Its taken me a while to write up my Easter trip, so much so that trad climbing season is well underway. Anyway…. here you go.
There’s some routes in Scotland that are epic and have a reputation for endurance, requiring nerves of steel or providing amazing views. The Ring of Steall doesn’t disappoint on any of these.
The Ring of Steall is a classic Scottish route, covering 4 munro summits and narrow rocky aretes, made even more special in full winter conditions. The route is around 10 miles long with over 1800m of ascent, making this a tough walk in any conditions.
We tackled this route over Easter when winter was still dominating the mountain summits in Scotland, but snow and ice can lie on Scottish mountains well into the Spring so make sure you check the conditions before you set out and be suitably prepared.
I’ve just walked off the hill from another disappointing weekend of 70mph winds and a lack of activity it’s made me think – I’ve had difficult winter. I started with the intent to bag lots of winter days towards my winter ML log book and it started well, with a trip with to Glencoe with a friend also working towards her winter ML. (She passed this week). Almost right away it went downhill.
I felt demoralised as I wasn’t as confident as her and lacked belief in myself. I compared myself to her, seeing that I couldn’t keep up with her and she was much quicker at making navigational decisions.
Since then I’ve had 4 other trips to Scotland which have only established this feeling of not being good enough.
I’ve been left to do my own thing by my climbing friends in the Cairngorms and not having the opportunity and confidence to join them, and then two big days in Braemar which I was definitely on it with the navigation but lacked confidence in leading.
And then I went to the Ben, and didn’t manage to finish the CMD Arête circular, only making it to Carn Mor Dearg summit due to really strong winds.
I feel like I’ve had lots of failures and not just that one. There was failing to try Dorsal Arête out of fear and failing to try the Devil’s Ridge on a windy day.
So at the end of winter with one trip north left I’m thinking of not bothering and giving up and letting the spring seep in.
I can navigate really well. I know this. But I worry about being in whiteouts. I have all the skills but on steep terrain I still freak out, especially climbing rocky ridges in the ice.
I’ve suffered from spending the winter with climbers who are technically more skilled than me and have generally left me behind for doing their own adventures. You think this would work in my favour as I’d get to solo some peaks, but I’ve always had someone in tow who either wasn’t as skilled and lacked enthusiasm for effort or occasionally a climber who wished they were climbing and were demoralised they were walking instead.
In honesty, I’ve had some good days too. Snowshoeing in Glen Feshie was the highlight of the winter, gorgeous weather and conditions and I felt success being on my own in the clag in the summit.
I did enjoy the navigational challenges around Braemar too, gaining confidence in my abilities to navigate in poor visibility.
But on the whole winter doesn’t feel like a success to me. There’s been more disappointment.
How do you learn to winter climb?
I joined a mountaineering club to get out more in winter and while that’s happened, after three winters with them I’ve not yet climbed any winter routes.
Winter is so short and the conditions in Scotland so unreliable that climbers in winter lack the patient to teach others in the same way that you find at the summer crag.
How do you learnt to climb in winter without paying for an instructor?
I had a great club trip to Rjukan in 2017 which was aimed at giving people the chance to learn as well as progress. That’s the only time I’ve ever had that opportunity to try and learn.
I’m not against paying for instruction but with winter climbing how does that really build skills to get outside again without a support system?
Or is it my learning style?
Maybe I struggle to learn from the people around me because I lack the confidence to just have a go.
I met a guy this winter at the CIC hut who was in his first winter season climbing and had already lead a IV pitch. His attitude was to just get on something and try, to learn quick and have a go.
Maybe my cautious attitude is what holds me back. Maybe my fears and my reluctance to push myself and find myself scared somewhere exposed, is what stops me just getting on and seconding behind an experience leader.
I had hoped to climb a few routes this winter with friends and the only opportunity I had on Dorsal Arête I bottled it. Since then there’s not been any opportunities, so I’ve failed in that objective for the season.
I’d also hoped to have more log book days completed, but I’ve done 12 this winter.
It feels like poor progress.
I’m heading into spring being grateful for the chance to whinge on the rocks with the more friendly and helpful trad climbing community.
I’m trying to be less critically reflective of myself and be more open to opportunities.
I’ll try this summer to not let fear prevent me getting on routes so that perhaps next winter I’ll get to try something.
I might still squeeze in one last trip this winter to Scotland but as for the future of my winter ML?
I think I need to be honest that I don’t know if it’s really for me. I don’t know if I’m really a leader in the winter environment, maybe I bit off more than I can chew with that particular challenge.
We had checked out the popular and only easy to access climbing spot of the Cascade de Lilliaz at the start of the week. It looked like a good plan for when we would be too tired to do more long walk ins and when the weather was predicted to be less reliable.
The cascades is the only climb which isn’t a committing route as you can bail off at any point along the river route. This also means it is very popular with climbers and spectators.
