UPDATE July 2015: Ken and Hannah are now running Scottish walking, mountaineering and climbing courses for West Coast Mountain Guides.
Last week, I was working for Outward Bound, running a Teams & Leaders Development week, with a group of enthusiastic boys from St. Aidan’s School in Harrogate. They seemed up for any challenge, so challenge them I did. As part of the course, we had a full day of winter skills on Aonach Mor, and then the opportunity to put their new found skills into practice by heading out on a wintery expedition, and enjoyed a spectacular campsite, nestled under a starry skies, in the shadows of Stob Ban and Sgurr an Lubhair in the Mamores. The following morning, we made a quick ascent of Sgurr an Lubhair (1001m), and were greeted with magnificent vistas of the surrounding mountains and beyond. I’m sure the boys will remember their expedition for a while, and hopefully inspire them to seek out mountain adventures of their own.
On Sunday, I met up with a very good friend of mine, Andy (we were domestics at Glenmore Lodge together, and have had a fair few adventures since, including climbing the Old Man of Hoy and Umbrella Falls on Liathach, amongst many others). Due to being at a wedding on the shores of Loch Lomond on Saturday, I suggested that we head up to have a look at the Cold Climbs route ‘Monolith Grooves’ on Beinn an Lochain, in the Arrochar Alps. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in condition, sporting little snow and concrete hard turf, so as a consolation prize, we soloed Promenade and Saxifrage Gullies.
Yesterday, we were keen to sink our teeth into something a little more demanding, so decided that Raven’s Gully on Buachaille Etive Mor, another Cold Climbs route, might be worth a shot. There’s very little ‘on-the-web’ regarding this route, but what little there was suggested that it wouldn’t be easy or straight forward. The approach via Great Gully in itself was entertaining, due to the build up of ice, giving an interesting grade III icefall, which we both soloed, before gaining the base of Raven’s Gully. Pitch 1, although overall fairly straight forward, did feature a huge chockstone to negotiate, which required a bit of grunt, but was well protected. Andy led pitch 2, a chimney, gained by sneaking up behind a small chockstone, and thin moves left, which in turn led us to ‘The Fork’. From here, the direct route continued on, and from where we stood, it looked feasible, so I then led us up a rather insecure groove, and onto what seemed like a floating ledge of snow, before easier ground brought us to more chockstones (a prominent feature of the route!). Andy made short work of the awkward and strenuous corner, above which, all that barred the way was a short but rather blank wall, leading up to a ledge system leading back out the gully, and underneath a car sized chockstone. I had a go up a thin corner, and felt it too insecure to continue, so backed off, giving Andy a go. He tried and felt the same, and with time ticking, we decided to save our ankles, and to abseil back to the fork, and continue up the normal route, which was no pushover in itself, giving three pitches of sustained and thin icey grooves and corners, before I led up particularly strenuous narrow slot to gain the top. We topped out at 7pm, and made a quick descent via Great Gully and Great Gully Buttress.
So overall, we felt it was a fantastic route, hard, sustained and it certainly didn’t let up until the very end. In fact, I’d go so far as to say one of my favourite routes I’ve climbed.
Having had a late-ish finish yesterday, we thought the that the best cure for it would be an early start, so at 6am, Andy and I were making our way to Glencarron, having caught wind that ‘The Stonker’ on Sgurr Na Feartaig was in stonking condition. It was! The first pitch was rather damp, and not great for ice screws, but the ice and dryness improved with height, with every pitch giving enjoyable and entertaining climbing. We topped out just after 2pm, and were back in Fort William by 5.30pm, so despite the lengthy drive, not an overly long day, but more to the point, a hugely worthwhile day, in an esoteric setting, and another great route crossed off my ticklist, all with a great mate! Get on it whilst it’s there!