Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Smoking the White Owl





I had some clients cancel at late notice (they are snowed in at an estate cottage a long way from the road) so Roger and I went climbing today. I've always wanted to climb the main waterfall on Sgurr Finnisg-aig (the small top just east of the top station of the Nevis Range gondola) so we went for a look. At the car park things felt much milder than of late and we could hear a strong wind higher up-not promising. We walked out on the forestry road and headed up becide the main stream which was full and flowing fast- but a couple of hundred metres above us we could see ice.
We got about 200m of climbing out of it. The ice was thick (several inches thick and taking screws to the hanger) but there was water, lots of water behind it everywhere. I got to lead today and passed a few holes right through to the stream. Roger reckoned he could see these holes getting larger, as the water melted the ice, as I climbed!
We passed ice formations like I'd never seen; blobs, rippled bosses, chandeliers, juggy holds, wind bent icicles and glass clear 'visors' with the stream completely enclosed behind. Although things boomed a lot as I climbed (glad I've lost some weight this year) the ice was thicker than it looked and often the pick wasn't getting through to the space behind (fortunately).
The last pitch was a belter, long, probably about 4 (lower pitches were 3) but very delicate and some intricate weaving was needed to find a way through holes and chandeliers.
As we got higher the wind picked up and we were lashed with spindrift on occasion. Topping out there were a few feet of loose snow to clear which was blasted up across your face- I had my eyes closed for a few feet of crawling to the belay.
We headed over to the Gondola in a gale watching an Everest like plume from the top of the Nid. The Gondola was predictably off so we walked easily down a snowy Downhill MTB course back to the car.
I'd approach this route with caution unless it gets colder again folks.
Tragic news of 2 deaths in an avalanche on in No.3 Gully today on Ben Nevis- my condolences to friends and family of those involved. The strong winds have redistributed a good deal of the snow on the hills and created unstable windslab deposits creating some dangerous conditions. We will all need to look carefully at both the forecast and the conditions on the ground in the next few days. Never be afraid to save it for anothr day if you are unsure. There were also avalanches on Liathach and on Ben an Dothaidh today, fortunatley those involved survived.
News here on the BBC.


1 comment:

Piotr Wisthal said...

That looks dodgy! Next time take a life jacket. Like your blog Al, inspiring stuff.