Monday 30 January 2012

Stob Coire nan Lochain

After a long and stressful week, it was a relief to escape into the hills on Saturday. I could only manage a short-ish day so Andy and I met in Glen Coe and headed up into Stob Coire nan Lochain. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise as we entered the coire.

Sunrise in Glen Coe

I did a lot of my early winter climbing in Stob Coire nan Lochain so it has a special significance for me. I remember gibbering up routes like Dorsal Arete and Twisting Gully and looking across at these mythical hard mixed lines, never expecting to be good enough to even attempt them. Central Grooves in particular became an inspiration for me and finally climbing it last winter was the highlight of my season, partly because I had aspired to it for so long and partly because it's just such a brilliant route. After that success, my attention turned to Unicorn, surely the line of the coire and a benchmark grade VIII with a reputation for excellent but very demanding climbing.

Looking up at the awe-inspiring corner line of Unicorn

That rare combination of a strong & dependable partner, good weather and good conditions was too much of a temptation so despite being a bit sleep-deprived and probably not as mentally focussed as I should have been, we decided to have a crack at it. The first pitch starts with a classic Scottish thrutch, struggling upwards with seven point of contact (none of them very inspiring). I made slow progress up this to a point where I felt more secure and could relax slightly, at which point one of my axes popped and I slumped onto the gear.

Approaching my high-point

I must have damaged my left crampon in the (tiny) fall as for the rest of the day, it refused to stay in place. This provided ample excuse to back off of Unicorn (lowering from a piece of in-situ gear which makes me suspect  I'm not the first) and find a more sensible plan.

We decided to head across to the North Buttress. I'd thoroughly enjoyed Crest Route and Intruder so we decided to do Para Andy, the big capped groove just left of Intruder. The first pitch was pretty straight-forward but good fun, as you can tell from Andy's grin!

Andy enjoying himself

Andy shot up the groove above, getting a little carried away and breaking out to the arete a few metres higher than he should have, which made for an interesting and delicate traverse and downclimb to the belay.

Andy realising he's gone too high

The start of the top pitch was even more delicate, involving a teetery foot-traverse across ledges to gain the crack. Once across this, the enjoyable, positive mixed climbing started again, with difficulties gradually easing as we neared the top of the buttress. This was fortunate, as my crampon popped off yet again while I was leading this pitch, making it feel a little spicier than it should have!

Me enjoying the top pitch

Despite not managing to get up the route we really wanted to, it was a good day out and a very enjoyable route. I'll be back for another shot at Unicorn some time soon!

Sunday 29 January 2012

Take a Chance

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it" [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]

Sometimes you've got to take a chance. If you haven't stepped up to the plate and given it your all, then how will you ever know what could have been?

Andy and I park the van in Kishorn and settle down for the night. Tomorrow we are going to live out a shared dream to climb The Godfather.


We wake with the 5am alarm, but this doesn't feel like a glory day. Having left a frosty Inverness the previous evening under a perfect star-lit sky, the Kishorn night had been mild and wet. I step out of the van onto the boggy verge and squelch purposefully around the van as I take in the morning air and look to the hills. The sky is still cloudy and the temperate wind wafting over the Loch does not promise optimum climbing conditions. We will not be living our dream today.


A brisk drive up to Torridon lands us in the Beinn Eighe car park at the wrong side of 6am. We are on the move by 6.30am as the sky clears revealing the stars we left behind in Inverness. Our dream may have been put aside for another day, but I am yet to have a bad day on Beinn Eighe. Looking across at Liathach in the blue hue of morning I am reminded of one reason why this is my favourite winter climbing venue.

Andy on the approach slope of Beinn Eighe,
with Liathach behind

Friends had climbed on Far East Wall recently, so I was optimistic that our efforts would be justly rewarded. As we levelled onto the frozen plateau, now glistening as the sun rose over the distant hills, I smiled. Contented. Relaxed. Liberated. Pressure free. Whatever we do today is a bonus. I love climbing here.

