The plan had been to have a leisurely start and head in to the Corries for a quick hit on Saturday, getting Nick back for his talk at the Lodge in good time. Simple plans are never the most exciting so it only took one beer, a photo of Shelter Stone looking fairly white and a promise we'd be back at the car by 7.00 in the evening for plans to change to an earlier start for a look at the Needle (VIII 8, 260m ****). After a slight detour (must remember to get the compass out sooner next time...), accidentally throwing the map away down the Goat track and a brief loss of psyche in the unexpected morning rain a quick game of paper-rock-scissor decided who grabbed the rack and I set off up the first pitch a bit later than planned at 9.30. A long 60 meters following a fun turfy grove brought us onto the terrace where you join the original summer route and follow this for the rest of the way.
Nick quickly dispatched another long technical pitch and what turned out to be the crux, a steep flake line with a balancy traverse onto a narrow ledge to the final thin and pumpy moves up a bulging crack. The next pitch was just brilliant, a ramp line lead round the corner to the start of the 'crack for thin fingers' pitch, a dream description for a winter pitch! A couple of thin moves with a slightly worrying ledge to hit below gained the crack and great moves on bomber hooks and torques to a tricky move left to a ledge, one of the best winter pitches I've ever done.
Reading the guide book after I should probably have stepped right instead of left here but either way it worked out and Nick was soon belayed under the main feature of the route, the Needle chimney. A long move off a very helpful chock stone to a small hook got me established in the offwidth before a proper grovel got me to the top and the last 20m of easy ground to the plateau. Nick emerged onto the plateau grinning and with just enough time left to get back, make some food and drink a well deserved pint before his lecture. It was an awesome route, long, sustained, in an amazing situation and great to be out climbing with Nick again.
Else where in the Loch Avon area Carn Etchachan was plastered with a number of team on various routes. I'm not too sure if Sticil Face had any ice on it but we saw a team in that arean and another on The Citadel. Hell's Lum was quite busy and the Chancer looked like it might be close to touching.
Nick exiting the 'crack for thin fingers' pitch
Pitch 4 which lead to the base of the chimney and final pitch
A happy Bullock emerging onto the plateau
Busy day on Carn Etchachan