This week Chris and I went out into the hills to do some ice climbing. As part of our staff training we decided to go round to the back of Liathach into Choire Dhuibh Bhig. At 5:30am on Friday, Chris and I got our lunch and flasks ready and set off for the car park. Once there we got our kit on and at 6:45am, with head torches lit, we set off into the darkness. As we cut around the base of Liathach dawn broke over us, giving light to the fantastic views in Coire Dubh Mor.
As the light improved we were able to look into Coire Dhuibh Bhig and assess the snow conditions but unfortunately the cloud was down and we only had a limited view. We looked at our guide book and decided that we were going to go up a nice grade III climb called Ramblers Rib.
We got our harnesses and helmets on and Chris got his climbing rack setup for the first pitch then we walked around to the bottom of the route. The cloud lifted for a few minutes as the rain started to fall and we got a clear picture of the snow conditions were like on the tops of the climbs. It wasn’t looking good; a lot of the rock was bare and there was some water coming off the hill but not too much and feeling slightly uneasy we carried on to the climb.
Once we got round to the climb we were able to see it in all its glory! It was bare. There was no snow or ice or anything that looked remotely like it could be climbable! We did scope out a nice looking Grade II route called Hill Walker that was next to us but we wanted to do something more adventurous and so decided to go back into the main coire and try one of the routs in there.
As we went round we could hear some rumbling as some of the ice on the lower slops broke away but we were above that and so we carried on up to a Grade IV route and as we walked up towards it, we started seeing more water running under the ice and slightly concerned we got to the bottom of the route.
We took one look at it and went ‘well….’ at which point we heard a loud rumble and crash as more ice collapsed 20m to the right of us. Our decision was made. We dropped into the coire again and had a quick chat deciding we would go up Hill Walker instead.
The route was a snow gully in reasonable condition. We put on our crampons and started up the slope. Chris and I moved together over the lower part soloing on the snow slope. We got higher and started looking at the sides of the shoot, discussing what the protection looked like and the different belay stances were like.
As we got higher we came across a waterfall, normally this wouldn’t be a problem as it would be frozen or banked out with snow and you would just cruise over it. But this one was flowing easily and we had to climb up the edge of it and then step back into the slope. This was an interesting point as it meant we were using crampons on rock, meaning your foot is further away from the rock and this can be a little intimidating when it is the first time you have done it.
We dropped to just above the last fall and saw we could get out round the side of the gully. We found a route up and decided to go for it. Unfortunately the grass and rock we were climbing up was soaked and we had to stop and get the rope out and climb the route properly.
As we ascended, the rock got wetter and started to use Chris (who was leading) as a quick runoff until he started to look like a mountain stream. Once he reached the top of the rocky section, I followed and we found a place where we could rope each other back into the gully just above the waterfall. We continued up the gully climbing over a third waterfall and slowly came to the top of the gully topping out on Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig.
After that we had a nice lunch, put all the kit back into our bags and headed down the mountain and back to the car it was 4pm. It had been a long but extremely educational day. We put everything we had learned over many years of mountaineering into practice and picked up some new skills along the way.