Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Few Days in the Coe

Buoyed by the excellent forecast and continuing wintery conditions at the tail end of November, myself and Sean jumped in his van and headed North to Glen Coe. It was a beautiful drive up the road with lovely moonlit views down Loch Lomond and a stunning sunrise over Rannoch Moor. Our plan was to head on up high to Stob Coire nan Lochan with a few candidate routes in mind. The steep plod on up to the corrie felt steady enough, but maybe we were just slow! Upon arriving in the corrie it quickly became apparent that our hand was going to be forced with regard to route choice. The bulk over the corrie had snowy ledges but the rock itself was black, with exception of a small area on the Summit Buttress. It seemed that the wide gully which Scabbard Chimney finishes up had been funneling spin-drift down the cliffs below and these were all subsequently reasonably plastered. So Scabbard Chimney it was!

Walking in up the steep approach to Stob Coire nan Lochan, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
Sean won the game of rock, paper, scissors so geared up for the first pitch. This was not before greeting about some slight hot aches though! Firemen are obviously pretty soft these days it would seem. We elected to run it in two big pitches and this worked well. Sean got a brilliant slabby-corner first pitch with continuous interest and some fairly solid tech 6 moves. 

The slabs on the first pitch were thinly iced which made it great fun to climb. The first cruxy section required steady arms while pulling on some thin hooks on the wall out left, meanwhile teetering the monos on up the thin ice. Sean dispatched this in good style and continued to move on up towards the chimney proper. This led to some more traditional thrutchy moves which then popped you out at the peg belay beneath the traditional crux of the route. There really wasn't much let up in this pitch and I would highly recommend running the first two pitches. 

The perfect line of Scabbard Chimney, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
I arrived on up at the peg belay which can be backed up easy enough in early season conditions and swapped gear with Sean. I eyed up the crux which was straight off the belay and looked pretty exciting. Initially you move on up right over the hanging slab to reach the corner crack. The corner crack is littered with old pegs if you are of that persuasion, but it provides some train stopper nuts. Some sinker hooks fill you with confidence to move on up, while there are small positive edges for your crampons out on the slab. These moves were climbed with a beaming smile and were thoroughly enjoyable - good steep, well protected, positive climbing.

Sean on the excellent long first pitch of Scabbard Chimney.
A slight overlap in the slab is then reached where the corner crack opens out to a fist crack. The straight-forward hooks in the back of the crack thus dried up so some improvisation was required. I buried the shaft of my axe inside the crack and laid away off it. This felt solid at first until I started fiddling in a cam at which point the tool jumped on out slightly causing a sharp intake of breath and hasty readjustment! A further tool was then stuffed into the crack which seemed to jam the initial one in place. I finished sorting out the cam and made the final move off the slab up onto the easier ground above.

From here you can clip the abseil tat and just romp on up the easier mixed ground bearing slightly to the right, this was unfortunately an unconsolidated swim on the day. You then pop out at the insitu belay around the small pinnacles which sit at the foot of the final wide gully which finishes up left through the buttress. From here you can easily move down to the abseil tat on the other side of the gully.

It was a good route with both pitches feeling about the same grade on the day. The first more tenuous and sustained, while the second was just a bit more punchy but short lived. It had ample gear throughout and felt pretty safe on the day. We returned on down to the Clachaig for pints and scran to top off a great day.

A good end to a good day. Back down at the Clachaig, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
We decided due to a lot of the rock being pretty black that we would head back on up to Summit buttress again as we knew the few routes that were there were all still white. We elected for Spectre which sits one route over to the right of Scabbard Chimney and follows another right facing corner-groove line. 

A wintery Stob Coire nan Lochan, Scabbard Chimney the line directly above myself and Spectre just to its right, (photo credit Sean Henderson).

Sean took the first pitch again and again landed the peachy pitch! After an initial wade up into the corner Sean eventually reached and large bulge which you could kneel under and place gear. The bulge proved to be the crux of the pitch and featured some great moves. A good placement above left of the bulge and some really small feet out on the left wall, allowed a big span up and right to get a pretty tenuous hook. You then had to move onto this and bring your right foot over to chip a small placement in the thin ice which you had to trust and stand up on. After this some good turf placements led up into easier ground and to the belay.

Beautiful sunset looking over the Aonach Eagach to the Ben.
I got the second pitch again which looked pretty nice, up a defined right facing corner. The crux was quite early on and featured what felt like some pretty insecure climbing up the defined corner. The back of the corner was covered with useless ice which once cleared provided a shattered but seamless corner. Good gear and good hooks were in short supply but after installing a cluster of gear I committed on up on some decent feet. The insecure climbing continued further, but the insecurity may just have been exaggerated in my head by the lack of bombproof gear. I eventually fumbled my way up the pitch which I didn't overly enjoy and eventually reached the tat at the foot of the same gully as the day before. I think this climb would benefit from a build up of ice although it could become pretty bold.

Sunrise over Rannoch Moor (photo credit Sara).
We knicked the couple of routes just in time before the thaw set in. Nevertheless, myself and Sara returned back up over the weekend while the hills were still looking bonnie in their Winter garb. We drove North from Glasgow early on the Saturday morning with the idea of getting some good sun rise pictures of the Glen that morning. It was cloudy and driech in Glasgow but we persisted and headed on up. 

Buachaille Etive Mor from Glen Etive (photo credit Sara).
Thankfully we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over Rannoch Moor which Sara got some great snaps of. Afterwards we headed on up to get the calendar shot of the Buachaille Etive Mor at the entrance to Glen Etive. From there we then headed on down to Loch Etive which was partially frozen and got some great views down to Ben Cruachan. The deer were out in force too providing some tourist photo shoot opportunities. 

Deer posing in Glen Etive (photo credit Sara).
A stop at the Glencoe Cafe was in order to heat back up with a bowl of soup and scone. Once finished this we plodded on up the slopes of Stob Beinn a' Chrulaiste opposite the Buachaille to take in the sunset out West. The colours were magnificent and I was happy Sara got to see the Glen on a bluebird day - hard to get for those unlucky sods working the 9-5pm! 

The end of a good day (photo credit Sara).

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