Once down at the base of the wall we are on the threshold of freeze and thaw. A flurry of snowflakes are followed by light drizzle.

We can see tantalising icicles in the corner line of Sundance but, before Andy has time to became engrossed in its entry pitch, the dripping ice wards off its suitor. Before too long the routes on this wall will lose their wintriness. We will return.

Eastern Ramparts are holding much more snow. This is where we will climb today. A quick look from a distance, in an attempt to marry route descriptions with the complex and confusing corners and roofs in front of us, and we settle on Rampart Wall. It is a 3 star Davison/Nisbet route and I'm sure it won't disappoint. The third pitch describes a tension traverse. Has it been freed? We do not intend to use aid. I'm sure we're not the first.

We must have started the first pitch a tad far left, but an awkward step down and across sees Andy safely at the belay. According to the guidebook, pitch two is the crux (but this assumes aid is used on pitch 3). Having thrutched through the initial flared crack, the fantastic continuation flake crack yielded to a more elegant style. I'm having fun.  The crux itself involves levering the full head of an axe into a horizontal break in the quartzite wall to the left; pulling round to the left; committing to a thin horizontal torque with the other axe; pulling further round to the left; hooking a crack line before heading upwards once more. Footholds are scarce, but I am soon back in balance and placing much needed protection. I'm pleased with my performance.

Andy approaching the capacious second belay

The belay ledge is capacious. A fine place to be and from which to enjoy the outlook. Two roped hill walkers ascend the snowy slope below and we acknowledge each other's presence with an elaborate wave. The hill is suprisingly quiet today. We have the wall to ourselves.

The walkers below take brief respite and fix their gaze upon Andy as he readies himself. "C'mon lad". Andy, your audience awaits. The initial crack is steep with a precarious "mantle" into a turfy niche. But this is dispatched with some degree of gracefulness and Andy is soon ensconced atop the pinnacle with solid protection in place. Perplexed, he looks up and then a couple of metres to the left, which is where he needs to be. As if struck by a eureka moment, Andy quickly slots the tip of one pick in a thin seam that crosses the otherwise blank wall. His second pick is placed alongside, in the same fashion. Without footholds Andy lets his full weight down onto his tools, the torsion in the picks holding them firmly in place. One needs to be released and placed further left. A precarious and strenuous move with no footholds to assist. The objective is clear - reach the vertical blind crack just over an arms span to the left. Feet cut loose and are swung high and far left. The left foot catches a good ledge. Pushing down and away on the right hand tool, the other is released and swung up and left to catch a shallow hook in the crack. It holds and balance is restored. The tension traverse has been freed. Andy's audience moves on. 

We lap up the remainder of the route which has now eased off in terms of difficulty but is still offering superb climbing. The sky is at its clearest and, on the final snow slope to the plateau, I can look out and enjoy the vista. I am reminded of another reason why this is my favourite winter climbing venue.

The end of another fantastic day on Beinn Eighe

It is just before 4pm when we reach our sacks at the Coinneach Mor cairn and pack away our climbing day. We've made extremely good time and it's a joy to relax in the late afternoon light. The sun is slipping behind Liathach.We stop briefly to picture the scene, then make our swift way home.

Darkness envelopes us as we march into the car park. My phone is startled into life with a text "Been thinking of you all day. Guess you'll be starting the night shift now". But our day is done. Not bold, but pure gold. 

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it"

We will look forward to experiencing the night shift on The Godfather another day.



Monday 23 January 2012

A Vicar's Apprentice in the White Chapel

I slept badly. The gusting wind rocked the van and, as the lashing rain continued, I woke again needing another pee. The alarm sounded but I was already awake. It was 5.45am and the rain continued to fall. As I brewed up I was filled with a sense of guilt, knowing that Murdoch would have been needlessly travelling since 4am to join me.

