Three of us were out and took advantage of the stunning conditions on the 12th. Between us we had two sets of aluminium Kahtoolas and one steel set, two CAMP Corsa and one Corsa Nanotech ice axes, a set of Icebug Speeds and a set of Icebug GGFly’s.
We climbed Beinn Dorain and had a bit of a play around while doing it as well. There was a lot of snow, from 400m up it was plastered and by 600m it was crampon compatible. Amazingly we had a whole variety of snow types, from windslab over powder, to neve to a weight bearing icy crust fantastic. The sunshine helped of course and although bittery cold it was windless, on the move all I had on all day on the top half was an Icebreaker Oasis Crew and a Haglöfs Gemini Polartec microfleece hoody. Warm and comfy, for messing about and rest stops I pulled on a Rab Neutrino Endurance (well, I needed something to pad out my OMM Jirishanca 35RL MSC) and was warm.
We meandered all over the hill, eventually getting to the summit. The studded Icebugs made a laughing stock of all other footwear on the walk in. I’ve never known grip like it. Flexible, responsive, superlight on your feet. I love these boots. When it came time to don the crampons it was at the first steep pull on the path up Coire an Dothaidh and here the ally Kahtoolas stiffen up the boot but allowed enough flex for the front points to dig into the steep snow. The steels were on a pair of regular boots and the other aluminiums were on the GGFly’s. The Kahtoolas remained on our feet until we were past the same point on the walk out. No issues, it turns out the clue was in the name “Crampons” they said. And they were right. The Snow Release Skins work fine as well, the whole Kahtoola thing went on the feet and was forgotten for the rest of the day. A sign that something is right on the money. Wear on the aluminiums was light as well, despite us picking “difficult” stuff to do like iced rock and crags above Leacann Beinn Dorain (to see what happened…).
All this time we were carrying and using the CAMP axes as well. Again they did what normal axes do. Very well in fact. They’re not as cold to hold either. We used the picks on the crags and they penetrate ice okay, and don’t blunt either. The Nanotech is very good for this of course. We did some avalanche tests and the adzes were fine for digging the trench once you had done a couple of strokes and got a handle on how they cut the snow. I didn’t notice a big difference to a regular style adze. The open ended shaft does get a plug of ice in it quite quickly and the anodizing is a little worn here as suspected from plunging through the snow.
We also all tried increasingly fast and hairy self arrests with them and ended up on some really quite solidly iced snow. The biggest incedent was the los of some paint from the pick one of the Corsas. My softshell pants are now looking the worse for wear however. I initially thought the Corsa was much more slight than it is. In use it’s proving itelf as a fine lightweight tool.
The kit was great, we even tried the Adventure Medical Kits emergency bivvy, but the photos went weird so that’s for another day.
But the day itself was better. We watched the sun rise and paint the hills of the Black Mount pink, then yellow, then blinding white. By the time we reached the ridge on Beinn Dorain the sun had come up over the tops and bathed what seemed like the whole snow covered country in a warm, pure, clear light. We could see from the Southern Uplands to Ben Nevis and beyond, from Ben More on Mull to Shiehallion and the Grampians beyond.
Stunning, absolutely stunning. The sky remained unblemished blue for a long time before the high wispy clouds crept across, diffusing the light and softening the atmosphere, to the North the hills darkened, but we were still in the brightness, sunglasses on. The sea to the West and the lowlands to the South were a blanket of inverted clouds boiling and shifting as if they weren’t sure if they were allowed to venture any further. They did eventually but by that time we were in the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum and I was tucking into a half a roast chicken. There were even paragliders jumping off the summit. Brilliant.
We were on the hill for way more hours that necessary to climb it and it flew by. The weather, the hill itself and good friends have made it a special day that’ll always be remembered.
We nearly never went. The night before, it wasn’t looking likely.
Carpe Diem. Get out of that chair.