Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) - 1022m
Wednesday 23rd November 2016

Weather/Conditions: Lean but good! Temperature must have been hovering on zero, but just enough to make sure everything was frozen solid. Spectacular sunny day, and wide-ranging views over the west and central Highlands.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 6.2km / 770m / 8h 10m
Accompanying: Dave

A week previously, I'd been on the Buachaille in the first snowfall to find it all still a bit soggy for climbing. I hoped to climb Curved Ridge on that occasion, which didn't happen, and I subsequently headed off for a weekend playing with the band around England. On my arrival home, I found winter conditions had firmed up a bit. By coincidence, Dave was in Scotland to collect some of his stuff, and (to my surprise!) he was up for heading to Curved Ridge.

He'd arrived with no intention of climbing thus no gear to speak of, so we cobbled together boots, axes, crampons and harnesses until we had what we needed, then left home early on Wednesday morning.

It was clear from the outset that conditions had changed for the better. The Buachaille looked lean, but there was also a lot of sheet ice, and ice refrozen into cracks. Some of the volume of snow had gone, but on the other hand it had consolidated into something better to climb on.

Dawn was pretty outstanding on the Buachaille and we plodded off to the foot of Curved Ridge. Some of the initial steps had been a bit cruddy with running water and melting snow, but the temperature was just on the edge: anything exposed to the sun was slightly melting, anything in the shade of the mountain was frozen. I know that Curved Ridge is essentially north facing, thus this bode well for the climbing to come.

We crossed the low traverse just with one axe and crampons, a good foretaste, then the second axe came out higher. The first steepening was where I'd turned around a week earlier, and here we got the rope and rack out. I started climbing. I ended up opting for a distinct chimney out left, because I knew it harboured an in situ piton. In retrospect, I learned this chimney is a harder alternative. The easier (Grade II!) option is to stick to the crest. Nevermind; it was a good 'burn' with runouts, bridging, mega calf pump, and good old winter chimney action.

We moved together on the rope up the following ridge and Dave took a pitch on the second steepening, culminating in the short (scratchedtohell) chimney corner. Beyond there we moved together up to around Crowberry Gap, then just final slopes to the summit.

Another couple arrived who were just behind us on Curved Ridge, also from Glasgow. And the summit views were widespread, the Buachaille projecting it's great triangular shadow on the flank of Beinn a' Chrulaiste.

We lingered for a while on that summit, but with the sun going down we made tracks back to the car. The snowfields glittered and pulsed in the afternoon light, and a bum slide down Coire na Tulaich brought us to lower altitude; us in the shadow, but the hills of Lochaber burning in last sun in the north.

I'm not sure Dave is sold over with winter climbing, but I am seriously grateful he was up for going to Glen Coe. Curved Ridge in winter conditions is a goal I've had my eye on for a long time, and it felt good to be moving on winter tools again. This is the start of my second season's winter climbing, and the feeling of climbing on outrageous terrain doesn't get old; in fact, it felt pretty damn good to be on winter climbing ground again with all the calculation, coordination and tenacity that it takes. Here's to more of it... as soon as the snow comes back!

360° Panoramas

Stob Dearg 360

Stob Dearg Detail

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.10am Alltnafeadh
(1.35) 9.45am Start of climbing (roughly)
(6.05) c. 2.15pm Stob Dearg
(6.35) c. 2.45pm Stob Dearg (left)
(8.10) 4.20pm Alltnafeadh

Written: 2016-12-14