We had arranged to meet earlier than usual in the ski centre car park and, true to his word, Murdoch arrived at 6.30am on the dot. Having exchanged pleasantries, our mutual expressions needed few words of explanation. The kettle boiled again and we settled down for another brew, occasionally twitching the curtain to try and catch a glimpse of our distant neighbours in the car park. Who, if anyone, would make the first move?

A few days previously the forecast suggested that Beinn Eighe might be worth a look. We both harbour ambitions to climb lines on its steep walls and, after a Cairngorm winter, the prospect of climbing in the north west is most appealing. However, reports of mild unwintry conditions filter through and Murdoch hasn't been well, so another short "Lochain" day is required.

"How about the Gathering - you can have the hard pitch", Murdoch had suggested in a veiled attempt to clinch the deal. I gave the thumbs up, knowing that on the day I could step aside and let Murdoch shine.  An opportune text gave comfort that the Coire was in condition and this led to an intriguing flurry of further texts as it became clear that a strong team from south of the border shared the same plan.

As the rain turned to snow I twitched the curtain once more and peered out of the van window in the direction of our southern rivals. No sign of movement. Murdoch and I finished our tea, grabbed our sacks and slipped quietly into the darkness. The wind abated and snowfall eased. Perhaps we will climb today after all!

As we geared up two figures romped up the slope to join us. "You must be Jim!" "Dave?" I responded, putting faces to names as strangers became briefly acquainted.  Though we had shared a common plan, they appeared happy to allow Murdoch and me to have first dibs at "The Gathering" (VIII 9) and they would have a look at "The Snow Pimp" (VIII 10).  As we approached the buttress, the cloud lifted momentarily revealing its full height. It was white with rime but, on closer inspection, we found that the cracks were icy. This would render our rack of camming devices ineffective and, knowing that the first two ascents used these for protection, we made a swift call to opt for our back-up plan.

"The Vicar" an old-school Lochain test piece is graded more moderately at VII 8. However, lest you forget, this is the Cairngorms and the Vicar has a reputation that has not diminished since it's first winter ascent in the early 1990's. As the cold wind picked up, our eyes traced our intended line up the steep white wall. Having been vilified in the last week for publicy voicing my criticism of winter routes being climbed in their naked, summer, form there could be no debate today. This was going to be a full value Scottish winter experience.

Me on the direct first pitch of The Vicar (Photo: Murdoch Jamieson)

When Guy Robertson, Pete MacPherson and Greg Boswell climbed the outrageous "Siberian Tiger" (IX 10) earlier this season, they opened up a new direct line to the second belay of "The Vicar" before breaking out right around the arete into more desperate terrain. At a suggested grade of VII 8, we wanted to climb "The Vicar" in two pitches with this new direct start.

What a pitch! Although I was fighting cold hands throughout (lesson learnt - technical, close fitting gloves are best reserved for more benevolent conditions) I managed to climb the pitch cleanly before belly flopping onto the airy belay ledge. I would suggest it is towards the lower end of the grade provided by the first ascentionists, given that the main Vicar pitch (at the same grade) is considerably harder. Nontheless, what a superb pitch and a fitting direct line for the Vicar.

Murdoch following pitch 1, the new direct start to the Vicar

I was travelling light, sans belay mitts, and I was already beginning to regret this tactical misjudgement. My spare gloves were not as luxurious, still they would hopefully restore some sensation to my not-so dexterous digits. I bit my tight glove to remove it from my hand. It wouldn't shift. I bit harder and pulled more firmly. Feeling a sharp pain in my finger tip and knuckle I let my hand fall. My finger was so numb that I hadn't realised that it, together with my glove, had been between my teeth!

