Thu 12th Mar - Sun 15th Mar, 2015
Raeburn Hut - Cairngorms
Present: Steve Graham, Andy Stratford, James Meakin, Stuart Hurworth, Lester Payne, Bob Kelly and Ashley Kelly (guest).
Alas, the Meet Leader was crocked and excused boots. Thus the baton, list of names and key code were passed to Steve and seven souls headed north to Dalwhinnie without me. Somewhere along the way a meet report slipped through a gap but eight months hence the following is pieced together from frail memories and Steve’s log book with apologies for any feats that go inadequately recorded.
Friday dawned as usual after Thursday night. It was stunning so Bob and Ashley did a circuit of A'Bhuidheanach Bheag and Carn na Caim from a layby on the A9 just south of Dalwhinnie and were rewarded with absolutely superb views westwards to Ben Alder.
Elsewhere to the east Steve’s log records…
Steve & James - Jacobs Edge (II) - Coire an t-Sneachda. Fiacaill Ridge (I) descent (incl Lester).
Fine weather… Glorious blue sky & no wind. James' first winter route. Single axe climbing and no issues at all. He was buzzin!!
Starting up Jacob's Ladder (P1 belay) then up The Slant terrace for a sharp right turn to a good spike belay. Many options for P2 & 3, choosing the harder/more fun variations. P2 a zig-zagging line up several steps. P3 rising leftwards, again picking the steeper rock lines before a final easy snow slope to top-out.
Very little ice, turf only semi-frozen, slight soft snow covering, often feeling more like a summer rock route. Easy enough climbing - just a few runners needed.
Met Lester on the top-out. Descended the Fiacaill Ridge after a sun-soaked Cairngorm plateau (scoured almost bare) lunch break. 1.5hr climb, 7hr day.
Elsewhere Andy & Stuart had driven west to do a route on Creag Meagaidh. Steve recalls Andy’s post climb description going something like…
“The conditions were shit! The gear was shit! Screw placements were shit! We had a great day!”
Andy takes up the tale…
A sunny bright morning ensued on the Creag Meagaidh walk in - looked like a fine choice of routes might be had. As we drew closer it was clear there was worrying quantities of snow in both Raeburn’s Gully and Easy Gully. Most of the classic Post Face ice routes had clearly not fully developed. I had my eye on the 1959 Face Route (V,4) on Pinnacle Buttress but it was just too thin and too warm. I didn't fancy the inner corrie due to the snow so we opted for a look at Eastern Corner (III), crossing the avalanche fans of Raeburn's hurriedly.
We solo'd up to a snow ledge on the right, 20m below what looked suspiciously like a bergschrund. Stuart made a good belay and I set off up the cold sunless gully on reasonable snow. There was nowhere for any gear as I crossed the void, climbing steeper ice and neve for the next 20m, I scratched the rock on my right for 5 minutes at around 40m rope length. Nothing. I carried on until Stuart shouted 5 metres left. 20 minutes later I had excavated a platform. The belay consisted of a short blade peg driven into the crumbly schist, a tenuous sideways No3 nut into more crumbly schist and a buried axe.
''Climb when you're ready'' I called. ''It’s a winter belay!''
Stuart knew what this meant and made his way up with care. We swopped leads. In the fall line in the gully, I knew what was coming!
Forty minutes later when the bombardment had stopped I followed Stu. It was a wicked pitch for a grade III with the added bonus of a thread around a massive icicle pillar as the best bit of pro on the route! It was a fine effort by Stuart. I led a 3rd 60m pitch up easier ground then we climbed together up the final steep sections for 100m or so, topping out more or less on Stob Poite Coire Ardair. We had fabulous views in all directions. We had a great walk off in the sunshine, a great finish to a great day on a route that was probably one of the few in ''safe'' conditions that day on the mountain.
Thus in the due order of things Friday gave way to Saturday. The weather was not so bright but taking Lester with them, Bob and Ashley started from Balsporran Cottages, and first went up A'Mharconnaich. They saw nothing from the summit but it gave Ashley some excellent practice navigating off in low visibility in adverse conditions, with the added spice of having to find a route down with Lester who had forgotten his crampons. Once down again to the beallach at the head of Coire Fhar- the weather had improved so they took in Geal-charn on the way back.
