Jenga KerPlunk Finish

Ross Cowie on the first ascent of the KerPlunk Finish (VII,7) to Jenga on Sail Mhor in the Northern Highlands. This section of the mountain is notoriously loose and a few large blocks we trundled during the making of the route! (Photo Pete Davies)

On March 31, Pete Davies and Ross Cowie climbed Jenga (VI,7) on Sail Mhor in the Beinn Eighe massif and finished up KerPlunk (VII,7), a spectacular exit on the left wall.

The deeply-cut gully of Jenga has an exciting history and was first attempted by Brian Davison and Andy Nisbet in 1996. Unfortunately Brian dislodged a rock, which caused a stack of blocks to fall on top of him resulting in a helicopter rescue. Brian and Andy returned in March 2000 with Dave McGimpsey and Dave Wilkinson to complete the route, which sports an impressively steep finish.

“Jenga gully has a great ambience and its headwall forms an impressive hidden amphitheatre,” Pete told me. “KerPlunk is quite steep, but as it’s possible to bridge and back and foot much of the way, the climbing isn’t too difficult. Good hooks and, for us, very helpful snow ice conditions. There were some loose blocks in places that added an air of seriousness. We trundled the worst offenders when seconding but some suspect rock may remain. Probably one to avoid early season or if things don’t seem fully frozen. All in all, it sounds similar to Jenga in this respect, given Andy’s experience on that line!”

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Catheter Corner

Forrest Templeton leading pitch 1 of Catheter Corner (V,6) on The Scorrie high above Glen Clova. Forrest has led the way with six new routes on this spectacularly positioned crag in recent seasons. (Photo Forrest Templeton Collection)

Forrest Templeton, Kevin Murphy and Matt Smith added an excellent three-pitch mixed route to the north-facing cliffs of The Scorrie in Glen Clova on March 31.

“After yet another beastly easterly, I reckoned it may be worth a punt returning to Clova to have a go at a wee line I had been eyeing up,” Forrest Templeton told me. “So last Saturday, Kevin, Matt and I headed up the Glens. Our objective was high up on the Scorrie so we parked at the car park and followed the Scorrie path. It did seem cold enough and sure enough, as we got higher the snow hardened as did the turf.

Dropping down from the obvious boulder on the ridge we passed below the start of One Man Gastric Band/Scorrie Romp and contoured round the toe of the buttress and belayed below an inset rectangular slab leading up to a capping roofed corner. This was pitch one and was climbed on small turfy protrusions with the occasional torque, crossing a small overlap about half way and a small tree to belay in the obvious corner.

Pitch two constituted the crux and involved a series of underclings on sketchy footholds moving rightwards to reach awkwardly into a turfy groove for axe placements. The corner-groove was followed past another welcoming and more substantial tree over small overlaps to reach the Gastric Band just below an attractive right angled left-facing slabby corner where a commodious and comfortable belay can be arranged.

The third pitch was started on the left side of the slab and followed more turfy protrusions interspersed with some good cracks until a move right into the corner can be made about two-thirds of the way up. Above the difficulties a belay on a large detached block was reached, which lies almost directly between where the Scorrie Romp and One Man Gastric Band converge. From here we followed easier ground to the Scorrie cairn.

Although short, Catheter Corner (V,6) is a good line with a decent amount of quality climbing packed into its short length.”

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Catheter Corner

More Beinn Chuirn

Sharon Tinsley enjoying Prospectors (IV,4) on Beinn Chuirn during the first ascent. This steep little crag near Ben Lui in the Southern Highlands has provided some excellent mixed climbing this season. (Photo Martin Holland)

Martin Holland revisited Coire na Saobhaidhe on Beinn Chuirn on March 30 with Sharon Tinsley and Ian McIntosh.

“We climbed a couple of what I think are new lines,” Martin told me. “The first (Prospectors) was a very nice Grade IV,4 turf/rock line on the left-hand side of the corrie, which we felt was worthy of a star or two. The second (Gold Star Start) was a short ice line on the lower tier of the right-hand side of the corrie, and would make a good III,4 direct start to the existing route Silver Star (see SMC Journal 2009) in the correct conditions.