Prior to the addition of the direct start, this route was all about the top pitch. But Murdoch was in muted form and not performing at his best. "Come on lad, pull yerself together"! The first few moves are awkward and Murdoch doesn't quite get it right. There's a feeling of resignation in the air as he comes to rest close to my right shoulder. But he's straight back on and appears to be back to his old (well, young) steady, methodical self as he careful unlocks the sequences. But then, unexpectedly, he's off again as a tool placement pops whilst faffing to untangle some gear. No shouts of rage, just an acknowledgment "I'm not psyched and really not enjoying this". But on he goes, cleaning a way forward until he is stumped. "I can't see where it goes". I'm sure it breaks goes out onto the arete on the right, but I don't know at which point. I am anxious not to lead Murdoch into uncertain territory.

Murdoch leading the top pitch of the Vicar,
as my camera struggles with the conditions!
 Mentally rather than physically tired, he moves back left and joins the route "Nocando" at its finale. Bearing in mind Murdoch had climbed "Pick n Mix" (XIII 8/9) the week before, he proclaimed "The Vicar" to be the hardest route he had been on this season. Full winter, rather than favourably lean conditions will go some way to explaining this. But make no bones about it, "The Vicar" is hard!  Sadly I cannot claim to have climbed it. Frozen hands from the start and an extended period of belay duty without food put paid to any realistic attempt of climbing this pitch in good style. As I hauled my way up on the gear Murdoch had placed, bearly keeping my fingers curled around the handles of my axes, I was conscious that the route deserved better. For us both, our ascent was tinged with disappointment in how we performed on such a stage. But time brings some perspective.

Today, as I reflect, I am tired and aching more from our "short Lochain day" than from any other time this season. Yes, yesterday was a tough, challenging day. It was a full Scottish winter experience on an incredible route. I'm happy.


Sunday 22 January 2012

Running Away

I'm just back from an excellent weekend in Aviemore with a few mates, although it wasn't the most successful weekend's climbing I've ever had!

The forecast on Saturday was pretty wild. However, the forecast is often pretty wild and often turns out to be not so bad, so Andy and I applied the "blind optimism" approach to planning and set out with the intention of trying Time Traveller on Carn Etchachan. Unfortunately, the forecast was right and we got to the top of the Goat Track in a full-on Scottish hoolie. We presevered briefly, being blown over a few times and making it just far enough across the plateau to be sure it wasn't getting any better. Soon, we admitted defeat and headed for the relative shelter of Coire an t-Sneachda.

Time to turn back

It had been dark when we walked through Coire an t-Sneachda on the way up, so it was a surprise to find all the crags completely black. A couple of easy gully lines were just about complete but by this point, a log fire, a mug of tea and a fry-up seemed like an infinitely more sensible plan.

That's more like it!

Today was a bit more productive. Andy's mate Gwylim and I headed up to Creagan Cha-no, the crag Simon Richardson et al have been developing on the east side of Cairn Gorm (see for more info). We didn't have a topo but abseiling in past the cornice, we spotted an attractive-looking crack line on a short buttress to the left of the main crags. This looked like a slabby Grade IV from below but once Gwylim had led up to the base of the crack, its true angle became clear. I had a shot at it but backed off and we scurried up an easy gully to the left instead.

It didn't look this steep from below! 

By now, another couple of teams had turned up, testament to the crag's growing popularity. Borrowing a topo, we located one of the established routes, a pleasant Grade IV just right of Mainmast, the name of which now escapes me. Gwylim reckoned this looked about Grade II from below but was soon put right by his own taste of the rounded, steeper-than-it-looks granite.

"It looks about Grade II" 

After this, we had a shot at a couple of short, (possibly) new lines on the right-hand wall of that buttress. I tried the cracks on the left-hand side of the photo below but had an unexpected fall when a seemingly-solid hook blew. I was unhurt but didn't fancy a rematch, so did the wide crack and chimney line just to the right (starting just left of centre in the photo). This gave a pleasant pitch with tech 6 moves and quite spaced gear, although I'd struggle to justify giving it any more than V,6 given its length and the general lack of seriousness of the crag.

