Every time I walk up to Stob Coire nan Lochan I glance up the gullys 5 minutes above where you cross the bridge. I'd always wondered what the 600m long Avalanche Gully was like and today I found out.
I'd persuaded Rich, Gill and Mike that it might give a good adventure and so it did! We started in the main gully soloing various short steps of Grade III ice. It started off quite fat but a couple of longer steeper steps persuaded us to the get the rope out as the ice thinned. Thin enough in fact that the leader was soloing as the ice was too thin for screws anyway. We made rapid progress up to the upper fork. Here the Guide describes a left hand variation at Grade IV. We headed up that to a short steep step with a pile of boulders above. 'Aaah' says I 'The guide says go under the chockstone'. So off Mike goes worming his way under a large block through a narrow icey passage with plenty of loose rock- off comes his rucksack and finally he reappears higher up the gully. He turns the corner and.... reveals that there is a proper massive chockstone just around the corner. To show sympathy I followed him through the squeeze while Rich and Gill more sensibly went around. Passing under THE chockstone (the size of a small car) and climbing a short step we found an old and apparently empty rucksack frozen into the ice. It was once red, or orange, or maybe both (hard to tell what is fading). I wonder at its history?
The next step started OK but with it getting thinner near the top I called for the end of the rope to be passed up and I changed from soloing to leading first the icey step and then a mixed corner. Atop this I took a while to create a belay (the rock was soft enough I was able to fashion nut placements in in places!) and looked with wonder at the slender 15 foot high curtain of thin brittle ice ahead. Mike's lead and he seemed to only rest his picks in slots in the ice whilst bridging delicately past it (certinly more V than IV and with rather poor screws). Above this a traverse out of the Gully and back in higher up was needed to avoid a large overhang and finally a 100m of swimming up the deep snow saw us near the top of the Zigzags for our descent. Another adventure, perhaps the last for a day or so as the weather takes a much needed turn for the warmer (as long as the thaw isn't TOO viscious) before a return to cold conditions with hopefully improved stability to this snow.