After his rest day yesterday, Ally was up for ‘something exciting’. With the weather looking decidedly better over in the east, we opted for the drive cross country to the Cairngorms again in search of a couple of grade I gullies in Coire an t-Sneachda. This coire is like a honey pot for winter climbers due to the variety and number of routes on offer, combined with the fact that it has easy (and relatively quick) access from the Cairngorm ski car park. It even has Coire an Lochain, another great venue, just round the corner in case ‘Sneachda’ is over crowded.
Having walked in, we realised that we’d left the guidebook back in the car – not a great start to the day! Fortunately, someone took pity on us and let us have a quick look at theirs before we committed ourselves to something silly. Our attention was immediately drawn to the mass of Aladdin’s Buttress in the centre of the coire and, realising that it had grade I gullies to it’s left and right flanks, our mind was made up – we’d do a lap of the buttress.
Starting to the right, we headed up Aladdin’s Mirror, which was actually quite awkward due to the soft and wet nature of the snow pack. The route swings out to the right before moving back left into the main gully, but there is a more direct line (Aladdin’s Mirror Direct funnily enough) which goes straight up an ice fall. Ally and I were neither kitted out for, or brave enough, to give this a go. However, we did feel for the two guys that were on it as we went past. With the temperature above zero, the ice fall had an alarming amount of water cascading over it, making it look very wet and miserable. Stepping back left over a rocky rib proved to be quite precarious, and we ended up getting the rope out to protect us over this short section. After that, the rest of the route was straight forward enough.
Our descent took us down Aladdin’s Couloir on the left flank of the buttress. This was fairly steep, but caused no issues until we became aware that some of the cornices at the top of the coire rim were collapsing, resulting in small avalanches. They may not have been big, but even a small avalanche can knock you off your feet and have pretty major consequences on steep ground. This was enough to encourage us both not to hang around as we got a shift on!
With the excitement over, we spent some time digging snow pits to look at the snow pack, before heading up the eastern side of the coire to practice cutting through cornices and dropping back down to the car. A beautiful day in a great venue!