Part of being a CA at Plas Y Brenin means that you get the chance to follow the instructing team up to the Scottish base just outside Glencoe to run the stores. 2 where chosen out of the 5 who applied, and luckily I got picked. So at the end of January we packed up the minibuses and drove the 9 hours to the HF Holidays Alltshellach Hotel which would be home for the next 4 weeks. After a day spent setting up stores in a converted chalet room and making the staff room into a semi functioning office I was free to explore Scotland, while also doing bits of work here and there!
The weather over the last 2 weeks has been impeccable, cold, still and dry. There has been one day where full waterproofs and goggles have been necessary, the rest of the time it’s been thin layers, glorious sunshine and buckets of snow.
Running the stores means working in the morning and evening, giving out and keeping account of the kit that comes and goes, which leaves you to spend your day however you see fit! This has meant getting out with the groups that have been at PYB Scotland on mountaineering and skills courses, then on days off heading out with friends and instructors.
I’ve managed to make it out everyday, barr the set up day, and today a Saturday which means greeting arrivals, pick ups and kitting out. Below is a quick round up of the best days.
Sunshine Gully on Ben Udlaigh with Kath James (III)
Ben Udlaigh is a north facing crescent shaped corrie which has springs flowing over the top which in cold weather freeze into pure ice routes. So after an of slogging up the forestry track we kitted up and made our way Sunshine Gully a 2 star ice route. An easy descent lead to hot chocolate in the Glencoe Ski Station and then home for an early day.
Number 6 Gully on the West Face on Aonach Dubh with Jen and Ollie (IV,4)
Number 6 Gully is the main white gully on the right (to the right of the icicles in the centre).
Aonach Dubh is the huge low face as you drive down the Glen, opposite the turning for the Clachaig. I met up with Jen and Ollie, last years CA who have now assumed climbing bum status and are driving around Scotland in an amazing van. We headed up the steep but quick path to the bottom of the route, by the time we reached the kitting up spot it was evident that it as going to be a popular route having both 3 stars and being on the Cold Climbs list. We where the 3rd party on the route that day, which mean nicely dug gear and belays, but also a torrent of ice and snow on our heads all day.
We climbed it in 5 pitches. The first being a short unprotectable ice fall, the second being a short icy step with a large snow slope, the third being a mixed section followed by ice and steep snow, the fourth a longer crux ice pitch, and the fifth a sting in the tail…a steep corner of ice that once gained was a much simpler exercise in steep bridging. It was an amazing day out, with breath taking views, and pretty good company 🙂
Another highlight has been climbing Original Route (IV,4) on Stob Corrie nan Lochan. Delightfully dubbed The Hurt Locker by some of the instructors for it’s fairly brutal ascent from sea level (almost) to 1100m at the summit. After a guest on a climbing course injured his ankle there was a space to join the climbing team for day. We packed up, plodded up the hour and a half or fairly steep and constant gradient into the back of the corrie, where 2 main cliffs rise out of the snow separated by Broad Gully. We walked up to the bottom of Original Route and climbed it in 4 pitches, in amazing conditions. Having topped out early Keith mentioned an abseil back down into NC gully to climb one more unnamed pitch back up to the belay to make the most of the day. The walk back down lead to tired but incredibly satisfied legs! It was a fantastic day, beautiful, crisp and sunny, a biting cold wind and clear blue skies with views so good you could see the sun glinting on the Observatory on the summit of Ben Nevis. One of those days that you feel grateful you can call this work (kind of) when there are people stuck in offices and buildings, consigned to coffee breaks and counting down the minutes to home time.
So 11 days down, 10 days out, 16 ish days to go. And the good weather is supposed to stay another 2 weeks. Somehow I don’t think I’m getting usual Socttish winter climbing experience!