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    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nan Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone and Dave Almond had a very successful four days climbing in Glen Coe and on the Ben earlier in January. The weather was particularly wild that week, but even so, they succeeded on Un Poco Loco (VII,7 – January 13), Strident Edge (VI,7 – January 14) and Centurion (VIII,8 – January 16). Tom has written a full version of their trip on his blog, and a concise version follows below:

     

    The Beat

    Dave looked up, scoping out the climbing above. He tilted his head and, without warning, his orange helmet rolled backwards, falling straight off. It bounced onto the steep slab and then tumbled out of sight. We were both speechless – how had that just happened? His head torch was still attached and we were on the fifth pitch of Centurion, a classic VIII,8 on the Ben. It would be dark in 90 minutes and we still had over 100 metres of climbing left. ‘This just got interesting!’ I thought.

    ***

    We walked up to Church Door Buttress on Tuesday, seeking refuge from a fresh storm ploughing off the Atlantic. Dave’s new toys were put to good use: his new 19 million lumen headtorch is capable of lighting up the entire mountain, and the GPS watch performed well. We left a breadcrumb trail as we zigzagged up; ‘Water,’ ‘Camp 1,’ ‘Meadow.’

    Un Poco Loco is a fantastic four-pitch route taking an improbable line up the centre of the buttress. A giant, shattered arch hung overhead as I scrabbled around, trying to find my feet. Dave hunkered on the belay below, his feet going stamp, stamp, stamp, trying to ward off the cold. I found tenuous hooks and laybacked off parallel cracks. Howling winds, waves of spindrift, verglas: this certainly was fun. Pulling onto the belay ledge brought relief and the internal chatter began to quieten.

    ***

    The following morning we walked into the Ben with Centurion in mind. Within 50 metres of the CIC hut my boot sank through a snowdrift and plunged into a stream, soaking my foot. The only consolation was that Carn Dearg Buttress looked black, and we wouldn’t be going anywhere near Centurion. We scratched around for an alternative objective. Coire nan Ciste was too avalanche-prone, the lower buttresses were black, a storm was due to slam into Scotland at 6pm that evening and it was already 10.30am… how many lemons does it take for an epic?

    We settled for Strident Edge on the Trident Buttress with Dave Keogh coming along for the ride (an Irishman staying at the CIC). We avoided triggering any slides on the wade up and I started climbing the main pitch around 1pm. The climbing flowed by, and I pulled into the belay groove some time later.

    We topped out in darkness with worsening weather. By the time we were down-climbing back into the Ciste the winds were horrific – blowing us about like puppets, making us hunch over ice axes. The straightforward descent turned into a bit of a Weston-Super-Mare. Irish Dave dropped his head torch but we found it 100 metres lower – lucky man. After a long walk back to the hut (why isn’t there an outside light that comes on at night?) we finally re-packed and headed down to Fort William. I don’t think Irish Dave knew what he was letting himself in for, but hats off for rolling with it and staying strong when the storm hit!

    ***

    Friday morning and we were stood beneath Centurion again, this time lucky enough to have it in decent winter conditions. Dave climbed the first pitch by headtorch, dispatching the tricky and technical moves in style. He was obviously on some weight-loss mission as a Scotch egg and Twix bar flew past my head when he got to the belay I launched into the second pitch – an impressive overhanging corner system with nearly 40 metres of climbing. As it says in the guidebook, the holds just keep coming and the gear keeps on giving. It felt amazing to be stemming wide with loads of air beneath my feet, the belay in sight and the beat of Centurion pulsing through my arms.

    I belayed Dave using a large hex for a belay plate, since he’d forgotten his. I had a smile on my face and we cruised, mellow, floating on the high. I barely needed to swing my arms to keep warm, and we flowed through the route until pitch five When Dave’s helmet fell off his head, I definitely skipped a beat. It’s certainly one of the least expected things to happen to your partner as they climb. He had loosened the straps to make it more comfortable, but perhaps a bit too much.

    Thankfully, Dave’s head is pretty hard and he led the pitch fine, sans helmet and headtorch. When I reached his belay, at the junction with Route II, I figured it would be dark in an hour, we still had 100m of climbing to go and we didn’t know how hard it was. However, Dave wanted to continue, so I obliged and we sprinted for the top.

    We pulled it off just in time, topping out in near-darkness and descending Ledge Route in a giddy, schoolboy ‘just-got-away-with-it’ haze.

    Thanks for a great week Dave, and for choosing ‘up.’

