Thursday 3 March 2016

Back in Scotland Part One.

Coire Ardair taken on a work day. Scotland in winter; a good place.  
I have been back in Scotland for about a month now, and am really enjoying the Scottish winter scene. I have been pretty busy with avalanche forecasting work although with snowy cold winter conditions this has felt interesting and rewarding. On my days off I have been trying to do a bit of winter climbing, a bit of skiing, and in the evening I have been trying to gain a bit of strength with lots of bouldering.

The first few weeks I was back were quite stormy and hard work climbing wise. A couple of planned days out got binned the night before due to very poor weather forecasts. The first day I actually made it out was pretty wild. Myself and friend Dave Evans headed up the Ben. When approaching the gearing up spot in Coire na Ciste we saw a pair sitting in the snow looking a bit spaced.  Although a hundred metres away or so, I thought this looked a little odd, and was dubious about Dave's suggestion they were just doing some winter skills. I was correct, they had just been avalanched down from near the base of Thompson's route (unless you count being avalanched as a winter skill). Fortunately they were fine, if a bit shaken.  Not wanting to go too high given the conditions we did a nice wee route called Eastern Block, or we think we did. The route had quite an old school (i.e very brief) description that was open to a bit of interpretation. However, we climbed something, and it was quite pleasant.

Myself on what may or may not have been Eastern Block. It was a good pitch whatever. 
A few days later I headed back up the Ben with Brodie Hood. We had planned to go mixed climbing, but when gearing up in the Ciste we could see a big icicle thing lurking up in the mist. I had three ice screws I had put in as an after thought.  Fortunately a friend of mine turned up, and offered to lend us a couple of ice screws. The route; Une Journee Ordinaire dans un Enfer Quotidian was not as steep as it had initially looked, and felt pretty soft for grade VI,6, but still gave a pleasant day out.

Significant cracking of the snowpack on a relatively low angled slope. It was all beginning to feel a bit spooky, I wanted to run away and drink tea (which in the end is what we did).

My next day out was less successful. I timed up with Dave Evans again, and headed back up the Ben with an interesting looking route in mind. Approaching the route the snow started feeling pretty "spooky". Creeping along the base of a buttress I triggered a small avalanche, confirming our suspicions. We decided to head elsewhere. However by that point the wind had got up and fresh snow was piling in. Following our tracks back there was loads of signs of instability. We tried another part of the mountain, and watched two other teams trigger slabs not too far away from us. By this time my psyche for climbing had dropped off significantly, and my pyche for drinking tea in a warm safe cafe was pretty high. We decided to bail, and saw a couple of natural avalanche on the way out.

Overall it was a wild and atmospheric but enjoyable return to Scottish winter scene. All I needed was for the weather to calm down a bit, and that is what it did a week or two later, but what happened then will the subject of my next blog post.

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