I joined John Crook who is currently an aspirant British Mountain Guide preparing to take the winter climbing assessment section of the extensive training and assessment process and is therefore keen to get out and prepare as fully as possible with a range of ability 'mock clients', even those with less ability like me!
Sunday evening had seen a drop in temperature and snow fall which was perfect for us, though the 40-50mph winds were less perfect. Monday morning we walked into Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms which is a mecca for winter climbing due to its towering Northerly facing crags and relatively short walk in.
John had selected a climb from the Fiacaill Couloir up onto the Fiacaill Ridge, Invernookie climbs 120m and is graded at Scottish III 4** to start our few days and to judge if I had any ability at all!
Despite 'blowing out of my arse' (Yorkshire term for breathing heavily due to exercise) as John led us up to the base of the climb I was keen to get on and get winter started.
It's fair to say John was climbing well within his undoubted ability and it was a case of me belaying for a short while before following his route up the crag removing gear placements, and this how the few days would be.
|John at top of the route|
|John at the belay stance.|
Its fair to say it was a touch on the chilly side and we had spin drift for company on most of the climb too, before topping out on the ridge where we had gale force winds too - Scottish winter!
Tuesday John chose Fingers Ridge for our climb which at Scottish Grade IV 4*** was a grade harder than the previous days Invernookie.
Topping out we then made our way to the 'Goat Track' and descended in to the coire.
|Another group looking tiny in the Coire an t-Sneachda|
John had decided progression was the way to go and so chose a route which was technically more difficult than the either of the previous climbs but would hopefully be within my limits where he wouldn't have to start rigging hoists to haul me up the crag!
The climb for the day would be The Message which has is graded at Scottish IV 6***,the 6 for how technical the climb was had me a little worried.
Again John would lead making gear placements trailing two ropes so Josh and myself could climb in parallel. I made an error right at the start of the climbing by not pulling the hood of my waterproof up properly and this filled with snow and spindrift, failing to remove all the snow before managing to get my hood up over my helmet it soon melted and ran down my collar with gravity helping it find an exit route out of my waterproofs from the crutch area = cold!
It was soon obvious to me that this climb was a step or two (or three!) more technical than anything I had climbed before and really had to fight to get up in a couple of places. Given that the more I climb, learn about climbing and watch good climbers I see elegant, seemingly effortless movement and precise body positioning I would have impressed no one with my scratching around for ice axe placements, sparking crampons and blowing like an old steam train. Fortunately visibility was terrible and the wind drown my heavy breathing.
|A progression John assured me....|
|Josh climbs through the spin drift|
|John getting battered by the wind at the final belay|
Topping out into skin numbingly cold winds and little visibility we quickly packed up the ropes and John navigated us back to the ski centre.
Summary - It's almost impossible to explain what makes winter so special for people that enjoy the mountains to anyone other than people that enjoy the mountains in winter. As somebody who loves the winter I would have been happy just to get out, add winter climbing and a bit of progression to the equation and it was a top quality few days for me. A couple of bouts of 'hot aches', putting a crampon hole through my salopettes and the occasional comment regarding my 'beached walrus' technique couldn't put a dent in my enjoyment.
I have of course to thank John for taking me out, I hope I was a worthwhile 'mock client' and he should give himself a pat on the back for leading me on routes more technical than I had done before. I always felt confident that I was in safe hands and his judgement and selection of routes was correct for the conditions and my ability.