Last outing of 2012 – Lost Valley Buttress (December I think?….no summits avoided)

4 01 2013

Lost Valley Buttress, Glen CoeAs with almost every outing recently, I ended up somewhere entirely different from where I intended- or should I say we ended up somewhere entirely different. With the great intention of heading for Creag Meagaidh, we set off early as the drive was considerable, and if we were to get there in time and take in the route I intended –  ascent of Raeburns Gully, The Appolyon Ledge (part of the legendary Crab Crawl by Tom Patey) and descending Easy Gully – we would need to get our skates on.

It was around our arrival in Glen Coe that we realized that not only had we forgotten our skates, we finally concluded that neither of us have ever been competent skaters. With the sight of Hamish MacInness’s hoose on the horizon (for that’s what it will now be called….) and the freshly boarded up windows and mismatching paint on the exterior walls now ensuring slum status to this once hearty icon of Glen Coe, the car took its normal course and drew in to the high car park below Stob Coire Nan Lochan. We discussed the options Peter and I. We opted for a trip into the Lost Valley. An easy option I know considering my intentions for the day, however, and as ever, an easy day seemed the best option. The weather was looking very promising, and if nothing else, I could make an attempt at avoiding Bidean Nam Bian which was a top  I had not previously ticked on previous Munroblagging days.

We readied ourselves in the car park and set off. As we headed towards the crossing of the river, I remembered that the new bridge had just recently been opened after a recent upgrading. I looked forward to visiting a new addition to my old playground. And very well constructed it is too, and not in the least sympathetic to the surroundings. Thankfully, it is relatively well hidden from the bus trips which frequent the car parks at the top of the road, spill their contents to gather pictures and suck them back in, only to be redistributed somewhere equally scenic along the road and requiring no more exercise than a tilt of the head and the drag on a fag to complete the wilderness illusion. We wouldn’t want its zinc crudeness to mar their outdoor experience for the treasured tourist would we?

By the time we crossed and headed up towards the Lost Valley, the zig zags on the North Face of Gearr Aonoch towering majestically above us, we had still not decided our route, or indeed where we were heading for.

Peter struggling with a strategically placed boulder field

Peter struggling with a strategically placed boulder field

We rested at the big boulder below the Zig Zags and consulted the Glen Coe Guide. With snow conditions the way they were and anything above grade 3 being unrealistic, I figured our best bet was to head to Lost Valley buttress which, at worst had a couple of gullies either side of it which we could plod up. That decided, we headed on. Had we not met up with a couple of lads in front of us, who were out for a hillwalk and seemed pretty chatty I think it may have been at this point, as is generally the case with Pete, that the chat may have begun to dry up. But fair play to him, he kept chatting away as we found the “disappearing burn” (see W H Murrays wrtings in Mountaineering in Scotland) and graduated from a rock plateau to the increasingly angled snowy slopes. The impending Lost Valley Buttress was prominent in the foreground, reminding Peter of the destination in which he was being led by me. It looked good from below and each sloping gully on either side offered a degree of sport which would in turn, allow us to arrive at the top of the buttress and hopefully allow me the opportunity to head off and avoid a summit or two, taking my tick list to 22 or 23 if I was lucky. We said our cherrios to the lads as they headed for the bealach, whose rising slope Eastwards leads to Stob Coire Sgreamach.

We headed up towards steeper ground, then descended slightly to meet an approaching boulder field.

Lost Valley Buttress, boulder field in the foreground, Left Hand Gully on the left surprisingly...

Lost Valley Buttress, boulder field in the foreground, Left Hand Gully on the left surprisingly…

It was about this time that I noticed a couple of things, Peter was going quiet (quite normal), cries coming from the direction of the buttress above, and some moss and rock debris in the fresh snow to the side of us. I had been following some recently established footprints on the way up to the boulder field, I looked up and followed them to where they seemed to end at the base of the rocky part of the buttress. I heard another shout and looked further up the buttress, and there, was someone making their way up what I thought was Pterodactyl (V*), and from the amount of gardening they were doing on the rock it was apparent that the turf wasn’t frozen and they were having a more enjoyable outing than they had anticipated!  It turned out after inspection of my guide book it was actually Directosaur (V**) they were on (if you look closely at the picture you can just make them out).

As I started to vere off left and leave the comfort of the previously made footprints behind, I stopped to check on Pete’s progress with the snow covered boulders. For an instant I thought he was getting chased by a Yeti, then I realized he WAS the Yeti. I think he had found every hole or gap in the rocks hidden by the glorious powder snow. An amazing collection of swearwords ensued, in an order which I had never heard them before either. A true art and sound to behold. Between the gutteral obscene utterances and the clatter of metal and bone on rock, I regretted instantly being unable to access my iPhone to record it for posterity. So unique and unnerving a sound it was, that the climbing party above quietened instantly, no doubt fearing that they were being stalked by Gimli from the Lord of the Rings.

