First thing that morning we’d heard about an avalanche in the Ben Nevis area the previous day which had caused two to be injured and one fatality. As we packed our bags for the day, we discussed whether we’d need to contact friends and family to say we were unconnected with the tragedy. Our decision was not to make any further contact on account of the fact that we’d spoken to a few friends and uploaded images of our previous day’s climbing.
The road running through Glencoe has to be one of the most beautiful in the country. It follows the river as it carves between two massifs of rock. Waterfalls cascade down steep crags on both sides, giving a rugged, ancient and mesmerising view. All was calm until we opened the door – the wind nearly took the door clean off as it rushed along the valley floor.
“Shall we enjoy the view from in here?” asked Dave.
There was no way we weren’t going up into the mountains today. The weather forecast was spectacular with 90% chance of cloud-free munros. A bit of wind was not going to put us off this rarity!
We made our way up into Corrie nan Lochan then veered right across treacherous icy rocks and seemingly oil-slicked paths. As we reached the snowy saddle, we caught our first glimpse of Twisting Gully, a grade III Scottish winter classic, as dubbed by our ever-faithful guidebook. It looked steep and intimidating, with varying levels of snow and ice. We had learnt that the lack of snow can be a hindrance on some climbs, so approached warily, still not fully convinced we would climb.
Making our way up to the foot of the climb we made a classic error – waiting too long before deciding to gear up. So there we were, perched atop a 60 degree snow slope on a tiny ledge no wider than an Ipad, attempting to don crampons and harnesses. One of these days, we’ll learn.
The first pitch headed up to the right from our perch. At the top of the first gully, a bit of tat (cord or tape left by previous climbers) hung frozen from the base of a chockstone (a large wedged rock). I went straight for it, ignoring the more obvious crack on the left (the actual belay). Unsure of the integrity of the tat, I placed a seagull-basher (large piece of metal used to protect climbs) above it to offer a bit more security to what can only be described as a less-than-ideal belay.
After bringing Dave up to the belay, I lead back out onto the wall to our left. This was the crux, or the hardest part of the climb. I placed a rather useless ice screw into a block of ice already peppered with the holes of previous screws. The following snow slope led to our next belay where the views down into the coire were outstanding, some walkers looked on, most probably with a better idea of where we were going than we had.
“Ten metres”, shouted Dave from the belay, warning me that I only had ten metres of rope left.
I looked up to the final snow slope and knew I needed more than the ten metres on offer. I hadn’t placed any gear for a little while and looked hopefully up to two rocks protruding from the snow. I took the chance and ran the rope out until I reached the rocks. After giving them a firm kick, I was able to put a sling around one of them and a rock in the other. Unsure of how well they were fixed, I put myself in between me and Dave, hopefully taking some of the pressure off the belay in the event of him taking a fall. As he approached me I explained that there was a further ten metres to the top so it was probably best he does it. Never one to complain, Dave took off above us and in no time at all was bringing me up.
The views from the top were stupendous. We decided to push on to the summit of Coire nan Lochan and were treated to a full, unhindered 360-degree panorama of the best that Scotland has to offer. It was fantastic and the perfect end to what we now understood to be a truly classic Scottish winter climb!