Dorsal Arete (II), Stob Coire nan Lochan (1115m)
Friday 13th January 2017

Weather/Conditions: Wild winter weather in the morning, perhaps the most wild of the season which actually in truth isn't saying much for the winter. We were being flattened by gusts on the approach to Coire an Lochain, but when on the Dorsal it all became pretty calm and we could stand on the summit of Stob Coire in peace! We went to climb on Far Eastern Buttress, but all got a little too warm and mushy at that point - should have stayed high.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 7.4km / 1100m / 8h 35m
Accompanying: Oliver

My first hill day living in the Highlands. I made plans with Oliver to get winter climbing, and being the first day out I went for the really obvious option of the Dorsal Arete. I'm a bit of winter climbing newbie, so it seemed to make sense to start easy and predictable. Judging by the way the winter subsequently went, jumping in at the deep end might have been a more appropriate course of action, but then I wasn't to know at the time that it would be a complete non-event.

We arranged to meet early, and walked into Stob Coire nan Lochain on a wild morning. Even at the car, the wind was blowing hard and cold up the glen. It was wild, all the winter gear on from the outset, and no getting away from the rawness of the conditions.

We headed up Coire nan Lochain at very first light, finding tough conditions on the approach. The winds were high and the snow was dry, so sometimes we'd be flattened by walls of spindrift blasting down the coire. If it was like this, how would Coire an Lochain and the Arete be? Now there was a concerning thought.

After what seemed like a long and ball-busting slog, we arrived in Coire an Lochain (it never gets easier!). The cliffs ahead were lean, but the rock was nicely rimed. We climbed the snow slopes toward the Dorsal then geared up. I was curious to see how this went; I felt I could barely remember how to climb in winter. Curved Ridge in November had been a good experience and I was keen to get right back on it. We reached the foot of the arete, climbed onto the rocks and set up a belay. I took the first pitch. All in all, the movement felt good and I felt it was surprisingly easy. On reflection I'm not really sure what I expected.

Oliver took the next two pitches up broadly similar ground, and I was left with the signature pitch of this climb: the Dorsal fin itself. Surprisingly awkward, I found myself clambering over the top of this thing before running it somewhat out to the summit ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochain. It was a nice climb, and also surprisingly easy. I don't know if I expected much technical difficulty, but nonetheless I'm quite happy to climb another classic. Oliver followed me up and within ten minutes we were on the summit of the mountain. In stark contrast to the morning, it was almost entirely calm.

We descended the NE Ridge of Stob Coire, a ridge I haven't been on since 2010. That one time I was on it, I really got freaked out by the height. I recall being incredibly uncomfortable with the long drops into the Lost Valley, and uncomfortable climbing rock steps I didn't know I could get back down. Today it was so different! I could just run down everything now. It's nice for me to remember that at one time I was so uncomfortable with height. It's nice to remember that this means it does not have to be an innate ability, but something that can be worked at like any other skill.

Part way down the NE Ridge we packed our climbing gear away and made a beeline for Aonach Dubh's Far Eastern Buttress, a large outcrop lying close to Coire an Lochain. We'd intended to climb the slant, and I even made a few moves up it, but I immediately realised it just wasn't in condition. Perhaps we should have stayed high on Stob Coire nan Lochain. We had some wandering around the foot of the crag, but a route wasn't to be and we headed back to the road.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 7.05am Glen Coe parking
(2.35) 9.40am Start of Dorsal
(4.35) 11.40am Top of Dorsal
(4.50) 11.55am Stob Coire nan Lochain
(8.35) 3.40pm Glen Coe parking

Written: 2017-03-13