Rick Allen (1954 – 2021)

Rick Allen was one of Britain’s most accomplished high-altitude mountaineers. Rick is best known for climbing the Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat but he also made numerous other ground-breaking first ascents in the Himalayas including the North Face of Dhaulagiri. A keen Scottish climber, his finest achievement was the first winter ascent of Raven’s Edge (VII,7) on Buachaille Etive Mor. Rick passed away in an avalanche on K2 in July. (Photo Simon Richardson)

On 25 July 2021 a series of avalanches swept down the East Flank of K2 taking the life of Rick Allen. In an instant, Britain lost one its finest ever mountaineers.

Rick was born in London on 6 November 1954. His father introduced him to the Scottish hills with ascents of Schiehallion and Ben Nevis and when Rick joined the University of Birmingham Mountaineering Club his rock climbing took off. Although Rick was a fledgling climber his determination instantly shone through. He quickly became proficient on rock and then developed a strong interest in winter climbing. He made ascents of Castle Ridge and Tower Ridge in 1975 with Robin Walker, and the following winter climbed Point Five Gully with Jim Fotheringham and Chris Duck.

Rick had a strong attraction to wild places and he became a regular visitor to the Alps completing many of the Chamonix classics. His finest early ascents were in the Bernese Oberland where he climbed the ENE Ridge of the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn and the Welzenbach Route in the North Face of the Gletcherhorn with Chris Duck in 1978 – both big demanding routes that are now rarely climbed. Further afield, Rick climbed the West Ridge and Diamond Couloir on Mont Kenya with Roy Lindsay in 1980, and later that year he visited Nepal where made the first ascent of the West Face of Tharpa Chulli (Tent Peak) in the Annapurna Sanctuary.

Wild places also set the theme for his new routeing in Scotland. This often took place in the most inaccessible and serious of locations such as A’Mhaidgean (Scotland’s remotest Munro), Ladhar Beinn, Beinn Lair and Beinn a’ Bhuird. Rick’s finest contribution was the first winter ascent of Raven’s Edge on Buachaille Etive Mor with Brian Sprunt in 1984, a spectacular route now recognised as one of the finest mixed climbs in Glen Coe.

In 1982 Rick visited the Himalayas for a second time on an expedition organised by Roy Lindsay where he made the first ascent of Kirti Stambh (6271m) in the Gangotri region of India. Climbing with long standing partner Ernie McGlashan the pair backed off due to dangerous snow conditions, but after the slope avalanched Rick went back up and continued alone to the summit. During the trip Rick met Nick Kekus and two years later they visited Nepal and climbed a new route on the 2500m-high South Face of Ganesh II (7111m). They reached the summit on the ninth day in a storm and spent three days descending the face. Their route was a magnificent achievement, and although it was largely ignored by the mainstream climbing press, it made a big impression on the upcoming generation of British alpinists. A benchmark had been set. If your new route was not climbed in pure alpine stye and did not take at least 12 days, then you were not really trying hard enough!

Rick’s ability to acclimatise and perform strongly at high altitude was extraordinary. This became apparent on Mal Duff’s expedition to the North-East Ridge of Everest in 1985, when climbing solo, Rick reached the expedition’s high point at 8170m. The remainder of the 1980s were taken up with another trip to the NE Ridge of Everest and Makalu. Neither were successful due to difficult snow conditions, but once again Rick reached over 8000m on both mountains, confirming his strength at altitude.

In 1991 Rick went to the Tien Shan and made the first British ascent of Khan Tegri (7010m), and the following summer he visited the Tajikistan and made the first ascent of the difficult East Ridge of Tchimtarga (5482m) with Doug Scott and Russian climber Sergei Efimov. This was a significant turn of events because Sergei invited Rick to join an all-Russian expedition to Dhaulagiri (8176m) in 1993. The seven-man team were successful in forging a difficult new route up the north face. This was Rick’s first 8000m peak and an astonishing achievement on a gruelling and technical route. Rick learned to speak Russian before the trip and calmly adapted to their diet – the main sustenance on the seven-day ascent was cabbage soup!

