Ever wanted to climb frozen turf or feel like you are rock climbing inside a giant feezer? On the Coire an t-Sneachda cirque in Cairngorms National Park you will find ‘The Runnel’, a grade II mixed ice multi-pitch with a grade 4 chimney.
During a 4-day mixed ice climbing trip to Scotland with the usual group of people I ice climb with we visited the Cairngorms National Park for an epic adventure. I had no previous experience with Scottish Ice, but have read about plenty of first-hand encounters on the internet and heard the other guys from the group explain. This being my second season of ice climbing, I was really much looking forward getting more experience.
You will find ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) at the Coire an t-Sneachda glacial cirque, which is located near Aviemore a small town 150 kilometers northwest from Edinburgh, where we arrived from Copenhagen. The wall is a 200 meters height, pretty slabby, expect the upper sections, where it splits into several smaller gullys and chimneys. We also considered Ben Nevis, which is another prominent mixed ice climbing area in Scotland, but went for Coire an t-Sneachda as the approach supposedly is easier with less meters of height to hike and the location of Aviemore, which has plenty of restaurants and gear shops, should the weather or the routes in such a bad condition that that we could not climb.
I climbed with a guy called Paal. I had never climbed with him before, but knew him from the climbing gym. He had serious experience, so I knew I was in good hands – being still unexperienced to mixed ice climbing.
Due to its low grade ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) is a really good learning experience for lesser experienced ice climbers, and I would reckon this as well if it the first time you try out Scottish ice. The route has two sections and total 135 meters, where we chose to do both sections as long pitches of approximately 95 and 40 meters.
The first section of ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4)
The first section slopes around 45 degrees, and when we did it was covered with snow and lots of frozen turf that made excellent ice axe placements. This pitch is pretty easy and you gradually work your way up as you build confidence for the last section. Obviously, you can split it into several smaller pitches if the conditions are not good – maybe we were just lucky about that. The pitch is easy to navigate and there are lots of good places along the walls where you can place protection, lots of frozen turf to set Bulldogs, and a few places where you can set an ice screw or two.
As we did the first section as one long pitch we did it while climbing simultaneously as we carried two 60 meters half ropes.
The end of the section is pretty easy to spot. It ends right at the beginning of the chimney on a ledge that will make out for an excellent belay station as it is quite protected from wind and you can stand firmly, with a good overview of the chimney.
The second section
The second section of ‘The Runnel’ consists of is a bare rock chimney, where you will meet the grade 4 crux, and a more slabby scramble to the ridge on the top of Coire an t-Sneachda. You could do this as two separate pitches, but we decided to do it as one.
The chimney has only a few minor ice bulks to place ice screws, if they are even ice formed. The day before, two other climbers from our group did ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) and did not encounter much ice. However when we did it, there were a couple of ice bulks and I managed to set a single 12 cm Black Diamond Express leading the chimney. However, there are lots of cracks to place other pieces of protection in. I consumed four nuts on the way up. The chimney is about 15 meters, and once you reach the top, the remaining part of ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) flattens out into a scramble. You could set up a belay station just on the top of the chimney, but I chose not to, due to the immense exposure to wind.
The scramble is not technically difficult, but taking the wind into account as well as almost nowhere to place protection this part of ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) becomes pretty sketchy! Focus is key! The scramble is about 25 meters, and once you reach the top there are also only very few places to set up a belay station. I found a few boulders, where I set up a solid three point anchor.
Try out ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4)
If you find yourself near the Coire an t-Sneachda cirque in Cairngorms National Park in Scotland you should definitely consider giving ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4) a shot. If not for the warm up to your continued adventures in Cairngorms or building experience, then for the fun and challenge of the chimney pitch. That is good fun!
Have you been to the Coire an t-Sneachda valley and tried out ‘The Runnel’ (II, 4)? Why not leave a comment below sharing your own experiences.