Page 32 - 2016 AMA Autumn
P. 32

                                 Six of the best...
Low-grade Scottish winter routes (that you may have never heard of) by James Roddie
 Scottish winter climbers operating in the low to mid grades can sometimes get stuck in a rut. Returning to the
same reliable corries makes sense on many levels – you may only have one week a year to get the ice axes out so you want the best possible chance of getting something done. However if conditions aren’t great it can be easy to get into a cycle of climbing many of the same routes year after year, and sometimes frustration or even boredom can spoil the relation- ship before it has properly begun. For the reward to justify the effort, perhaps a step into the unknown is required.
The Northern Corries, Ben Nevis and Stob Coire Nan Lochan are great climbing venues with dependable conditions, but they can also be very crowded with queuing likely for the most popular routes on good-weather days. There’s a lot of information available online about these popular areas, too – blogs and conditions reports are great, but you might start to feel that they take some of the mystery out of winter climbing.
Remoteness, uncertainty and solitude can add to the character of a route and can sometimes feel more important than
the quality of the climbing itself. There are plenty of very reliable routes throughout the Highlands which many climbers may have never heard of, offering quality days out amongst remarkable surroundings. In most cases you’ll never have to queue and you could easily have the entire corrie to yourself. There may not be any conditions reports for the route you are interested in, or even a single reference to it online, but the uncertainty adds a whole new dimension to the overall experience.
Here are six great winter routes that you may have never heard of...
Ceannacroc Couloir (II**), Sgurr nan Conbhairean, Kintail
  One of the most reliable west coast grade II gullies north of Lochaber, Ceannacroc Couloir is a long route (300m) that is often still in condition after a big thaw. This is one of many routes that disproves the notion that low-grade gullies are all the same. A steep and straight snow gully runs for some distance and takes you to an unexpected neck on the side of the hill’s East Ridge. Some meandering ground gains the upper part of the ridge, taking you to a highly memorable and unusual finish along a very narrow and exposed snow arête. On
a blue-sky day this feels remarkably like a miniature version of the summit ridge of Castor in Switzerland. You top out almost directly on the summit which offers good opportunities for spotting golden eagles. Conditions – needs firm snow on north to east-facing slopes for approach and gully to be safe. No cornice. Avoid in strong winds as snow arête finale would be very spicy indeed.
Further reference – SMC Northern Highlands South (2007)
Central Trinity Gully (II*), Coire na Caime, Torridon
When the snow is still unconsolidated on the higher crags of Glencoe and Lochaber more favourable conditions can often be found in Torridon. Coire na Caime is a long way from the road but it offers a large number of great routes in one of the most beautiful corries in Scotland, and Central Trinity is one of the best lines. This route is all about the situation – the central of three straight gullies splitting the formidable Northern Pinnacles. One or two ice steps can be encountered or it can bank out to steep snow. From the top of the gully, the last section of the Northern Pinnacles takes
you to the summit of Mullach an Rathain, and continuing along the main Liathach ridge traverse makes this one of the best long mountaineering days in Britain. Conditions – one the highest routes in Torridon so worth a look even if things look more ‘black’ than you’d expected. Avoid when north to east-facing slopes are unstable. Most reliable mid-season. No cornice.
Further reference – SMC Northern Highlands South (2007)

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