It’s worth noting that this corrie is one of those where everything is considerably steeper than it looks from below. We underestimated the standard of the lines we climbed by at least one grade before we got on them, and even the approach slopes are deceptively steep!”

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on More Beinn Chuirn

Gryphon Grooves

Forrest Templeton leading the lower ice gully during the first ascent of Gryphon Grooves (VI,6) on Lochnagar. The combination of recent easterly storms and freeze thaw lead to abnormal ice build up in the gully lines on West Buttress which have normally stripped out by early March. (Photo Simon Richardson)

A key piece of advice in Chasing the Ephemeral is take time to assess conditions at the base of the cliff before you start climbing. The ten minutes you spend at this point can be the most critical point of the day and make all the difference between success and failure.

The conundrum that Forrest Templeton and I faced as we stood below the great North-Eastern Corrie of Lochnagar on March 25 was that it was very hard to determine the conditions on the crag. Almost all the cliff was plastered white, buried beneath deep rime. It was difficult enough to pick out individual lines on the buttresses, let alone decide how climbable they might be. Was there ice beneath all that rime or just bare rock? It was impossible to tell. The north-west facing aspects looked slightly less blutered, so after 30 minutes of pondering we started heading up towards the Shadow buttresses. Soon after I heard Forrest shout from behind me:

“Hey Simon, what are those ice lines up there?”

Forrest was pointing up towards West Buttress, which I had written off as a possibility as it is fully exposed to the sun late in the season. But sure enough, Gargoyle Chimney was fat with ice, and the gully line of Gargoyle Direct to its right, had an enticing thin white ribbon running down it. Now Gargoyle Direct does not climb the gully in its entirety, but follows the buttress to its right in its lower section, so this was too good an opportunity to miss.

We ascended the lower tier by following the first two pitches of Quasimodo, which contained a thin layer of sticky ice and boded well for the climbing above. Forrest made short work of the lower gully finding good placements just where it mattered, and then made a bold set of moves through the icy overhang above. Gargoyle Direct re-joins the gully-line at a wide snow bay this point, but the gully splits just above, and I knew the narrow left branch was unclimbed. I remember looking down it from the neighbouring Bell’s Buttress one stormy day with Chris Cartwright and thinking it would make a good climb.

The problem was the left branch was blocked by an impasse of huge chockstones forming a large roof draped in a spectacular frieze of icicles. Rather hopefully I climbed up underneath them and tried to excavate a way through, but the passage was far too narrow. There was nothing for it but to climb up the outside of the hanging icicle frieze. A short five-metre gully on the right gave access to the base of the icicles where a good crack miraculously appeared in the smooth wall that took a cam and a nut. Courage was in short supply, but the runners provided sufficient encouragement to pull onto the frieze, which promptly began to collapse under my feet. Fortunately the axe placements were good, and some wide bridging and a couple of frantic heaves took me up to some good turf and the top of a rather unlikely-looking pitch.

Forrest made a strong lead of the left branch that narrowed to only 30cm wide at one section and soon we were in the amphitheatre with the Gargoyle winking at us from just below the plateau 30m above. Even though it was over 20 years ago, I can still remember leading the pitch up and right under the Gargoyle when Alastair Robertson and I made the first ascent of Quasimodo, and finding it tough. This time was no different, and it proved to be a battle with icy cracks and huge sheets of rime that occasionally detached and tried to pull me off as they fell through the ropes.

We shook hands on top reflecting that Gryphon Grooves (VI,6) had been an excellent climb – sustained, interesting and somewhat unusual. But best of all, it was completely unexpected and the result of an eleventh hour route choice. The few minutes before you start climbing are precious and can be the most important part of the day!