I moved on, looking above and into the gully I could see, about 50 or 60 feet above, a small rock ledge which I would head for, figuring that at that point, I could evaluate the snow stability and see where I was heading for. It also gave me the opportunity to gain some distance from Peter, which in turn would either force his arm to follow me or make his own call to turn back if he didn’t fancy it. I gained the rock ledge quite quickly and the snow seemed quite consolidated underfoot and nothing too disconcerting above so far. I had been aware of the description in the Glen Coe guide on the way up which mentioned that the route “provided straightforward climbing, but has a steep corniced exit“. Bearing in mind this was a Grade 1, I was looking forward to a wee bit of sport cutting through the corniced exit. I sat down on the rock ledge and waited for Pete.

“Will we need a rope?” he shouted. I shook my head. At this point, can I just say that if I thought Peter needed a rope, I would have got the rope out. It has become an integral part of my own climbing recently, to try to encourage Pete to make another step, another progression in improving his confidence on steeper slopes. And it is both rewarding for me and I’m sure also for him, to see how far he has come since our first outdoor winter trip a couple of years ago to a spot in the Lost Valley not to far away, but far less steeper than where we were now.

“Crampons?” he shouted. I thought about it. “Can I be arsed?”

“Aye, I suppose so” and I settled down on the ledge and got my crampons out. Good call Peter. We would need them.

Peter starting up the base of the gully. I'm taking the picture from the rib above the gully.

Peter starting up the base of the gully. I’m taking the picture from the rib above the gully.

I headed on up the slope to where the angle started to steepen. I looked to my left and noticed a rib running upwards for about 40 -50 feet towards where the angle looked to ease off to a final small buttress. I moved leftwards and gained the rib. The exposure on the left hand side was considerable, the buttress dropped steeply down towards the Lost Valley basin. The snow was great, I felt comfortable so I sat down and took in the vista. Just brilliant. I watched Peter make his way up, following in my fresh footsteps.

“Can you see the top from there?” he shouted.

“Aye” I lied.  “About another 30 feet and it eases off”.

“Do you think I’ll be able to do it?.

“Aye, nae bother”. I turned and moved upwards to the small buttress ahead, always keeping within eyesight of Peter. I watched him as the slope steepened.

“3 points of contact bud!” I shouted “And use the the shaft AND the pick of your axe as you move up”

He moved up and then followed my footprints traversing left onto the exposed rib. With some mild panic in his voice he shouted “Don’t fuckin go any further without me! I want to be able to see you!”.

I waited on him as he moved up the slowly steepening slope. As he approached the small ledge I was on, I told him I was moving off the ledge and he could take my place.

“Don’t fuckin go out of my sight!”.

“Don’t worry bud, I wont”.

He then looked at the traverse I was about to make to gain the top of the climb. It was only about 15ft in length and rising gradually (no sign of the cornice I was hoping for unfortunately) but was still pretty exposed and a fall here would have got you to the basin of Lost Valley quicker than anyone would have liked. But the snow was good and firm and looked sound.

“I think I need a rope Bobby”.

I thought to myself “You need a rope AFTER I’ve done the traverse and I’m safely on the top Peter, no point in me taking you off with me if I go”

“No you don’t bud you’ll be fine” I said “Just watch me”.

And off I went. A dozen steps leftwards and a dozen steps up and the top was gained. The snow was great. I KNEW Peter didn’t need a rope, he just needed to keep his cool and he would be fine.

“OK Bud, that’s me at the top, just follow my footprints, 3 points of contact remember!”

And with each axe and foot placement I could see his confidence increase visibly, and in minutes, he was standing beside me at the top.

Peters immediate reflection on topping out.

Peters immediate reflection on topping out.

Good timing too Peter, as the 2 guys we met earlier and a couple of other hillwalkers arrived just as Peter came over the top. Mighty impressed the all were too. As was I. Well done bud. Another step along the way.

Now, I’m not sure how familiar any of you are, with cocktails. The cocktail in particular I am referring to is Adrenalin and Physical Exhaustion. This particular cocktail combination is like no other, when it kicks in it turns an otherwise placid and retiring man into a complete babbling idiot. Anyone who knows Pete, knows he is not a placid and retiring man. They also know that he is unable to take only one drink.

Peter had about 5 cocktails.

The Adrenalin had kicked in.

I know the feeling only too well myself bud.

In the end, I couldn’t be arsed going to almost the top of either summit. I’ll be back here soon no doubt and can “tick” them then. We made our way down to the bealach, and slid most of the way to the bottom on our bottoms. Still only 21 summits for me. lets hope for an improvement in 2013.

Glorious view down Loch Etive

Glorious view down Loch Etive

The cocktails are just kicking in here...

The cocktails are just kicking in here…




One response

1 02 2014

God I felt for your mate on that one – that’s what I’m like – not very confident and always asking to be clipped on a rope at the bad bits! Glad he made it up okay in the end. I’m also the same when I’ve finally got up whatever it is and start blabbering madly 😉

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