We headed towards the Mess of Pottage and up the first pitch of The Message (IV,6). The snow was surprisingly well consolidated with gear placements already dug out from several recent ascents. A team from Ratho Climbing Wall were in front and we shared the belay while their leader tackled The Message crux corner above.
On our second pitch, as the others moved up, we slanted right onto Pot of Gold (V,6) for the personal challenge of climbing the line leashless with my old recently resurrected S12 and G12 mixed crampons combo!
The route hadn't been climbed recently and with the cracks iced and rimed up, it had a much more serious feel about it. Just as I was pulling over a tricky bulge my smock lifted out of my harness and my spare gloves tucked down the front decided to return to base. At about the same time my new Quark axe's sliding Trigrest yet again broke off in hot pursuit of my gloves! This is my third broken Quark trigrest so not so good for Petzl axes! The climbing eased and I reached the good upper terrace and excavated a comfortable sitting belay from a large flake.
For the third pitch, rather than escape right into the easier corner due to the iced cracks. I have done this in the past. I was determined to go left and up the steep crux wall and without my leashes this time, convincing myself it would be easier!
I spent ages getting the crack clear enough for a small angle peg and dodgy No 3 wire. I really needed to protect the pumpy crux moves especially with the blindly iced cracks as you're committed once you pull onto the slabby wall above. In summer it's an exposed severe undercling move before reaching the good holds above. In winter axes should slot into the hairline cracks above, however the thin hairline cracks were completely choked with ice and proved impossible to clear.
Halfway through the moves, my so called good left axe ripped and I swung sideways. Amazingly my dodgy right axe held and the swing allowed my right foot to be placed at waist height on a six inch ledge. A desperate rockover aided by momentum before a blind hook into the thick rime above - it held!
The crux move was over but I had no protection for several metres of delicate balancey climbing. Eventually sparks flying I managed to clear a crack and hammer in my old lucky No 5 hex.
Another few metres later hanging from a torqued axe in a horizontal break. I cleared and slotted a Friend 2 into the rimed crack, convincing myself it might just hold, until I got some proper gear!
A few more awkward thrutchy sections and a gratefully clipped bit of insitu gear, before the angle relented and I could relax.
A good thread belay was dug out just above the main difficulties to safely bring up Fi, with a 3 in 1 pulley set up at the ready just in case. Fi arrived at the belay quicker than expected complaining about being pulled up the route so fast she'd passed the peg. She hadn't had a chance to hammer it out with all my pulling or so she said.
A final flounder up an easy chimney onto the plateau and back down to our bags and my returned gloves, at last light.
It was good to get down before dark as the headtorch I'd packed and carried up the route didn't work - I'd swapped the batteries into my other torch in the Alps but had forgotten all about it until then!
In all a great winters day with a complete covering of good snow, thick rime and even some ice in the Northern Corries.
More of the same promised for tomorrow. More details and photos on Fi's blog here