After grabbing a lift with Greg and Will as they went to do Stone Temple I met up with Andy Moles and we decided to go and have a look at Sticil Face as we had heard this classic route was in great condition. After leaving the house in Aviemore at 2:30am so the guys could leave the car park at 3am I went back to sleep for a few hours in the car and met Andy around 6am for the trudge through plenty of fresh snow over to Loch Avon. It took us a long time to get across due to the snow conditions and we should have really noticed this and linked it to the fact that Sticil has a lot of 'easy' ground in it, unfortunately we did not!
After an engaging and awakening first pitch of steep, dodgy snow traversing Andy led up the first pitch of ledgy ice bulges and belayed under the crux corner. I thought this looked very straightforward as it was in exceptional condition, however I was glad I placed some high runners when I was half way up as it turned out to be much steeper than it looked and I haven't climbed any ice this season! After some great moves I was atop the corner and made my way through more deep snow up to below the chimney pitch. Andy then led up this in good style after removing his rucksack and then I came up. The next pitch was a lot of traversing, again on pretty dodgy snow and whilst it was a moderate angle there was not much gear at all. After quite a long time I made it across and belayed Andy across too. When he arrived it was dark and we decided that since this was taking so long and we weren't 100% sure where to go above (and the fact that it looked hard!) we decided to bail.
By now we had traversed most of the way across the upper ledge and I was very reluctant to reverse what we had just climbed so we got the guide out and decided we could ab down The Pin if we could find the equipped stations. Andy set off down the ab and found the first station in good time which was a slight relief as this was starting to get a bit epic! I came down and we re-threaded before Andy set off again. Unfortunately his head torch failed at this point and after a good deal of searching for the anchor he had to just tie himself off onto a nut he couldn't see properly and hope it was good! I came down and managed to find the anchor and all was back on track. We went to pull the ropes and for some reason we failed to check who was taking the knots out of the ends of which ropes and so as I cam to the knot, the rope got stuck. Now we were in a rather precarious position; both on different ledges, Andy with all the gear but no head torch and clipped to a hopefully good wire, with only one 60m rope, potentially more than 30m to the ledge that we were hoping to ab off again to the floor (which was definitely over 30m) and so a big traverse across more dodgy snow. Fortunately the weather was incredibly settled and whilst the moon didn't appear until we were off the crag, the lack of wind was very much appreciated! Thankfully we weren't more than 30m from the ledge and so could retreat to that and then retrieve the rope in order to climb out; 3 full pitches with 3 pieces of decent gear and plenty of snow with a wonderful slabby abyss dragging at our heals later and we were back at the start of the route where we had geared up. We sucked the last of our water and started the long walk back to the car before getting some food and somehow making it back to Edinburgh with only one quick power-nap. I'd been up for 24 hours by the time I got home and had been climbing for 17 hours so slept pretty darn well! A good day though, always good to learn from some mistakes and remind yourself that you have to much more switched on for winter climbing! See Andy's blog for his take on the day.