By Phil Stevens on Nov 5, 2018
I spent most of last week in a classroom in Inverness, learning lots but getting distracted by photos of great early season conditions in the Northern Corries. Fortunately Malcolm “Malcy” Airey and I both had a day free on Friday, and the weather looked like it would stay cold enough for long enough. Just.
Malcy is usually pretty keen to talk his own ability down, but many of us know he’s handier than he believes. The key to suppressing his negative self-talk is allegedly to give him no choice so he has to get on with it (source: Ali Rose). I wanted to start the season with a decent tick, and we both felt that there were enough interesting options to warrant the walk up. That, and neither of us fancied driving back east again!
As we walked in, we noticed it was looking pretty plastered up high. Turf low down was unfortunately a bit chewy, so Number 3 Buttress appeared the wise choice. I fancied a look at Hobgoblin, but there was a smattering of ice in the cracks low down so I wasn’t quite brave enough! Instead we climbed Gargoyle Wall (VI 6), which I have done before but it’s been almost ten years and conditions were rather different. So it felt more like onsight climbing anyway, but mentally I was confident everything would “go” for us.
I ran pitches 1 and 2 together to make a great opener with an exciting move to get established in the chimney/crack off the flake. Malcy saw pitches 3 and 4 off whithout any real issue, including the famous “Gargoyle Cracks”. I don’t remember there being as much in-situ kit on the cracks pitch before, but it was no bad thing for us on our “warm-up route”! Pitch 5 was probably trickiest - just enough ice to be a pain, combined with slightly wobbly hooks. Yet despite feeling a bit “fall-off-able”, the balancy climbing on this pitch is awesome! One cruisy pitch to the top, and we were there. Great to get a hard (for us) route in early on, it sets a promising tone. A mate and I were chatting, and we agreed that it doesn’t matter what route you kick off with - it always feels awkward, infamiliar and hard. So it might as well be as hard a route as you dare start with!
We hoofed it off the top down the tourist track, aware of the poor evening forecast and imminent storm. This information had apparently passed plenty of tourists by - folk were still climbing up the zig-zags at 3.30pm. When asked we gave people our advice - “turn around” - but it’s not for us to tell people what they can and can’t do on the hill - I just wish folk would treat the mountain environment with a little more care and a little more respect. Anyway, enough grumbling - route done, all in daylight, headtorch-free day! Shame winter’s gone again, but hopefully it’ll be back soon enough.