Mick Fowler – 21 Jan

2010 has started with a series of those wonderful ‘don’t drive unless you have to’ warnings. They always fill me with pleasure and anticipation. Good winter conditions are back. Fantastic!

Having resurrected my long mothballed list of interesting winter objectives Caradoc (Crag) Jones and I headed off to the Nose of Sgurr an Fhidhleir, an eye catching buttress on a 703m peak 10 miles north of Ullapool.

Mick climbing in Scotland

Good winter weather in Scotland never fails to inspire. The Nose stands sentinel over the wild, remote scenery of North West Scotland. It had been on my list for years. Previous drives north had never found quite the right conditions this time though it looked good. The scenery was a blanket of whiteness with the sea lochs frozen at their inner ends. To be climbing ‘out there’ on the crest of the buttress is the stuff that mountain memories are made of. The climb was great, the wade in and out memorable, we saw no-one all day, my headtorch batteries ran out, the shaft of my axe broke and we didn’t get back to the car until 4.30am. There are not many climbing experiences that compare to a ‘full’ Scottish winter day.

climbing legend Mick in Scotland

Another long standing objective of mine had been the Grey Mare’s Tail near Moffatt in the Southern Uplands. Many years ago I paid a visit when it was so cold I was sure it would be solid. But there had been nothing, absolutely no ice at all. This time though it was thick and enticing. Word had spread and we were not alone but then it’s not every day in Britain that you can climb a 200m frozen waterfall. And the contrast between the remote North West and a popular icefall is there to be savoured.

Mick Fowler climbing in Scotland

In a similar vein my list of possibilities took us to Hardraw Force, an unclimbed free falling waterfall near Hawes in Yorkshire. On my wall at home I have a postcard showing it frozen into a thick free standing column in 1881. With temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees there had to be a chance it would be ‘in condition’. But no. A small ice cone at the bottom and a miserable icicle at the lip with a 50 ft gap between. Jumping was out of the question. Such disappointments must be viewed as merely feeding plans for the future. And nearby Cautely Spout may not have any free standing columns but gave a sound day out in the Howgills.

We really are pretty lucky to have such fine and varied winter climbs in Britain. Here’s hoping the cold weather returns soon.