30th December, 2007 – Twisting Gully Right Fork, Stob Coire nan Lochan

An early start (4:30am) from Edinburgh had Stuart and I leaving the car in darkness just after 7am and already there were some torches approaching the first high point of the Aonach Eagach Ridge.
We headed for the opposite side of Glen Coe up to Stob Corrie nan Lochan (SCNL) and though a torch was helpful for gearing up at the car, it was actually possible to walk with just the light of the half moon which was shining brightly above our destination. The cliffs of SCNL were a gorgeous bright white against the sky and as we neared the corrie basin and the sun rose somewhere off in the east, the crest of the buttresses turned first pink, then a bright orange. The sky was blue and there wasn’t even a breeze – a great day on the way!

From this high up, it was obvious that the lower sections of our intended climb (Crest Route) were pretty black and therefore ice free and not in any kind of condition for a climb so we found something else in the guide book and after gearing up, headed in the direction of this route. It too from close up wasn’t looking viable so we chose an adjacent route, ‘Moonshadow’, which held more promise. This shares the first pitch of ‘Twisting Gully Right Fork’.

Stuart led off then brought me up from a belay just before the first difficulty which should be an ice pitch. It wasn’t! Quite blank with some steep, verglass coated rock for about three or four metres and narrow enough to bridge legs across both sides. I am still not sure how Stuart led this and I was watching, and watching closely. He was pretty much overhead with lots of sharp points aimed downwards and nowhere for me to go if he came down unintentionally. He seemed confident though in his approach and after some puffing and panting was over the difficulties and soon out of sight and at the next belay. Seconding him, I was mighty glad of being on the comfortable end of the ropes at this point and struggled to get up with feet popping (one at a time and both at a time) as I crawled over the edge on to the snow slope above before lying still for a minute to catch breath. A face full of snow is quite refreshing when sweat is literally running out from under your steamed up shades. This was definitely not the cold day out on the hill I had expected. The shades were now ditched in a pocket and as I cooled a bit, Stuart continued up ‘Twisting Gully Right Fork’ rather than traversing right to continue with ‘Moonshadow’ as the conditions encountered thus far didn’t bode well for the harder route.

There is another crux on this pitch, though not anywhere as difficult as the first one and I even enjoyed this section as it was just so new to me. I’m used to using hands and feet for climbing and by extension, axe picks and crampon points in winter but in getting up this and the last crux I discovered fists, elbows, knees, back, hips and even some other places came in to good use. At one point I was facing the climb, straddling a protrusion as if sitting on a horse! Today, I have the bruises and aches to show for some of the above, tomorrow I’ll likely be worse.

Within half an hour of leaving the car, my feet and calves were aching and though it raised some concern in me for the day ahead, I was actually reasonably comfortable feet wise for the majority of day thereafter. Maybe it was just initial aches and pains from the heavy winter pack and stiff boots climbing boots which had not been worn since March. These new boots are much better than my previous pair which caused me a lot of discomfort but they are still not comfortable for the long walk in / out from the climb and the aches and throbs soon returned on the seemingly endless descent.

This was my last climb of 2007 but the first of this winter and though it was really beyond my level for leading, it has definitely gotten me keen for the rest of this season. I just hope the conditions allow a lot more good days out like this one.

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