Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Esoteric Ice: Coire nam Fuaran

I think I mentioned this before.... but Arran really hasn't had that much in the way of snow compared to the rest of the uk.  Having said that, it has been incredibly cold.  Last week Wally and I spotted what looked like a streak of ice emerging from a steep gully high above Glen Sannox, in a remote coire called Coire nam Fuaran. The location was duly noted, and filed for future reference.

On Sunday, primed with this information, friend and climbing neighbour Robin Barnden went and had a look around. He reported back with tales of a long and necky solo up a thin streak of ice in the back of a deep couloir.  The route finished east of Mullach Buidhe and was all there from start to finish. 
Monday, you may remember, it snowed.  A lot.

We ventured out on Tuesday morning to go and have a look at Robin's icefall.

It was a cold and frosty walk up Glen Sannox.  Lots of fresh snow visible on the higher slopes. 

A frigid looking Cioch na h'Oighe in the cold dawn light. 

The approach to Coire nam Fuaran involves a nightmare bash up bolder strewn heather slopes.  Even with the covering of fresh snow this was no fun.  Ice filled gullies caused large detours. The approach was extremely tedious but we did manage to find a network of deer paths leading to the coire from the valley floor... (for future reference I would consider walking up to the saddle and approaching from the first shoulder of North Goatfell).

The final approach to Coire nam Fuaran.

Icefall marking the entrance to the gully. 

Fabulous views of Cir Mhor from the route. 

From Coire nam Fuaran, the gully is less obvious than it is from Glen Sannox, as the entrance is blocked overlapping granite slabs.  A cascade of ice was clearly visible under the fresh snow.  This first pitch gave easy sport at about grade II.

Wally on the first pitch. 

The second pitch consisted mainly of easy snow slopes that delved in to the back of a deep chasm.  Harder ice on pitch 3 led up on the right from the back of the gully. 

Above this, pitch 4 had  more excellent quality ice, although the conditions meant that a fair bit of digging was required. 

Beyond pitch 4 the terrain eased in to a broad fan of snow and we picked our way between turf and snow up on to the higher slopes of the mountain.  In all there was probably about 200m+ of moving together on easy snow slopes.  Protection was hard to find and the unconsolidated and at times slabby snow conditions made this the most nerve wracking part of the day.

The route finishes about 200m west of the summit of Mullach Buidhe. When we topped out the light was failing, the moon setting, and we could simultaneously see the lights of Glasgow, Lochgilphead and Campbeltown. 
We took the easiest route down, heading over Mullach Buidhe and dropping down from the col before North Goatfell and out of Coire Lan. to the road at Corrie.  Big thanks to Jamie who picked us up at the road and took us back to the van in Sannox. Also huge respect to Robin for what was undoubtedly a bold and interesting solo. We estimate the overall length of the route to be about 450m with 200m of quality climbing at about grade II/III.

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