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Winter Climbing in the Cairngorms

We have just returned from a quality week in Scotland, where we packed in a serious amount of winter climbing despite difficult conditions early on in the trip. Tim and I drove up to Glen Feshie from the Lakes last Sunday, and met up with Dave who was already in situ having enjoyed a long weekend with his club from York. He had dinner cooked and waiting for us so all we had to do was make plans and sort kit ready for the morning.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty aweful next day and we waited until nearly 10am for them to decide they weren’t going to open the ski road to the Cairngorm ski area car park. I’d done a bit of homework and knew that routes had been done on Lurchers Crag, and since the prevailing winds were westerlies I thought it would be scoured of snow leaving bare ice for climbing and little avalanche risk despite the recent snowfall and wind. A 3 hour approach from Glenmore confirmed all this and we were able to enjoy 240 metres of pure ice climbing in North Gully. By the time we’d walked back out to Glenmore in a blizzard we’d had a pretty full day on the hill.

Tuesday the road was still closed so we walked into Sneachda from Glenmore to enjoy 25m of steeper ice climbing on Aladdin’s Mirror Direct. Rather a long walk for a short route but it enabled us to get back to the car in more reasonable time, and also we checked out Patey’s Route on Aladdin’s Buttress. There were promising indications on the Cairngorm website in the evening and sure enough on Wednesday they got the ski road open. The walk in was so short it felt like cheating and we were first off the blocks at the Tobelerone Stone and straight up onto Patey’s. This was really well iced and fantastic climbing as usual.

Having done 3 days of ice climbing I wanted to give the team some mixed on Thursday. Also Dave had to head off home because he had work on Friday, so an early finish was called for. We headed to the Mess of Pottage and made an ascent of The Message, a 3 pitch, 3 star, classic IV,5. This was the best weather day of the whole week with virtually no wind and good visibility. We strolled down the Fiachaille of Coire Cas and returned to the car park nice and early so Dave could make the long drive south.

I wanted a change of venue for Tim’s last day on Friday and top of the list was Route Major on Carn Etchachan. However I reckoned the forecast was 50/50 for this and that there was a risk of spending all day flogging around in untracked snow to reach the route instead of actually climbing. So I suggested Savage Slit on the Lochan to round the week of and we plumped for that. As it turned out this seemed to be a good choice. The weather was worse than we anticipated with clag and wind all day, and Tim described Savage Slit as “superbly challenging” and “the highlight of his week”! And with four stars in theSMC guidebook so it should be!

Many thanks to Caroline at March House for her hospitality once again.

Check out our photos of the week here.