Scottish Winter Meet 2022 (05/02-20/02/22)
Between the 5-20th March 2022, the YAG descended on the Scottish Highlands with great gusto. They were later joined by members of the Slovenian Alpine Team.
After 2 years of restrictions making travel between the UK and France difficult, the Young Alpinist Group were finally able to meet in Scotland. Despite work schedules, several cases of COVID and uncertain conditions, it was encouraging to see the effort all members present made to be at the meet.
Given the difficult conditions the team had encountered on their previous meet in the Ecrins (Winter 2021) they were psyched for the dry cracks, blue bird days and fat ice that Scotland reliably delivers. True to form the first week of the meet began in the midst of several named storms, and the group were treated to phenomenally high winds and ephemeral conditions. What better way to remember how to suffer!
With a standard stormy forecast, the meet kicked off in Glencoe with a successful day in Stob Coire nan Lochan.
Tim Exely, Tom Livingstone and Callum Johnson, started their week with arguably the most classic line in the Coire - Central Grooves.
Joe Brindley and Tom Seccombe climbed the lesser known but equally high quality East Face Direct Direct.
Finally, Connor Read and Matt Glenn decided on Inclination, on account of a recent Glasgow night out and Connor’s bout of COVID which had left them feeling somewhat delicate in the face of the harsh conditions.
After a highly successful first day, two of the youngest members, Will Lewallen and Luke Maddock-Lyon joined the team, enthusiastically walking into Coire Nan Lochan in the morning for a quick hit before joining the rest of the group in the afternoon on the walk to the CIC hut for 3 days of getting stuck into the UK’s most notorious winter playground. These days were defined by extreme high winds, tricky conditions and loads of quality routes.
8,9 and 10th February – Ben Nevis
The team covered a huge amount of ground during the 3 days and despite the turbo weather, motivation was high. Some impressively big days were had alongside some ascents of harder and more esoteric routes.
Highlights from the 3 days include:
Tim, Tom and Toms impressive ascent of 3 mega classic ice routes in a day: Indicator wall, Smiths Route and opening Point 5 gully for the season.
Tom and Tom climbing Tomahawk crack.
Joe, Callum and Ryan’s ascent of Avenging Angel direct, each taking some impressive falls in the process
Will and Luke covering some impressive classics such as Tower Face of the Comb, Route Major and Frostbite
Unfortunately due to the serious avalanche conditions and a broken nomic, most of the team descended early on the 10th and drove over to the Cairngorms, their base for the next week
11th February - Spurred on by more familiar alpine weather, the team ‘got after it’ on their first day in the Cairngorms with ascents of classic Lochain test pieces.
Callum and Matt climbed Daddy Longlegs after a 4 hour approach to check the Shelterstone was definitely in summer condition (not wanting to risk the wrath of the blackwatch). Tom and Tom managed to fight their way up Bavarinthia (A lesser known testpiece route first climbed by Ines Papert and Charly Fritzer on their Scottish rampage in 2011). Meanwhile other members enjoyed classics such as The Messenger and Droidless and The Melting Pot in Coire an T-Sneachda.
Saturday saw the arrival of some members of the Slovenian young alpine team for their Scottish exchange. Several of the members have some experience of Scottish winter, however for some it was their first time here. We were keen to show them the best Scotland has to offer. More windy and claggy conditions followed but teams got straight out on the 13th on classics like Savage Slit, Fall Out Corner and Torquing heads.
Once everyone had a chance to get used to the rounded cairngorm granite, the group upped the ante.
The next day saw Will and Domen battling the notoriously difficult Ventriloquist, breaking an axe in the process. Meanwhile Tim and Bor cruised the beautifully technical first pitch of Daddy longlegs only to find some awkward verglas on the second pitch, an unfortunate fall for Bor on the second pitch meant the pair descended from there. Anja, Marjia and Sara climbed The Migrant, another difficult lochain route. Andrej and Matt had a type 1 fun day climbing Fallout corner followed by Ewen Buttress. Finally Tom and Gesper climbed Ventricle “a series of desperate boulder moves above ledges”.
