Bridge of Orchy and the Cairngorms

The last three days I’ve been climbing with Gregor as part of a Falkirk Outdoors trip for climbers, skiers and walkers based in Newtonmore. On the way up we climbed the classic Salamander Gully in Creag Coire an Dothaidh before taking in the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. Although the crag is west facing it still had a fair depth of soft snow on easier angled ground.

Gregor high on Whaleback Ridge.

Yesterday we chose a low venue to avoid the winds and headed for Creag na h-Iolaire. The main crag was bare of snow and we climbed a short, but good, winter line on the north facing side of he coire before climbing a summer version of the winter line Left Flank, Right Ridge. This gave some very good climbing, but unfortunately with a lot of loose rock. Today we headed for Creagan Cha-no. The thaw and rain overnight had stripped most of the buttresses, but there was plenty of snow on easier angled routes and on northern aspects and the turf was frozen solid. We climbed Whaleback Ridge and Plasma Gully with a left hand finish. The snow was firming up whilst we were there and we had a number of snow showers during the day on a strong south-westerly wind.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

John and I headed to Creag Coire an Dothaidh today with a Falkirk Outdoors climbing team of Doug, Kim, Merelle and Steven. Even this relatively low west facing coire had a fair amount of soft snow and approaches required a degree of wading.

Steven on an optional icy step near the top.

The coire was busy, with Salamander Gully being the popular choice. We climbed Centigrade with a little optional step of Grade IV ice near the top. There was soft semi consolidated snow on easier angles, some good icy sections, turf was well frozen and there was rime on the rocks although this was stripping when in direct sunlight. East and North facing slopes were holding large amounts of snow.

Bridge of Orchy

John and I were in the Bridge of Orchy area today with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Winter Climbing team of Devon, Jacob, Jim and Ross.

Jim, Ross and I climbed Kick Start on Creag an Socach on Beinn Dorain. This had a couple of distinct cruxes and requires care to protect the seconds on the traverse left after the junction with The Glass Bead Game (small to medium cams useful for this). The turf was well frozen, but buried under crusty soft snow. There’s isn’t a lot of ice around on the crag, so lines which require ice are probably best avoided at the moment. The crag was busy with teams on The Glass Bead Game, Second Coming and I think The Sting.

Jim and Ross looking relaxed at the belay before the traverse pitch.

John, Devon and Jacob headed over to Creag Coire an Dothaidh and climbed Salamander Gully as a snow route, the ice hasn’t formed or was buried except near the top. There was a lot more snow on this crag and their route choice was in part due to a convenient set of steps up the line. There is wind slab around on top of the crusty layer and this should be borne in mind for route choice.

Four Days Based in Lochaber

I got back last night from four days based in Fort William with Andy and Rob. On the way up on Friday we stopped off at Bridge of Orchy and headed in to Creag Coire an Dothaidh. We’d been aiming for Salamander Gully, but a team diverted on to it just before we got to the crag, so we headed up Centigrade. The ice was a bit hollow in places and required a delicate approach, but gave a good sheltered climb.

Rob and Andy high up on Centigrade.

Rob and Andy high up on Centigrade.

Saturday saw us head up to Ben Nevis and climb Ledge Route in excellent conditions. We were the first team up on the day, which required a bit of trail breaking and some careful route choice in sheltered spots with pockets of unconsolidated snow. We saw lots of teams out on The Curtain, Vanishing Gully and heading up towards Harrison’s and Castle Ridge.

On Sunday we needed a shorter day with options to cut off early if required as Rob’s foot was playing up a little. This made me think of Masa and Yuki Sakano’s routes on the North-West Ridge of Binnein Shuas. It’s a short walk in and the routes are on small buttresses up the ridge. I’d climbed Location, Location, Location last year with Jim Bayliss and spotted an option for an alternative start; the cave mentioned in Masa’s description is actually a through route. This gave an hilarious squeeze/thrutch with rucksacks needing to be removed part way up. Rob described it as “like being a kid again”.

Andy about to do battle with the narrow section of the cave.

Andy about to do battle with the narrow section of the cave.

Higher up we climbed Bogle Eyed, which gives a short, but excellent quality, ice pitch and seems to form quite readily. We then aimed for what I thought was Summit North-West Buttress. We climbed what looked like the “obvious zig-zag snow line”, however, it felt somewhat nippy for a II and we popped out about 20m North of the summit rather than “80m West”; so not the same line, but a good pitch direct to the summit. If you want more information for routes on Binnein Shuas search on

Yesterday we climbed Dinnertime Buttress finishing via No. 2 Gully on Aonach Dubh West Face in Glen Coe. The ground was hard frozen from the glen up and the weather was glorious. There are still areas of unconsolidated snow and slab around, so route choice requires thought.

Rob and Andy near the top of No.2 Gully.

Rob and Andy near the top of No.2 Gully.