In 2000 Rick climbed Everest with a commercial expedition. Rick’s success was well deserved after his previous strong performances on the NE Ridge, but Rick soon realised that large organised expeditions were not where his heart lay. Rick moved to Tajikistan in 2006 where he climbed extensively, especially in the Fan mountains. Details of his ascents are incomplete (Rick did not leave a comprehensive chronology of his ascents) but in 2006 he made the first British ascent of Pik Karl Marx (6736m) and the first ascent of the North Ridge of Pik Ovalraya (5935m) with Phil Wickens.

Rick’s pairing with Sandy Allan was the defining climbing partnership of his life. In 1986 they made a brilliant five-day new route on the South Face of Pumori (7161m), a beautiful peak near Everest, and they worked powerfully together the following year on the NE Ridge of Everest. Two years later they climbed the North Face of the Eiger. In 1995 they joined an expedition to attempt the huge and unclimbed Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat (8126m), the longest ridge of any of the 8000m peaks. They were unsuccessful, but in 2009 they returned and climbed the mountain’s Diamir Face. This was Ricks’ third 8000m peak, and two years later, he made it four by climbing Hidden Peak (8068m).

By 2012, Rick and Sandy had accumulated a significant amount of high-altitude experience and they decided to return to Nanga Parbat and try the Mazeno Ridge one last time. The 10km route had been attempted many times since the 1970s and was one of mountaineering’s last great problems. To gain the main summit you have to traverse the eight Mazeno peaks – all over 7000m – to reach the Mazeno Gap. An alternative strategy was devised where a team of six – Rick, Sandy, the South African climber Cathy O’Dowd and Lhakpa Rangdu, Lhakpa Nuru and Lakpa Zarok from Nepal – planned to traverse the ridge together which would provide more firepower for the summit push.

In the event, it took this strong team nine days to reach the Mazeno Gap, and after a failed summit attempt, only Rick and Sandy had the physical and mental energy to try again. As Cathy and the three Sherpas made a difficult descent of the dangerous Schell Route, Rick and Sandy set off with minimal supplies for their summit bid. Deep snow meant it took two days rather than one to reach the top but it was the descent down the Kinshofer Route where their troubles really began. Poor conditions that year meant that all teams had given up the on the Kinshofer so there was no trail in place, and they were unable to light their stove to melt water. The epic three-day descent in extreme avalanche conditions while being exhausted and dehydrated is one of mountaineering’s great survival stories.

Rick and Sandy’s 18-day traverse of the Mazeno Ridge was widely acclaimed as one of the finest Himalayan climbs this century and hailed as the most important British success in the high Himalayas since Stephen Venables’ ascent of Mount Everest’s Kangshung Face in 1988. Rick and Sandy were awarded the Piolet d’Or, the highest honour in mountaineering. But Rick was a humble man – rather than putting the trophy on display, he used it to prop up the creaking bookcase in his Chamonix flat.

Rick remained focused on big mountains and was determined to continue climbing them in good style, and in 2017 he attempted a futuristic new route on the NW Face of Annapurna with Felix Berg, Louis Rousseau and Adam Bielecki. They were unsuccessful but came away with an ascent of Tilicho (7134m) as consolation. Later that year Rick climbed the two highest peaks in the Ruwenzori mountains of Uganda with Mike Lean – prized and rarely climbed summits. In 2018, Rick climbed Broad Peak (8047m), his fifth 8000-er although success was overshadowed by a ‘rescue’ aided by a drone. And around this time Rick visited The Pamirs and made the first British ascent of Pic Korzhenevskya (7105m).

I’ve written about Rick the climber and the qualities that made him so successful – drive, skill, experience and an exceptional ability to perform at altitude. This was the Rick I knew best. But there was far more to Rick than mountaineering. He was an outstanding engineer and had a glittering career with Texaco culminating as safety manager for the huge Gorgon Natural Gas Project in Australia. Rick was also extremely generous. His first marriage to Alison ended in tragedy when she died of cancer in 1999. Rick remarried Zuhra in Tajikistan in 2006 and gained a step daughter Nazira and step son Farrukh. Sadly, the marriage did not survive, but Rick took on the responsibility for Nazira and Farruk’s education, funding them through their degrees. Rick was proud of their achievements and was delighted to walk Nazira down the aisle at her wedding in 2018.

