Short days on the shortest day! Coire Sputan Dearg Mac Dui – Grey mans crag
The shortest day is now behind us and I was reminded of trying to get in early winter climbs in the past before technology took over and told you what was in condition to climb . These early years were wild days and we still used local knowledge and a quick call to Glenmore Lodge would give an idea of what was happening in the hill! If the gods at the Lodge would give away the knowledge?
The world of winter climbing was a smaller place and many knew each other, we were very careful of what they did and said as there was always plenty of new climbs available. I remember getting dragged into Coire Sputan Dearg in the Cairngorms for an early route on the shortest day in the late 70’s . The great granite cIiffs with the magic named Grey Man’s Crag was always one I wanted to visit. I was a lot fitter and we were at the cliff by first light about 0900 after a 0600 start from the Cairngorm car park. This was one of my first wild days and being a very average climber it was an interesting place to be. It is a great place to climb and has a remote feel to it and I have climbed here on several occasions since and never seen a soul. This is a wild high Cairngorm Corrie but not a serious as some of the big cliffs and a place I got to know well in my early days at RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and with the RAF Buchan Mountaineering Club. Dropping into this Corrie as daylight was breaking in winter is a great feeling but photos were rarely taken as it was the routes we were after and little else mattered.
I enjoyed this Corrie in the summer as well it has the 4 star crystal ridge is a great climb and one I did several times and grew to love proposition and in the old climbing guides graded Crystal ridge a grade 3 . When I first did it in winter with two novices from the Buchan Club it was a wild day and opened my eyes to my ambitions and ability in winter. Though only short 120 meters (about 350 feet )it was a very hard route for me and my new mates. We were fit and strong and got away with it and I remember the final snow arête and the full winter blizzard at the top. The long walk out back across the plateau was hard work and I was so glad to get back to our transport. One of my companions decided winter mountaineering was not for him half way from home on the plateau but with a bit of persuasion we got home I c.ould not get the frozen rope off at the end it was solid and had the awful coil of rope like a steel hawser all the way across the plateau. This only happens on a few occasions and shows what the weather can do. It was definitely a “march or die moment” one of many and I learned from that for future winters.
This Corrie has lots of good climbs and is a great place to be and many of the young RAF Kinloss/ Leuchars climbers cut their teeth in this place. Many will still have their memories of the long walk in and the even longer walk out all done in the dark. The feeling when you get after such a day of getting a route in early winter is incredible and a few of the young tigers learned from this impressive place. I spent a few worrying hours as Team Leader in the car park when the adventure went on a bit longer than we expected but it was great to get a broken message saying the were off the route and heading home, the day not over by a long way and in the dark and wild weather the Cairngorm plateau is not a place to learn to navigate. It kept the Team out of the pub as no one could go till everyone was safely off the hill a great idea!
Great days and memories of a quiet Ben Nevis, Lochangar, Creag an Dubh Loch and the far North West before the crowds and the internet.
Two that became Everest sumiteers and a young troop had a wee wander in to this Corrie and had the full winter experience when “young bairns” Character building days!