Mountain Memories – Possible Winter Ascent of Northeast Buttress with Jim Craig, 1967ish

Earlier I had done a summer ascent of NE Buttress with Dougal Purvis, starting with Slingsby’s Chimney on the W side and had scuttered about on it during the Joy and Gracie callout, so was fairly familiar with the route.

Jim and I planned to do NE Buttress before the winter set in but, when we reached the CIC Hut, it was evident that there had been a fresh fall of snow during the night. Looking up, it didn’t seem too bad, so I headed for the start at the Coire Leis traverse to the first platform with my buddy Jim Craig. It had a fair bit of snow on it, but it was wettish at the bottom, so didn’t present any problems, but needed a lot of care. Traversing from the first platform on snow covered ledges to the bottom of the groove leading up to the second platform wasn’t too bad as the snow started to firm up a bit as we gained height. The grooves were a mixture of ice and snow, but weren’t too difficult, just needed keeping focussed due to the paucity of decent natural belays. I’d done the bottom bit without gloves, so as I belayed Jim, the circulation started to return to my fingers with the attendant pain, which made me skirl and hop around. Jim thought I was greetin’, but I was just being a jessie and loupin around.  After the second platform, the ridge starts to ease back a little, so the increased amounts of unconsolidated snow on the crest didn’t provide too much trouble.

The next barrier was the mantrap, a 15ft awkward bit on the crest of the ridge which is the crux of the climb, and many a hardy soul has had a good wrestle with it. It was now our turn. The alternative routes round it are allegedly more difficult, so it’s recommended to be tackled straight on.

The mantrap lived up to its reputation today, as my first attempt at it had me jumping off at the first move. Having swept and melted the snow on the handholds at my first attempt, they quickly froze into ice, which meant they were too slippy for my next attempt. We had a scran break to re-evaluate our strategy! Arms rested, I returned to the problem, knowing that a failure would mean a very long abseil for us back down the ridge. As I’m a fairly short-arse person, Jim offered himself for the bottom half for combined tactics – a little hazardous in crampons. One sack was placed on his knees and the other on his head/shoulders, allowing me to gain some height to reach the upper holds. As I clung on to the icy holds, I found that if I lifted some of my fingers up after their heat had melted a bit of the ice, it allowed the ice to refreeze on my woollen mittens, thus giving just enough friction on the handholds to make the next move. The Mantrap is only a couple of moves to get over the difficulties, and this strategy worked well to get up it, much to our relief.  Jim came up on a tight rope so that he didn’t have to Pfaff around like me and anyway by this time he was getting cold. Above the mantrap the ridge eases right back onto the top, with lots more snow, so the going was easy and we made it to the top with our perforated hillbags. The tussle with the mantrap made a straightforward autumn ascent into a semi-winter ascent. I’ll let Jim decide whether it qualified as a winter ascent – it certainly tested my friction-on-ice creativity!