Early Season in the Lost Valley

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It was an inauspicious start. The rain was pelting down and had been all night. The wind was howling, driving the rain horizontal. The avalanche forecast was a tad more orange than desirable. I had walked in to these crags twice before and twice before had walked out having failed to climb anything. Still, at least it was dark.

Yes, we all agreed the dark was a good thing. This was one of those occasions when it was better not seeing what you were walking up into. Dressed in full waterproofs and with headtorches on, we left the car park, walked across the bridge over the Coe and up into the Lost Valley. At the normal crossing point for the Eilde we peered into its swollen waters and elected against an early-morning wade. Instead we continued up the right-hand side of the gorge, through awkward moss-covered boulder fields in the forest and made it to the enormous rocks guarding the Lost Valley’s entrance just after first light.

Our A-plan (the Wasp on Beinn Fadha) was chosen carefully due to its aspect, the avalanche forecast and as it does not rely on ice. Unfortunately it was black as coal. Seeing as we were up there anyway we continued on to the Lost Valley crags.

As we got nearer we took heart from the quantity of rocks breaking up the snow-fields and were encouraged by the diminutive size of cornices above. Then the wind dropped allowing us to gear up in comfort and assess the routes. By the time I was ploughing up thigh-deep powder to a belay at the bottom of Right Edge my Winter psyche was well and truly found. So I promptly handed the ropes to Willie for the first lead.

The first pitch was a chimney choked with ice just the right side of cruddy. It provided entertaining moves when you were forced to leave the comfort of the chimney itself, moving out onto the ice and Willie was enjoying himself. Another short section of reasonable ice took him to the first stance in good time, though the in-situ belay did not encourage close inspection.

The second pitch was a rising traverse at the top of a snow-field and below an overhanging headwall. This made for wonderful positions as you moved out over the crag. There was a mixture of verglas, cruddy snow, rubble and sopping moss with just enough neve and frozen turf. My protection was replete with such joys as a tied-off warthog and a frozen-mud thread. But in truth the angle was always friendly, purchase sufficient and I soon reached the next belay.

Chris took the final pitch, uncertain of what lay beyond the next corner. One airy move on the edge of the crag led to a gentle snow slope, a cornice-free summit and congratulatory handshakes all round.

Descending now, the Sgreamach bealach was steep, heavily laden with soft snow and not a wise choice. Resigned to a long trudge over Bidean nam Bian we turned back up the ridge. Luckily we found firmer snow in a gully at the side of the crag and better still, footsteps! One at a time, we gingerly descended this and then on to the long walk out. We made full use of the day, ending as we started - with headtorches on. Willie and realised we had both equalled last season’s route tally and doubled this calendar year’s total – so maybe a more auspicious start than we thought.

Niall K

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