Driving back from Scotland the other day I saw that my local border hill was white. Figuring that there’s been more snow since then , I thought I’d swap the crampons for my short ski’s and head up for a look. It was always a gamble that there would not be enough snow, but its hard to tell when the top is often under Orthographic cloud! Starting off on the walk up with the ski’s on the rucksack it didn’t look hopeful, it just seamed to warm and it looked like most of the snow lower down had melted. As I walked higher up the hill the cloud cleared for a few minutes and rather confirmed my suspicions with the upper reaches showing lots of black areas. Still the Cheviot’s one of those funny hills where you cannot see the uppermost 50m from any angle down below, so on I plodded. Above 600m the ground began to firm up with exposed peat and snow getting a frozen crust that would almost support my weight. Above 700m I tried the ski’s but there just doesn’t seam to have been the quantity of snow fallen on the hill, in fact it looks like it came as rain with only snow on the back end of it, so I was having to pick my way between snow and ice. In the end I gave up with the skis as I approached the flat top area, most of whats arrived here must have come with some force and just blown right off, the rest of the wet stuff has now frozen into ice or neve. Large amounts of rime ice build up on the fence and summit cairn made it look interesting though now able to walk on top of the now frozen ground it felt good to be out. Maybe the rain that’s just arrived as I right this will fall as snow on the top, we will see. Thing is, its just still to warm at the moment, today around 11:00 at 800m it was barely -1 and with the ground so warm it melts from the ground up making the walk in over the bog very uncomfortable. Best if your heading up there to walk further along the valley and take the second path up that avoids some of the bog. Lets see what Sunday brings.
With just one day left before heading home I met up with Dave on Thursday night in Nevis bar to discuss what we could do, if anything the next day. I’d had a walk up the Ben North face track as far as the hut that morning before getting drenched on the way down so I knew what conditions where like. However it had definitely cooled down since then and forecast was for a good day on the Friday, so with Dave and I not knowing each other and I not wanting to scare myself like on Lurchers we decided on an old favorite the Ledge route. A heavy snow shower on the walk up to the hut didn’t dampen our spirit as it least it showed the freezing level had dropped, indeed by the hut the deep snow was almost bearing my weight, almost! We started the long pull up to No 5 gully stopping on the way at the usual boulder to gear up, by now the weather had cleared and we could see other teams heading in the same direction, as well as lads on The Douglas Boulder, on the cairn Dearg Buttress there was a couple of lads on what looked like Route 1 and I believe Mr Hughes Mountaineering on Centurion. A group or 2 in front of us had thankfully broke trail up the No 5 gully and onto what is usually the slaby ramp. At the moment though there’s so much snow the ramps completely banked out and you pretty much step off No 5 and straight onto the ramp. Makes the bottom half of the route a bit boring, but still best to do things right, so we roped up and set up a belay etc. Had to laugh though when this elderly gentleman complete with the retro gear and I’m talking kit from the sixties, axe and crampons the lot, walked up past us pointing out the good anchor point. Laughed even louder (and still laughing) when halfway up when met up with a group of 4 roped up and walking down after they turned back at the bad step when hwo should appear behind them after been to the top and then descending the same route as its a quicker way back, but the same old guy, morning, morning as he strolled past us, just goes to show experience is worth more than all your modern gear. Now on the ridge I was looking around for the telephoto lenses as I was now partly convinced this guys was part of some reenactment and I wanted to look my best. Once on the ridge it got a bit more interesting as the snow has made it a bit narrower than usual, no chance of any gear placements other than the odd sling over a block so its more a case of walking together with the “if you fall on one side ill jump/slide off the other” scenario. Topping out we realized we timed it about right as the clouds cleared to give us cracking views on the way down, loads and loads of snow in Red Burn and the Tourist track is obliterated above the crossing point with people walking all over the place, (so if your a walker reading this don’t follow foot prints or you might end up stepping of the North Face). Had a good crack with the 2 Irish lads on the same route on the way down, did’t envy their walk back to the NF car park though and was glad we were getting picked up at the Ben Nevis inn. All in all not a bad end to my 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland, back home now doing lots off washing and trying to get rid of the wet dog smell, finger crossed for a settled high pressure centered off Skye ehh!!
Looking at the forecast over the last several days it seamed obvious that if a climbing day was to be had it was today, and with the SAIS forecast as it was there was only one real venue to be had within a few hrs walk, so Lurcher’s crag here we come. Leaving Sugar bowl car park around 08:45 it certainly felt a lot colder than of late. By the time i was on the windy ridge before the Chalamain gap I had reached the freezing level. Unfortunately it had only frozen the crust of the old snow, just enough so that with every step you think its going to bare your weight then you break through up to your shins. Conditions like that make for very hard going so I was happy when I found the footprints of what turned out to be a group of 6 heading for the same crag. A skirt around the Gap on the north side and a long traverse around saw me catch up with the other group. Pleasantries exchanged a few map checks between us and we parted with them heading for North Gully and me heading for my target of central gully. It was luck at this point there was a few breaks in the showers and cloud to give a brief glimpses of the crag and for me to take a few pics, not long after that and a little bit higher there was no opportunity for any more photos as it was very bad vis in the constant spin drift. Getting to the bottom of Central gully I found the lower section to loaded with deep Windslab, so I decided on the gully which I passed on the approach and looked an interesting challenge. How wrong I was! It was more than a challenge it was very difficult to solo, bit of more than I could chew again. Although The ice wasn’t bad if a little brittle, what looked like neve interlinking them turned out to be either crud with a frozen crust or packed powder. The rocks didn’t seem muck better offering little in the way of placements for hooking the axes. Thankfully I found a nut some one had left if place, clipped it and had a rest before one of the crux pitches. It took a lot of will power to unclip that nut and all my varying techniques for soloing to carry on up the second half. Finally after a very nerve-racking move on a boulder I was onto easier ground and 2/3rds the way up. Time to place nut, clip in, let the tortoise’s head shrink back in and rearrange my balaclava which had slipped over my right eye, obscured my vision for the past half hour and probably made me the first cyclops to climb this route. Needles to say I wasn’t happy about attempting the second vertical icefall on my left, so I have to say I took the slightly easier route on the right, By the time I topped out I was knackered and just wanting to get off the hill. I navigated to high point 1026 and off the hill down the NW ridge, I did stop for a while and see if I could spot the other group, but with me having a bit of an epic I figured they were long gone, not to mention vis at only 30m and severe wind chill it was pointless and time to get off, hope the lads are OK. Not a bad walk down the ridge but lots of areas of wind slab to avoid, by the time I reached the gap the wind had picked up a lot and the windy ridge was a laugh, tomorrows weather coming in early. Again I picked up my footprints but saw no sign of the lads footsteps, after that i spent a long time looking over my shoulder but didn’t see anything, again hope the lads are OK, still nothing I can do anyway. Back in the van, kit off and down to the “Active Pursuit’s cafe” for tea and chocolate before, now a few pints in “The Old Bridge”. By the way it was only when I got the cafe I realized after looking at the book, I’d climbed K9, almost!!