Further west this time we once more we delve into the recollections of Steve’s log…
Steve, Andy, Stuart & James - Aonach Mor (1221m) & Aonach Beag (1234m) - East Face climbing retreat. Distance 9km. Total Ascent 620m. Time 7hrs.
Catching the 8am Gondola & chair (very busy - ski competition), the intention being to climb on the East Face but after the descent via an abseil from a snow bollard into Easy Gully, we backed off on the traverse. Sun soaked slopes, an inner feeling/voice... "This isn't good, get out of here, it may flush". Andy 50m back having the same feelings & Stuart not arguing. Later learnt other groups had also retreated.
Stonkingly fine hot sunshine, James M rejoining us, opting for a plan B walk to Aonach Beag (a recce of climbing crags). Conditions temporarily dropped for the walk over Aonach Mor - near zero viz and an increasing wind, but soon cleared again bringing amazingly fine alpine conditions (this seems to be the theme for this year’s Scottish season). The CMD Arête & the Ben's North Face... Superb blue sky backdrop mountain views. An onward hard packed icy neve walk down to the Aonach Mor/Beag bealach before climbing the rocky outcrop slope onto Aonach Bearg's flat summit - surprisingly no cairn.
Descended for a break above the North Face crags, checking out the mighty fine looking North East Ridge (III, 500m) - added to the to-do list..!! Returned over Aonach Mor, descending alongside the ski slopes to catch the mid-afternoon Gondola down. Fresh sun soaked red faces - a fine plan B option day.
So with another full day behind them Saturday night slipped into Sunday morning. The Kellys needed a short day. So they left the hut early and drove down to Dalnaspidal Lodge on the A9. With the weather superb they switched to running gear and raced each other to the summit of the Sow of Atholl. Needless to say Ashton won. But the effort was rewarded by stunning views yet again.
Meanwhile, back up the road others have returned to the Northern Coires and Steve’s logbook records…
Steve & Andy – The Grooved Rib (III, 4*) – Coire an t-Sneachda.
Alpine peachiness… An overnight freeze and another clear sky sunny day. Sweaty climbing, topping out in full-beam sunshine brightness.
Climbed in 2 pitches with a final 10m walk-off. P1 a full 60m - my lead... Nice step shortly up from belay tat. Iced up right side corner line then easy mixed climbing before snow slope run-out rightwards. Good gear, pleasant standard Grade III.
P2, 50m - mighty fine lead from Andy! His quote... "One of the most technical winter pitches I've done, bold & some very nervy moments".
Left side narrow groove, difficult unprotected & desperate crux step to in-situ rope tatt (phew!). I found it hard, even on 2nd! Then short easier snow section before the chimney chockstone... Neve & ice in deep but stayed out bridging wide on good rock steps. Good thread, cam & screw protection. Loved this section. A very thin & lean pitch - top end tech 4, maybe 5 in today’s conditions. Technical satisfaction, us both buzzin big time..!!! A fantastic route - deserves 2 stars. Descended the concrete hard Goat Track (I), enjoying a beer & cake outside the car park café whilst waiting for Stuart & James' return from Red Gully (II/III**). 2hr climb, 6hr day.
Plus, with a little less detail and with apologies that it’s somewhat vague, Steve’s memory recalls that whilst Lester meandered the Cairngorm plateau Stuart & James climbed Red Gully (II). Stuart leading all pitches and loving it!
Well done all; sounds like a great meet. Sorry I missed it!
The Raeburn is a superb Scottish Mountaineering Council Hut in a very accessible location.
Located within the Central Highlands not far off the A9 on the north side of the A889 between Dalwhinnie and Laggan at G.R. NN 63606 90913, this is an excellent base for winter climbing as well as winter walking and skiing .
The Raeburn is ideally placed for easy access to the Northern Cairngorm winter climbing venues of Coire an Lochan and Coire an t-Sneachda, and the winter routes of Creag Meagaidh. Even the Ben is within reasonable striking distance should better conditions prevail to the west. I haven’t bothered to count the number of Monroe’s that could be ticked from here but it’s plenty.
The KMC has booked 12 bed spaces for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at £10 pp pn. Bookings should be made direct with me. Priority will be given to KMC members but otherwise it is first come first served.
Contact Colin or firstname.lastname@example.org