But most of all, it was Rick’s faith that drove him. He recently attended a two-year course at the All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire and supported Mhoira Lengs’ work with the Cairdeas Paliative Care Trust in Uganda. On his final expedition to K2 he was raising money for refugees and children in Myanmar.

Jerry Gore, Rick’s expedition partner on K2, wrote movingly about the aftermath of the avalanche. “Pakstani guides Arshad, Shah, Waqar, Rizwan and Ahmed were at Camp 2 when they got the news. They all knew Rick – he was a sort of legendary grandfather in these parts – and they came rushing down the mountain to help. We found Rick late that night and buried him the next morning. We stood together in the shadow of K2 with prayers in different languages and religions filling the air. It was a moment of total unity, and a good way to say goodbye to a Scotsman who loved these mountains and the people who call them home.”

This tribute has been hard for me to write. Rick was a close friend, and we had been climbing together for nearly 40 years. A few summers ago, we climbed a new route on the Grande Fourche in the Mont Blanc range. We expected to complete the route in a day and were travelling light, but we were caught in darkness near the summit. Despite a good weather forecast it rained through the night and we shivered and cuddled our way to a long-awaited dawn. Rick had survived two open bivouacs high on Nanga Parbat, so I was determined not to be the first to complain. Needless to say, Rick remained infuriatingly cheerful all night and did not comment once about our situation. When we were safely down in Chamonix the first thing he did was take me to buy a new bivouac sack!

Rick Allen led an extraordinary life. He was one of the world’s finest mountaineers and touched the lives of many. His bold alpine style ascents in the high Himalayas will be remembered for generations. His final resting place, with the mighty K2 as his headstone, could not be more fitting.

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2021 Winter Catch Up

One of the highlights of the 2021 season – Tim Miller climbing pitch 1 of Mongoose Direct (VIII,8) on Sgurr Mhiccoinnich during the first winter ascent. Icy mixed conditions were particularly good on Skye in mid February. (Photo Jamie Skelton)

Now that winter is over, and lockdown largely behind us, I have summarised activity from January 4 until the end of the season.

The Cuillin: Big news from Skye was the first winter ascent of Mongoose Direct (VIII,8) on Sgurr Mhiccoinnich by Jamie Skelton and Tim Miller. Their ascent was based on the summer line and took advantage of useful ice on the first pitch. On Blaven, Ian Hall and Katharina Lenz climbed Vaccination (IV,4), the good-looking corner in the buttress above Escape from Colditz.

Northern Highlands: On the Bonaidh Dhonn, Rob Giddy, Tim Miller and Callum Johnson climbed South by South-East (V,6), a winter only line taking the obvious corner on the left side of the crag between Netsky and North by North-West. James Thompsett, Doug Bartholemew also added Turfific (V,6) to the cliff, but exact details are not yet known. On Creag Ruadh’s North-East Face, John Mackenzie and Ian Douglas had a good late season discovery with Triple Decker Buttress (III,4), on the face right of Creag Ruadh Corner. Further west on Beinn Alligin, Adrian Gaughan and John Higham added Salt n Pepper (III), a companion route to Saltire Gully Right to Left.

Cairngorms: Cameron Richardson and Will Attridge made a couple of additions to Lochnagar. Cac Spout (IV,4) takes an icy mixed line on the left wall of The Black Spout. This is thought to be right of the icefall of The White Spout but the lines may partly coincide. On the The Stuic they were joined by Jamie Greig for Deesider (II/III), the gully left of Stegosaurus Rib.

Central Highlands: Robin Clothier and Simon Richardson made several first ascents on Ben Nevis whilst checking routes for the new winter guidebook. Mavericks (V,5) takes a varied line crossing Raeburn’s Arête, and Badlands (VI,5) follows the line of icy grooves between Italian Right-Hand and Bydand. They also climbed That Untravelled World (IV,4) right of The Chute, the icefall Shangri La (V,5) left of Poseidon Groove, and The Last Ridge (IV,4), the well-defined right edge of the gully of La Petite. Richardson also teamed up with Mark Robson for Into The Wild (V,5), a companion route to That Untravelled World, Richard Bentley for Lost Horizon (III,4) left of Shangri La, and Helen Rennard for Midnight Blue (V,5), a direct line up the front face of the buttress left of Red Gully.

