Sunday 10 February 2013

Before and After

The Shelter Stone in winter is a beautiful, intimidating and fickle venue. After a few days of whispered plans and obsessive weather-watching, Jim and I found ourselves once again crossing the Cairngorm plateau in the dark, in the clag, on a bearing for this magical place. Approaching the top of Pinnacle Gully as dawn came, we dropped below the cloud and were greeted with exactly the sight we'd hoped for - gleaming white rime on the steep upper cliffs of the Shelter Stone and Carn Etchachan. It's in nick! We geared up excitedly and descended to the base of the crag ready to start up one of our dream routes - the Needle.

There was, however, one minor problem. It was warm.  For the moment, we ignored this fact. The lower turfy grooves were well frozen and had plenty snow cover, the upper section was plastered with rime and the middle section held more than enough whiteness to justify an ascent. Why should a little thing like temperature get in the way? Anyway, were were probably just warm from the walk-in - it'll be fine once we get a bit higher.

Jim on the Terrace, approaching our high point

At the start of the fourth summer pitch, we couldn't fool ourselves any longer. We were racing a major thaw up the crag, and the thaw was winning. We were both soaked and the crag's winter plumage was visibly receeding. The next pitch would have been close to dry-tooling (well, wet-tooling) and neither of us could justify going any further, particularly on such a classic route that meant so much to us both.

It was time to go down, but we'll be back...

... and after

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