Taxus (III), Beinn an Dothaidh
Taxus had been on my to-do list ever since I first became excited about winter climbing and spent far too much time with my nose buried in guidebooks picking out must do routes. The climb itself is a classic 3* on the Munro of Beinn an Dothaidh, one of the Bridge of Orchy hills, meaning its easy to get to and more importantly escape to the pub from when either you triumph after a good day, or to commiserate when the weather craps out and you need a warm fire and some single malt to set the world to rights.
Grade III is where I feel comfortable winter climbing, I know its not going to be too hard and scary, never steep for too long and generally a route where I can enjoy myself without any brown trouser moments. At grades IV and V I start to get jittery and look to pass the leading on to someone with bigger balls!
Dom and I had selected it as the first route of a road trip round Scotland a couple of winters back, just offering enough of a challenge to keep Dom who is a much better climber than me interested. As a team all our routes need to walk a fine tightrope between, not so easy that Dom gets bored, but not so hard that I get scared!
As we have a camper van for this trip we were able to sleep in the car park by the start of the walk in having made the long drive up from Yorkshire overnight. Despite this boon we overslept and were not first, …or even fifth on the route! It was weekend and under clear cold skies and good snow cover everyone was making hay in the conditions and of course heading to the easy classics.
Dom has no body fat and hardly east anything which means unless he is moving he generates no body heat, I don’t know anyone who gets cold so quickly. Thus, rather than wait for the parties ahead of us we headed up a another route called Haar which was supposed to be (III) but was thin and turned out to be the hardest thing we climbed all week even if the difficulties were only a few meters long.
With that route in the bag we dropped down West Gully a broad grade one that leads to the summit plateau and found the waiting list for Taxus had dropped to one team. So we stood around stood around whilst Dom got cold (thats what happens when you get skinny enough to climb 7c) and I stuffed my face with food.
Eventually we managed to get started, the steep gully was well covered with snow but the teams above us had removed most of it from the climbing line leaving the route well tracked. I led the first pitch pretty easily romping up on good neve and thoroughly enjoying myself as the picks of the axes buried them selves deep in the gully with a satisfying thwack!
Unfortunately although we had given the team ahead a good start I was very shortly right on top of them as they were both still at the first belay. As there were anchored on the left of the gully I decided not to get in their way and headed to the right in the hope of finding an alternate stance and. I would be stretching the truth to call what I found a belay, more appropriate words to describe it would be marginal, and psychological. Dom powered his way up and instructed him not to, under any circumstances to weight on the belay… or even look at it.
From the belay the next five meters or so were steeper and looked to be the crux, the other team had moved about 10 m in the time it had taken Dom to climb the entire first pitch, so things did not look good especially for the man with no body heat if we could not get passed them. Fortunately the gully was wide enough to allow Dom to seek past on the left having asked if it was ok.
We thanked them but i’m not sure what they made of the fact that once Dom was over the ice step he in his words he Ueli Steck’d it past the leader, practically running up something they were taking significant time climbing. The step proved to be the last difficulty on the route an easy snow gully leading to the summit.
Still feeling pretty fresh we then traversed round to Beinn Achaladair, which took longer than expected and were rewarded with a fantastic sunset over Loch Tulla as the sinking sun panted the skies in a riot of orange and liquid gold.