    Simon Yearsley making the third ascent of Castro on the South-East Face of Sgurr and Fhidhleir. Two days later, Simon’s partner Helen Rennard returned to the Fhidhleir to make an ascent of the Nose Direct. Helen joins a small group of climbers who have climbed more than one route on this prestigious winter cliff. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Simon Yearsley making the third ascent of Castro on the South-East Face of Sgurr and Fhidhleir. Two days later, Simon’s partner Helen Rennard returned to the Fhidhleir to make an ascent of the Nose Direct. Helen joins a small group of climbers who have climbed more than one route on this prestigious winter cliff. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Helen Rennard scored a notable double on the Fhidhleir last week with ascents of Castro and the Fhidhleir’s Nose. Helen takes up the story:

    “Simon Yearsley and I were free to go climbing on January 19, and with the very cold temperatures and snowy weather, we both thought the same thing – The Fhidhleir’s Nose! We drove up through the day on the Sunday so we’d get a view of the Fhidhleir and also to check out the walk-in, which can be notoriously difficult under powder. Everything was looking good – The Nose was white and there was enough snow to outline the path, but not enough to make the going tough. In the warmth of the Elphin Hut we discussed plans and Simon suggested we try Castro instead. I agreed, with both of us thinking this would be a first winter ascent (having not read page 149 of The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland, or having checked the SMC journals carefully enough!)

    In the morning we set off under a starry sky and arrived at the base of the route at first light. We were both apprehensive about the climb ahead but the clear skies, sunshine and stunning views helped to calm us. My belay at the top of pitch one was in the sunshine, a rare event when climbing Scottish mixed!

    Simon later summed up the route – ‘Six pitches, overall VII,6. Highlights: the icy corner on Pitch 3; keeping a cool head with 25m of unprotected Tech 6 climbing above a big ledge; and Helen’s awesome route-finding on pitch 6 after I’d spent one and a half hours not finding the way through the final steep rock barrier [thanks, Simon!]‘ We thought the route was quite serious, with all but the last pitch rather lacking in gear. Topping out under the stars we made our way down and back to the bags. Thinking we’d done the first winter ascent I texted Simon Richardson, only for him to reply that he and Iain Small had climbed the route in 2009! Ours was the third ascent. [The second ascent was made by Colin Lesenger and John Davidson in February 2010]. Still, it was fantastic to have climbed a route on that face, especially in such stunning weather.

    After a day of eating, sleeping and eating cake in Ullapool, I headed back into the Fhidhleir with Neil Silver and Simon Davidson on Wednesday (January 21) to climb The Nose Direct, which was high up on all of our wish lists. We had a long and memorable day out, with difficult route finding (none of us having climbed the route in summer). Neil did a brilliant job leading the crux in the dark, and we finally topped out with a blanket of stars above and the Northern Lights in the distance. It felt comforting to follow our old footsteps all the way back to the car with each of us lost in thought.

    A very long day meant that I only had time for a couple of hours sleep in the back of my car (with all of my clothes and boots still on!) before driving home and heading straight to the office. Needless to say I wasn’t on my best form at work!”

    Looking north-east to Slioch with Atlantic Wall forming the left skyline. The wall itself is 250m high and the adjoining ridge a further 200m. Over 450m elevation gain is required to reach the summit making the winter routes on Slioch amongst the longest in the British Isles. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Looking north-east to Slioch with the impressive Atlantic Wall forming the left skyline. The wall itself is 250m high and the adjoining ridge a further 200m. Over 450m elevation gain is required to reach the summit (the most feasible descent) making the winter routes on Slioch amongst the longest in the British Isles. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    When Cold Climbs was published in 1983, the first two chapters on Beinn Bhan and the Fainnaichs were a revelation. These areas were terra incognita for most Scottish climbers at the time, and they launched a multitude of dreams as keen winter climbers began to expand their horizons from Ben Nevis, Glen Coe and the Cairngorms.

    Thirty years on and the publication of The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland is having a similar effect. Roger Webb’s inspiring chapter on Slioch’s Atlantic Wall has intrigued many, and it was clearly not going to be long before the cliff saw some attention this winter. Before this season, Skyline Highway was the only winter route on the wall to have seen a repeat.

    On Saturday January 17, Erick Baillot and Rob Bryniarski repeated The Sea, The Sea (VII,7) the plum line up the centre of the face. This Roger Webb-Neil Wilson creation stems back to March 1996.

