The Chancer, classic Scottish ice climbing.
A beautiful cold and clear day, blue
skies and good ice climbing.
We had last minute thoughts about
going to Creag Meagaidh. The climbing reports mentioned good ice but on
consideration, this meant that these routes would be busy and whilst we were
early, we were not early enough for Meagaidh which takes about an hour and a
half to drive to from Aviemore . Later we heard that climbers had started
out from the car park at five in the morning to be ahead of the crowds.
The area around Hellís Lum was where
we were heading. Ron had two hard ice routes in mind Ė Cascade on Stag Rocks
and Chancer beside Hellís Lum itself. We walked through the ski area, up the
Coire Cas ridge and onto the plateau. The skiing looked like it was going to
be really poor as rocks and grit littered the runs. Coire an Sneachda was
very rocky and black, Coire an Lochain looked more wintry then in the
distance, Braeriach and Ben MacDui appeared to be blanketed in snow. We
could see for miles. I was surprised it was so quiet. Maybe it was just that
we were early but I had expected to see the usual lines of climbers walking
into Sneachda. There were two climbers on Aladdin's Couloir but other than
that, we saw no-one until we reached Hellís Lum
The snow was firm and easy to walk
on and it took us about two hours to get down to Stag Rocks. There was some
ice there but it had suffered from being in the full glare of the sun as the
crag faces south. Part of the icicle collapsed as Ron was looking at it and
the other part was very thin. One to go back to another day, another winter.
But all was not lost. Coming down
alongside Hellís Lum Crag, we could see that there was plenty of ice on
The Escalator and Ron was confident that this meant Chancer would be
there. This is an icicle on the rocks to the left of Hellís Lum itself.
A short route but very steep, graded V, 6. It starts up the first
part of Hellís Lum then takes a steep wall to the left. The belayer gets
to sit in a big icicle-fringed cave. Ron started up carefully, finding
out what the ice was like and muttering something about taking easier
routes. On one side the ice was mush but it was good on the other. The
ice screws were ok-ish! I found the wall delicate as some axe placements
were good but others, not quite so reliable. As the ice was in the sun,
it was soft and I could place the front points of my crampons against
the ice, shift my weight and feel them sink in. There was a tricky bit
at the top where the ice was poor but above that was the belay where Ron
was tied onto two ice pillars and an ice thread.
The first part of the steep ice
started down a bit from where we were belayed. Ron downclimbed and traversed
to the left. Down below we had been guessing at how steep the ice was and
reached the general opinion that it was steep but not as steep as it looked.
Wrong! Ron moved onto the ice announcing that it was very steep. A bit of an
understatement if you ask me. I think it was vertical personally. There is a
little cave at the left a few metres up which gave Ron a chance to place an
ice screw and to get a sling around a small pillar of ice. From this, a move
to the right led to the main pillar. I found this move hard as I could get
my right axe into the ice but could find nothing good for my left one. I
ended up getting my right axe and crampon onto the pillar, my left hand
gripped round a small icicle then I was able to kick in my left foot then
left axe. I donít know how Ron did but it must have felt scary! I was glad
of the rope above me.
The main pillar of ice was so
strenuous it called on good use of techniques Ė monkey hangs, locking off
arms and resting on axes. I couldnít see Ron as he climbed but heard the
shouts of relief as he reached somewhere he could stand in balance. When I
reached the same point, I had the most incredible attack of the hot aches as
my cold hands came back to life. Having them so consistently above my head
meant that they had gone numb and I hadnít even noticed. It was fun after
that on much easier snow slopes though there was a tricky bit where we had
to move to the right to get round a rock. The ice there was wet and
disintegrated with each blow of the axe but above that it was good snow ice
with no problematic cornice to battle with.
The wind had picked up as we
climbed the route but we were in the sun on the plateau and felt its
warmth as we climbed back down to the sacks. We walked on below Hellís
Lum to the foot of Escalator, the ice we had seen on the way in. This
was a better way to get back to the plateau than plodding up the snow
and the ice was lovely. The first pitch was pretty much banked out with
snow, the second pitch gave excellent ice then a long snowy slope to the
The sun was setting behind us,
the sky had a pink tinge and the full moon promised to give enough light
for our return across the plateau.
Both climbs are on Hell's Lum Crag above Loch Avon in
the Cairngorms, Scotland.
Chancer is Grade V,6. 90 metres
The Escalator is Grade II/III, 150 metres
See also Talisman Activities climbing courses
and mountaineering courses