This is the third article of a series that a good pal wrote after a bicycle crash that has confined him to wheel chair for many years. Andy Watkins is an incredible man and I remember coming of the Cairngorms at the end of a long day on our Annual winter course. I was running it 10 days of worrying about the 30 – 40 troops plus some nasty call – outs. Wandering off a bit late off the hill we met Andy and Phil heading in to climb a big route in the Cairngorms at night. I asked him to drop in when he completed the route we were staying at Grantown on Spey.
The route was Route Major a 283 metre winter climb grade 4/5 a three star winter route on a huge cliff.
The guide book says a complex route finding a classic winter route with good situations. Amazingly first climbed in 1957 by Tom Patey and M. Smith.
Kept In The Dark, – Andy Watkins
A Night time Ascent of Route Major
Phil Eastwood came in at the right time. I had done Route Major on Carn Etchachan three times before, so I knew the route well. However I’d never climbed it at night. We decided to climb it that very Friday night and collected our gear together accordingly, fitting new batteries into our head torches and making sure we had spares.
So that night we started walking at 5 o’clock, just as it was getting dark, it was February, so it got dark early. We met the RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course, and they were most surprised to see us going in at that time.
They asked us if we were going to bivouac and were amazed, when we said, we were going to climb a grade IV/5 at night. The first pitches of Route Major are up two snow ramps, which we soloed to save time. It was fully dark by then as we geared up and put our head torches on, at the start of the difficulties.
The next pitch is up a thinly iced corner. This is mixed climbing at it’s best and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Then, with few problems route finding, we found ourselves below the crux. It is formed by a stepped, leftwards leaning, corner. This went OK and we soon found ourselves on the final pitches. From the top of the stepped corner, you traverse left, until the exit gully is reached and we were on top.
There was a full moon and broken cloud as we walked out, and drove back, more than ready for a long sleep.