South Buttress Gully; grade II my foot. 19th December


Mark, Nathan and I enjoyed glorious weather on Blaven yesterday. The air was crystal clear giving superb views out to the mainland as we got higher.

After the heavy thaw & rain at the end of last week we weren’t sure what we’d find but the top third of the mountain looked well covered still.

We opted for a route I first climbed in 2010 and repeated the following season. At 600 feet long and grade II South Buttress Gully should have been a great first “proper” winter route for Nathan.

Mark led the first couple of easy snow pitches and was then keen for the first icy steps on pitch 3. After excavating a couple of good runners he made short work of a thinly iced slab and the awkward step above before completing another 50m pitch.

Nathan discovered the real meaning of “trust your feet” on the improbably thin ice and even left some for me to climb behind him:)

I was presented with the leading rack for the next pitch and I had to agree that it did look steeper than I remembered! There was a bank of snow leading up to ice above the cave and I knew there was a good cam placement in under the capstone. Alarm bells rang as my feet plunged through on the first few steps up this but I managed to take weight on the rock wall behind to help me get high enough to sink my axes into the lovely solid ice above. Using both hands to place the cam I suddenly felt the snow collapse beneath me and dump me unceremoniously into the cave behind out of sight my giggles reassured the others that I was alright and I emerged for round 2 of the battle.

Above the good ice I found yet more sugary snow for my axes so resorted to pulling as high as I dared and then mantleshelving on a combination of snow and iced rock; thank goodness for wooly Dachstein mitts that stick so well to ice! A tense few minutes followed as I juggled with more sugary snow and a couple of rock holds to surmount the second steepening. I certainly had a dry mouth by the time I reached the belay above!

Discussing the grade as we sat in the sun on descent we concluded that grade II is correct but only in good conditions; if the snow had been just a wee bit more solid it would have been a walk in the park by comparison. This is probably the greatest single lesson of winter climbing- routes are graded for good conditions and they are desperate/impossible if not in condition. Easy to comprehend at higher grades when an icicle just isn’t there but equally applicable in the lower grades which rely on a certain depth and consistency of snow.