We then drove back down and as the guys were flying out this morning we had time for a meal in Edinburgh and a couple of drams in The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which made Rob very happy. I think Andy was just happy the weather was a vast improvement on when he was up earlier in the season. I’ve added some photos to the ClimbNow Facebook page.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

John and I were out with a Falkirk Community Trust climbing team of Doug, Graham and Tam today. We were looking for a scoured crag, given all the new snow, and headed to Creag Coire an Dothaidh. Creag an Socach actually looked more scoured, but with the turf feeling variable on the walk in we headed for the less turf dependent lines on Creag Coire an Dothaidh. Big thanks to the soloist and the team of walkers heading for Beinn Dorain who put a trail in for us.

Graham about to move through the first narrows on our 2nd route

Graham about to move through the first narrows on our 2nd route

John, Doug and Tam climbed Salamander Gully, which they described as “climbable, but with the ice thin in places”. Graham and I climbed Centigrade, which had some thick ice, but required a delicate approach on some sections where the ice was good, but not extensive. Graham and I then nipped round and climbed a line between Centigrade and the col, which started just left of a steep 5m wall and followed a gully/groove line through a couple of narrow sections on good featured ice at about tech III . I’ve vague memories of a line being recorded in one of the SMC Journals here, but now can’t find it. Anyway it gave a good quick second route for the day.

Graham pulling round some ice "cauliflowers" on the 2nd route

Graham pulling round some ice “cauliflowers” on the 2nd route

A lot of soft fresh snow around in sheltered locations. Turf frozen where exposed, but soft where insulated. Ice around on the crag, but not extensive. The crag was well rimed, but was loosing some of this during the day. Above freezing level at crag height most of the day after an overnight frost and temperature rising as we left with rain showers starting to move in.

Creag Coire an Dothaidh

It was a sociable day in the Bridge of Orchy area today. Cameron and I bumped in to Neil, James and team in the car park. They were heading to Beinn Udlaidh and then on the walk in to Creag Coire an Dothaidh it was great to see Bruce and team. Both Bruce and Neil asked in passing if I’d seen Glenn Gordon’s Facebook post about Fahrenheit 451, being a little bit of a Luddite I hadn’t, which was both a blessing and a curse.

I first looked at climbing this route in 1989. It doesn’t form well often and I’ve never managed to be in the right place at the right time. The top section seems to build fairly regularly, but the bottom often looks lean and sketchy. Today it looked the best I’ve seen it, so Cameron and I decided to go for it.

We climbed the route in 4 pitches, 3 short and 1 long. The bottom was thin in places, there were sections where the ice had built over powdery snow and some of the higher ice, although great to climb, was dripping fairly heavily. However, Cameron and I had a good adventure and a long held itch has been scratched. When I got home I read Glenn’s post, if I’d read it before we probably wouldn’t have got on the route.

After finishing Fahrenheit 451 we nipped back around had a drink and some food and then climbed Centigrade. The middle section of this was fun, but below and above there was a fair bit of soft snow and sections of ice over powder again.

We walked out with Bruce’s team who’d had a good day on Salamander Gully and it was great to catch up with him. Back at the car park Neil, James and team were there again plus Greg. Again brilliant to catch up with him as I don’t see him often enough these days.

Below freezing down to road level all day today. Light winds and no precipitation during the day. There’s still plenty of unconsolidated snow around on lee slopes and areas that have cross loaded.

I’m struggling to upload photos this evening for some reason, so will add some when I get that sorted.

Beinn a’Chaorainn, Creag Coire an Dothaidh and Coire Cas

I’m just back from three days away with Andrew and Ged. The weather was challenging at times, but we managed to get something good done everyday.

Ged and Andrew just topping out on Beinn a'Chaorainn

Ged and Andrew just topping out on Beinn a’Chaorainn

On Friday we climbed the East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn in strong South-Westerly/Westerly winds and rising freezing levels. The ridge was a sheltered popular choice for the conditions and it was pleasant to bump in to quite a few folk we knew.

Andrew and Ged on Creag Coire an Dothaidh

Andrew and Ged on Creag Coire an Dothaidh

Freezing levels dropped down again for Saturday to around the 500m to 700m level, but there was lots of snow forecast on strong Westerly winds. We opted for Creag Coire an Dothaidh. This again proved a popular choice with the coire as busy as I’ve ever seen it. We climbed the first pitch of Right Guard, a pitch in a similar line parallel to Fahrenheit 451, a short easy rightwards traverse and a dogleg pitch bringing us out on the top section of Centigrade. This gave us some very good climbing at around III,4. The turf on the first pitch was softer than expected, but above this very firm with a lot of ice around. Simon and partner climbed Salamander Gully reporting it good, but with a steep ice bulge and John’s team climbed a hard variation on Centigrade. There were several other teams on the crag, but I’m not sure what else was climbed. Fahrenheit 451 looked fat at the top, but thin and bold on the first pitch.

Andrew digging an emergency snow shelter

Andrew digging an emergency snow shelter

With a forecast of very high winds from the South-West and rain we headed for the Cairngorms today and spent the day in the shelter of Fiacaill Coire Chais looking at snowpack, snow anchors and emergency shelters. The ski centre closed early due to the wind, but the rain didn’t arrive until late afternoon. With freezing levels above the summits during the day the crags were looking black and ridges were completely scoured, but there were still big depths of snow in sheltered locations.