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)
|Murdoch following pitch 1, the new direct start to the Vicar
|Murdoch leading the top pitch of the Vicar,
as my camera struggles with the conditions!
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.