Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Seam (IV,5), Coire an t'Sneachda

Anna was feeling a little under the weather on Sunday so we opted for the short approach to Coire an t'Sneachda again. Friendlier weather with a lot less wind and better visibility made the walk-in much more pleasant. Better weather we expected to result in more people but we were in the coire at a decent hour.

Fine weather, but a busy day expected in Coire an t'Sneachda

We headed to Fiacaill Buttress, which looked a little more scoured from yesterday's NE winds, so hopefully better snow conditions. Plan A was the Seam, otherwise something nearby at a similar grade. The buttress was relatively quiet as it happened. Just one pair on Houdini and one pair on Smokestack Lighnin', and of course plenty heading up to Fiacaill Ridge.

Approaching Fiacaill Buttress
There was some wind slab on the slopes directly beneath the route, up to about 25cm in places but localised, so no real risk. My only previous visit to Fiacaill Buttress had been on Invernookie, which shares the same start as the Seam. That had been 11 years ago and didn't help much with remembering where the climbs started. Fortunately an in-situ peg confirmed the whereabouts.

Anna led the first pitch, which contained a lot of unconsolidated powder, no ice and little gear, finishing on a comfortable belay platform beneath the large triangular wall at its left end. 

Anna starting the first pitch
I then led a very short pitch around the corner to beneath the main chimney. I needed to delicately balance my way up a short leaning wall with good horizontal breaks and mount it on thankfully well frozen turf. Then traverse leftwards a short way with a step back downwards on route. I'm not sure whether I took the normal line but from the belay it seemed the most sensible option considering I didn't have full confidence that the turf was properly frozen.

Starting the second pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna seconding the short traverse on the second pitch
Now midway into the climb and it had begun to snow heavily, although there was virtually no wind, so things felt fairly comfortable. A lot more snow than forecast though.

The final pitch was high class, following an obvious chimney. It was fairly sustained but also well protected and never desperate. Plenty of unconsolidated snow needed go be swept but the turf was surprisingly solid throughout. At half height I found myself cramped beneath a roof, which partially blocked the way. With a sling placed overhead I leaned out on some massive hooks and swung left to bypass it. I'm glad I was carrying lots slings as there were plenty of placements between the frozen blocks in the final third. Just shy of the very top a comfortable belay stance was most welcome for the shelter it offered. Definite contender for best pitch of the trip. 
Me on the third and final pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna seconding the final pitch
It was good to finish the route at a decent hour today (3pm), although the progress had been fairly slow again. A quick scramble down the edge of Fiacaill Ridge and we were soon back in the coire basin. Tomorrow is an enforced rest day due to 80mph winds expected. It looks by far the worst day's weather this coming week so I'm happy to spend it in jacuzzis and coffee shops. Thereafter we're not sure where we will be climbing, although the forecast to only be getting colder as the week progresses.

Descending from Fiacaill Buttress

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