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!

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