The Cairngorms

Gormless nae more
The PMC hit Coire an t-Sphincter

It had been two long years since I last made the effort to get north of the border and with Welsh winter grinding to a halt the time was upon me to set the record straight. Peter ‘The Machine’ Machin and I along with native Caledonian Callum ‘The Face’ Urquhart were set to meet Team Demon at the Aviemore bunkhouse, a rather palatial doss for a collection of rump fed codpiece sniffers such as we.
The Northern Corries from Loch Morlich
The Journey
En route we visited a series of fine service stations plunging our plastic into the wall and collecting (as you do) that ‘funny’ money which always inspires a tedious conflab when presented to the many and varied retail operatives back home in the flatlands. Of course I would face no such problems on my return for Corby might as well be known as ‘Alba-Lite’ given its large contingent of Scots.
Following our grand tour of fuel emporia (my favourite of which being Abington) we continued north stopping off at Dunkeld. Stiff Scottish grading went head to head with soft southern sensibilities with ‘Ogg’s Hindquarters’ almost making an arse out of The Machine. By the time The Face had wobbled unconvincingly to the top we’d had enough and scurried back to the car for fear of attracting the attention of local hard men bent on showing us the errors of our incompetence.
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Onwards went we and soon huge rounded hulks gathered en masse to greet us, glens of dark intrigue wended their way to who knows where and thoughts of ginsters were replaced with urgent longings to explore the interior of the surrounding wilds. Then came Aviemore where Team Demon were conspicuous by their absence.
Somewhat unperturbed we spent a convivial evening in the Old Bridge where plates of delicious food washed down with many a foaming ale were heartily scoffed. Now, let it not be said that we know not how to rock and roll for next came an exciting game of Scrabble to while away the hours spent waiting for the arrival of Team Demon. When finally they came to us our comrades were taciturn and wearing gaunt expressions, unconcerned with renewing friendships and seeking only to secure food to soothe their rumbling bellies and liquor to still their tremulous extremities. It turned out that they had spent the previous night in an hotel in Embra with a view to getting something done the next day which had led to a late start in Coire an t-Sneachda and an (some might say) inevitable three on a rope epic. At this typical example of nocturnal demon behaviour we were sympathetic though not in the least bit surprised!

The Runnel
With demon stalwarts Mark and Mick relaxing and skiing respectively Jeff joined our ranks for another day in Coire an t-Sneachda. We decided on The Runnel, a popular grade II and one I’ve had my eye on since I started winter climbing. It would be a good easy day for Jeff and an interesting but not too challenging outing for Callum who had spent a fair time away from the winter mountains but first we would have to find it! None of our number were Cairngorm experts, indeed it was my first visit and at the Ski Centre the omens spoke of floundering around a claggy corrie with no real idea of where to start. The omens however were silenced by a helpful local who pointed us in the right direction.
I teamed up with Peter, Jeff with Callum and we started up to the foot of our climb. Did I mention that The Runnel was popular? A team were already installed and soon we were joined by another two. For a short route it was going to be a longer day than we’d bargained for. Now, I won’t provide a blow by blow account of our ascent but the climb was characterised by long, Baltic vigils at the belays, the dodging -often unsuccessfully- of large missiles (metallic and waterborne) though most frustrating for me were the brief glimpses of the corrie floor and distant hills as the weather threatened to improve, but then that’s winter climbing I suppose! The final and crux pitch was sensational at the grade and when my turn came I climbed up the chimney on good ice into tantalising milky light which promised great things.
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On topping out that promise was slowly but surely fulfilled. Peter and Jeff were keen to get down so I commandeered Callum to be my model in the protracted photo session that followed. During the golden hour I got my first real view of the Cairngorm mountains and felt that which from them emanates in profusion, palpable of the ancient and awesome power that radiates from the underlying granite. There were no soaring spires on show; sinuous, crenellated ridges were in short supply and a distant skyline of sabre-toothed peaks was nowhere to be seen. In fact most of the conventional features that excite the average mountaineer were absent from the scene but what there was transcended the vulgar displays of younger ranges. The visual appeal, though extremely salubrious is not the main attraction hereabouts. No, the appeal for me at least is cerebral and even more so it is soulful, unlocking something primeval in a way that no other group of hills has ever done before. It’s deep man!
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With the best of the light spent we made our way down to the Old Bridge via the Hungry Haggis where large portions were greatly appreciated.
An easy day on the hill
The next day dawned bright though I was suffering from a worrying deficit in my enthusiasm account and wanted nothing more than an easy day with my camera. Back in Sneachda the gale force winds blowing snow into the gullies made my laziness easier to live with and I took Mark with me for a photographic trip up Fiachaill a’ Choire Chais where we received a good hammering but were successful in getting our shots. On our descent we came upon a handy igloo, losing no time in taking residence within we set about phoning the others to hear of their day. Jeff and Callum had aborted their ascent of Crotched Gully due to spindrift avalanches with Mick and Peter enduring a thought provoking solo of Jacob’s Ladder. I felt vindicated and satisfied in the knowledge that I’d had a wonderful couple of days in a very special place.
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That night in the Old Bridge was one of celebration; the beer flowed, the laughter rang out and we revelled in the unique glow of gladness that comes only from the heady combo of friendship, ale and mountains. Next year then, same time same place?

6 Responses to “The Cairngorms”


  1. 1 Peter Machin February 1, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Excellent weekend and well penned, although I must make one correction. It was not Aladin’s Coulour, mate but Jacob’s Ladder.

  2. 5 Maz February 25, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Some amazing images – the weather was certainly perfect for it. I did Jacob’s Ladder in Winter for the first time recently and it was a fairly amazing experience – my first of climbing at all in fact, beyond some simple scrambling. Nice to relive it. Thanks.

  3. 6 nicklivesey February 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks Maz, we were very lucky with the weather!

    I’ve been looking through your blog and I think it’s fantastic. Keep it up and climb safe.

    Nick🙂


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