Our line took the wide crack & chimney starting left of centre and finishing through the overhung niche on the skyline

Creagan Cha-no definitely feels like cragging rather than full-on Scottish mountaineering but it's a nice wee crag all the same. It's certainly worth knowing about for a short day or poor weather, and there are plenty of lines waiting to be done.

Monday 16 January 2012

Pic n Mix

Pic n Mix - Coire an Lochain (again!)

The fickle scottish winter has played havoc with my emotions the past 3 months. The season threatened to arrive a few times, all the while I bided my time, waiting for the time that an ongoing autumns training could be tested where it counted, in the mountains, not in a man made hole in the ground. Not with shiny bolts for protect, but skill, guile and courage.

Winter arrived, opportunities were missed, bad choices made, days out with an optimistic frame of mind, all the while the test was avoiding me... I knew it was close but each time a locked door barred the way. Some days it was the weather, the circumstances or just unacceptable conditions. Yesterday it arrived.

An unexpected chance to climb presented its self late on saturday, a frantic dash around the houses to find a partner yeilded an unexpected outcome, the chance to climb with Murdoch Jamieson. A cool guy I'd met a number of times who I suspected was almost as keen as I was to get on something interesting. Hell, he'd only done the Needle a few weeks ago! The plan - daddy longlegs. The intention - emulate the Adams/Higgins ascent of the previous day!

8am the next morning standing below No.1 buttress in coire an lochain, we were if not gobsmacked, not far off! It was black, nothing there, like almost everything else. How could this be???? Thoughts were rapidly turning bto fall back options... all that was left was to check if the area around hoarmaster was in. Nope not a lot there.... snow pimp, hmmmm VIII,10..... na, nice easy looking grade VI yeeaaaahhhhh, what about pic n mix hmmmm only tricky VIII rather than guidebook IX apparently.... well...... hmmm.... neither of us had signed up for this and yet 20 minutes later after gearing we both realised 'WHAT ARE WE DOING??????'. Oh well, I've geared up, there's bugger all else in nick, I may as well see if I can start the pitch before jessying out!

Initial foraging provided some gear in the thin crack up the 80 odd degree wall and there were some v small ledges (maybe the wrong word!) for the feet, maybe it could go. I few torques and hooks in frozen mud, a bit more gear, an exciting tin opener move up the crack and suddenly I was bridged in the corner. Ok. A thin traverse right, where was it? Oh yeah this is where Tim Emmet takes a winger on the first attempt in 'Hard XS' the DVD..... oh oh not the image I was looking for! Must be higher.....

More gear, a layback around the corner and I can see the fat crack I'm aiming for...... but where are the footholds, *^%$ there's none! Re-think time, and this time more gear in the crack, a really thin hook up high.... how is it staying put, this can't be the way, %&*£ it. Swing the feet onto the slab, match the tool, what the hell's going on, my pick's on a tooth depth, my feet are smeared on the steep slab, YES, the crack's got a hook! Can't relax yet, NEED gear, a hex leaps into the crack, my axe slips, my heart almost exist my chest, after an eternal 10 seconds the rope is clipped. Relief. Just have to finish the pitch, another 5metres of steep pulls and the belay station sucks me in. Euphoria engulfs me. This is what I've waited months for.

Approaching the belay on P1

Murdoch cruised up to the belay, with a slight hesitation at the thin move with an expression I recognised..... what? How? Na, I'm missing something! All encapuslated in a single grin! A quick change over and the Murdoch machine started up P2, the harder pitch!

Initail smooth progress and gear came to an abrupt halt with a hook popping in the overhanging corner. I don't know who was more surprised at the fall! Straight back on and Murdoch cruised to the top of the pitch. All that was left was for me to follow and strip the gear. I've rapidly come realise I am shit at seconding and 5 minutes off the belay and the flash pump had arrived with avengence in the overhanging, strenous corner, this was nae grade VI ground! Almost at the belay and the arms were burning with lactic acid and the thought of shouting 'take' was so appealing. Exhaustion arrived on the flat top, as well as admiration for an awesome lead from Murdoch. First route together and hopefully not the last!

