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Coire an t-Sneachda
I went to Howard (Roscoe, you remember)'s 100-papers (though it had turned into 100+ by the night) pub evening, and also his pre-retirement drinkies (shock horror). And we talked (I boasted of my three new routes on Ynys Lochtyn) and he said "and I'm going up the the Cairngorms in a couple of weeks time" and I said "mail me, I'm interested" fully expecting to be busy whenever. But I wasn't. And M said I could go. So, that's all my excuses out of the way.

2013-02-23 16.54.59 I found my old plastic boots in the loft, and my dachsteins (a little moth-eaten) and bought a new head torch and remembered all the kit I needed (I laid out the waterproof trousers but forgot to actually take them, never mind, Howard had a spare). I took the std.gear (though of course I should have taken less, it being winter, and AL'ing with Karl, but never mind we were all fit and strong).

Let me introduce everyone: here they are. Howard Roscoe is on the left in the fetching yellow helmet. He joined BAS not long before me, but because he was there when I joined it took me about 10 years to realise he'd only been there a bit earlier. Trip organiser, provider of spare kit and early morning porridge, repository of years of experience, never lost anyone on the hills yet.

In the middle is Chris Collett who Howard met through folk music; he's a gardener in Bedford. He's quite new to climbing, but has been on long climbs with Howard in Wales.

On the right is Karl, also Roscoe, nephew of the aforesaid HKR. Like Chris this is his first winter trip, but he's been leading for a while. Notice how Howard has tricked them both into wearing pink knee-pads :-).

And so: on Friday morning Howard picked me up about 10:30 with an already alarmingly full car, so I didn't bring my ropes or bivvy bag. We then went to Bedford to pick up Chris, and then a longer hike north to Todmorden for Karl, who lives in a delightful old stone house up an inconvenient track. All this added something to the journey time, but there you go. After that it was a matter of driving north and more north (stopping for dinner at Dunkeld Chippy) until we got to Aviemore at some time like 9:30 - well, it could have been worse. Would it have been better to leave at 8 pm and drive overnight, arriving at 7 am? Perhaps / possibly; its certainly something I'd consider in future. Though we'd have been fairly zonked. But we got to the campsite in time for reception to pick up our all-important shower-block cards, and set about putting up tents - tricky: the ground was frozen, and with little stones, the overall effect was like concrete and hammering the tent pegs in with ice axes didn't work well, you had to dig out a hole with the pick first. In the dark, the sparks when you struck stones were bright. And so, via showers and beer, to bed.

Saturday (23rd)

2013-02-23 09.45.25 I slept rather well - the outside temp was below zero but I had my lovely lightweight 3-season bag inside my old Caravan one, and the luxury of a carry-mat with a self-inflater on top. In the morning Howard provided porridge and then tea, after which I got up. We then did some gear sorting and related activities and drove up to the ski-lift car park, and after a bit more faff we were off - at about 10, perhaps? Almost immeadiately I managed to fling my camera to the hard frozen ground whilst it was turned on, irrepearably damaging the lens - ah well, the way of all flesh. All the pix here are from my phone camera, which is a bit rubbish.

The weather was... as you see it. Cold, though it didn't feel it after the hour's walk in. The snow was hard frozen. If you don't know the area... the snow col off to the right is the descent route of the "Goat track" which starts off steeper than it looks. The darker mass to the left is Aladdins buttress, bounded to the left by Aladdins couloir (I, possible descent route) and to the right by Aladdins mirror. Fluted buttress is to the right; Crotched gully is nearly in the centre of the pic, leading up to the little dip.

2013-02-23 12.43.18 2013-02-23 12.43.50 We did that first; its a grade I/II. I A/L with Karl and Howard with Chris. Being on the same climb gave us all reassurance. As you can see from the pic, the weather was unusually kind, in that we could see the crag. It wasn't windy, either. It was however cold, with the snow deep-frozen, which made for good climbing. We soon got into the spirit of things, though since Chris was a bit tentative Karl and I got to the crux - the cornice - first. This proved to be exciting.

The right pic is Karl just below the cornice. It gives a good idea of how hoar-frosted the rocks were up there. It was beautiful, I wish I'd had a better camera able to capture them. The left pic shows them better, though it has the disadvantage of having Howard in it :-).

2013-02-23 13.34.04 Once over the lip, the wind was biting, and Karl and I contemplated not hanging around but going down ahead. However, that seemed unfriendly, and likely to lead to confusion of not-meeting-up-again, and anyway it was fun to watch Howard topping out.

