Chimney Route (VI,6), Stob Coire nan Lochan

We rose at 5.30am, five hours after completing our drive from London. I had slept restlessly due to combination of uncomfortable bedding, snoring in the dorm, and general excitement about kick-starting my winter season. We were keen to start the season with a VI in order to lay down a benchmark. Chimney Route in Stob Coire nan Lochan looked a great objective.

With head torches donned we started the steep climb into the coire. A beautiful sunrise greeted us. The cliffs looked in splendid condition. This weekend would be payback for all the dreadful weather I endured last winter.

Stob Coire nan Lochan
Perfect winter weather
The first pitch of Chimney Route looked inviting. Rick was keen to lead it, despite having never climbed grade VI before. I had no objections. We wasted time trying to find a belay. The start of the route was choked with ice, which wasn't strong enough for ice protection. The thin cracks in the vicinity were flared or parallel but we had no pegs. In the end I banged my axes and a warthog into the frozen turf and clipped in to everything.

Frozen turf belay
Gaining the chimney proved tricky for Rick but once inside he was soon up to speed. The lower half of the chimney was fairly easy but sustained. The difficulty increased once beneath the roof. Rick looked baffled as to how to progress. After a couple of false starts he eventually got on with it and skirted the roof with a combination of back-and-footing and bridging.

Rick on the first pitch
Rick on the first pitch
View down from halfway up the first pitch
The second pitch had a brief technical start but the gradient soon eased back. Climbing was disproportionately time consuming due to the amount of fresh snow present. Plenty of sweeping was needed in order to locate cracks to protect. Care was required as some of the turf on the pitch was a little soft in places due to deep pockets of snow providing an insulation blanket. I belayed in the vicinity of some ancient looking tat that was wedged in a crack by a knot. Rick climbed up to join me and took the gear.

We deliberated over whether to continue up the wide chimney of a grade VII called Inclination or stick to the normal line for Chimney Route that joins up with Tilt. With no certainty as to what grade the top pitch of Inclination went at we opted for the latter. The pitch looked stiff but there again reminded me somehow of the main pitch to Honeypot, which wasn't that stiff in my eyes.

A difficult move to gain a slab was followed by an even more difficult move to then overcome an overhang higher up. Rick needed a rest on the rope below the overhang as his forearms were pumped and the climbing was evidently only going to get harder. Two quickdraws dropped at my feet in succession indicated that he was at his limit. A good high axe hook but little for the feet led to a physical tussle. Rick overcame the overhang but with a spinner leash accidentally wrapped around his last quickdraw and with no strength left to try and untangle it Rick promptly fell off. The spinner leash to his other axe checked his fall. He would have to repeat the overhang with only one axe given that the other was now out of reach. Fortunately there was only one axe placement overhead anyway. After some resting time Rick's second attempt proved a success although now it was the guidebook falling down the cliff from beneath his jacket.

Rick starting the third pitch
Now it was my turn. The move on to the slab passed smoothly courtesy of a thin axe placement in the left wall that Rick had easily missed. The overhang proved more fun. I launched over it, fully committed, only for one of my ropes to snag beneath it. I frantically lowered myself slightly with all my weight on my axes, freed the rope, and then resumed the fight. My forearms were getting pumped but the main problem were my freezing hands, which seemed to exacerbate the problem with grip. I clung on until I was high enough for my feet to surmount the high ledges and relieve my forearms. Then the hot aches began...

A short easy pitch led to the top. The climb had been exhilarating and full of gripping, anxious energy. A perfect way to kick off the season.


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