Saturday, February 13, 2016

Winter Grade 2 Climb: The Grey Area Carrauntoohil

February 13th,
Today I went with Denis and his sometime climbing companion Bridie for another climb on Carrauntoohil. It had been cold-ish over the past few days and there was some snow lying on The Reeks. I wasn't over hopeful of good conditions but we decided to to bring back crampons and axe and see what the day brought. I thought that "The Grey Area" would be a good option and so it proved. This area is the wide steep area of mixed ground that sits between Curve Gully and The Lick. It offers a great variety of climbing where you can pick and choose the type of ascent you want to make with most of it going at around the Grade 2 or 3 mark (if you pick the spiciest bits). It can offer excellent mixed climbing with a mixture of frozen turf and icy rocks and the enjoyment only ends when you arrive at the cross. The forecast was for rain to arrive around midday so I wasn't expecting great things (bad weather usually arrives earlier than expected hereabouts) so it was a delight to be well into our descent before the rain arrived.

They wouldn't wait for me...

The north spur of Cuillin

Ready for the good stuff

Lots of options
The snow wasn't to be found in any great quantity until we reached the third level and here it was soft and there was nothing in the way of ice to be seen. Anyway we climbed up as far as the shallow middle section of  Curve Gully and here we crossed and made our way up steeply to the first of the steep steps that lay ahead. Here we donned crampons and roped up and I led off. Greasy snow covered rocks and unfrozen turf was the order of the day and it is fair to say that things weren't in good condition which actually made for more tenuous progress as there was precious little in the way of good axe placements to be found. It was still great fun however and as usual when I was in the middle of the climb my I found myself enjoying it immensely. After about 25 meters I brought Bridie and Denis up and then set off up again. The first sixty meters were actually the most difficult in the way of climbing and were touching on Grade 111 and it was a real eye-opener at the belay to look back and appreciate the grave consequences of a fall from here. Conditions started to improve from here (a bit) and easier ground was interrupted by short steep sections. We mostly moved together up here with me giving body belays to the guys on the steeper bits. Up and up and things got better and better and we were delighted to be in this winter wonderland. Bridie and Denis had just returned from a Scottish mountaineering trip and they both professed that today was as delightful (if not more so) than any day the had had there.

I think they were enjoying it.

Conditions getting better

For the final seventy or eighty meters we climbed lovely iced up rocky ground and a nice little ridge until we suddenly found ourselves almost level with the summit cross. There wasn't a puff of breeze and we were almost entirely cloud free. It was proving to be a pet day and we walked to the cross and enjoyed a well deserved rest and bite to eat and reveled in the glow that comes when you finish a lovely climb. In the still air it felt quite mild and there is no doubt that the temperature was above freezing. We contemplated going across the Benkeeragh ridge but when we reached the top of O'Sheas gully the rocks on the ridge were completely snow and ice free so we turned and headed down from here. The rain stayed away until we reached the first level but it wasn't too heavy. We arrived back in Cronins Yard and enjoyed excellent refreshments and were very happy bunnies. If only we could get some proper frosty nights then the Grey Area would offer truly excellent sport. I look forward to returning there soon.
Actually a bit steeper than it looks

Lovely mixed ground

And there's more

I'm not sure Bridie knew the danger :o)

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