Ice conditions became good in early March. Wojciech Polkowski and Damian Goncerz climbed a Direct Start (VI,6) to Never-Never Land, and Will Rowland and Jim Cooper found the spectacular Auf Wiedersein Pet Variation (VI,5) to Stringfellow.

Interestingly, there was renewed interest in some of the less frequented corries on The Ben. Will Rowland continued his exploration of Coire Eoghainn with Strike While The Iron Is Hot (IV,4) with Jim Cooper. Helen Rennard and Simon Richardson also visited the corrie and added a fine IV,4 left of The German Night Prowler. Richardson and Robson visited Coire Ghaimhnean, coming away with the excellent Paradox Buttress (III,4), which lies right of the Five Finger Gully Right Fork. The same pair also added the first routes to Sloc nan Uan, the shallow corrie on the east flank of the mountain.

In the Mamores, James Laing and Aidan Robinson made an interesting discovery with Kinlochfossen (V,5), a superb adventure up the deep chasm on the North side of Mam na Gualainn. The route was similar in character to Rapunzel on Beinn Fhionnlaidh. In Coire Dearg on Mullach nan Coirean, Steve Kennedy and Andy MacDonald climbed Bondage (III), the gully left of the slabby buttress containing Kick Start. On the West Face of An Garbhanach, Will Rowland and Jim Cooper climbed the steep West Ridge (III). Simon Richardson later ascended the long curling Grade III ridge to its left. Rowland and Cooper also visited the North Spur of An Gearanach where they added Hand Me the Drift (V,5). Rowland returned a few days later to climb Plan B (IV,4), a line to the left.

Glen Coe: The most impressive achievement in Glen Coe took place on March 12 when Jamie Skelton and Tim Miller climbed the three classic grade VIIs on each of Bidean nam Bian’s big cliffs in a day – Neanderthal, Un Poco Loco and Central Grooves. They took 15hrs 30mins car to car.

On Buachaille Etive Mor’s Blackmount Wall, Alistair Docherty and Matt Rowbottom climbed the excellent Froth Corner (VI,7), which lies immediately right of the ‘undercut cave’ on The Chasm to Crowberry Traverse. They also added Lockdown X (IV,6), the gully just to the left. On Central Buttress, Jamie Skelton and Nicky Brierley made the first winter ascent of Appauling (VI,7). Unlike summer, the turfy nature of the climb made it a rather good winter route.

Across on the West Face of Aonah Dubh, Mike Mason and Huw Scott climbed H5N8 (IV,5), the deep straight gully near the right side of No.3 Gully Buttress. This route makes a fine companion to two Mike Pescod Routes – C3PO (V,6) climbed with Ali Rose in December and R2D2 (V,6), the chimney at the left side of the buttress first climbed in February 2018. Also on Aonach Dubh, Will Rowland and Peter Staves found Midnight Express (VI,6), a direct version of Midnight Cowboy.

There was considerable activity in Ardgour. On the South Wall of Garbh Bheinn, Bayonet (V,6), Sala (VIII,9) The Peeler (VII,8), Menghini (VII,8) and Chib (VI,6) saw their first winter ascents courtesy of Jamie Skelton partnered variously by Nicky Brierley, Helen Rennard, Tim Miller and Morag Eagleson. On the neighbouring Bealach Buttress, Will Rowland and Jim Cooper found Cold in the Tadger (IV,4). Also on Garbh Bheinn, Robin Clothier and Simon Richardson climbed the excellent Dogs of War (VI,7) on Pinnacle Buttress, and on North-East Buttress, Al Matthewson and A.Veitch succeeded on Open Secret (III/IV), the right bounding corner of the slabby section on the Second Tier. Further right, Steve Kennedy and Andy MacDonald added Hidden Agenda (IV,4) and Troll Gate (II). Nearby on Stob Coir a’Chearcaill, Will Rowland and Garry Campbell climbed Twelve Pointer (VI,6), a direct version of Charcoal Buttress.

Adams explored Jacobite Buttress on Sgurr Ghiubsachan with Kevin Hall and came away with The Uprising (IV,5) and The Young Pretender. Ali Rose visited a month later and added White Rose (III) and Flora (II). Adams also climbed Chasing Wild Geese (III) , the slim gully on the North-North-West Face of the mountain with Helen Rennard.

