We had an RAF managed bunkhouse booked just south of Aviemore. A place called Feshiebridge Lodge. The intention was to spend four days climbing as many routes as possible in Coire an t-Sneachda. We travelled up in three small groups on Tuesday 8th and by early evening we were all settled in the lodge poring over guidebooks, maps, weather and avalanche reports (and a couple of beers !) and generally getting all enthusiastic about the coming few days. The previous weeks weather had been great for climbing and we were hopeful. As always, where UK weather is concerned, our hopes took a hit once we'd seen the mountain weather report for the next day.
We awoke to snow falling outside but our spirits weren't dampened. Once everyone had sorted out their admin we set off for the ski centre car park on Cairngorm mountain. Once 'booted up' we set off along the path for the Coire. The watchword for the morning was clag. Visibility was poor and the snow was soft adding time to the walk in. Once in to the Coire it quickly became obvious that simply finding the routes was going to be difficult. As it turned out there were a fair few locals in the Coire (Glenmore lodge staff and a local mountain rescue team member) and we soon had our location pinpointed.
Mel Evans and Pete Poultney has decided to climb a gully called The Runnel. Guy Harris and Tracey Cook headed for The Slant. Sam Grosvenor and Ian Merhter were planning on tackling Jacobs Edge and Ken Priest was leading me up Hidden Chimney. We all split up for our respective routes quickly discovering that the snow apron below the crags was softer than ideal making the approaches strenuous. Our routes, with the exception of The Runnel, all started from the entrance to Jacobs Ladder. We had been advised, by Glenmore Lodge, to avoid that route due to the volume and condition of the snow in it and once we got there it was obviously loaded. There were already two groups ahead of us for the first pitch and our three groups made the queue even bigger. Once everyone had done the first pitch Sam and Ian decided to follow Guy and Tracy up The Slant and we split up as Ken and I headed up into Hidden Chimney. The snow conditions weren't ideal and those on The Slant were taking one step backwards for every two forwards. In the chimney there was plenty of protection and less snow so the going was easier. Personally this was my first winter climb, having only done a couple of grade 1 gully's previously. I felt a great sense of achievement when Ken belayed me safely to the top. Guy and Tracey weren't far behind with Sam and Ian following behind.
Mel and Ian found the conditions much harder on their route and, having reached the top had to downclimb again as their exit was too risky due to the condition of the snow. Once down they decided to walk out of the Coire back to the ski centre.
Once we had all safely returned to the car park we headed back to the lodge, via Aviemore, for tea and medals. Mel cooked a massive batch of spag bol with assistance from Pete and then it was time to plan the following day's activity.
Day two saw a complete change in the weather. As we walked in to the Coire the biggest problem was having enough sun block on. Blue skies were the order of the day. Ian was planning to head across the Fiacaill Ridge. Guy and Tracy were heading for Goat Track Gully. Ken, Sam and Myself had chosen The Spiral and Mel and Pete were having an admin vortex. Mel had managed to leave his ice axes at the lodge so they had returned to fetch them. (They returned later in the morning and had a pleasant climb up The Slant.)
The amount of spindrift being blown off the plateaux made the top pitch of the spiral a less enticing bet once we could see it so the rest of us all ended up converging on Goat Track Gully. The first pitch was climbed in a spindrift shower culminating in a short ice pitch. The second pitch also included a short ice pitch before climbing out onto a ramp in full sunshine. The beautiful sunshine then prevailed for the last two pitches. We met up with Mel and Pete on the walk out and found Ian waiting at the car park when we arrived. Once again it was back to the lodge for tea and medals.
Day three saw the weather finally break for the worse. It was raining steadily when we awoke and that continued all the way up to the ski centre. The forecast was no good for climbing so we hoped to walk the Fiacaill ridge. Once there, in the wind and pouring rain, we decided to just walk up to the top café on Cairngorm and see what the weather did. When we got there the weather hadn't abated so, after some refreshment, half of us headed back down the mountain and half of us decided to touch the summit first. Being on the summit was like being in a gentle spin cycle so we didn't hang around and also headed back down.
We returned to the lodge once again and had a quick meeting about plans for the last day. It didn't take long to decide to head home. The weather report for the Saturday was even worse than Friday so climbing was out and getting soaked walking didn't really appeal. With that decided the whole group headed for Aviemore to do some blatant gear fondling and have a few drinks. We finished off with a meal in the Ski'ing Doo before bed.
All in all a great few days. We didn't get half of what we wanted done but had a good time anyway. Feshiebridge Lodge turned out to be a great facility and at £380 for five nights, between eight of us, was surprisingly good value. We'll definitely be using it again.