The big ridges
Coire na Ciste
A belay with some shelter from the ice from above
The 'U bend' in Gardyloo
Sally on the leadToday I was out with Sally who is one of the students from UHI West Highland College where I work on a regular basis. The objective of the day was to get some winter climbing in and a little leading for her if possible. Ben was out with 2 other students too.
I suggested we head up towards the top of Observatory Gully in the hopes of finding some remains of winter for us to enjoy- especially after a cold night last night. So after a stunning sunny start to the day we were all soon sweating as we set a scorching pace on the walk in.
As we came into Observatory there was a team well up on Tower Scoop and no-one else in sight. The route looked very thin at one point but it looked worth a shot so I took Sal up that first.
I honestly can't recommend it any more. The narrows turned out to be a short break which now has a very thin tongue of ice with a good gap behind leading to it. A gingerly tiptoed over this and took a belay offering maximum protection from the ice skittering down from above where I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that the team we had seen were now on the Tower Gully Cascade.
Sally followed confidently and soon arrived at my belay before I lead the short, steeper but fatter last section. We then shed the rope to traverse across to the base of Gardyloo.
I lead the first 2 pitches quickly which are little more than grade 1. By now it was warming up and we were getting nervous about the thawing ice overhanging the left of the gully in particular. As it turned out the bits that did come down came from high on the right but passed us safely. I let Sally lead the fun bit. The 'u bend' tube is still there and gives off a great ice blue colour as you peer under the chockstone. When I reached her screw belay I let her take us out the top too so that we'd had 2 pitches each.
There was a mild breeze on top blowing a cap of cloud over the summit plateau. We had momentary whiteout and clear sunshine and 1 second brocken spectre back in the gully where the last of Ben's team was emerging- his students having swung leads up Gardyloo. On the way down the biggest indication of spring was perhaps the 2 Eastern European ladies Ben saw in skin tight jeans with huge leather handbags. One had the smoothes of soled trainers on whilst the other had leather shoes with half inch platform heels!!
I reckon that is pretty much it for winter now. The continuing thaw is slowly but surely stripping the ice and whilst there might be a route or 2 to be done at the weekend I'd be almost as worried about the approaches or the possibility of someone else above me as the condition of the ice now.
And I'm off to Reiff to hit the rock :-)