    “These were the best conditions I’ve ever seen on a sandstone crag,” Erick told me. “The turf was frozen solid, there was ice forming in lots of places and there was a solid blanket of snow from 400m. We linked a lot of pitches. I led pitches 2, 3 and 4, and linked pitch 6 and the 40m groove above to give a full 60m. Rob led on and we climbed 80m of easier mixed ground moving together and we still finished [the lower wall] in the dark. By then a strong south-westerly wind had picked up and we were battered by graupel. We went up to the summit via the incredibly long upper ridge and descended by the bealach between the two summits. The crag is amazing and I will go back to it despite being such a big day (we were 15 hours car to car).”

    I think Erick and Rob’s ascent was impressively quick. When I last climbed on Atlantic Wall Roger and I arrived back at the car after a 16-hour trip and Roger commented that this was the first time he’d ever climbed on Slioch and returned the same day he set off!

    Jenny Hill climbing the chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this esily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    Jenny Hill climbing the spectacular chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this easily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    When I enquired about Bonhard Buttress in Glen Clova last month, Alex (Tam) Thomson replied to me with details about the first ascent. I was delighted to hear from Tam, as he is something of a Glen Clova pioneer and made the first ascent of Farchal Gully in February 1980 with Ian Shepherd. For nearly 30 years this was the only (recorded) route in Corrie Farchal, but the crux runs over blank slabs and is rarely iced. I’d been watching the route myself for the past ten seasons or so and finally climbed it in March 2013. Corrie Farchal has been unusually snowy this year, and Farchal Gully received another ascent in December. I doubt it has seen many other visits despite being such a prominent line.

    Tam visited Corrie Farchal on January 4 with Jenny Hill made the first ascent the steep buttress high on the right side of the cliff. Age is Only a Number (III,4) takes a ramp and chimney and finishes with a exposed traverse and a steep corner. Tam first spotted the line March 2012. “I’d just climbed Central Gully in Winter Corrie and thought I would pop over and have a look at Farchal Gully and the possibilities for new lines,” Tam told me. “Farchal was a bit thin for soloing so I followed the ramp line up right, and that’s when I spotted the corner and chimney. I skirted further right and followed the snow line up, then back left onto the flat area to look down on the line. I could see the chimney exit and the line coming up to where I stood. The wall above with its leftward lines, looked like the best way to finish the route. So a mental note was made to come back and do it. Hearing that there was activity in the corrie was nagging at me to get back and do the route, but it still took nearly three years to get there!”

    Elsewhere in the corrie, Sophie Grace Chappell, Ben Richardson and myself added Over the Hill (IV,4) on December 28. This route takes the natural line of weakness between Brains Before Brawn and Elder Crack Buttress, and is notable for an undercut slot that was considerably eased with a good coating of ice and a convenient snow cone at its base. Rarely is nature so accommodating!

    Finally, on January 3, Martin Holland Ian McIntosh added another Direct Start to Silver Threads Among The Gold. “It’s short and the difficulties are in the first few moves, but it’s much more in keeping with the climbing above,” Martin explained. “We had the usual grade debate and settled on IV,6.” Wilf and Mac then continued up Pearls Before Swine before finishing up the headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold, which they had missed the previous time when they made the fourth ascent.

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson making the second ascent of Boggle (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. (Photo Mairi Ri Hawthorn)

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson making the second ascent of Boggle (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. (Photo Mairi Ri Hawthorn)

    When I saw Mairi Ri’s beautiful photo of Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson repeating Boggle (VIII,8) on December 26 I wanted to put it on scottishwinter.com as soon as possible. But Uisdean has been so busy on the hill I only caught up with him today. Boggle only saw its first winter ascent in the hands of Martin Moran and Robin Thomas less than two weeks before, so this is an unusually quick repeat of a major route.

    “Boggle is a really good route, particularly the top two pitches,” Uisdean told me. “It’s steep and sustained, but positive climbing and good gear. I can see it becoming really popular. We even managed to get back to the car just before darkness. Thanks to Murdo dispatching the long hard middle pitch in under an hour!”

    Uisdean drove home to Glenelg that night, and next day he linked up with Callum Johnson and climbed Point Five Gully on the Ben. Uisdean’s father Doug was also on Ben Nevis that day, and back at the CIC Hut he showed the pair some misty photos of the Little Brenva Face that showed that the icefall of Super G (VI,6) was possibly formed. This ephemeral route has probably not had a second ascent since it was first climbed by Hannah Burrows-Smith and Dave McGimpsey in March 2002. “So on Sunday morning (December 28) we took the chance of soloing up to the bottom to see if it was in,” Uisdean explained. “When we got there we thought it looked thin but just climbable so we climbed it in two fantastic 60 metre ice pitches leaving us grinning from ear to ear at the top of North-East Buttress. We climbed Zero Gully this morning as Callum had to catch the ferry to Arran, to finish a fantastic four days climbing!”