Heavy snow throughout January prompted the development of the low-lying Mad Man’s Crag in Coire nan Frithalt on Maol Odhar. Robin Clothier and Simon Richardson were first on the scene climbing six 150m-long routes – All the President’s Men (V,4), Mad Men Wandering (III,4), Electroshock (V,5), Jaws of Doom (VI,6), Lobotomy Essential (IV,5) and Wild Woman (IV,4). Steve Kennedy and Andy MacDonald added Black Sabbath (II), the ridge bounding the left side of the cliff and Blood Rites (III,4), which may coincide in part with Mad Men Wandering and Lobotomy Essential. Kennedy and MacDonald continued their development of the Zeppelin Face on the nearby Creach Bheinn with two good routes. Good Times Bad Times (IV,5) takes the slab left of Bring it on Home (IV,5), and Kashmir follows the slim corner to the left.

Southern Highlands: Lockdown restrictions resulted in enthusiastic exploration of the Southern Highlands. On Cruach Ardrain, Marco Limonci, Danny Church and Orazio Lo Tauro found The Sicilian (IV,4), an icefall on the southern end of Meall Dhamh. On Ben Vorlich’s South Face, Sebastian Wolfrum, Douglas Fransson Lee discovered End of The Rope (III,4), which lies left of Central Rib. In Coire Cruinn on Meall Dubh, Duncan Helm and Alex Urquhart-Taylor found First Ice (III/IV), the prominent icefall on the short wall left of the previous routes.

Glen Lyon was popular. In Coire Laoghain on Meall Ghaordaidh, Willie Jeffrey and Anne Craig climbed Yellow Peril (II), the gully left of The Lyons in Winter. Jeffrey also teamed up with Paul Morris to add W.H.O Han Whiewash (II) left of A Wee One, and Desmond’s Dilemna (III) on the buttress at the head of the corrie. Nearby on the North Face of Creag an Tulabhain, Freddie Crowley ascended V Gully East (II) and V Gully West (II) in the company of Jamie Grant and Zoe Thornton. On Stuc an Lochan, Craig Gudmondsson and Jim MacFarlane climbed the prominent left -leaning Cat Gully (I), and Duncan Helm and Alex Urquhart-Taylor found Vaccinator (IV,4), the icefall on the gully’s right wall. The same pair also climbed The Cat’s Rake (III) the icefall 40m to the right.

Lowland Outcrops: The cold weather in mid February brought several low lying venues into condition. Jacob Davies found Standamile Gully (I/II) on Carleatheran in the Campsie Fells, and Craig Gudmundsson, Alex Urquhart-Taylor made an enterprising night time first ascent of Escaping The Queen (III), a groove-line on Benarty Hill in Fife.

Full descriptions for all the above routes will be published in the SMC Journal this autumn.

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SMC Journals Now Online

The cover page for Volume 1 of the SMC Journal. Initially, the Journal was published three times a year, in January, May and September. This was reduced in 1918 to two issues per year. From 1942 onwards, the Journal has been published annually.

Over the last four years The Scottish Mountaineering Trust have supported a project to scan back copies Scottish Mountaineering Club Journals and make them available to the public on line. They are available on the SMC website here.

The Journal was first published in 1890 and has maintained a continuous record of mountain activities in Scotland since that date. It is the primary record for all mountaineering activities in Scotland and the essential reference source for anybody interested in the Scottish mountains – from historians to climbers seeking to establish new routes.

All the pdfs are searchable. Some are rather large (size given in MB) and may require a fast Internet connection to download.

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Lockdown Catch Up

Dave MacLeod on the first winter ascent of Rose Innominate (IX,9) on the West Face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe. This pitch climbed more of a seam rather than a crack, with axes resting on dirt rather than hooks – a bold lead. (Photo Helen Rennard)

While Mainland Scotland is in full lockdown, I do not feel it is appropriate to report ongoing winter climbing activity on scottishwinter.com, so I’m using this post to catch up on recent weeks. The extended spell of cold and snowy weather over Christmas and New Year led to a high level of activity across the Highlands. To maintain the record, I have summarised all new ascents (that have been reported to date) climbed up until the January 4. Please continue to send me details of new routes for publication in the SMC Journal.

