A Winter Climb in Great Gully
Mon, Nov 21, 2016
After a few days of grotbags weather plastering the mountains in the first big snows of the season, Sunday dawned cold, clear and utterly enticing. So it was into the car and round to Blaven for a look around. As usual, I didn’t have anything specific in mind.
At first I fancied a bimble up An Stac to photograph the mighty, snow laden east face. Then I fancied nipping up onto the Clach Glas ridge, just for a look. It would be too difficult in the new snow I thought. In the end I wandered up the ice encased path into Coire Uaigneich. Once there, I plodded rythmically up to the foot of Great Gully, just for a look.
The snow was deep and fresh and blowing around in the freezing wind but I could see it was more sheltered in the gully and with the ghostly swish of spindrift wraithing down the cliffs, its siren call was irresistable. An early season ascent of Great Gully it would be!
The gully is the classic winter ascent of Blaven. A nice Grade I climb, sheltered from the prevailing westerlies although this tends to fill it up with lots and lots of snow. As it was today.
The big stone at the mouth of the gully wasn’t fully banked out yet so I climbed out onto the rib, deep snow on steeply sloping rock slabs, yum! I traversed further right to the mouth of the narrower option but it was choked with ice and I had no axe or crampons. So it was back left across the slabby ground and a short dreep into the deep snow of the main gully, just above the grannystopper.
Occasionally a stiff wind would whip up the snow round me, freezing my face and making it difficult to breathe and my hat came out as the spindrift was coming down the cliff in torrents onto my bare head. Wonderful!
The snow in the gully was horrendous however. Deep and unconsolidated but utterly silent in the confines of the mountain. It was a fantastic place to be. Not another soul on the mountain, let alone the popular winter route.
As the gully narrowed to a few feet across, I switched from side to side, trying to find the least deep snow, always mindful of the white river coming off the cliffs and the rising temperature on the rocks above as the sun climbed higher into the clear winter sky. The gully steepened to the crux and I attempted the central rib but the snow just sloughed off the sloping rocks and I was forced back into ploughing up the narrow runnel underneath the cliff on the south side.
Eventually the gully opened up on both sides and I barely recognised the south summit gully on the left it was so banked out. As I topped out, I was standing on the slope with the ridge at eye level, peeking over the edge as the world opened to a wonderful snowy view of the Cuillin ridge. What a place to be! At the summit ridge the cornice flowed in sinusoidal lines so beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to climb up onto it but instead traversed on steep slippy snow just below onto the rocks of the summit block.
Deep deep snow made for a tiring trudge over to the cairn as my two pals cronked high above in the azure skies. The ravens!
A biting wind and lengthening shadows reminded me it was full on winter conditions and I didn’t know how stable the snow would be on the descent of the ‘tourist’ route. So after a drink and a munch I was off down the ridge, windslab dinner plating under my boots but thankfully the little gully on the left was banked out enough to bum slide down to avoid the scramble through the rock band.
Tough going through very deep snow, down past boulders that looked like giant white eggs and I entered the scree gully, only now it was completely full of snow.
As I reached the coire floor the sky was turning pink and the air was colding up. What a wonderful day on the hill.