Petestack Blog

6 January 2010

True roadside ice

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 7:57 pm

This afternoon I took a wander up the frozen watercourse spilling from Coire an t-Sionnaich (high on the N flank of Garbh Bheinn) to the bridge above the viaduct at the south-west corner of Kinlochleven. While this is unnamed even on the OS and Harvey 1:25,000 maps, I’d take a fair guess at Allt Coire an t-Sionnaich, but please don’t quote me on that in case I’m wrong!

Anyway, it’s evidently been proving quite popular this week with true roadside ice climbing (barely out of the village!) in its lower reaches, and I know of at least four other parties on it today with Chuck and Dan (soloing), Magnus and Fiona (roped) and another pair up there at various times this morning and a roped pair ahead of me this afternoon who left it to descend after the first few pitches just before I caught them. Don’t think anyone else had been as high as me, though, because there was no evidence of earlier traffic in my final section.

It starts with several entertaining short Grade II (ish) pitches with steps of III and a more substantial one that’s definitely III (Magnus thinks maybe IV, but you can make your own armchair judgements from ‘ice3’ photo below!) before a long, fairly level section leads to some more fun. Above this (and above where the pair ahead of me stopped) is an obvious fork where I believe Chuck and Dan went left, so I went right (‘fork’ photo), then some more short pitches and level stuff with potential for wet feet before an obvious kind of deep cauldron with two steep, icy possibilities in a spectacular-looking cascade of icicles in the back left corner and a slightly shorter right wall. Now the light was starting to go and the left cascade looked quite meaty, so I took the right wall (foreground of ‘cauldron’ photo), found myself totally committed to a kind of steep mixed groove thing with poor hooks, no footholds and no frozen turf where the ice started to run out, and have to say that felt harder and more insecure than anything I’ve led (making it at least IV). Think everything starts to lie back above that into a shallower scoop leading up to the ridge, but can’t be sure because it was time to turn back for the road in the fading light (best descent probably down the faint ridge on the east bank, which I followed after starting down the west side and crossing). Looking at the photos tonight I’m wondering whether there might actually have been an easier/safer line snaking its way up the left side of the cascade at the back of the cauldron, but who knows? However, you don’t have to do the cauldron or even go that far, and the bottom few pitches (up to and including the good Grade III one) before the first level section would make a great little roadside outing on their own.

Might just be worth adding that I climbed the whole route with my modified DMM Flys in full leashless mode, felt comfortable with that and enjoyed it.

[Footnote, 28 November 2010… descended Coire an t-Sionnaich today, noting two more major icefalls above the ‘cauldron’ and being horrified by the appearance of my right-wall ‘escape’ from this (really not soloing ground at all)! So now seeing the whole expedition as something rather more substantial with the best bits (thinking rope, screws and partner here!) at the top.]


  1. Nice write up and pictures, Pete. I sure wish I had kept walking now, I must have turned back just short of the next pitches. The team behind us were on their 3rd ever ice climb, and it was the leader’s 3rd pitch he’s lead. This makes me fairly sure of two things – firstly, that it’s probably grade III, and secondly that I should give up now, buy some knee high woolie socks and take to bothying.

    Comment by Magnus — 7 January 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  2. Hi Magnus, Chuck says top end III for that pitch, so no real dispute here (fair assessment for your first of the year) and no need to retire just yet! :-)


    Comment by admin — 7 January 2010 @ 6:22 pm

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