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Gryphon Grooves

Moulin Rouge

The 250m-high subsidiary buttress between Pinnacle Buttress of the Tower and Glover’s Chimney in Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. 1. Pinnacle Buttress Direct (V,5), 2. Moulin Rouge (VI,6), 3. Pinnacle Buttress Right-Hand (IV,4), 4. Glover’s Chimney (III,4). (Photo Simon Richardson)

For me, the beautiful proportions of Pinnacle Buttress of the Tower makes it one of the most alluring features on Ben Nevis. So much so, that I’ve climbed seven routes on its crest and flanks, but in my focus to unravel its secrets I had ignored the subsidiary buttress to its right. This area was first explored by Donald Bennet and R.Tait in November 1957 by a Grade III line that traverses in from Broad Gully a long way left. The buttress was finally climbed in its entirety by Rab Carrington and Brian Hall in March 1976 by a route called Pinnacle Buttress Right-Hand (IV,4). I’m not sure if the route has ever been repeated in its entirety, as the initial start left of the icefall of Glover’s Chimney is extremely steep and rarely forms, although it is possible to avoid this section by coming in from Glover’s itself. The first ascent description is very brief, but it is likely that Rab and Brian finished up the final section of the Western Traverse on the Great Tower.

Robin Clothier and George Armstrong were the first to climb the prominent ice line dividing PBOT and its subsidiary buttress in March 1989. Pinnacle Buttress Direct (V,5) is a very fine climb and sees a number of ascents nowadays, but between the Direct and Right-Hand lie another series of grooves, and these were the focus of Sophie Grace Chappell and I on March 20. The problem is how the gain the grooves as the lower section of the buttress is undercut. As it happens, the lower section of the Pinnacle Buttress Direct icefall divides, and the right-hand branch leads to a hanging terrace cutting across the face. This proved to be the key, and led to excellent and surprisingly independent climbing up the grooves above. After three long pitches we were under the snow slopes leading up to the steep headwall on the western side of the Great Tower.

The beautifully white rimed headwall looked too good to miss, so we started up the initial section of Rotten Chimney, and made the awkward right step of the Western Traverse to gain the hanging corner slicing straight up the centre of the wall. The climbing was steep, but fortunately there was good ice beneath the deep rime. As always there was a trade off however, and protection and belays were difficult to find.

After six long pitches (and a false start walking up to a route in Observatory Gully earlier in the morning), time was getting on. Dusk was falling as we scampered across Tower Gap and headed up the final crest of Tower Ridge to the plateau. In keeping with the nightclub theme on PBOT (Stringfellow and Goodfellas) we called our climb Moulin Rouge. It felt VI,6 on the day, but in less icy conditions it may be a little more friendly. Having said that, any route that tackles the 250m-high west flank of the Great Tower is a meaty undertaking and I suspect that Rab and Brian’s Pinnacle Buttress Right-Hand is a notch intergraded!

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Tempest Corners

Robin Clothier starting up the initial mixed corner of Tempest Corners (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. The route follows the series of grooves to the left of Joyful Chimneys on South Trident Buttress. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The grooves left of Joyful Chimneys on South Trident Buttress on the Ben had fascinated me for years. The problem is that they need ice and by the time this has formed in early March, the morning sun is high in the sky and quickly strips the face. This winter boded well however – it has been a cold snowy season without too much sun – so on March 17 Robin Clothier and I went to have a look.

As anyone who was out climbing last weekend knows only too well, the winds last Saturday were ferocious. When we reached the bottom of the route it was too cold to consult the guidebook so we started up the route from memory. We climbed an ice groove right of a long straight rib, and then continued up a steep set of right-facing corners to reach easier mixed ground above. After two mixed pitches on a ramp overlooking Joyful Chimneys we reached the junction with Pinnacle Arête. The route was four rope lengths to this point and we then moved together up the final 100m of the arête to the plateau.

It was a good climb, worth VI,6 for the second pitch alone, but back in the hut when I checked the guidebooks I realised that we had started up Jimmy Marshall’s original line of Joyful Chimneys and then joined the finishing pitches of The Copenhagen Interpretation higher up. Most folk nowadays miss out the first two pitches of Joyful Chimneys and start from Central Gully (as described in Mike Pescod’s guidebook), so we could have recorded our route as a link between Joyful Chimneys Original Start and The Copenhagen Interpretation finish, but it would have all felt rather unsatisfactory.

New lines on the Ben are precious and need to be treated with respect, so there was no option, but to go back and turn it into a fully independent route. So next morning Robin and I returned to the long straight rib, but this time climbed the mixed groove on its left side from where a hidden traverse led right to the VI,6 corner pitch. Above, instead of following the mixed ramp of The Copenhagen Interpretation, we climbed an inset gully on the left that led through a series of vertical bulges to a broad platform on the upper right side of the second tier of South Trident Buttress. Hanging above was a beautiful right-facing mixed corner, white with hoar frost. This feature looks very steep from the corrie floor, but now we were underneath, it began to look possible. The problem was the wind was still very strong – so strong in fact that the most violent gusts were blowing the rack that was hanging in the belay up the cliff.