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among The Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This four-pitch mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just east of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This 150m-long mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just south of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Last week’s thaw never made it as far as the North-East of Scotland. I know this only too well as I fell off my bike twice whilst cycling to work on icy roads. As a result, Glen Clova was a good choice on Saturday December 20, and the cliffs were surprisingly wintry and white with fresh snow.

    The most significant event was the first Wackerhage-free ascent of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) in Coire Farchal by Martin Holland, Ian McIntosh and Sharon Wright. Henning Wackerhage has climbed this route twice since making the first ascent in March 2013, and has established it as a good early season option. “There are plenty of chimneys, technical walls, a cave and some variation,” Henning recounted on his blog after this season’s ascent. “It is arguably the best buttress climb in the Angus Glens.” The route certainly has one of the most evocative names in the area, courtesy of fellow first ascensionist Tim Chappell.

    Martin, Ian and Sharon added an alternative start up the short corner directly below the cliff, but were unable to climb the headwall due to an unusually deep layer of crusty snow, so they sensibly traversed right and finished up the top section of Pearls Before Swine.

    The same day, I climbed a short Grade III buttress in Coire Bonhard with my son Ben. Recording of routes in this corrie has been a little haphazard over the years, but even so, I was a little surprised to find a skilfully placed knotted sling and karabiner at the top of our first pitch that looked as though it had been used for retreat. It was possibly a relic from the first ascent of Bonhard Buttress (IV,4) by S.Cameron and A.Thomson in 1992, but their description in SMCJ 2008 is rather vague. Andy Nisbet helpfully sent me the photo that accompanied the description, but I’ve had difficulty in relating it to the crag itself.

    So if anyone knows the origin of the knotted sling, or the location of Bonhard Buttress, then please get in touch.

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    With the late start to the season, high standard ascents have been quite rare so far this winter, so I was delighted to hear that Dave Almond and Graham Dawson made an ascent of The Secret (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis last week. “It’s been a long wait for the season to start,” Dave explained. “So I used the time to its maximum to pack in some extra dry tooling sessions in Wales.”

    “With a reasonably cold forecast a contingent of Scousers from Liverpool headed up with high hopes,” Dave continued. “Saturday I ended up trying to get up a route using every variation but the right one. Defeated I retreated to the valley with all the usual mind games going on in my head. Sunday the weather was disgustingly warm, windy and wet which left me ever more time to ponder. On Monday December 15, despite a nasty forecast, Simon Frost and I had the joy of breaking a new trail in the fresh deep powder up to Stob Coire nan Lochan and were rewarded with a windless, sunny day and a lovely ascent of Inclination (VII,8). I felt soothed.

    Tuesday was another warm, wet and windy day and I took the chance to rest. On Wednesday December 17 I met up with Graham Dawson who had accepted my invite to have a look at The Secret despite it being a few grades harder than his norm. Another trail breaking session ensued giving plenty of time for self-doubt. I had previously climbed the first pitch two years ago but escaped up the Cornucopia finish due to lack of daylight. The Secret looked a fair bit whiter than the last time. Could I protect it?

    There was no time to delay as the walk in had eaten up time, I cracked on and must say that first pitch is really excellent climbing. Graham followed up incredibly fast giving me a little leeway for the second pitch. From the belay, the top pitch looked like an iced up crack line that I doubted would take cams. As I made progress I realised I was correct and it was difficult to get nuts to settle in the flaring verglas. Lots of deep breathing and I made it past the first difficult section to some small ledges that I thought I could get a rest on. Maybe I let my concentration go a second, as I felt quite solid when my right axe ripped and off I went all the way to stop beneath Graham.

    The light was starting to dim and I asked Graham if he was ok for me to have a last go. ‘Yes’ was the answer and off I went with a bit more haste and a lot more speed. The second pitch is good sustained climbing and I topped out on a large block just short of the cornice. Graham followed me up in increasingly poor light and heavy spindrift and continued up over the cornice in to a nasty storm.

    I was absolutely delighted to have been able to climb this route. Thanks to Graham for his patience. Maybe the tooling sessions paid off after all!”

    Guy Robertson climbing the crucial second pitch of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch during the second winter ascent. This sensational mixed route was one of the first Grade IX routes in Scotland to receive an on sight first winter ascent. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Guy Robertson climbing the crucial second pitch of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch during the second winter ascent. This sensational mixed route was one of the first Grade IX routes in Scotland to receive an on sight first winter ascent. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    On Saturday December 13, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell pulled off the second ascent of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch’s formidable Broad Terrace Wall. This exceptionally steep summer E2 was first climbed in winter by the top trio of Iain Small, Gordon Lennox and Tony Stone in December 2010.