Northern Highlands: Back in early December, John Higham, Iain Young visited Canisp where they made a winter ascent of North Rib (II/III) the prominent feature tat drops north from the summit shelter. Later in the month, Callum Johnson and Andy MacKinnon visited Barrel Buttress on Quinag on December 28 and came away with the first winter ascent of the summer E2 Beefhart. This excellent VII,7 was described as “well protected, steep with a real out there feeling.” Further South that day, Tim Miller, Jamie Skelton made the first winter ascent of Groovin’ High (VII,8) on the Far East Wall on Beinn Eighe.Excellent cracks and good hooks meant the climbing was enjoyable as it is in summer.

The Cairngorms: On December 24 the Cairngorm ski road was closed due to Covid restrictions, which limited activity in the Northern Cairngorms. Undeterred, Erick Baillot and Dave Kerr approached Lurcher’s Crag on skis on January 4 where they made an ascent Shapeshifter (VIII,8). They reported it to be an excellent climb, but possibly a little over graded and accessible to more climbers than the rating suggests. A month earlier they visited the same area of crag and repeated Rottweiler (VI,7) adding the Mongrel Mutation Finish (V,6). On the South side of the massif, Dan Moore and Martin Stephens found a Direct Variation (V,5) to the central section of Moonshadow on Lochnagar, and in Glen Clova, Dave Slade, James Lamont discovered Get Into The Groove (III,4). This takes the right side of Waterfall Buttress high up on the left side of Winter Corrie.

Central Highlands: The high amounts of snow meant climbing on Ben Nevis was hard work. Ascents were made of the classic ridges, but by far the most popular venue was the Douglas Boulder. Nearby, Huw Scott, Nathan Adam added The Final Fowl (IV,6) on the right wall of West Gully. Nathan was also active in Coire Dearg on Mullach Nan Coirean in the Mamores. At the end of December, he climbed Positive Education (III,4) with Cameron McIlvar, the wide gully just right of the left edge of the crag. He returned three days later to add Triple G (III), the shallow curving gully just left of centre.

Glen Coe: The low freezing level and snowy conditions favoured technical snowed-up rock routes in Glen Coe. On December 28, Greg Boswell, Graham McGrath, Hamish Frost added False Penance (IX,10) on Church Door Buttress. This route takes previously unclimbed terrain up the overhanging groove left of Un Poco Loco. The following day, Dave Macleod and Helen Rennard visited Stob Coire Nam Beith and made the first winter ascent of Tarbh Uisge (IX,8). Three days on January 2 later they visited the West Face of Aonach Dubh with Andy Nelson and made the first winter ascent of Rose Innominate which resulted in a bold and technical IX,9.

Southern Highlands: The ever-tightening travel restrictions prompted many climbers to look for winter venues closer to home which has resulted in some interesting ascents. On January 2, Rosie Rothwell, Joe Barlow climbed Frosty Peat (I/II), the broad buttress 500m south of Arrow Buttress on Meall Nan Tarmachan. Two days later, the same pair added Hexellent (II) and Ba Buttress (III) to the left side of Coire Ban on Meall A’ Choire Leith. On Ben Lomond, Sam Wainwright and Sebastian Wolfrum found Break Dance (IV,5) on the rightmost buttress in the corrie. Finally, on The Upper Tier of The Brack, Ole Kemi, Stuart McFarlane made a fine discovery with End Of The Line (V,7), which takes the wall between Elephant Train and Elephant Gully.

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New Age Raiders

Greg Boswell powering up the first ascent of New Age Raiders (IX,9) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. The route forces its way through exceptionally steep ground right of The Ninety-Five Theses – another testing IX,9 that takes the prominent overhanging corner left of centre. (Photo Hamish Frost)

On December 22, Greg Boswell and Callum Johnson added New Age Raiders (IX,9) to Bidean Nam Bian in Glen Coe. This superb addition to Church Door Buttress climbs very steep ground to the right of The Ninety-Five Theses (IX,9) before the angle of the crag eases to the right. Greg took the ferociously overhanging first pitch and Callum continued up the steep and icy terrain above.

