Rock On!

Sunset with Cairngorm Blue

After two aspirin and an early bedtime, my fever from the previous day breaks by morning. I feel much better. I am ready to rock!

At our morning briefing, we check the forecasts. The weather will be chilly in the morning and warmer
during the day. With limited snow on the ground, we agree with Graeme’s suggestion that we learn how to place rock protection.

Receiving Instruction in the Morning

Receiving Instruction in the Morning

We head back to Coire an t-Sneachda and check out the winter climbing routes. The familiar trail of the Coire thawed overnight. The previous ice and snow melted exposing tufts of grass the color and texture of Donald Trump’s hair.

Donald Trump's Hair in Scotland

Donald Trump’s Hair in Scotland

We meander along the familiar path stopping occasionally to measure our paces. Graeme wants us to learn how to estimate the distance to random waypoints, such as small rock outcroppings and large stones. Counting paces in this manner aids navigation and it helps estimate the time one takes to reach a particular distance. We count our steps and confir with our maps. A 50 meter estimate becomes 35 meters as we improve our skill.

We reach the Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and find a pearch between the Fluted Buttress and the Fiacaill Buttress. Graeme explains how to select a spot by looking, tapping, and kicking a rock. A rock with moss or litchen may be a good candidate because the moss indicates the rock has not frequently moved. The second and third checks help determine whether a rock will move once you place the protection. You shake or try to move the rock with your hands, and, if it does not move, you kick it with the sole of your boot giving it a swift donkey kick.

Checking the Suitability of a Rock

Checking the Suitability of a Rock

Graeme then shows us three methods of how to place protection.

  1. The first method slings cordlette or rope around a rock. This method is particularly useful on small or jagged rocks.
  2. The next method threads cordlette, rope, or a sling through a gap between two or more rocks. This method has the advantage of being less prone to slipping; however, it requires a longer length of material.
  3. The last method combines the two previous methods. First, thread the cordlette around a rock and, then, pass the same cord through a gap with an adjoining rock. This method is best to use on large rocks or boulders, and when you have sufficient rope.
Roping a Rock

Roping a Rock

To practice what we learned, we climb over rock and snow up towards the Fiacalli Buttress. Johnny and I are a team. We work quickly to ascend the slope.

Here's Johnny

Here’s Johnny

At the top, we are awarded with out first view of a different valley, Coire an Lochain.

Coire an Lochain

Coire an Lochain

During lunch, we gaze at the stoic granite on both sides of our encampment. We are proud we mastered a simple climb.

Looking Back at the Fluted Buttress

Looking Back at the Fluted Buttress

Mission accomplished, we follow the ridge line down into the coire, whose summit, Cairn Lochan, and its mighty No 1 Buttress, basks in a Cairngorm blue tint as the sun slow slowly sets on the horizon.

No 1 Buttress of Cairn Lochan

No 1 Buttress of Cairn Lochan

Arriving back early at the lodge for the first time on our course, we skip tea so we can learn more abseil and anchor techniques.

In the cold, dark of the approaching dusk, we forgo further practice; but, we meet later after dinner to review the techniques Graeme showed us. We take turns repelling from the wall of the lodge until our bedtime approaches.

Repelling with a Prussik

Repelling with a Prussik

Rock climbing is much more enjoyable indoors once desert has already been served.

 

Waypoints Time Distance Altitude
Cairngorm parking lot
to Coire an Lochain
hours (travel time); hours (total) km + m to m

 

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