17th February -
Most of the team rested while bad weather rolled through, not to be deterred Anja, Tom and Joe headed to the sheltered Creagan Coire Cha-No to bag a quick route before the winds got too high.
The meet built to a sort of crescendo as the whole team moved to the North West on a tip off there might be good conditions on Beinn Eighe. Not disappointed, on the 18th teams climbed:
Kamikaze - Tim and Doman
Vishnu/Kamikaze - Joe and Tom S
Sundance - Gasper and Bor
Fight or Flight -Andrea and Anja
Immortal Memory - Callum, Tom L and Matt
Some teams returned to the Cairngorms for a shorter day while others headed back to Beinn Eighe, Tom and Gasper climbed the notorious Blood sweat and Frozen tears while Tim and Doman climbed Shang High.
Callum, Tom and Matt made the drive to An Teallach to sample the rare sandstone climbing offered there, with a leisurely start they thankfully made good progress as there was a track in curtesy of Guy and Adam. The trio repeated Local Hero on Hayfork wall.
This brought the meet to a close, suitably knackered from 2 weeks of changing conditions, long walk-in's, hard routes and great socials, the Slovenian and British young alpinists dispersed, having thoroughly fed the winter rat.
“If you’re not winter flying, you’re not winter trying.” - Probably Big G Boswell
This seems to have been taken to heart by the young alpinists throughout the meet. Although there was a huge emphasis placed on safety and sensible decision making there was a really encouraging atmosphere towards pushing your own limits whatever the grade. The mantra that one shouldn’t fall off in winter is without doubt a good way to ensure those who are new to the sport don’t make poor decisions and fall on dangerous, low angled terrain or impale a friend with a stray crampon or axe. However, for steeper, mixed terrain, falling starts to become a required and acceptable risk given proper well placed protection.
Thus we come to the most important section of the report: Whippers of the meet.
Our first shout must go to Callum for his spectacular whiplash inducing fall on Avenging Angel Direct onto an impressively well manufactured leash. It’s not often you get winter whips on camera but thankfully we had the very talented Ryan Balharry on hand to catch this one:
Our second goes to Bor for his crater onto the ledge on Daddy Longlegs second pitch when a slippery hex ripped through the verglas. Although we must dis-count this entry and consider this poor form, we do not encourage any falls which involve contact with the ground.
Third to Joe for his spectacular, rope shredding penguin dive. The commitment to forgo the protection of the foot first fall is something to be admired.
Our last shout goes to Tom for his out of character lob on Torquing Heads. A good tactical choice on Tom’s part meant picking the lightest member of the entire meet (Sara) to belay him, so he had a suitably soft catch.
There were many other significant but less memorable falls, slips and rests taken throughout the meet that proved the commitment to everyone trying at the edge of their own abilities.
A word on grades:
I have omitted grades throughout this report to avoid giving preference to numbers. Although made up of technically proficient climbers aiming to push themselves, the YAG was not formed to chase grades.
Anyone who is willing to go out in hard winter conditions is equal - whether you are getting benighted on Tower Ridge and persevering, climbing your first winter route or battling it out on the first ascent of a wild new route. The emphasis of this meet was on the resilience required, knowledge learned and the enjoyment possible through character building days with friends in the hills.
It was a pleasure to be involved in this meet, and whether it was covering huge amounts of ground in a day or trying at their absolute limit, all participants gained a huge amount of knowledge and experience.
A massive thanks to Mountain Equipment for their generous financial support of the meet and continued support keeping us warm and dry with high quality clothing. Petzl for support with equipment and the BMC and MEF for financial support of the YAG.
Finally to Ryan Balharry and Jimmy Hyland for taking some stunning photos throughout the meet. Also to Callum Johnson for a massive effort organising the meet.