Viking Gully from Alan Halewood on Vimeo.
Today I hurt and its all Jamie B's fault. In past years we've talked about how great it would be to do a magnificent route called Tir Nan Og on Ladhar Bheinn in the wilds of Knoydart. We both knew it was probably in condition last week but we were also both committed so this week it had to be. We also roped French Erick to make the climbing kit a 3 way split for the long walk in and because its always good to have a rope gun on trips like this.
A quick sort near Invergarry and we had a pleasant sunny walk from Kinloch Hourn to Barrisdale in a little under 3 hours. The guys opted for Highland Park whilst I had a nice Australian Merlot with wasabi peanuts after dinner. I don't know if it was those nuts but Jamie B was doing an impression of 'the Beast of Barrisdale' overnight moaning and thrashing in his sleeping bag. Erick even claimed to check out of his window for a full moon!
After a not very restful night we thus hauled ourselves out of bed at 5am and well before 6 began the walk in to Coire Dhorrcaill. As we approached we could see that the extra week had wrought its destruction on routes; there were traces of ice everywhere but only the NW face of Stob a' Chearcaill looked really snowy. The other thing we could see was that this was a Biiiiiig Face, huge and imposing like a blacker Orion Face. Much discussion ensued as we eyed TOG through a monocular. Whilst the lower pitches were thin but in there was a very black looking hole in the upper section.
Plan B. Erik B had raved about the quality of Viking Gully (must be a racial memory thing given his descent) and we could see a way in and white pretty much the whole way up (just one cave and chockstone giving us questions).
I positioned myself for the first pitch which looked to have the most ice: some wet, some brittle, all thin. The thickness of the ice along with the compact nature of the mica schist in the gully (often polished smooth by long exposure to flowing water) meant that gear was not going to be at a premium- occasional random crystal clear bosses of ice adorning the underside of chockstones proving the best hope for screws).
The snow in the bed of the Gully between ice pitches proved firm and friendly but thin enough to allow thick grass clumps through giving frequent frozen turf placements. Jamie B took the second pitch a slim icey chimney with a thinly iced slabby right side that he seemed keen to avoid preferring to get back to the womb. It was some relief to me when one of Erick's blunt screws wouldn't bite and he failed to get a runner on my rope in the back of the chimney. This meant that I could join the Frenchman dancing on the right wall.
After a slim runnel of ice on a slab Erick's first pitch was easier and he belayed below a short steep bulge. Ahead I could see the 'questionable' chockstone forming a deep cave to its left. I tried not to look too hard at it following more slabs with a patina of ice into the cave and arranging an awkward belay from 2 loose flakes a screw in a glassy ice boss and our 2 cams. The next move looked hard. I brought the guys up and Jamie stayed below as the French rope gun came up to inspect. With a bit of scraping and the pair of us chipping delicately at some frozen moss to make ledges for front points he declared he had enough footholds to support the good hook off the ledge. Some contortions and scraping... first cam relinquished from belay as first runner.... unexpected ice of dubious quality above my head somewhere and a back rest across the cave.... second cam relinquished from belay as second runner, hooked on Ericks outstretched tool... a curse or 3 and the sound of picks dulling on rock, a grunt and feet disappearing. 'It's fine, zer is a tuft of grass for a frontpoint on the left' (you'll have to add Erick's unique French-Glaswegian accent for yourself). I knew we brought him for a reason- it certainly wasn't the quality of the components of his rack!
More pitches followed; Jamie B following ice blobs across water worn rock joining blobs of turf dot to dot, Erick tic tacing up a thin slab leaning precariously a the top to get crampons over the wall (and me declining to let Jamie go next for fear of him demolishing the limited placements) and another pitch for me with a last corner to turn by yet another emaciated ice bulge. This last left us 25m of simple aerated snow from the top so the guys reached me and kept going as I untied and dismantled the belay to head for the sun in their wake.
Neither the Fenchman or I had summitted Ladhar Bheinn previously so we took crampons off to follow the stepped ridge to its top. After a short break to gasp at the views- Skye still looks snowy, inland Lochaber was as we remembered it (still in the grip of winter), Applecross's plateau cloaked white lee to the recent winds we chose to head down the NE Ridge, the Druim a Choire Odhair. This sinuous knife edge had us putting our spikey footwear back on and Erick and I traversed onto its first top after debating trying to skip beneath it as Jamie B did with limited success- perched on the side of the top like being balanced on the roof of a house before recovering the ridge and rejoining us for a rapid return to the Bothy.
2 new residents were a little incredulous at our day and the speed with which we brewed up, ate the last of our fare and added overnight kit to our rucsacs. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky as we turned back towards Kiloch Hourn and urged on by 90s dance and The Prodigy I sweated back to the car in only 2 hours with the Fenchman and Jamie B close in my wake just before head torches were required.
A 15 hour day, a route of character, an amazing location on a great wall on a stunning hill.
The end of my winter? I'll answer that when my legs recover....
In the bothy. The 'Beast of Barrisdale' is already in his lair
Wee French man under a big Scot's face.
The first pitch above Erick is absent so we used the ramp immediately to the left
Yours truly on our first pitch
Erick in his naturalised element
Jamie B goes back to the womb
Erick plans a more delicate approach
The mixed move
and 'leaning precariously'
A long way above the floor of the Glen
Ladhar Bheinn summit ridge
Jamie B 'balanced on the roof of a house'
The car is round the corner at the very end of that Loch...........