A Grand Day Out 21: Winter climbing is a game

by The brainn Mar/2009
This article has been read 1,432 times
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Winter
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Winter climbing is a game we play. I'm on the crux of Douglas Gibson Gully and it feels as if Rafal Nadal has sent me his first serve low over the net and I'm trying to return the ball with interest. Ten feet above the belay no protection, axes bottoming out on underlying rock. Is this how it is when your in a theatre and you get up for the loo take a wrong turn and find yourself on the stage spotlight upon you? Get a grip I tell myself, another inch, foot, meter and behind me is a crack. Spinning around as an owl spying his prey I place a cam and twist round again straining my back clip the rope relax.

Winter has had Scotland in its cold grip for the past two months, I've managed to get out climbing a few times warming up my new partner on Grade IV ice; I feel the need to step it up a gear. Drew is a small built climber barely out of his teens, we met through one of the online climber sites on the inter web. Drew drives and decides to pick me up at 4am on Saturday morning. Don't know why I bother going to bed on Friday night, I won't sleep. Twisting, turning, trying to rest it won't come; like a guy on night shift trying to sleep during the day as the neighbours argue. Finally I've had enough. I get up, put on a thermal base layer, and the excitement builds as I place oats, water and a pinch of salt in the microwave. I'd packed my gear the night before and mentally revise make sure I've got everything.

Drew picks me up, no words are spoken. The stars wink at us in the dark sky. We arrive in the car park, breaths vaporising in the cold early morning. We walk up the hill and each step brings more light until the darkness has melted away to leave a clear cold day. My stomach is trembling with excitement. The cliffs come into view, spoonfuls taken out of the mountain on our left, the southern sector, a small taste of some strange delight. Central, a huge semi circular arc that's been greedily devoured from a delicious pie. Cliffs dark, menacing stand alone above the loch waiting for her boyfriend to appear out of the night.

We descend jumping, boulder to boulder, rock standing out of the snow as black chess pieces on white squares. Gearing up at the first aid box. Drew with his hood pulled over his helmet looks like some medieval knight in shining armour waiting to do battle with the dragon. Above stands Shadow buttress A the snow has highlighted grooves, cracks like an entangled spiders wed. We climb unroped up to the gully between Shadow B and Eagle Buttress each buttress like the legs of a beautiful women opening her legs so we can sample her delights. Before the gully narrows I cut a step in the crystal white slope place a peg on Shadow buttress B and uncoil my rope.

Above there is an ice fall, blue as a clear sky rearing up vertical in a 15 foot step leading again to steep snow. I lead off kicking steps, the vertical river of ice, I fumble some drive in ice screws and they disappear down the steeping gully. I meet a boulder standing sentry guarding the final 60 meters, somehow I wish the sentry would come alive barring us from going further, which way, I point Drew to the left through a left facing groove, which he scrapes, thrashes up disappearing out of site. I hear a muffled cry and the ropes are jerked firmly twice. I realise how a salmon must feel after a long fight trying to summon the final energy for one last fight. I arrive at the belay to see the cornice above, the eves of some huge roof, barring my way is 50 feet of offset corner. I grab the hard wear and lead off. Soon I realise to go on is madness to retreat suicide. that's why I must go on.

I tiptoe up; inches, feet and meters pass by till finally I can reach left in to a snow groove, which leads to the roof of the gully and safety. Instead of taken the cornice head on I flank left as if driving round road works. I flop on to the top, an exhausted fish fighting for it's last breath. I tie myself to a rock in a desert island of snow. I reel in Drew and I beam down the gully, a smile an alligator would be proud of. I don't smile long; I'll melt all the snow in the corrie. I've hardly noticed but the wind has picked up, quickly we pack our gear. Soon we're eating up the kilometres back to the car. Drew's first grade V, seems quite fitting that the mighty Douglas Gibson Gully was Scotland's First grade V. Till next time...

Royal Lochnagar, a noble mountain rises above the stately castle of Balmoral and the mighty river Dee. It's here above the lower hills of the Southern Cairngorms that climbers come to cut their teeth on the magnificent northeast corrie. In winter snow refines gullies, arętes, ridges and buttress giving the Scottish hill an almost alpine vista. Cac Carn Beag is the mountain we come to climb on but the romantic name is Dark Lochnagar taken from the Loch below the cliffs, where are the glories we seek?


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