Scrambling in Coire nan Lochan - 2012-12-09

The start of a new day and the rapidly receding snow-line
For day 3 of our Scottish winter "skills" trip we'd planned a consolidation day - to polish the skills that we'd learnt, practiced and used over the last few days as well as some more rope work including, if possible some climbing, belaying and abseiling, and we'd selected the Coire nan Lochan (the steep sided valley leading up to Stob Coire nan Lochan) as an ideal location to do this.

Looking up into Coire nan Lochan from the A82 car park
We'd packed pretty much everything for today's walk - helmets, rope, axes, crampons and all the climbing rig that we had brought with us so the bags were fairly heavy but long distance walking wasn't the aim of the day and for most of the time we were planning to leave the bags in one location while we practiced different exercises.

Starting from a pull-in/car park at the side of the A82 a few miles from Glencoe the route drops down to the bridge crossing the River Coe and then starts to rise gently as you meet the small wooded area before heading SW along the path of the small river, up into the valley.

I've added the route log from my Garmin at the bottom of the post and you can click through to the full route details on Social Hiking to view more info....

JD and Capt, waiting for me to take pictures!
Once up into the valley itself we spent some time trying to locate a decent location to practice our rope work; we wanted a spot that had sheer walls of at least 10m high to practice abseiling and lowering as well as access to the top of the pitch so that we could walk/climb up and secure a top rope as this would make life much easier for the abseiling as well as being more akin to the situations we'd face in Slovenia - our plan for Triglav wasn't to "climb" so lead climbing and the skills that accompany this wouldn't be necessary.

Clouds over Am Bodach, Aonach Eagach
Looking up the valley towards Stob Coire nan Lochan (1115m)
We found a decent spot near the waterfall on the NW side of the valley - OS Explorer grid NN 158 / 548 - and climbed up to some flat ground to stow our rucksacks and put harnesses/ropes on.
We used the figure of 8 device (above) for both belay and abseil - they're easy to use with gloves on and with wet ropes. Traditional belay (or stitch) plates would be easier to use for abseiling and would also be quicker for descent but it means carrying more equipment than is really necessary.

JD hadn't done much climbing/rope work (while Capt, from his time in the marines had done plenty) so  we decided that Capt would lead climb to the top of the section and secure the rope while I belayed - then JD would follow using the ascender (or Jumar) device.

This worked fairly well aside from a few technical hitches with moving the jumar over the fixed point and with the winds picking up now we had to stop a few times to layer up.

The Montane Prism jackets that both I and Capt use as our outer layers are a great addition to the winter kit list - as they're made from Primaloft (synthetic) and not down they can be put on top of everything else, even if its raining, without losing their insulating qualities.  They also pack down really well so I usually keep mine in the bottom of the rucksack in a 2ltr stuff-sack.

Looking back down Coire nan Lochan towards the A82 and Aonach Eagach from our "pitch"
Abseiling was next and we set up a top rope from the rocks at the top of the section - the two pitches were around 8m and 10m respectively - down to the bed of the river.
The 50mph winds that had started to buffet around the valley made the 2nd descent to the river bed interesting but that's what practice is all about!

Climbing / Abseiling route down to the valley floor
Abseiling down to the river
After a few "runs" each we decided that time, and sunlight, was starting to run out so we packed up and started to head back, at a gentle pace, back to the car.

Fading light - time to head back
By the time we reached the car the sun was just starting to set over the Aonach Eagach - a fitting end to a great 3 days in Scotland.  Ok, so there wasn't as much snow as we'd hoped for and we didn't get the chance to use crampons as much as we were planning to but we made up for that with the scramble to Stob Coire Raineach and today's rope work in Coire nan Lochan.

Sunset over the Aonach Eagach
The other main objective of the trip was to ensure that the kit we'd packed was a) relevant and b) up to the task - we didn't want to get out to Slovenia and find that we either had kit missing or that it wasn't suitable for the conditions.  So, did I pack anything that I didn't use or would change and what were the top kit items?

No, not really - everything I'd packed and took with me to the mountains was used.  I'd add in my belay plate and make sure that the rope we took was shielded as wet rope gets very heavy and stretches under abseil!

The top bits of kit for me were my Paramo Aspira smock and trousers (although some effort is needed to perfect the set up of these as the poppers on the sides can come apart easily and additional gaiters were not really needed as they made me far too hot!).  The smock is still amazing; windproof, waterproof and easy to put on over a base layer and allows plenty of movement for climbing and is also tough enough for rope work.
And not forgetting the Montane Prism cost of course - as already mentioned it ticks all the boxes both for an emergency warm layer and for putting on over everything when you're standing around belaying.

Route details from Social Hiking - recorded from my Garmin GPSmap 62s
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