Our return clients Tara and Malcolm are on a mountaineering journey – intro scrambling in Torridon; the Dubhs Ridge in alpine conditions; sport climbing in Majorca, intro winter climbing last season and now ‘the dark side’ with mixed climbing…
To help me prepare a good two days in the Cairngorms for them I asked Tara and Malcolm to create a wish list of hard skills and then carefully describe their own good and not so good days. Using tools on mixed ground was a common request, along with more practice of placing gear in winter and if possible the chance to lead. Last week the conditions in the Northern Corries were pretty much the perfect venue for us; that, along with my knowledge of suitable but not busy routes and two clients up for it meant a great two days were in store.
On day one we climbed two and a half mixed pitches with moves up to technical 4 which involved leaning off tools, placed in a crack in order to work the feet up a snow covered slab. Classic Cairngorm mixed climbing! At this point I came off the rope, eased back a bit and let Malcolm, then Tara lead a pitch of their own at grade I/II. In order to give Tara and Malcolm experience of retreating from a route we finished our day by abseiling from our last stance only leaving a threaded sling behind. Safely off the route that age old question of ‘Crampons on or off?’ raised its’ head.
Day two we were blessed with a clearer day so it was appropriate to choose a route which topped out on the plateau. Clearer weather of course meant for a busier Coire an t-Sneachda. Some folk don’t like this. Well if you don’t like it then don’t go to the Northern Corries! On the walk in we met a couple of my friends who have been a great support and inspiration to me on my own journey. The line I chose can be slabby, turfy or icy – or all three! For us it turned out to be slabby on the first couple of pitches and with gear quite well buried this was not the terrain for more leading by Tara or Malcolm. A couple of times I listened to Tara mention how much she enjoyed working out how to use the tools on snowed up rock and watched Malcolm climb in a very relaxed manner. My own enthusiasm for the route was shared with Tara and Malcolm all the way up, something that another friend of mine mentioned at the top! Higher up on our route I placed a bulldog, then a warthog so that they both had experience of esoteric protection in turf. On the final belay with 20m to the top it seemed appropriate to let Tara and Malcolm top out themselves; they had shown care and craft for nearly two days now. The look of achievement on both of their faces when I reached the belay was so rewarding, they truly have started their winter journey.
blog by Jim Sutherland