Just got in from a good day in the Northern Corries of Cairngorm (not far from the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Area) with one of my buddies that I haven't seen in years. We were members of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and had joined at the same time. Jimmy has settled up in Scotland with his family and, even though he is no longer in the RAF, he is still keen to get out in the hills. After 2 days of gales and fluctuating temperatures we were both keen to escape the confides of the house, so we set off to the Cairngorms, armed with good weather and avalanche forecasts, climbing kit and a loose plan to do something.
The recent warmer weather, high winds and freeze/thaw cycle had stripped a lot of snow from the corrie, but there had been a light dusting and transportation of fresh snow. Things looked promising, however, not having had a chance to consolidate, fresh snow doesn't make a great climbing medium (ice axes have no purchase), but as it is mostly 'mixed climbing' in the corrie, we decided to head to the Fiacaill Buttress and the climb, Invernookie.
It has been quite a while since I last went winter climbing, so Jimmy lead off first and made short work of the easy, but serious first pitch. Then it was my turn on the 'sharp end'. It took a little time before I felt comfortable, teetering around on crampons and hanging from the tips of my axes that were embedded in the consolidated snow that lay beneath the fresh powder. At a steepening, I felt that I needed to place a piece of protection before I committed myself to the crux moves, but the exposed rock was very compact and offered nothing in the way of a nut placement. Eventually, after a lot of digging, I unburied an old piton from beneath the snow cover. Its all I could find and would have to do, as I couldn't anything else to back it up (never trust old, in-situ gear). Taking a deep breath, I committed myself to the moves and pulled up, gingerly, onto a steeply banked-out ledge. Phew! An easy ramp followed, before an awkward groove led to a good belay. Jimmy made short work of following the pitch, before he led out to the top of the climb. Here we coiled our rope, and had a bite to eat, before heading up easy ground to the plateau.
From there we descended a feature know locally as Point 5 Gully, practising lowering techniques and constructing 'bucket seat belays'. It's been quite a while since either of us did this, so it was good to refresh our memories and skills. Then it was time to head off home and plan for the next adventure....a two day bothy trip to the hills Northwest of Inverness...and the forecast is very, very promising!