Here he is going "over the top". It wasn't quite as dramatic in reality as it appears here, but it was plenty exciting. Especially for me, cos I didn't bother place a snow anchor as Howard did (ah yes, because I'd left the deadman with Karl, I think) so had a larger runout. And wished, once again, that I'd put a bit more effort into scratching around for gear in the last bit of rock. But planting the ice axe handles provided enough pull.

2013-02-23 16.33.14 And so, down the Goat track, and across to Aladdin's Mirror. My guidebook says that the last time (1992) I did it (with M) we did a steepish "scary" slab just to the R of the ice pitch. This time I played on it a bit, but after not very long I decided that since this was my first winter climbing since 1996, I really ought to back off the hard stuff on the first day. So we went R up the easy snow, and had a good time.

The inset pic is Aladdins Pinnacle, which is indeed very distinctive from below. And as you see the sky had started clearing to a beautiful evening. Once we were all up the top we had a choice of ways down, and chose to go over PT 1141 and then down the ski runs. It was interesting to do a variant, but on reflection it was a longer walk and we were all a bit footsore by the time we got back down - at that point I hadn't remembered how to lace up the inners and leave the outers looser.

And so down to the fleshpots of Aviemore. Howard was very keen on the Winking Owl pub, which was unfortunately at the far end of town from the campsite. So we went there for a pint, and then I had a couple of cokes in the next round so I could drive back. However it was rather crowded and noisy and the beer no better than middling - gone downhill since H's last visit, perhaps. So back to the campsite for showers and beers or tea in the tent. However, I needed to darn my dachsteins (20 years of moths in the attic taking their toll) and recharge my phone, so sneaked off to the pub / resto / pizzeria just by the site. And... it was fine. "Unpretentious" shall we say. Coffee, warmth, a quiet table to sit and darn.

From the ski lift car park: the lights of Aviemore gleam in the distance.

2013-02-23 18.18.07

Sunday (24th)

2013-02-24 09.53.45 Another fine nights sleep terminated by Porridge. We were a bit more efficient this morning and shaved 1/2 hour off our start time. Another cold morn with reasonable weather, though not the sunshine I'd thought the forecast had promised me. We're all a little tired after yesterday's exertions, though we still do the walk-in in an hour.

Pic: us gearing up, Aladdin's buttress above, A's Mirror in the top right. Weather less clear today - the crag largely cloudy when we first turned up.

But what to do? Here we (I) make a mistake, perhaps. Or so it seems in retrospect: I really didn't think of this at the time at all. We'd pretty well decided to do only one route, part tiredness, part not wanting to head off too late - we had a long way to go. So we chose The Runnel, another grade I/II. But what we could have chosen was to go play on Aladdins mirror, or the slab next to it. Have fun putting in ice screws, climbing ice, falling off perhaps. I have no experience falling off ice, and it would be good to have some. Learning how the placements work, and so on. The run-out is easy, so it would have been a good place to do it. Oh well, next year.

And anyway The Runnel was fun. A party of 3 was leading into it as we started up.

2013-02-24 10.21.37 Right pic: the line is a bit hard to see; its the "highest" starting gully, about 1/3 left, starting to the right of the rather darker triangular block of rock; and then trending somewhat leftwards (perhaps a bit clearer as the center, here). It has a crux of a narrow chimney near the top, which we were a bit nervous of, not knowing what state it might be in, or how avoidable. But as it turned out it was fine, with good solid crisp snow. Indeed the chief problem turned out to be my right crampon, which (just below the belay for the crux) I noticed was hanging loose. "How careless of me" I thought - I must have failed to attach it properly. So, I carefully re-attached it. Only to have it fall off again. At which point I realised that the true problem was that my right boot sole, including the step-in lug, had come loose. Oops. Secure self, and when Howard comes up he turns out to have a spare strap, and was able to tie it on - he's good at stuff like that.

2013-02-24 10.47.20 Left pic: heading up near the start, Karl above me on my rope, Howard above him, and the two seconders of the other party to the right.

Once again, the true crux was the cornice at the top. This time I again failed to put in the deadman, but I had put in lots of gear in the chimney, so all was well.

And the view from the top, Howard and Karl, waiting for Chris to top out, the weather slowly clearing.

2013-02-24 13.39.36

And so down the Goat track and back.

2013-02-24 15.19.30

Goodbye hills! I'll be back.

Things I forgot

* water/wind proof trousers - only partly - I remembered these a mile down the road, but Howard had a spare
* bowl - tut tut. Though I did remember a mug.
* compass - really rather careless. Of course I had my phone GPS if desperate.