But now was our chance, so I headed up into the corner, which soon bulged into a vertical flared offwidth with smooth sidewalls. There was no possibility of any protection but an unlikely cam placement lured me onto the vertical right wall where a series of holds led upwards. It was one of those pitches, that was far easier than it had any right to be, and although completely absorbing it simply flowed. Soon I was belayed at the top of The Clanger and from where a quick traverse onto the upper crest of Pinnacle Arête took us to the plateau and 20 minutes later we were coiling the ropes in the shelter of Number Four Gully.

So all in all, it was a magnificent route and well worth the two-day effort to piece it together. As for a name, Robin suggested Joyless Grooves because of the ordeal with the wind, but Tempest Corners (VI,6) seems a little more appropriate.

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Tempest Corners

Creag Meagaidh Diary

Iain Small leading the crux roof of the Moth Direct (VIII,8) on Pinnacle Buttress on Creag Meagaidh. Iain together with Dave Macleod and Helen Rennard made the second ascent of The Moth adding a new start and finish in the process. (Photo Dave MacLeod)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on Creag Meagaidh’s Pinnacle Buttress, which has probably been in it’s best condition since winter 2005:

February 24: Iain Small and Andy Inglis climb Paradise Lost (VII,8), a new route up the centre of the buttress between Ritchie’s and Smith’s gullies. It starts up Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson’s 2010 mixed route Last Day in Paradise (VII,8) and then trends left up an icy slab and a spectacular icicle-bulge through a roof. It rejoins Last Day… on Last Day’s fifth described pitch.

February 24: And for a second route of the day, Iain and Andy make the second ascent of Eye Candy (VII,7). This spectacular series of hanging ramps and corners overlooking the right side of Smith’s Gully we first climbed by Guy Robertson, Es Tresidder and P.Hostnik in March 2005.

March 5: Iain Small, Dave MacLeod and Helen Rennard make the second ascent of The Moth (VII,8) adding a difficult first pitch and a new poorly protected finish to give the Moth Direct (VIII,8). “A long day on a big and serious face.” The Moth is another Guy Robertson creation, first climbed with Es Tressider in March 2005.

March 9: Andy Inglis and Murdoch Jamieson climb the classic Fly Direct (VII,7). “A great route on a dodgy day.” The route was also climbed a few days earlier by French climber Bruno Sourzac. Bruno is no stranger to the cliff as he made the first ascent of the mythical Extasy (VIII,8) with Dave Hesleden during the 2005 International Meet.

March 12: The weekend thaw has stripped the lower part of the cliff and the first pitch of The Fly Direct has collapsed. Making the most of the remaining ice Guy Robertson and Simon Richardson repeat Paradise Lost (VII,8) adding an Independent Finish (VI,7) up the left edge of the buttress overlooking Ritchie’s Gully.

Posted in New Routes, Repeats | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Creag Meagaidh Diary

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

View across Coire Lagan to Sgurr Alasdair on the Cuillin Ridge from the top of the new addition Un Pin (I), which is seen just left of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

“Whilst many times guiding the Inaccessible Pinnacle in the 1990s, I often looked down its Coruisg side to where slabby ground dropped away rapidly,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Because the slope was convex, all you could see was what was in your imagination. I always meant to go back and climb up the imagined line but kept getting distracted by icefalls nearby (I only went as far as Skye when conditions were excellent). The closest was two years ago when I went with Sandy Allan to do the line, but we climbed steeper and thicker ice to the right (Inaccessible Icefall, Grade IV,4). But the line itself looked easier, although with a couple of tricky ice steps.

With conditions being good in the west this year, it was raised up my ‘To Do’ list so I drove over to Skye on March 13 and headed up to Bealach na Banachdich. It was probably shorter to approach via Coire Lagan but I went the way I knew, descending from the Bealach and going back up to the start.