Callum takes up the story:

“The gothic walls of Church Door Buttress glisten white in the first light of the day. Steep corners and enticing grooves, icicles hanging free overhead A nervous shiver – an intimidating place. A line is chosen; steep cracks, corners and grooves aiming for a roof, and a weakness – a possible way through?

Greg leads the impressively steep first pitch, probing many dead ends but eventually finding a way. Such is the case with on sight new routing. Gear and hooks are well spaced, giving the climbing a committing feel. I follow, cutting loose on the first steep section to swing feet from right to left to twist and reach for the next hook. Steep corners lead to a small ledge below the icicle-draped roof.

I make committing moves to leave the belay and pull into the icy continuation corner. The exposure is superb and with icy cracks the gear is hard won. The angle soon eases and icy ground leads to the summit.”

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Metamorphosis – Complete Summer Line

Central Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis showing the line of Metamorphosis (IX,9) climbed by Tim Miller and Jamie Skelton. The original VIII,9 version of the route via the Cranium Crack is shown in the left. (Topo Tim Miller)

Tim Miller and Jamie Skelton notched up the first new Grade IX of the season when they made the first complete ascent of Metamorphosis on Ben Nevis. This sustained summer E2 was first climbed in winter by Iain Small and Gareth Hughes in March 2009 and graded VIII,9. They took the natural winter start up the deep crack of Cranium (an E1 alternative start to Heidanger) before moving right to join Metamorphosis after its first summer pitch. Climbed on sight, this was an inspirational lead by Iain Small, and years ahead of its time.

Tim and Jamie thought the route was unclimbed in winter when they set off from the valley early on December 7. “Just by chance we met Iain Small and Dave MacLeod when walking up Ben Nevis on Monday, ” Tim explained. “We found out that Iain had climbed Metamorphosis via the Cranium start in 2009 with Gareth Hughes. Not too disheartened we thought we would try the original summer line.

It has a steep start which involved some hand jams followed by a good rest, then a a few steep but positive hooks. After this the route breaks onto a blank slab where all the hooks are very thin and it continues like that into the corner above which is the crux and slightly run out. We then belayed on a big ledge and climbed up the steep flake pitch, as already climbed by Iain and Gareth. Then a shorter easier pitch to the top.

In total we only added an extra pitch of climbing, but it took us a lot of effort over three visits and consumed most of the past week for us. Monday and Tuesday we took turns inching a little higher each time before pinging off and swapping leads until Jamie managed to get us to the top of the pitch with a few falls. We had a rest day on Wednesday and then came back yesterday (December 10). This time we knew where the gear went and where some of the crucial hooks were. After both popping off on a few attempts I miraculously managed to climb the pitch clean to the top. Jamie then made a very impressive on-sight of the second flake pitch.

Despite having limited experience climbing Grade IX, we found it considerably harder than any other winter routes we have tried and we thought it justified the IX,9 grade.“

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Fathomless on Garbh Bheinn

Matt Glenn on the first ascent of Fathomless (VII,7) on the Upper Tier of Garbh Bhein. This is only the second winter route to be climbed on the Upper Tier of the South Wall. (Photo Jamie Skelton)

Jamie Skelton and Matt Glenn continued the winter interest in Garbh Bheinn by making the first ascent of Fathomless (VII,7) On December 3. The route starts up the summer HVS Excalibur before moving right.

“The steep initial pitch was well suited to winter,” Jamie told me. “It was straightforward to protect and had a variety of positive little hooks which helped bring us up to the belay ledge. The next pitch of the summer line traverses a slab to the left above a big roof. We both had a try at this, inching further along, each time on sketchy edges.

Eventually the absence of gear kicked our small brains into gear, and we had a look at other options. In the end we chose to go rightwards off the belay ledge and climb a more obvious and straightforward winter line to the top of the crag just next to the summer route Guenevere.”

Fathomless is only the second winter route to be climbed on the Upper Tier of the South Wall and follows Neil Adams and Alasdair Fulton’s made winter ascent of Sgian Dubh (V,6) in January 2009.

