On Wednesday Arno Alpi sent an e-mail saying 'I need some mountain air'. As there is tons of adventure in front of our doors we went into Glen Clova to have a look. There was ice forming in some areas but some buttresses had lost their snow after the mild thaw on Friday. We decided to go into Corrie Fee, the lowest Corrie in Clova, which seemed a viable option after an overnight frost.
Two or three teams had a look at Look C gully (good luck to them, the main icefall did not look formed). We opted for the large face to the right where Robbie and I had done two long mixed routes previously. After testing one groove that contained a useless icy crust we moved on to the lowest groove which contained good neve, some ice and solid turf. Here I am starting pitch 1. Unfortunately the groove is hidden (see topo at the end).
Above the groove the snow was less consolidated and there were trees on the face which is one of two reason for the name of the route. So bring plenty of slings! I belayed at a big block at 60 metres. The next pitch was semi-consolidated snow without much of a line and we reached a tree belay to the right of the rocky band that divides the face. I knew that there was a steep wall with a good crack but the wall was not really in full winter condition, it was much steeper than it looked from below (tech 7?), the crack seemed to finish well below the top of the wall (tech >7?) and all these reasons were much appreciated by myself as it allowed me to chicken out. Oh, we also started late and still had lots of climbing to do. This did not prevent us from taking a photo though!
Instead I opted for a groove line to the right. Again it turned out to be steeper than it looked from below but had good gear where needed. 20 metres of sustained, technical and in places superb climbing followed to reach a ramp that led to the upper part of the face. Here I am on the second of two easy pitches (it started to get dark...) to reach a belay at the bottom of the buttress seen above ...
The buttress had little snow so we opted for a groove that separated the main buttress from the small buttress to the right. It contained good neve and turf and sufficient protection at tech 3. I just continued on easy ground whilst Arno started to follow at dusk. After more than 6 long pitches, all close to 60 m, we topped out. So overall a climb with some overlap with other routes but the crux groove and probably the start and perhaps the finish should be new ground. We then descended D gully to the right. It was well consolidated so would have been a great grade I climb during the day.
Here is Arno at the bottom of the face keeping the diesel going with some coffee.
Overall we rate the climb V,6 as the crux groove is technical and physical and goes on for a bit.
Is it worth it and when to go? The face to the right of Look C gully is a good alternative if the main ice cascade of Look C is not properly formed as was the case yesterday. There are many possible lines (we have done 3 now), several buttresses and grooves for technical climbing allowing anything from grade III to VII. The face is in good condition after freeze-thaws and cold nights so that the snow is consolidated and that the turf is solid but it is doable as long as it is cold. Avoid climbing it after a big dump of snow and Westerlies as windslab may form on the snowfields. It is a big face for Scotland so expect 6 pitches or more. Not something for everyone but Arno's and my rat have been well fed.