We had only intended to do one day of climbing there but after Moliene wasn’t in condition we headed back there on both Friday and Saturday.
There had been heavy snowfall and any thin ice had been covered enough for us to momentarily forget about it. So on Friday we headed up and climbed pitch 3 on the right side.
Standing on mushy snow with my axes hooked around a thin lip of ice, I got that horribly familiar sensation in the pit of my stomach when I really don’t like where I am stood. And I had to traverse off the mushy snow to get on to the ice.
Having had a fantastic time climbing on Il Sentiero dei Troll a couple of days earlier, we headed back to the Valnontey valley to climb the waterfall next to it, Valmiana another WI3. My initial reaction was that the first pitch looked massive and steep, but I tried not to let that put me off.
Having had an amazing time in Rjukan ice climbing last year I was very excited about our trip to Cogne this year, but very aware that it wasn’t going to be easy peasy climbing.
Rjukan is the ice equivalent of climbing at Stanage, something for every ability, lots of single pitch ice making it nice and short and 5 minutes from the car. Yes there’s multipitch routes and hard stuff to scare the pants off you, but there’s options for not doing these routes and still having a great time.
Cogne is the opposite in everyway.
In the heart of the Alps, Cogne has two main areas for climbing, the Valeille valley and the Valnontey valley – with climbs being on both sides of the valley from the sides of the mountains. The routes form in mountain gullies or from the edge of crags with terrifying chandeliers to huge walls of solid ice. All of the routes are committing multi-pitch ice which require abseiling to get off. This isn’t a place to come for your first ice climbing or multipitch climbing trip.
After a day wading through deep soft powder snow in the Lairig Ghru and feeling like swimming was the only option to make any progress, I was incredibly excited to be offered a pair of snowshoes to borrow for the day. I’d never snowshoed before, so the chance to have a go was very appealing, particularly if it meant that I could still get some winter mountain days completed without over exerting wading through snow on my own. If you’ve never snowshoed I’d definitely recommend it.
I never expected to love ice climbing. I also never expected to climb for 5 out of 6 days in Norway. I expected to find myself sight seeing and looking for a spa.
When I got the invite to go ice climbing in Rjukan, Norway from the Karabiner MC I genuinely though they were joking. To start with I’m not a full member yet. Then there’s the fact that any time I’ve been outdoor climbing with them it’s generally involved a lot of swearing, embarrassment and disco legs. And a few tears.
But I hate to pass up any opportunity – I live with the Fear Of Missing Out. What if I never get the chance again?
So armed with borrowed climbing axes and an unusual sense of optimism I headed off to Norway with a group of climbers who were either very experience on ice, or really good rock climbers. I am neither. With years of winter mountaineering experience I do however have confidence in crampons so I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed by gear and technique.
Rjukan is a fantastic place to go for a first trip water ice climbing – so if you can find some experienced friends willing to teach you, get yourself there. Only 3 hours drive from Oslo its really accessible and also a great venue for skiing, (which I can’t do either).
Its 11am – I’ve already got frozen snot across my face and my buff has frozen with my breath. The goggles I loved earlier in the week have failed me and I feel like I’m in a white out as they’ve misted up.
It was windy and cold as we headed up onto the Cairngorm plateau on Thursday, in search of somewhere to spend the night. We spent most of the day leading each other on navigational legs, predominantly heading into the South-Easterly wind. It was a time for head down trudge and holding on tightly to the map. Having lost one person from the group at the start of the day due to fitness, the pace had suddenly quickened and as we had to start breaking trail through the deep wind slab it was a lot of effort to keep up a good pace to keep from being cold in the wind.
Looking for obscure contour features in these conditions was a test of endurance more than it was of ability.
As you can imagine I’ve never been so happy as when we reached our snow hole spot at Ciste Mhearad at 3pm. Especially when we found old snow holes which we could get away with extending. It still took 3 hours of digging before we could sit in relative comfort for an hour of melting enough snow to eat freeze-dried food before we headed out for night navigation practice.
‘I think I’d rather carry on walking in horrendous weather than dig a snow shelter’ I complained as I lay on the floor trying to dig out the back of my shelter. When I then compared my rather snug hole to everyone else’s I realised digging isn’t my forte. They had all made theirs much larger and added a seat in the back. If I ever find myself benighted or in gale force winds I’m likely to die before I’ve dug a snow shelter suitable to save my life….
I walked a few hours to dig some holes in the snow. Well actually it was rock solid neve that went down for half a metre and took forever to dig in. I felt like Popeye by the end of the day.
I can’t really complain, there had been a lot of snow fall over night so the walk into Coire an Lochan was fantastic. The visibility was pretty good and we could see up to Cairn Lochan and the Fiacaill ridge, though visibility eventually dropped as we got on to the edge of the ridge west of Coire an Lochan.