Remote and Snowy

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

“Driving towards Ben Nevis on February 10, it became obvious around Loch Laggan that all the hills were very white and swamped with soft snow,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Unable to think of any sensible, or at least accessible, new routes, we turned north at Spean Bridge and headed towards Glen Shiel, where at least I knew of a relatively easy new route which we could climb in poor conditions. I admit now I’d forgotten what a long approach it was.

I had spotted an unclimbed crag above Lochan na Cralaig in 2000 when climbing a route on remote Sail Chaorainn and looking a long way across the valley. 2001 was a great year for winter climbing and I visited the crag in January with Dave McGimpsey. We climbed the longest gully and the longest ridge both at Grade III in excellent conditions. I don’t think we put the rope on, so we even bagged the Munro of A’ Chralaig in the afternoon sun. I went back the following winter with clients of Martin Moran’s, climbing the left-bounding ridge of an amphitheatre again at Grade III. There was still time to do another route, with the plan that I didn’t want to make the long approach again. A groove at the back of the amphitheatre looked fairly straightforward but I soon discovered that it had smooth rock and limited protection. Hard moves well above protection defined the grade as VI,6 although its overall feel wasn’t as hard (Kraken).

But there was still a line, and 14 years dulls the memory of the slog up the back of A’ Chralaig. I had told Steve Perry and Jonathan Preston it would be a fairly easy day, but there was a lot of snow and it was my first day out after the flu. So I arrived on the ridge a long time after the others, by which time they were rather cold. The next problem was how to descend to the crag when it was misty, snowing and the ridge had a continuous soft cornice. We decided to rope up and send Jonathan (the heaviest) to collapse the cornice. (Actually he was so cold he insisted on going first, and we weren’t going to argue). He duly collapsed it, and it wasn’t as big as we’d feared.

There hasn’t been much of a build-up this year so we didn’t try the gully descent (actually it would have been OK) and outflanked the cliff to return to the ridge right of the descent gully. Most of it looked straightforward but there was a barrier wall blocking entry to a flying groove set in an impressive prow. We soloed up to the barrier wall where unfortunately you could escape into the gully. But we weren’t going to do that, so I volunteered to traverse under the wall in the hope of returning left above it. The traverse was committing above a big drop but it all fell into place as soon as I’d made the traverse. Great runners encouraged a swing out left above the overhang and a couple of moves later, it was all over. Jonathan led up the flying groove to a final horizontal arete. We decided on a grade of III,5 and called it Poseidon, keeping the mythological theme.

The weather still wasn’t great but I was determined to finish off the crag and climb a route on steep but more broken ground right of all the existing routes. There wasn’t much time so we didn’t take any gear and traversed under all the existing routes to find an easy gully. Actually I hadn’t expected it to be as easy as Grade I but there was a lot of snow. Steve and I plodded up the gully whereas Jonathan decided on a steeper line to the right. After a while, we were tempted by an exposed ramp (The Creel – III), which led up the steep left wall of the gully on to the top of the right-hand ridge (Curled Buttress). This was easy enough although the drop under our heels kept us on our toes. Jonathan crossed the easy gully higher up and also found a turfy line to tempt him out left.

It’s nice there are still some remote crags in good scenery and which no-one goes to, even if the routes are a bit short for the long approach.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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