Its probably only fair to say that VIII,8 felt like the grade rather than guideboook IX,9. This being a guess based on our limited experience of VIII or 8 and the ideal conditions we encountered! The guidebook is probably right about the 3 stars though! Ace short route and great experience! Taking a chance is normally worth it......!

Sunday 15 January 2012

Daddy Longlegs

After a week of reports of black crags and melting ice, it was a relief to walk in to the Northern Corries yesterday and see some whiteness. The crags were in the ‘friendliest’ of winter conditions: aesthetically white but with only a thin coating of rime, and dry cracks that made finding solid gear easy.

Our Plan A was one of the less white lines, which wouldn’t have been justifiable on the day. Instead, we decided to make the most of the easy conditions by heading for Number 1 buttress. I had never climbed here but Jim had some unfinished business and an ambitious goal. He and Francis Blunt had attempted Big Daddy (solid VII,8) last season in much harder conditions. Jim took a fall towards the end of the first pitch and had to hand over the lead to Francis. He managed to get up the first pitch but then in fading light, they traversed off into The Vent rather than attempting the top pitch. Jim was keen to have a rematch with Big Daddy but also had his eye on the harder finish, Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9). Having not climbed on this buttress before, I didn’t know if this would be feasible – neither of us had climbed Tech 9 in our lives – but I was keen to have a go.

I took the first pitch, which is the crux of Big Daddy and which Jim had had such a tussle with last year. Even under the very amenable conditions, I found it hard. Much of the climbing is quite insecure and balancy, particularly in the upper groove. It involves lots of bridging out between small edges, one monopoint on each side of the corner, which resulted in me having the worst calf pump of my life! Still, I managed to teeter my way up to the overhang at the top of the second groove. This looked daunting from below but fortunately, perfect hooks and good gear suddenly appear so while this section was a bit more strenuous, I didn’t feel in danger of falling off. A big rockover to the left brought me to the belay.

Although Jim had struggled on this pitch last year, he cruised it on second. He then led through the easy ground up to the big ledge below the top pitches of both Big Daddy and Daddy Longlegs.

It was Jim’s lead and he was clearly feeling good – Daddy Longlegs was on! The pitch consists of two steep cracks separated by a small ledge. Jim seemed to be making light work of the first crack, cruising up it at an impressive rate and looking absolutely solid. However, the top of this crack is wide and flared, making the rockover onto the ledge above extremely awkward and technical. Having placed a bomber hex, Jim tried to make the rockover but had an axe rip at the crucial moment, resulting in a short fall onto the hex. Undeterred, he was immediately back on and pulled through it seemingly effortlessly.

The crack above the ledge is even steeper – it overhangs by a few degrees throughout its length – but the hooks and the gear are perfect. After an initial foray up the first couple of metres to clip some in-situ gear and place some of his own, Jim set off up it in determined style. He made short work of it and was soon at the belay. I have to admit that I was apprehensive about even seconding this pitch but thankfully, I managed to get a solid adze placement where Jim came off and was just able to grunt my way up to the belay before my arms gave out. A short easy pitch led to the top, where we were treated to beautiful views across the Cairngorms in the January sunshine.

It’s always satisfying to succeed on a hard route but neither of us were under any illusions that this was ‘proper grade VIII’ – the conditions couldn’t have been kinder to us so VII,8 was probably fair on the day. However, the combination of technical, balancy climbing on the first pitch with sheer thuggery on the third made Daddy Longlegs particularly enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll be back for more routes on No 1 buttress at some point but in the mean time, I’m hoping winter kicks in again so that we can get to venues other than the Northern Corries!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Same Old Venues?

 Rather against my better judgement I recently showed a passing interest in an online forum posting entitled "Same old Venues". In this thread I challenged the notion that "all blogs are the same - same people, writing in the same style about the same things, at the same places."