    “We swithered a bit over route choice but in the end Culloden seemed sensible,” Guy told me. “Firstly because it’s such a great line which came highly recommended by three of the country’s best winter climbers, and secondly because it only has three pitches and we might just be able to get up it in daylight! Every pitch provided superb climbing – the first very long and sustained but not too difficult, the second shorter but very strenuous and aggressive, and the third a steep, complex and very committing finale. Overall, solid at grade IX was our consensus. The icicle was there for the technical crux getting into the groove on pitch two, and although Greg knocked this off the remaining ice was useful nonetheless. Like all the most memorable days our ascent wasn’t without incident – on the third pitch, in a rather ‘strung out’ predicament I managed to get my axe firmly jammed in the only good placement for pick or protection. After some protracted and very precarious but wholly ineffective wriggling and jiggling to try and get it out I gave up, clipped it as a decent runner and lowered a loop of rope down to Greg to get a loan of one of his axes. The vicious bulge and fist crack above were then duly dispatched just in time to catch the last rays of a dying day…”

    I was intrigued as to how Guy and Greg came to make the inspired choice of Creag an Dubh Loch for their first route of the season. After all, Dubh Loch is normally thought of a cliff that takes a long period of cold weather to come into condition.

    “Our main reason for going to the Dubh Loch was simply that it’s the best crag in Britain!” Guy joked. “Seriously though, there are lots of different options and styles there, and it rarely disappoints. It’s been a very wet couple of months in the east so the chances of ice were quite favourable; the low altitude meant that deep snow (at least on the crag) should be less of a concern; and the forecast was better for this side of the country with a warm front moving in late in the day. Broad Terrace Wall is also exceptionally steep so the turf more likely to be exposed and well frozen. As it turned out it was a great choice with a very snowy and icy (though not rimed) cliff and an approach that wasn’t too strenuous despite still taking about four hours in all. A night in the bothy helps to break up the approach though.”

    Kev Shields climbing the IV,5 mixed version of The Gift on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. North Gully lies just to the left. (Photo Steve Holmes)

    Kev Shields climbing the IV,5 mixed version of The Gift on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. North Gully lies just to the left. (Photo Steve Holmes)

    On December 5, Kev Shields and Steve Holmes made an enterprising ascent of the mixed ground just right of North Gully on Ben Nevis. “It was pretty sketchy on slabby terrain for two pitches then easier wandering,” Kev told me. It was great fun, and we reckoned it was top end IV,5.”

    It turned out that this is the line followed by the Gift, a III,4 ice climb that sometimes comes into condition late in the season. Kev and Steve have no wish to claim a new route, however their outing clearly provided a very different climbing experience to the ice version of The Gift.

    In the past, ascents such as this were considered similar to routes that bank out in a heavy winter, and dismissed as little more than curiosities. Times and attitudes change however, and with leaner winters and the rarity of some routes forming ice, we may see more early season ascents like this in the future. And why not? Good climbing is good climbing, and especially so when the route follows a logical line.

    Andy Inglis on the second pitch of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. The second pitch continues up the narrow crack at the top of the picture in line with Andy’s helmet. (Photo Will Sim)

    Andy Inglis on the second pitch of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. The third pitch continues up the narrow crack at the top of the picture in line with Andy’s helmet. (Photo Will Sim)

    Will Sim and Andy Inglis enjoyed an excellent two days on the Ben at the beginning of this week. On Sunday December 6 they made an ascent of Sidewinder (VII,7) on South Trident Buttress. This route has become popular in recent seasons and is good early in the winter as it is a pure snowed-up rock route. Their ascent was particularly impressive as Sunday was a wild and stormy day on the West, especially high up on Ben Nevis.

    The main event took place on the following day (December 7) when Will and Andy made the second ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9). This futuristic-looking line to the right of Sioux Wall on Number Three Gully Buttress was first climbed by Greg Boswell and Adam Russell in November 2012.

    “It’s a mega route and has the hallmarks of a future classic,” Will told me “Two hard pitches, the first thin, techy and run out and the second steep and pumpy – brilliant! A great find by Greg.”

    Elsewhere on the Ben, activity has been slowly picking up with routes climbed lower down on the mountain such as Jacknife, The Great Chimney and the South-West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder – all sensible choices in the current wild and windy weather.