There wasn’t much ice left but a huge amount of snow, deep and wet but comfortably taking my weight. The real surprise was that any potential difficulties were banked out leaving a mixture of walking and easy climbing. Which was disappointing but still an unusual line, where the drips from the thaw fell out from me because I was tucked under the overhanging sidewall of An Stac. And quite a drop underneath when I moved out under the Inn Pinn itself.

And a brief but spectacular view from the summit of Sgurr Dearg before the mist closed in and I got lost in the whiteness. I know the ground well but with a clear afternoon forecast, I didn’t take a compass. So I followed footprints down, finding out too late that they came from Coire Lagan and not the usual way up. But no-one was there to confiscate my winter ML. So 25 years of curiosity has been resolved, although not with the excitement I expected. I’ve called it The Un Pin (250m Grade I), although it will rarely be that easy.”

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , | Comments Off on You Can’t Win ‘Em All

Western Highlands Most Sought After Route

Robin Clothier leading Tir na Og (V,5) in Knoydart with Doug Hawthorn just visible on the far skyline. Although the route is a classic Scottish icy winter outing it has not been tamed by modern equipment and remains a serious proposition. “The best belay all day was dodgy hex, half a warthog and my axes!” (Photo Richard Bentley)

I received an intriguing email from Richard Bentley on March 5:

“I got the call from Robin at 9pm last night. (He wouldn’t say the route.) Meet at Spean Bridge at 7am. A drive, a boat, a fast stomp in – Uisdean, Doug, Robin and me. Twelve hours later, back at Spean Bridge. Fab ice, icy mixed, big classic route on a big mountain. (You have to guess!) What a team!”

The boat was the giveaway, of course. Richard had made an early repeat of Tir na Og (V,5) on Ladhar Bheinn in the company of Robin Clothier, Uisdean and Doug Hawthorn. The 350m-long Tir na Og was first climbed by Con Higgins and A.Foster in February 1978 and was the first Grade V route in the Western Highlands. Despite being a highly sought after objective you can still count the number of ascents on the fingers of one hand. Twelve hours is a remarkably fast time for the round trip. Most climbers visiting Knoydart do not use a boat and take a full weekend to walk into Barrisdale, climb a route, and walk out again.

Robin summed it up a few days afterwards. “Routes should not be all about standard tick lists. This climb should be on everyone’s CV!”

Posted in Repeats | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Western Highlands Most Sought After Route

Southern Highlands Update

Coire na Saobhaidhe on Beinn Chuirn with the line of Lucky Strike (III) marked. Substantial cornices overhung the previously climbed routes further right. (Photo Martin Holland)

Martin (Wilf) Holland visited Coire na Saobhaidhe on Beinn Chuirn near Tyndrum on March 6. “A brief break in the clouds allowed me to see the crag and there were surprisingly large cornices, which had survived the thaw of two weeks ago,” Wilf told me.

“The cornices were above all the existing routes put up by Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey in 2008. I therefore, climbed a line just left of the main gully, which finished up a barrel-shaped buttress, this provided the crux and was cornice-free. I started from the base of the main gully, which means the 115m route length is longer than the previous routes, but the lower section was easy with just the odd step. The upper buttress was the meat of the route and meant that Lucky Strike probably just creeps in to Grade III.“

A week earlier on February 25, Robin Clothier, Ian Dempster and Stuart McFarlane added a new route to Ben Lomond. “We wanted to avoid the crowds,” Stuart explained. “The venue had to be north facing and hold snow well, since the weather had been sunny and clear. Ben Lomond seemed a good choice, especially since the Met Office forecast morning fog for that area, surely that would hoar the rocks?

The plan worked well with firm snow, it was bitterly cold and mist engulfed the summit. I had always fancied Lomond Corner so set off up that in one long pitch, the other two moving up so I could reach belay.

We then descended to have a look at Rowardennan Rib, which climbs the right side of a square rib. Between that and Endrick Corner lay a turfy line leading up into a recess on the left of rib, before an obvious groove ran parallel with Endrick Corner and through a steepening above. This provided an excellent IV,5 turfy mixed route.

Earlier during the walk to the summit, I listened to Robin and Dr Ian, discussing the problems facing the NHS, so calling our new addition Opinionator seemed rather fitting!”

Posted in New Routes | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Southern Highlands Update