Today I was out with Steve who I was introducing to winter climbing, over the past few years we have tried to climb together a few times but haven’t succeeded due to weather. After three days in a row on Ben Nevis I was after a shorter day, due to overnight snow being less in Glencoe leading to a lower avalanche forecast there seemed to be an obvious choice. This was to head to the Crowberry Basin area of Buachaille Etive Mor with an open mind, our primary objective was Crowberry Gully which was reported to be in grade III conditions, with a backup of Curved Ridge, but we were fully prepared to turn around depending on what we found when we got to the start of the routes.
As the weather was getting better throughout the day we decided to have a lie in and had a leisurely start as we started walking at 9:30. We headed up on the direct approach to Crowberry Gully which takes you up a scramble and past the base of North Buttress. This was a really interesting approach due to having to scramble, which makes a nice change to lots of long walk ins to Ben Nevis.
When we arrived at the top of the approach it looked like we would be able to climb Crowberry Gully due to there being two teams on the belay above the first chockstone. Due to this we geared up and headed over to the gully, however when we got there we discovered there was copious amounts of spindrift flowing down the gully, almost enough to knock you over. Avoiding the classic heuristic trap of assuming it was safe due to the parties above, I decided that I wasn’t willing to continue up the gully in the current conditions. At this point we made a high level traverse across to Curved Ridge in order to avoid having to descend the first easy section of Crowberry Gully that we missed and into Crowberry Basin due to the amount of spindrift which as loading the slopes.
We were soon on Curved Ridge and enjoying the climbing, the conditions were challenging with fresh snow covering all the rocks which lead to a steep introduction to Scottish winter climbing for Steve. For the first half of the ridge there were regular snow flurries and we were almost constantly in the cloud, however it did clear briefly a few times.
After the easy initial section we got to the steep crux, this was very buried and it would have taken a long time if I wanted to protect myself on it due to all the gear being very hidden. With lots of scraping snow off surfaces I was soon at the top of the pitch and Steve made quick work of all the difficulties and we were then back to moving quickly along the ridge.
As were were on the final belay of the route the weather started to clear and the sun came out. This was a good time and motivated Steve as he was starting to get fairly tired after having a big day out on Ben Nevis yesterday. The views were absolutely stunning over towards Rannoch Moor and really made the day for me as I had been wanting to save curved ridge for a good day having seen the views from it in photos.
After a bit of short roping and a short pitch up the final icy ramp we were soon at the summit, which at this point was below the cloud. We were greeted with fantastic views down Glen Etive and towards the Glencoe peaks which was fantastic, this also meant that we could see the route to the descent gully which made the descent far easier than having to pace the route on bearings. Wanting to take advantage of the briefly high cloud we left the ropes on and headed to the descent gully, which also meant that I could short rope Steve down the initial steeper section due to him being fairly tired.
The descent down Coire na Tulaich was very quick and easy and the snow line in the gully went surprisingly low down. We made great progress and were soon back at the car to end another brilliant day in the hills.
I have had a brilliant four days having climbed Zero Gully, The Curtain, Comb Gully and Curved Ridge. The forecast for the next few days isn’t looking so good so I think a few well earned rest days are in order.