Wednesday, 27 January 2010

scottish winter mush swimming

Well yesterday I got back home after another wee trip north of the border, this time to the west – Fort William being home base.

Friday was spent travelling up whilst going slowly mad listening to Abba. Yes, that’s right – Abba. I actually now can’t quite remember what it was exactly that started the initial Abba conversation, but that doesn’t really matter – what does matter is that we ended up listening to ‘Abba Gold’ for a good portion of the journey once we were north of Glasgow. This was fine for a while, until our minds began to wander away into the mist, eventually becoming lost in a white out of ridiculous new ad-libbed lyrics, all on a porno theme, all sung at full volume in order to overpower the originals. Lots of giggling ensued, especially after my rendition of ‘Dogging Queen’…

Ok back on topic: Saturday we had originally planned to head up to the Ben to do Tower Ridge, but after arriving at some stupid time in the evening on Friday (and then having to eat etc etc), neither of us could quite face setting the alarm for 5am. Hence the slightly daft (given the conditions and forecasts) idea to head up to Aonach Mor.

Now, I’d never climbed on Aonach Mor before, and was [mistakenly] under the impression that it was a short easy walk-in after you got off the Gondola. I wasn’t completely expecting a chair-lift ride (which, actually was in a sad way rather exciting for me, having never ridden a proper chair lift before), followed by a 40min hack up hill to get to the top of the East Face. Still, in hindsight it was actually quite a short, easy walk-in in Scottish terms, just not in my weedy little anglo-welsh terms. Hmm.

So once at the top (with only 3 other teams present…surprising for a weekend), we headed to the top of Easy Gulley where I was to be presented with a couple more things I’d never really done before – abseiling over a cornice (free hanging for a brief moment!), off of a snow bollard. Now, I’ve played with snow bollards before, and I’ve seen and avoided cornices, but this was something new and not a little unnerving, but thankfully uneventful.

Once at the bottom we headed round to find our route. We had originally thought of having a look at doing the classic grade IV, ‘White Shark’, but when we couldn’t even spot it, we ended up round at the foot of ‘Left Twin’, another crag classic where one of the other parties we’d met at the top were engaged in battle. By this point Patrick had realised he’d dropped an axe somewhere and after a brief moment of swearing, headed off to find it whilst I sat and amused myself at the base of the route.

From below it looked fine – straight forward grade III. No problemo, or at least it wouldn’t have been had the snow been even vaguely consolidated and the ice partially hard. Sadly both snow and ice were mushy. Patrick nobly led the first pitch to a good belay, but unfortunately for me, whilst I was seconding up the near vertical mush section, the guys above dislodged a load of snow which slide merrily down the gulley and funnelled straight onto me with the force of a medium sized waterfall. Another first – being hit by a spindrift avalanche. Yummy.

So once I had finally swum my way up to the belay I found myself feeling tired, shaky and less than happy – so I assumed the position of ‘weedy girl partner’ and let Patrick lead the next pitch too. All I will say about that pitch is the gear was shite (ice screws in mush that would probably have pulled out by hand), the snow/ice was shite (axes slicing nicely through like knives in butter – not really what you want), and a couple of moves at the top were on vertical rime. You can imagine how fun it wasn’t. Once at the top of this pitch I ran up the final one and over the cornice to the top and safety.

The guidebook does say that Left Twin gets Grade IV in poor condition, and I would completely agree with this – it was in a serious and not a completely straight forward condition when we did it. Nice. But still, all winter experience is useful – climbing crud definitely gives you a good grounding of skills and knowledge.

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