October is a transition month, stuck between seasons. The cool breeze and bronzed bracken indicate that summer has long gone, but the alluring amber leaves of autumn are easily overlooked when your mind is elsewhere, waiting for the white stuff to arrive.
It's been almost ten years since I've thought like this. The sound of scratching, torquing and thwacking was once synonymous with the winter, but in more recent years its made way for rubber, ripples, slopes and slaps. However, my mind was wandering one day and this is where I ended up, wondering about winter climbing.
October is an optimistic month for the winter climber, where the chances of actually getting out are quite slim. However, hungry to feast on the first snowfall, forecasts are repeatedly checked, hoping for signs of snow. But which crag to go to first?
The answer for me, more often than not, was which crags, as the Northern Corries of Cairngorm - Coire an t'Sneachda and Coire an Lochain - present two obvious choices. Each has the benefit of coming into condition quickly, intertwining the mixed benefits of both elevation and aspect, which present the perfect partnership for an early-season hit.
t'Sneachda is arguably the more benign, but that isn't to say that it is lacking in opportunity for excitement. Its large basin sprawls, so much so that in spite of being a somewhat unmissable target, individual buttresses are easily missed - particularly by those who are a little too keen to get going. I have memories along each one, all of which bring me back to a point in my life that now feels long gone, but for which I am grateful. Closing my eyes, I can still feel those torques flexing into place on Magic Crack, the hooks sinking deep into perfect placements on Pot of Gold, and the clunk of a pick sticking into styrofoam on Aladdin's Mirror Direct. Sounds and sensations, outside of the white noise of wind, are jagged and rasping.
Lochain has a more serious feel, partly as a result of its notoriously avalanche-prone 'Great Slab', but also because each route there has meant something to me: Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, The Hoarmaster, The Migrant, Ventricle, Bulgy. Each numbered buttress features an array of columnar classics, which to many - including me - represent the ultimate aspiration. I remember topping out on Savage Slit and thinking "This is it, I've made it".
I was exactly where I wanted to be…
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