Journeys in the hills and mountains
So another rather long break between posts, but not a great deal of walking achieved in that time. The main highlight of the winter for me was, as ever, the annual New Year trip to the Scottish Highlands. This year we stayed in a fantastic cottage in Kingussie, the Old Post House, that was spacious and comfortable, easily holding the 16 people who this year came on the trip.
Prior to the trip, I joined David, Ruth, Dave and Jo on a pre-trip visit to Aviemore. The weather, as last year, had not looked particularly promising, and indeed our first day had high winds and blizzards forecast, and so we made for a Corbett to the north-west of Aviemore called Geal-charn Mor. Although most of the walk was a rather tedious trek along a track, the summit itself was interesting, though shrouded in cloud, and the day made a good warm-up walk for greater things. Greater things turned out to be Bynack More the following day, a Munro that I had been meaning to climb for some time. This proved probably the best day of the trip, a broad yet interesting ridge with some pleasant rocky outcrops near the summit which made for some fun scrambling in crampons.
After leaving Aviemore the weather again took a turn for the worse, and our first day of the New Year Trip proper involved a low-level walk up a hill to the north of Kingussie and a gentle walk back through the woods. With little sign of the weather improving, the following day I set off with Dave and Jo to climb the hills to the west of the Drumochter Pass. On arriving at the top of the pass we were greeted with very high winds and so decided to attempt something lower in the form of Geal Charn. Unfortunately our progress up this Munro was halted by a river in spate, and so we reluctantly settled for a ridge to the east. The ridge itself was quite nice, but the high winds encountered convinced me that our decision to turn back from Drumochter was justified.
My trip was much truncated due to a pending visit to Kazakhstan, and so I was keen to get up a new Munro on my last day though, post New Year’s Day, no one else was interested in the long-ish day I had planned, to instead I went with everyone else up Meall Chuaich, an easy Munro that I climbed in July 2010 with Sarah, Ruth and Jasper. An overnight coach to Cambridge got me back for my flight to Astana in the middle of the Kazakh steppe, with not a hill in sight.
And few hills there were to be for the following months. With the pressures of work (four concurrent employers at one point) I found myself cash-rich and time-poor, and so invested in a couple more days of climbing with Owen Samuel, the guide whom had coached my on Dinas Cromlech back in the autumn. This time it was to be winter climbing and Joe agreed to join me on a slightly crazy two-day trip to the Cairngorms. On our first day we set out from the Cairngorm ski centre and cross the plateau, searching for avalanche-free crags on the southern side. We set a fair old pace over, allowing time for three climbs.
Our first climb was The Overflow, a Grade III gully that was not in the best of condition. The route itself is straightforward but for a short section in the middle which, though a little precarious in loose snow and with little for ice axes to grasp, nevertheless felt secure enough. Having made good time on this Owen took up on Cascade, a Grade V ice route, a bit of a big step given that neither Joe nor I had done anything over Grade III before. Unsurprisingly we struggled and I fell a few times, at one point leaving an axe dangling in the ice above just out of my reach. Somehow I managed to get back up to it making use of crampons and a single axe and eventually topped out on what was my hardest climb to date so far. Suffice it to say that I shan’t be leading anything Grade V any time soon, but the experience in ice technique was invaluable. We made one final route on the way back over the plateau, climbing Truly, Madly, Chimbley, a Grade III route that involved a very awkward chimney which I climbed in a most inelegant manner.
The next day we wanted to try a Grade IV gully, but very high winds were forecast and there was a significant avalanche risk; the mountain rescue team were kept busy in the northern corries that day. Instead we headed west to Glencoe where we climbed the Zig Zags which, though a second ascent for me, had much better conditions than I had previously found. Joe and I moved together most of the way practising our alpine technique in advance of the summer. Most challenging of all was the journey home; at one point it looked very likely that we might not get out of the Highlands due to snow on all of the passes, but we persevered and eventually ended up back in Cambridge a little before 2am.