A cold snap late in the season lured Kirill and me to Scotland for some winter climbing. With substantial snow earlier in the week, combined with prolonged cold temperatures since then, we felt encouraged to to make the long journey. I was in good form having recently returned from the Alps yet felt I had underachieved with my Scottish winter ascents this season (largely due to fickle weather and conditions) given the amount of training I have put in. 'Early season conditions' were being reported on reliable blogs with routes such as Hoarmaster and Fallout Corner having seen ascents earlier in the week. Blog activity had been suspiciously quiet since then but surely that was due to most the Scottish guides having wrapped their bookings up for the season after many weeks of unseasonably warm weather.
We walked into Coire an t'Sneachda, which seemed the obvious choice for these 'early season' conditions. Deep unconsolidated snow spanned the floor of the Coire with a freezing fog filling the air above. We headed towards Mess of Pottage. Only a short distance from the buttress were we able to see through the fog and witness the disappointingly black cliffs. If we were locals then we would probably have walked straight back out of the Coire Having travelled the length of the country to be here we felt obliged to try our luck on something.
I led up the first pitch of The Message, wading through knee deep soft snow. Meanwhile avalanches funnelled down the cliffs immediately right of Kirill's belay. I spent most of my energy sweeping snow from my path in order to find axe placements and protection beneath. The heavy snow that followed the warm weather had affectively insulated the ground from the ambient temperatures and hence the turf was unfrozen and wet. I delicately hooked on the rock in order to avoid damage to the turf however my crampons inevitably raked it to a degree. We had planned to climb Pot of Gold, however I had accidentally continued up the second pitch of the Message, so we continued up this line.
Kirill strung the third and (crux) fourth pitch together, clipping various in-situ protection through the latter as though it were a sport route. The main corner was devoid of almost anything that could be described as 'winter conditions'. On the fifth pitch I headed right to finish the final pitch of Pot of Gold for some extra spice. We unsurprisingly felt underwhelmed at the top of the route.
It appeared that we were the only people in the Coire today. It was still early in the afternoon and with the long daylight hours decided to head up to Fiacaill Buttress in the hope that the higher elevation would provide better conditions. We made an 'attempt' at Stirling Bomber, however Kirill could barely get off the ground without the assistance of frozen turf. Any enthusiasm still remaining quickly ebbed away and we made haste for Aviemore.