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Quoth the Raven – Nevermore

Iain Small hard at work on the overhanging groove during the first ascent of Nevermore (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. This much-eyed line lies on Number Five Gully Buttress. Its steepness can be gauged from the hanging icicle up and left of Iain’s head. (Photo Dave MacLeod)

Iain Small and Dave MacLeod succeeded on an outstanding new route on December 7, when they made the first ascent of Nevermore (VIII,8) on Number Five Gully Buttress on the Ben. The great soaring overhanging corner on the right side of the buttress had been eyed up by several teams, but its all-relenting steepness had deterred all attempts. The buttress faces south-east which means it is very much a mid-winter venue, best climbed before the sun rises too high in the sky.

“With the recent north-easterly blast of cold air, Number Five Gully Buttress had a great coating of hoar on it, which is a rare thing,” Iain told me. “The big overhanging wall and corner are often black, receiving plenty of early morning sun later in the season so it was always going to be a good early season target.

Dave started up a wide crack corresponding to the start of Turkish but then took a direct line over a thrutchy roof/block and then an excellent layback flake to gain the bottom of a sloping ledge that led to the corner. (I think Turkish probably  climbs initial crack then steps left up walls to gain a diagonal ramp that then leads to the big sloping ledge).

The big top corner had a well-defined crack for continual torqueing, but the walls offered mostly sloping foot holds. That combination pretty much wore me out for the first day of the season, but it was a great route.

We named the route Nevermore (VIII,8) from the Edgar Allen Poe poem – The Raven. One of that genus did over our sacs as we looked down from the route. It managed to unzip both lid pocket zips and eat my pieces then throw the rest of the contents over the surrounding area. Luckily my car keys were clipped onto a tab. Later we heard Murdo and Blair had the same treatment up by Number Three Gully Buttress. So next time I will be forewarned, although I’m not sure what the solution will be to deter such wily corvids!”

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After Church Arete

Dave Slade on the first ascent of After Church Arete (II) on Little Glas Maol above Caenlochan Glen. Due to limited time the climb was made at night – keen men! (Photo James Lamont)

James Lamont and Dave Slade made an enterprising first ascent last night (December 6) when they climbed the buttress bordering the east side the north face of Little Glas Maol. After Church Arete (II) lies east of the cliff containing The Ramp and Slanting Ramp.

I was intrigued by the night climbing photo James sent me. “Due to work/family commitments Dave and I can often only eek out some climbing time in the evenings,” he explained.  “We’ve done quite a few ‘night-time ascents’. We set off from Glen Shee yesterday at 14:20, back at the car for 19:45. Not a breath of wind and an epic sunset on the walk in. Just need to take lots of batteries!

That’s the reason for the route name by the way – Dave attends church on a Sunday so we couldn’t head off until he’d finished at church!”

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Johnson-Miller Twin Pack

Callum Johnson starting up the second pitch on the first ascent of Never Never Land (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe. The wide crack can just be seen exiting the roof’s left-hand side provided a strenuous crux. (Photo Tim Miller)

On December 4, the day after their ascent of The Flying Fox (VIII,8) on An Teallach, Callum Johnson and Tim Miller visited the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe and climbed a second new route. Never Never Land was graded VIII,8 which makes it two Grade VIII first ascents on consecutive days for the dynamic young duo. Two new Grade VIIIs in two days is a rare feat– a well-known example took place in March 2009 when Andy Turner made the first winter ascent of Sassenach (IX,9)on Ben Nevis followed by Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe the following day.

“We walked in with tired legs, up and over to have a look at the quartzite tiers on Beinn Eighe,” Callum explained. “We had some ideas but had an open mind to go and climb whatever looked best. A strong north-easterly wind was hitting the crag and made it feel fairly full-on with lots of snow being blown around.

We ended up climbing a new route at the far-right end of Eastern Ramparts, starting between Fairytale Groove and Happy Ever After to the girdle ledge. This first pitch followed a series of good corners. The second pitch climbed the right-hand side of the smooth white wall, via a groove to a roof with a wide crack exiting leftwards, then up the continuation groove and cracked wall. The crux section involved some strenuous stein pulls(!) around a roof with only small edges for crampon points, then an awkward wide crack. Thankfully the positive hooks returned for the upper section of the pitch.

The route was generally fairly typical Beinn Eighe style, steep positive hooking with good gear – we were both shouting about how much fun it is to climb!”

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