The motivation for this particular blog came from some genuine interest that was being shown in what a small group of low profile climbers had been doing over the last couple of winter seasons. Often away from the madding crowd and at a respectable level of difficulty, we had stories to tell and experiences to share. So, this blog provides the platform for us to reflect on our adventures, achievements and failures. A collection of scribblings that portray a personal perspective on shared experiences.

Now, back to the theme of that forum posting. It infered that too many climbers (the majority?) were too short sighted and lacking in ambition and/or originality to venture further afield than the Cairngorm Northern Coires (Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain). I'm absolutely certain this is a wild generalisation but it is the case that these venues are undeniably popular. And for very good reasons.

Jim on the first pitch of Bulgy
(Photo: Andy Inglis)

After a week of weather and festivity induced relative inactivity, the forecast for the eighth day of Christmas was promising enough for me and Andy Inglis to make plans. Of course by "promising" I mean that it was forecast to be sub zero and not raining! With a strengthing south westerly and blizzard conditions I would have ordinarilly chosen to stay at home and drink tea, but nearing the end of my ten day break from work and nil climbing returns I was willing, nae desperate, to do something. Having regard to the forecast, a short day in the east would be in order, and Coire an Lochain fits the bill perfectly. This would be my third route there (having already climbed Savage slit and Ventricle) from my total haul of seven routes this season and I could be accused, justifiably perhaps, of falling into the trap of going to the "same old venue". But I would disagree. 

Andy following pitch 1 of Bulgy

My climbing plans are usually informed by a desire to do certain routes, a desire to climb in certain locations, availability of partners (and accomodating there own ideas), prevailing weather and general conditions. Living in Inverness provides me with the luxury of being roughly equidistant  from the north west, Lochaber, or north Cairngorms. Out of choice I have tended to avoid the east. But this season, unlike the previous two seasons which were dominated by high pressure systems and sustained periods of stellar conditions throughout Scotland, the weather patterns are pushing me to the east and the accessible north Cairngorms.

Now for me this is a problem, as I cannot seem to come to terms with climbing granite. I am a gritstone rock climber through apprenticeship. In summer I can shape my fingers, my body, my footwork to work with (rather than against) the often rounded and holdless rock. On the granite (which is'nt too far removed from gritstone in its characteristics), in winter, I'm clumsy. My footwork is inept and I struggle to seat my axes securely in rattly cracks.  I am not significantly weaker than some top level winter wads I know, but the difference in our winter climbing abilities is staggering. It is down to technique and no where does this show itself more than on Cairngorm granite. Some people are naturally talented and some have acquired their ability through a long apprenticeship. Right now I feel like I am in the early stages of one of Thatcher's YTS schemes!

Is this acceptable? Climbers on an out of condition "Auricle"
 On reaching the Coire in a spindrift hell, Andy and I were disappointed to find that our primary objective, Ventriloquist, was not in condition. In fact the whole of Number 1 Buttress was black as the dry SW wind had left it rime-free. Sadly, as evidenced by the photo opposite, our perception of what is acceptable winter condition was being challenged by two chaps struggling their way up Auricle. We decided to head over to Bulgy (VII 7) on Number 4 Buttress, which was looking very wintry but relatively sheltered. Mistakingly thinking a single pitch would take in the crux I had geared up ready to take the spoils. But in the end the honours were handed to Andy who led through the bulges of the second pitch in excellent style. Proficiently and without pomp or circumstance. I followed, finding the climbing to be a little more secure than its distant appearance suggested. Never desperate, with a proliferation of positive breaks for the feet (unusual for the harder 'Lochain routes) this was a confidence boost that I needed.

I have many winter climbing aspirations in less well trodden Coires of the Scottish Highlands and hopefully I will have the opportunity to realise some of these this season. But, when conditions and circumstances dictate I am also content to make the most of what is on offer in the "same old venues" and continue my Cairngorm granite apprenticeship.