Saturday, 8 January 2011

Bypass Route, Cir Mhor

Winter climbing on Arran is described in the area guidebook as being "transient in nature, yet at its best of incomparable quality".  It is for this reason that Wally and I regularly take the climbing kit for a walk, "to have a look" and return home empty handed.  We have the advantage of being local, and every once in a while, we can grab good conditions when they suddenly arrive.

A snowy Cir Mhor from Glen Sannox.  Coire na h-Uaimh is the hanging Coire to the right.  
Yesterday was such a day.  We had our usual slow start, and feeling sluggish after the excesses of the holiday season, made slow progress up Glen Sannox and in to Coire na h-Uaimh, a hanging coire to the North of Cir Mhor.  A faint path negotiates the bog, small crags and huge pitfalls, until reaching the coire floor, it gets lost in a mire of boulders.

 Cloud billowing over the Saddle on the far side of Cir Mhor from Coire na h-Uaimh
 Looking down in to Glen Sannox.  Note the snowy mainland hills in the distance!

We traversed up on to the lower slopes of Cir Mhor, marking the ice beginning to form on the lower slabs, that in cold conditions, forms an ice route called Pan's Pipe.  Even when "fat" the ice here is thin and hard to protect.

 Ice forming on Pan's Pipe. 

Beyond, lies the entrance to the Western Stoneshoot, a grade I/II that often has a nice ice pitch low down. We geared up at the entrance to the Stoneshoot, and picked the line of Bypass Route, a turfy grade II that follows a series of open grooves before emerging at a col between Pinnacle ridge and the main shoulder of the mountain.

Looking up the Western Stoneshoot. Bypass Route follows a series of grooves on the left.

Looking down the Western Stoneshoot from where we gained the grooves. 

Yesterday, Bypass Route was just about in condition.  The turf was well frozen in most places, but any ice that had formed was thin and brittle. Higher up the grooves were buried in a deep layer of powder, covered by a fragile crust that broke off in alarming shards. Even in this state, the route is worthwhile, taking the easiest line through some spectacular scenery. We emerged at sunset, tired but happy.

 Looking up the 4th pitch of Bypass Route. Pinnacle Ridge is on the left, the Col above.

Not long after this, we were treated to a magnificent light show, as a meteorite shot out of the sky above our heads.  A fiery ball of flames and sparks, it streamed over the ridge, out above Glen Sannox and finally fizzled out not far above the glen!

Looking to the North West at sunset.  Jura is visible in the distance.

The day was far from over however, as the next decision to be made was descent route selection.  Options included ascending Cir Mhor, and descending the Whinstone Dyke on the saddle in darkness, or a shorter exit, via the steep headwall of Coire na h-Uaimh.  We picked the second option, but arriving at the headwall at dusk, discovered a mean little cornice above a steep snowy drop. We scratched around for a belay in the failing light, but realised soon enough that the safe option was going to be a long walk out to the south via Glen Rosa. Darkness fell as we traversed under Cir Mhor, but we were quickly on easy ground and able to enjoy a winter wonderland by torchlight.

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