Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) - 1022m (no summit)
Thursday 17th November 2016

Weather/Conditions: First proper dusting of snow - down to about 400m. Not that cold though, and snow melt coming off the hill, although temperatures still around zero. In the afternoon, fresh snow showers came in right  down to sea level.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 5.1km / 500m / 3h 30m
Accompanying: Alone

This trip was made on a whim, by a desire to get into the Highlands with the recent snowfall. I was due to head off for a weekend of gigging in England afterwards, but this one day could be seized. I set my sights on Curved Ridge. It was one route I've wanted to do in winter for a long time, and this new snowfall had got me in the mood for winter.

I headed up early, to be at Glen Coe in time for first light. The cold stepping out the car had brought me right back into 'winter', and the hills looked bleak. On the other hand, it was pretty refreshing to be walking toward the Buachaille, freshly plastered in snow.

Snow was lying, but the path was also running with water: I knew the temperatures would be pretty marginal, but I'd go anyway and see. I often romp Curved Ridge in summer, so I was interested to see how it felt with axes. I passed the Waterslide slab and turned upward. The first traverse pitch was fine, I just took an axe out and had no further issues, using handholds beneath the snow. A bulging step higher up made me put on crampons - there was just no foot purchase without. In time I reached the bottom of the ridge proper.

Curved Ridge rises into two distinct steps, with lower angled terrain between. I knew the higher one was technically harder, but the lower always felt more exposed. I brought out the second axe and concentrated on my movement. I made multiple stabs at getting up the step, but I never felt I could do so with that absolute, utter conviction I will not come off. I could feel I just wasn't well versed enough on the tools to make it so. My first line had been pretty direct: I looked at options further left, including a deep cut gully which held a piton. Nothing felt correct. I looked into Easy Gully on the right, but it was running with water and rubble. I'd spent a long time rooting around, searching for options, but it was clear after some time there were none.

I found I would always become paralysed at some point when the scales tipped too far. This wasn't felt as fear, but as a precursor, perhaps. A numbness bringing inaction. On one hand it seemed frustrating that 'easy' terrain could catch me out like this. But then you just have to go with the facts and information in hand, rather than expectations of what you 'should' be able to do. An additional note was that I brought a rope with me - this gave no psychological boost in the end, it just served to make me feel unsteady with the rucksack pulling back.

The other thing I noticed was confidence in the tools rising rapidly. It's obvious I'm at a low level with this, as my playing around at the foot of Curved Ridge brought immediate results. You know you are getting somewhere in a skill when progress becomes difficult, and this certainly wasn't the case this morning. I also have just one winter climbing season behind me, so there is a way to go yet.

I descended quite content, but it also seemed a touch anti-climactic that I hadn't taken any more from the day. In contrast to heavy snow on the walk in, skies had brightened a bit and I arrived back at the car with the Buachaille clear behind me.

Half of me had thought about going for another summit, but with the 'wind out of my sails', I parked up at the bottom of Glen Coe at the Signal Rock parking. I'd never been before, and it was a gentle walk through woodland to this strange schist rock outcrop. Contrary to what I thought, there is apparently no evidence it was ever used as it's namesake in 1692, but it's not hard to imagine it being a focal point of sorts sometime in the past.

Afterwards; food in the Clachaig, where Keith arrived for a couple drinks. Snow snow fell outside to ground level, making for an interesting drive home! (But ultimately uneventful.)

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.25am Alltnafeadh
(1.10) 9.35am Foot of the climbing (crampons on)
(2.35) c. 11.00am Started down (very roughly)
(3.30) 11.55am Alltnafeadh

Written: 2016-12-08