By december we had scratched our way up a  handful of snowy rock routes and my deft new axes were christened on the cairngorm granite. But the grasp of university deadlines and exams ground our climbing trips to a halt and I became content with my clutch of routes, revelling in the idea that warm rock climbing may not be far on the horizon.

 During this time i  reaquanted myself with my  mountain bike  and  had a foray into the weird and (wonderful?) world of dry tooling. A fortnight of extreme calorie intake ensued and my winter psyche was restored..

Real life mountaineering.. Rory

Last week, exams aside, I was free to spend myself in the scottish hills and make use of the 2kilos of insulation i had acquired during the festive season. Rory and John had spent the week ticking Scottish classics -  primarily exploring the buttresses of Beinn Eighe, climbing all three by their major routes. So with a  promising forecast, we sped out from Aberdeen through swathes of confetti snow and emerged from the choked up eastern Cairngorms, via the snowless moray basin and into the huddled glow of Lochcarron and Applecross.

The approach was a release in itself. The lumpy plain that sets apart Torridon and  Beinn Bhan reminded us of the boundless landscapes of Tolkeins middle earth. John, yielding his single pole like a staff, hopped ahead through the orange heather while a splitter dawn turned the sandstone hulks rosy pink and warmth emanated from the earth. The great sculpted bowels of Bheinn Bhan revealed their terraced battlements, wreathed in ice and snow .We stamped our way up and into Coire na Poite, dancing across the frozen lochain like elves in a  glittery garden and were soon stood under an impressive ice fall in Madhatters Gully.

Rory lead the first pitch on good ice, arriving at precarious belay stance below the intimidating 15m pillar. John began his battle soon after, making impressive work of the route while I listened, (out of view and  at times heart in mouth) as sizeable ice blocks scuttled down the gully. Some time later, and after some chinking of metalwork the phrase 'better to rest than fall' issued, and I, after Rory, anxiously moved up.  Anecdotes of inspiriation to an ice novice! Of course, the pitch went well, and the only thing to reach it's end that day was one of rory's quickdraws.  Labouring with the screws and trying to smash my stubby crampons in to the ice, I dragged my way up the fall. The climbing was brilliant fun - involving steep pillars between good rests and I felt almost to be moving well by the time I reached the top, albeit in a tangled mess of gear and leashes.

John on the crux ice pitch of Madhatters Gully. Rory

A short snow romp saw us emerge upon a silent plateau, where the bright evening sun cast a perfect alpenglow across a typically perfect vista of loch and mountain. It was lovely.

Achnashellach and Torridon from Beinn Bhan

That evening we treated ourselves to dinner in the Lochcarron hotel, where our boots could steam by the fire and we could indulge in a few pints. We squeezed into the tent, slept well,  and woke to the choking smell of gases escaping sleeping bags - the fastest i've moved from a tent in a while!

After much deliberation, we decided to have a look at Gully of the Gods, a classic back and foot fault that splits the massively steep walls of Coire nan Fhamair. On inspection, the deep chasm was black and rather uninviting and so we dropped back into Coire na Poite where we knew March Hare gully was a good bet.

We reasoned that the boulder strewn approach slopes were ankle breakage territory (not to mention slow going) and so an hour's ice skating on the twin lochains commenced.

The long gully begins with a short ice pitch and doesnt let up in interest until the plateau is reached. Short chimneys, virgin turf blobs, ice and neve in the runnels and a spectacular view behind us made it  the best winter route iv'e climbed yet. I think we pitched for 5 rope lengths and moved together for the rest - where at one point, John having soloed up to two thirds height, abbed back to the gully base to a retrieve an ice screw I had dropped. Despite this we generally made quick progress to the plateau - rounding off another brilliant day in the North West.

         Me on March Hare Gully. The routes in the vicinity are Alice in Wonderland themed. John

Loch Kishorn from the roadside.


That evening John and I enjoyed a traditional burns night at my parents house and had a well earned rest before a weekend in the windy cairngorms. I met up with the Lairig club, for which i'd organsied a winter skills course with Martin Moran and his son Alex. A quick rendezvous with the climbers and an introduction to some strange metalwork known as  'tricams' saw Andrew and I enjoying the short romp into Sneachda. Fingers ridge was the days objective, and picking our way up the old neve to the buttress, we found it quealess. I set to work on an intersting slab pitch, which took longer than expected in powdery snow and with little turf. The route then followed the obvious chimney and ridge features, where dachsteins and knees became the order of the day and axes felt more a hinderance than an aid. Martins climbing group gave Steven a running commentary as he negotiated the classic finger pitch in strong gusts - much to his enjoyment I'm sure.

                                                                       Me on the final pitch of Fingers Ridge. Steven

On sunday i met back up with John and we made for Alladins Buttress, where we thought we would try The Genie. We started further left than the description advises to avoid colliding with another team on Damnation. John, on the first pitch, managed an impressive mantel on to the head of his axe, battling up an overhanging ledge from an awkward slab and hooking into gravelly turf - nails!  I had intended on seconding for the day, but arriving at an amenable looking corner and feeling fresh, we decided i could give it a bash and cut it short where it steepened.

The weather closed in and we donned the goggles and belay jackets for the final pitch. I began thrutching up the corner using hip jams and knee locks, made quite insecure by the thick verglassed slabs. 'This is epic!!' John shouted while being drenched in spindrift and pummeled by gusts.  It was truly absorbing and i enjoyed the intensity (there was some gear, after all). I swung around the corner onto some accomodating turf and belayed just short of the top where John promptly joined me.   The the second crux chimney was hard and  we both cut loose trying to scratch up the icy rock!  2 abseils saw us back at the bags and a short walk out made a  great end the week.

John searching for The Genie

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