Learning and Progressing

There’s been a bite in the air. There’s drips of frozen fingers on dark, dry brown rock. Low down in the Lost Valley we looked up right. Roped as a three, a formal introduction was undertook via the Zig Zags and onto the Gearr Aonach Ridge. The sun warmed but the freeze was set. The views from here are wonderful: The Aonach Eagach Ridge on the far side of the Pass, the buttress and cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan, the Lost Valley into Stob Coire Sgreamhach… Kicking, sure footed, on snow, in snow, through snow. Transferring weight from one crampon to another on a water ice shelf. Axe for balance. Skills run through, we descend via the thumping rock steps of “The Hurt Lochan". 

Time spent in Recognisance is seldom wasted. Still cold, we followed the track. Trickles of water on the ground look wet but are hard as nails. The whole ground is solid. The snow line is ahead. Choose your route. Avoid that, avoid this. Tired, hot, sweating and cold, Into the beginning of the objective. Thin but climbable ice, into a gully stroll, into a better pitch of ice, and so on. Veering off Number Three Gully, attention was fixed on a thin looking The Smear. Soaked in uncertainty the first boot of the front point bit. I should have taken more ice screws. After the first four screws had to be tied off I began to get scared. Calf muscles sapped reserves. The top was always going to be the crux. Some time after magicing up a belay, we were three again. Two lowers and an abseil and we were picking ways through less serious ground back to the track. Not a bad day’s play on Aonach Dubh West Face. 

Classics are classics for a reason. We were keen for a belter after a day’s lay up during a brief warm front bringing rain to all levels. This was (fortunately) followed by another band of cold air. Beating a fresh track up Curved Ridge through a layer of powder over firm snow was cool. Moving fast. Knowing how to move, where to step, where to dig. A grand arena of rock and moor below. The gateway into the final slopes was pristine. Stinging wind and snow welcomed us on our summit descent. 

Plans can always be changed. We congressed around the breakfast table, tiredness was creeping in. The weather wasn't ideal. Scrap last night’s plan, we’re off to Aonach Mor. The gondola is a gift - not to be used too often - that would be easy. With new found knowledge we were pulling our ropes through on the first abseil into Mor Wind, two more abseils and we were a three at the start of the route. It was in fabulous nick. The wind sent whirls of ice crystals sideways, down and up. It was bitterly cold. On the first pitch my fingers started to sear and the best was made of the situation. This time the screws went in properly. A mix of ice, consolidated snow and granite rock makes for great climbing. The boys did well, both battling the hot aches and coming out strong. 

Thanks Will and Dan for your grit and keenness, Alun for the evening banter and advice, and the superb meals we’ve shared each night.