The Northern Corries of the Cairngorms are riddled with interesting features to entice the winter climber, no matter what grade they climb. By virtue of its close proximity to the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre and the Coire Cas car park, most choose to head for Coire an t'Sneachda, which is home to innumerable high quality routes. This however, has its problems, for queues can develop on the Coire’s more popular routes, and while the British are well known for their prowess at queuing, doing so in sub-zero temperatures is rarely a pleasurable experience.
Under such circumstances, it can often pay to consider alternative arrangements, and the routes in Coire an t'Sneachda’s western neighbour, Coire an Lochain, offer just that. Though the walk is further and the routes are fewer, Coire an Lochain still has a much to offer. Furthermore, it's higher than its neighbour and consequently, it comes into condition sooner and stays in condition longer, making it an ideal venue when conditions elsewhere are lean. And talking of conditions, The Vent is a route whose character is strongly dependent upon them. While the difficulty of all winter routes is very much influenced by the availability of snow and ice, rarely does this availability result in such a wide range of possible grades, for the The Vent can be climbed at either Scottish Grade II or Grade IV.
On approaching Coire an Lochain, the route’s line is obvious. Cleaving a deep fault down the Coire’s eastern edge, it takes the form of a large, dark and, if you're so inclined, inviting gully. Its difficulties are dependent on the build up of snow and ice at the bottom of the gully; in lean conditions only water ice will be available low down, offering a short but sharp pitch of Grade IV ice climbing, while later in the season, once the snow has had a chance to accumulate and set, the gully will give a much more amenable Grade II. Either way, it’s a pleasant if short lived route and is well worth covering the extra ground to reach – all you have to do is choose your moment according to your ability!
FA: E.M. Davidson, R.F. Stobart, Miss Macbain, J. Geddes (13th April 1935)
Conveniently, Coire an Lochain is an easy walk from the Coire Cas car park, which offers free parking and easy access to the café in the Cairngorm Mountain ski centre. Consequently, it fills up quickly and so you have another good reason to get an early start. The main reason of course being the desperately short days of the Scottish winter.
Park at the Coire Cas car park (NH 989 060) and approach as for Coire an t'Sneachda’s. The path traverses around Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais and within about 200m of the car park it splits (NH 986 056). Take the right hand path and follow it for a further 200m or so, crossing a small burn. Almost immediately after the burn you will be presented with some route choice (NH 984 051), with one path breaking off uphill (south) and the other continuing south-westwards in a more gentle fashion. Both of these paths will take you to Coire an Lochain, though the uphill path is the better option if your objective is The Vent (or indeed any of the other routes on the Coire’s Buttresses 1 and 2).
This description describes the approach of the uphill path, which you should follow for a kilometre or so. Do not follow it all the way to the Coire’s two small lochains, instead head up the broad spur which bounds their eastern edge. After around 500m this will take you up alongside the No. 1 Buttress, which overlooks the gully of The Vent (about NH 984 026). Here you will find a broad area to don gear and rope up; this is also the route’s start.
Given the obvious nature of the gully, there is little chance of going off route or failing to correctly identify the start of The Vent. There is no need therefore for a laborious description to guide you up it, though the following text will provide you with a few helpful pointers.
Pitch 1 (Grade II or IV depending on conditions): In lean conditions a short, sharp pitch opens things up, taking the climber up the steep icy back wall of the gully and over a large chokestone (crux) . Belay here.
Pitch 2 (Grade I or II depending on conditions): After the chokestone the gully opens out into a straightforward, easy angled funnel. Climb it to the top and belay in the snow above.
Descend either by walking of westwards, descending gently into Coire an Lochain or by walking east and taking the Goat Track into Coire an t'Sneachda. Those wishing to bag further routes in Coire an Lochain may wish to descend The Couloir (Grade I), though great care should be taken in doing so as the run-out on the route is very long.
In good snow conditions it’s unlikely that many will see the need to climb the route as a leader and second so while ice axes and rigid crampons are a necessity, a rope and rack will depend on the confidence of the climbers.
In lean conditions however, a small rack, which includes ice screws (short to medium length screws will be most useful) will be necessary if the crux on the first pitch is to be protected. The pitch is short and double ropes probably won’t be essential; a single rope of 50m should suffice for this route.
It shouldn't need to be said, but don’t forget your helmet; debris has a tendency to find its way into gullies and onto the climbers travelling through them.
||Navigation Maps |
| Cold Climbs: Great Snow and Ice Climbs of the British Isles by Ken Wilson, Dave Alcock, John Barry and Tim Pavey |
The classic publication on British winter climbing. It's huge and in hardback though, so don't even think about taking to to the crag.
| Scottish Mountaineering Club: The Cairngorms by Andy Nisbet, Allen Fyffe, Simon Richardson, Wilson Moir and John Lyall |
Another beautiful and lavish guide from the SMC, containing details of summer and winter climbing in the Cairngorms.
| Scottish Mountaineering Club: Scottish Winter Climbs by Andy Nisbet, Rab Anderson and Simon Richardson |
A superb guide covering winter climbing throughout Scotland.
| Winter Climbs in the Cairngorms by Allen Fyffe and Blair Ffyffe |
A stunning little guidebook from Cicerone Press which contains all you'll need for winter climbing in the Cairngorms.
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