The Cobbler - 884m
Thursday 20th October 2011

Weather/Conditions: Darkness to begin with, then a brief sunrise and a lot of cloud after that. I'd hoped for more snow, but it was a wet and melting away by the time I'd arrived.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10km / 900m / 5h 10m
Accompanying: Alone

The Cobbler

The seeds for this trip were sown a couple of days previously on a train to Paisley, looking out the window, expectantly looking to the north. Just as you pull out of the station (going to Glasgow) you catch a glimpse of the Cobbler, and my eyes popped out my head when I saw the Cobbler clear of cloud, sparkling beneath a thick coat of that elusive white stuff. It looked incredible and I couldn't stop looking: apologies to the guy who seemed to think I was looking at him.

I was free a couple of days later - hopefully the snow could hang around. And if it were in winter condition then it may give me an excuse to try climbing solo, roped on the summit pinnacle. I usually wouldn't touch the summit pinnacle when it's wet, but with a rope it's well within the realms of possibility.

I thought carefully about gear: if I were to bring rope, I would also need a harness and slings to build an anchor. Two 240m slings were handy for the huge blocks that surround the summit pinnacle. I also brought a small rack of hexes and nuts, of which I only used one. A helmet, a couple short slings, and a pile of screwgate karabiners.

I decided to get out early (I'm not sure why) and I crawled out of bed at 4am to make sure I was off for 4.30. I drove up quiet roads and pulled into Arrochar to have a look at the Cobbler. I couldn't see any snow in the dim light; I guessed the Cobbler must be cloud-covered. I drove around to the Cobbler car park, stuck my money in the meter and quick a quick snooze. I felt pretty wrecked and I hadn't yet started...

I got moving, labouring under a heavy rucksack. I didn't use a torch, I just watched the light grow brighter until I didn't need one anyway. Clouds glowed fantastic reds, but in the end I never saw the sun directly. There seemed to be some snow on the Cobbler, patches stuck out below the cloud. How much I didn't know, but I could guess that if it was down to about 600m, there should be something higher up.

I ran into the first snow of the season on the climb to the summit (picture #5). The Cobbler was veiled in mist, but I could see the white snow and patches of dark rock on the south and central peaks. The North Peak was in view directly above, looking very odd in the indiscriminate mist. (picture #8) Normally you achieve some 3D dimensional sense of this peak, but today it looked flat: an interesting take on a familiar mountain.

The Summit Pinnacle, roped technique

The summit was free of snow, sadly. I had guessed it from the outset, which is why I left an axe and crampons in the car - much to my back's relief. But since I had hauled my gear all the way up, I thought I should try my roped system anyway. So I looped about three metres of slings around the big blocks on the approach to the 'window' and fed the rope through the gap. The hardest move was in gaining the ledge, and I managed to put a #10 hex in the left-hand wall to protect that. I attached the rope to this using a figure-8, pulled out a couple of metres slack, then attached another figure-8 to myself. The good news was it worked well - I don't know if I'd have climbed it without rope. I trusted it. I put a sling above the great block (in the last picture) and continued up to the top.

I am no expert though: the whole business took 25 minutes which demonstrates the need for efficiency. I became correspondingly cold. A few pictures were shot on top, and then I reversed the whole process, breathing into numb fingers and gathering coils of rope up. I packed up without organising the gear - I was really cold and it was not so fun to recognise that I couldn't just get up and leave, I'd have to dismantle several anchors and pack away the rope before I was allowed off!

My descent was fairly rapid given the heavy rucksack. I was tired more than anything: too little sleep is never a good thing on the hill. All in all I was glad to catch an early glimpse of the winter snows, although much had melted by the time I got up the hill. I don't rule out trying other peaks and pinnacles with the rope system: it needs refining but otherwise it's pretty safe. I've given climbing the South Peak by these means thought, but the topography may be a little too complex and anchors too sparse. Time will tell: I imagine it is something I'll keep on hold until summer returns.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 5.40am Car park
(2.35) 8.15am Arived by summit
(3.00) 8.40am The Cobbler (pinnacle)
(3.35) 9.15am Left summit
(5.10) 10.50am Car park

Written: 2011-11-30