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  • johnorr55

An Icy Winter

Updated: Mar 16, 2019

Posted on March 6, 2015

Being in the Alps at the start of January I kept an eye on conditions on Scotland to see what people had been up to and what was getting climbed…turns out very little as the wild weather continued unabated through those early weeks. Thankfully as I drove up North the winds seemed to have abated and the benefits of all the stormy wet weather came to fruition in the way of ice and lots of it!

One of many stunning days this winter.

A rather pleasant day in Coire an Lochain with John blew away the skiing cobwebs before I started into a few days work with QUB Mountaineering Club. I always look forward to working with these guys and girls and giving them a few handy hints as it was through the club and input from others that I gained my first real experiences in winter and its always great to see them gain their first experience of winter mountaineering and climbing as well as catch up on the various tales of epics from throughout the year!

Winter Mountaineering skills with QUBMC in the Cairngorms

QUBMC guys getting their first taste of Scottish winter climbing on Hidden Chimney, Cairngorms.

My winter in Scotland this year was limited and so with work taking up most weekdays I aimed to make the most of the weekends and the fantastic conditions and weather that had set in around the West Highlands. After a weeks work with Queens Mountaineering Club in the Cairngorms I headed west to head out with Tim and Lee to Beinn an Dothaidh. A beautiful drive over Rannoch Moor and a sunny morning walk in brought us to the bottom of The Screaming which gave 3 brilliant pitches on what was a very relaxed winters day!


The ever impressive Buachaille Etive Mor


Lee warming up on The Screaming, Beinn an Dothaidh.

I had Rhys and Zoe along on an Intro to Winter Climbing week during which we climbed a few fantastic ice and mixed routes in great weather and looked at the skills they needed to head out themselves next time round.

Rhys approaching the sunshine on Sunshine Gully, Beinn Udlaidh

Throughout the week I had been reading and hearing, with some envy, various reports of classic ice routes such as Gemini and The Shield Direct being climbed during the week. So when Friday came round there was only one place to go! I met up with Rhys and we walked into the Ben under a full moon with Gemini being Plan A, having missed out on it a couple of seasons ago when it was in. Rhys hadn’t done much in Scotland in winter so when he asked what Grade VI on ice meant I chuckled a little and said he’d be grand, he had climbed Cerro Torre after all, couldn’t be much harder! Gearing up I recognized the distinctive oversized rucksack and charging walk of Murdo approaching and so told him to stay clear as this route was too easy for him…he agreed even though he had only just done it and set off up The Shield Direct.


Myself starting up the initial ice pitch of Gemini, Ben Nevis. Photo: M. Jamieson


Rhys McAllister having found his groove on the smear pitch on Gemini, Ben Nevis

With the lower level ice being so good on the Ben the other obvious place to go was Aonach Beag so I met up with Lou and we had a great day climbing the superb Royal Pardon, again a not too often formed route and another I’d had my eye on for a few years!


Lou on the brilliant Royal Pardon, Aonach Beag


Superb evening light over the Mamores.

Sunday came round and the plan with Nelly was to get on The Shield Direct if we could knowing full well that the temperature had risen. Rounding the corner we could hear the audible dripping and running of water before we could see it. The initial corner looked fragile to say the least and neither of us were feeling very brave so we carried on round and started up The Bewildabeast behind Murdo and Andy. This route had only had its second ascent a couple of days previously and here we were making the 5th ascent! The formation of ice around Carn Dearg has been exceptional this season and allowed rarely formed routes such as this to come in. Each pitch was absolutely superb in its own right and definitely rivaled Gemini for sheer pleasure to climb!


Myself starting off up the rarely climbed (well until that weekend) Bewildabeast, Ben Nevis. Photo: Andy N


Nelly on the incredible final pitch of Bewildabeast, Ben Nevis

Another week of work starting off with a Winter ML Training and finishing up with two days guiding on Boomers Requiem and Deep Cut Chimney (the Western one)  set up the weekend with the Ben again the obvious place to go with two outstanding routes, The Shroud and Mega Route X, the obvious go to routes. I have never seen the Shroud formed before and so for it to have formed and actually be relatively fat was incredible! Pulling round the top bulge with an expanse of air below me I felt privileged to have climbed such an iconic route. A perfect end to a great season of ice!


A rarely formed Ben Nevis classic, The Shroud.


Myself making some moves at the top of The Shroud, Ben Nevis.


Lee on the superb Mega Route X, Ben Nevis

A couple of weeks of bagging some new Munros, avoiding large amounts of snow and climbing esoteric and classic, but safe, winter routes at work led up to my BMG Winter Induction. This was the final induction day before being properly accepted on to the British Guides Scheme as Trainee Guides. A great few days of Induction and training with Graeme Ettle, John Lyall and Jonathan Preston saw us all welcomed to the BMG and so, an end to a Scottish winter but the beginning of what will be a great few years progressing through the Guides scheme!

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