Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glencoe

The countdown to my Winter ML assessment is on, and although I don't want to say too much about it at this stage, you can look forward to a frank post mortem after the event. However, regular readers this winter will have spotted  in my blog some references to QMDs (Quality Mountain Days), insane night nav missions, persistence in digging bucket seats on easy ground, tying the rope around my waist, and not climbing anything harder than grade 1 for the entire season. Its been a frustrating winter, and I'm pretty anxious about it all, as better leaders than me have not passed first time, but I've worked hard at my prep and now I must wait to get the dreaded thing over with.
Yesterday was my last chance to practice my skills among friends, and my mate Hazel kindly agreed to play at being my client for the day.  We met in Glencoe the night before, planning an early start to try and beat an impending thaw and associated weather. The early start paid off, and when we arrived at the base of Broad Gully, Stob Coire nan Lochan, the ground was still frozen and the winds light.

 Stob Coire nan Lochan first thing. Broad Gully is the shallow rightward slanting gully between the black summit buttresses and the small triangular buttress (Dorsal Arete).

The snow conditions seemed pretty good at this point, although there was a thin layer of poorly bonded fluffy stuff that was overlying old hard neve, it wasn't deep and could easily be kicked through.  We hoped to top out before the thaw, and associated wet snow instabilities predicted by the SAIS.

We had cracking views across Glencoe to the Aonach Eagach and even the summit of Ben Nevis was out of the cloud for a bit

We roped up at the base and proceeded to pitch the gully old school style. The old snow was rock hard and digging buckets was warm work.  Hazel had a wee go as well and lead her first winter pitch (nice one!). We made slower progress than I'd hoped however, and the weather began to appear. Higher up the gully, fresh snow and spindrift were blowing in.  I had a brown trousers moment at one point when I looked around me to see rivers of loose snow literally flowing past me on either side down the gully. Fortunately, it was only a small section of the gully that was in this poor state and I took a good spike belay on the side of Dorsal, brought Hazel up, and found that not far above the snow condition improved with little of the loose stuff to bother us. 

Hazel having fun in Broad Gully

We topped out as the weather deteriorated and the snow turned to rain.  It wasn't as windy as predicted, but a few ferocious gusts warned us to hurry up and descend. Once down in the shelter of the coire again it was possible to relax and take a leisurely walk out. 

Big changes happening in the mild misty rain when we returned to the coire, fresh snow was melting and older snow turning to soup.

There were a few parties about as well as ours, doing winter skills courses and digging industriously in the rain.  I hope the weather improves for them this week (and stacks up some nice conditions for me next week...).

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