'".

    How could one possible say a Summer ascent of some of these routes (like Needle or Centurion) with axes is invalid if we no longer require at least a cosmetic dusting of snow?

    Perhaps we should move to a system like in the Alps, Winter starts and end on specific dates. Or a temperature based system: 0degC or less Winter; >0degC not in.