Howard's writeup: Tent’n hooks on ice. Howard Roscoe, 25 March 2013


2013-05-28 09:47 pm (UTC)

“The pegs’ll hammer if you find the right spot, they were fine 4 weeks ago. The ground’s just a bit stony”. But 4 weeks ago there was 6 inches of snow, now the ground was bare and -5C. As Karl bent the third peg he started hacking holes with the ice axe, “They go in fine if you get 3 inches down first”. Except it was my axe not his and I’d just sharpened it, and pretty soon the stones had unsharpened it, ho hum. Fortunately there was no wind in downtown Aviemore, but just to be safe the scrambling line was tied from fence to tent to 12-inch screwdriver hammered into the ground. The screwdriver blade was over ¼ inch thick and went in fine, funny about that.

The next day saw Chris tiptoeing along the snow like a ballet dancer with “I like these boots”, his first time wearing the plastic. Karl’s first-time ballet didn’t start till the axes were in hand when he tapped his way delicately up the slope getting steeper, not bad but then his were still sharp. Chris was bashing his axes in and hugging the ice, three climbs later he started to trust them and stand up straight, but to William it all came back very quickly.

William was there because he came to Howard’s 100-papers celebration, where the pub being the pub he said yes to his first Scottish winter since 1996. He expected his wife to say how many other things he simply had to do, instead she said “What a good idea”, she must have had a weekend offer elsewhere. By the second climb of the day he was pottering on Alladin’s Mirror Direct at grade IV with Karl looking uncertain till Howard & Chris caught them up with “You’ve both got headlamps haven’t you”. This persuaded them to the saner Undirect, helped by talk of a harder way if you looked for bits of rock.

By the pub William was in a dream of greater glories and asked Karl, Howard’s nephew, what his last name was. The tents hadn’t blown away and there was so little wind that the ritual cook of breakfast-inbed porridge needed an open door to stop condensation raining ice on the bags. On the Sunday summit there was still so little wind that lunch was eaten chatting idly and drinking coffee, a change from the usual shouting over the gale and gulping coffee before it froze. The old man’s lecture “Guys it isn’t usually like this, I once had to crawl to the descent over there and the wind was so strong I couldn’t throw myself over the edge”, was the subject of jokes about throwing over edges all the long drive home, though not from William who knew.

Four weeks earlier there was no need for the lecture, the wind froze Daniel and Helen’s fingers putting harnesses on at the start, and froze them again taking them off at the end. Then the wind filled the tracks so you stepped off the path where it was a foot deep and the gathering dark made it worse and Helen please keep up it only gets worse when it’s darker at least the wind is behind us and it’s mostly downhill.

The last 20 yards were the usual oh-no-not-uphill-again and wasn’t the car lovely and sheltered. There was no need for the lecture the next day either. The wind got less near the top of the Mirror where it joins Alladin’s Couloir and we roped down it moving together, but then the Couloir opened out and the wind came across and up and it looked like a cornice half way down but couldn’t really see must bring goggles next time, glad there was a sling on a spike back there. Lower down, the frozen lake at the bottom wafted in and out of snow blowing uphill and thoughts of avalanche arose. The previous weekend three were killed in Glencoe, it doesn’t snow as much in the east but the first day the road to the ski lifts were blocked by a 2-foot drift so maybe even here. The snow stake provided psychological comfort and Howard went off to the side so the stake wouldn’t be on the sliding slab if the footsteps cut it away. Then there was a boulder to hold us until Daniel gets past it and by that time we should be at the scree if we could see that far in this wind.

...and the last para, since LJ insists on short comments


2013-05-28 09:47 pm (UTC)

So, two weekends at Sneachda, an excellent campsite discovered in Aviemore so you could walk instead of drive to the Winking Owl if you still had the energy, and the showers were outstanding with hot air dryers that put paid to shivering in the pub as the only way to dry your shirt. Lots of routes were climbed, some twice but different each time, with two first-time ice climbers and two first-time ice leaders lapping it all up. It was a bit balmy on top the second weekend, but those first-timers enjoyed it so much they’ll be back. Then they’ll find out, then there’ll be no more jokes about throwing over edges at the old man’s expense.

Of course Howard fails to include me coming out of the shower, finding him au naturel drying his genitals with a hand height blower dryer, like something from a b-movie or the introduction to a bizarre pornographic film. I can't remember what I said, but it was something like "come on Howard, use a towel", to which he replied (in a slightly irate tone having had his new drying technique scorned) "it's a wash room" at which point he turned around and finished the job. I think I mentioned something about old men and children, that is them walking in and finding this unusual sight (of which the repercussions may have been interesting), but by then he was bent over with his arse in the air drying his hair.

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