Hindmost Ridge

John Higham arriving at the top of the previously unclimbed Hindmost Ridge (IV,4) on The Devil’s Point. This 400m-long route is one of the longest ridge climbs in the Cairngorms. (Photo Iain Young)

The first ascent of Hindmost Ridge on The Devil’s Point on March 4 demonstrated that there are still major unclimbed features even in well-known parts of the Highlands such as the Cairngorms. Iain Young, John Higham and Kenny Brookman’s ascent of the 400m-long ridge bounding the right side of Geusachan Gully on the south side of the mountain was a major coup and one of the finest ascents of the season. Iain takes up the story:

“I spotted this possible target on a photo back in August, did some research and couldn’t quite believe it hadn’t been climbed already by the likes of Mac Smith, Bill Brooker, Tom Patey, Greg Strange, Andy Nisbet or Simon Richardson! One possibility was that what I had seen on the picture was a bit of an optical illusion. So, I had to find out if it was real.

A reconnaissance in September confirmed two things; the ridge was there but it was also a long way from anywhere. A team of three seemed like a good idea, for what promised to be a long but straightforward route, as it meant lighter loads. John and Kenny needed little persuasion to be roped into the venture.

Of course, these south-facing routes need enough snow to be enjoyably wintry, but not so much snow overall that the approach takes away all the enjoyment. A kind of Scottish winter Goldilocks zone. On the first attempt, in November last year, things were too warm and the crag was bare, so we took an enjoyable alternative at grade II/III up a slabby rib finishing on a broad snow arete leading to the ridge just north of the summit of Carn a’Mhaim.

The next attempt had to wait till early March, after the series of icy storms that saved the winter overall. This time even lighter loads, but much more snow, resulted in a five and a half hour approach from Linn of Dee via Derry Lodge…

The route itself initially looked a bit bare, however, a hidden series of snowy and icy turfy grooves led upwards from near the bottom of Geusachan Gully in a sort of wintry spiral. First left of the initial nose, then right of the crest, before two trickier pitches took us, after 200m of climbing, to a further 200m of moving together type ground. Very, very enjoyable, sunny and kind of alpine in ambience.

All smiles on the trackless summit, despite the thought of the four hours back to the car! The route name references both the Devil (as in the Devil take the Hindmost) and the fact that the ridge sits behind the frontal face.”

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The Irony and Scotophobia

Dave Almond on the first ascent of The Irony (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe. This steep and sustained mixed route on the Eastern Ramparts is a more direct version of the summer E1 Claustrophobic Corner. (Photo Jamie Skelton)

Dave Almond had an outstanding trip up to Scotland last week and came away with two new routes on Beinn Eighe. Dave takes up the story:

“I drove up on the March 7 and started my week with a very soggy ascent of Slav Route (VI,5) on Ben Nevis with Owen Samuels followed by a slightly more amenable weather day on Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) with Jamie Skelton. This had been on my list for a few years but it rarely looks white enough as it follows an overhanging corner system that shelters it from most weather. This time it was looking good with ice and frozen turf plastered over the left-hand aspects. It was originally climbed in four pitches but Jamie decided to keep climbing after pitch one running the first two pitches together. I followed up and ran the next two together, which made for a really entertaining climb that builds slowly to the overhang climax on the top wall. Every pitch was excellent and it certainly deserves its three star rating.

After a much appreciated rest day Jamie and myself headed up to the summit of Beinn Eighe and after a front pointing crawl on hands and knees up the ridge we geared up in the 80mph wind and ran for the shelter of the Eastern Ramparts. Jamie suggested we looked at the summer line of Claustrophobic Corner. Despite its unappealing name we set to but ended up taking a more direct line through the overhangs right of the summer line, sticking with the cracks, which gave some fine technical moves followed by powerful moves through the to the belay. We called our route The Irony and after some careful pondering graded it IX,9.

The following day with a better weather forecast we again headed up feeling a bit heavy-legged. This time we picked the summer E1 Fear of the Dark on the Eastern Ramparts. Initially it climbs the right hand side of a big chimney which follows a drainage line offering good ice then swings right around the huge block on the Upper Girdle to climb a very icy corner going right past an overhang and up a steep corner to a belay. We then deviated from the summer line and took an obvious chimney direct to a platform and a choice of easy exits.

The Irony is worthy of three stars as we were buzzing after doing it, whilst with  Scotophobia VII,8 we were tempted to abseil off as we were tired and got soaked down to our underpants on route with the heavy snowfall and rising temperatures. But we dug deep and made it to the top with a sigh of relief.”

Dave says he loves the name Scotophopia – “when fear of the dark reaches a degree that is severe enough to be considered pathological, it is sometimes called scotophobia”. The route lies between the Iain Small and Pete Macpherson’s Fear of the Cold and Dark (VIII,8) and the summer line Fear of the Dark.

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Israelite First Winter Ascent

Greg Boswell powering up the first pitch of The Israelite (VIII,8) during the first winter ascent. This highly prized objective on the awe inspiring Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch was climbed on the fourth attempt. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell pulled off a long sought after new route on March 4 when they made the first winter ascent of The Israelite (VIII,8) on Creag an Dubh Loch. This summer E4 provides superlative rock climbing but it is often wet, so under the right conditions, it was a logical target for a winter ascent.

With the Eastern Cairngorms swamped in snow, I suggested to Guy, who is renowned for being one of the finest tacticians in the game, that this was an inspired route choice. Guy was having none of it:

“Fourth time in to try the route. Wettest February on record. Two weeks of cold but not too cold. Everywhere above 900m totally swamped. Pretty obvious choice of venue, I thought!”

Well maybe, but impressive all the same as this was the first route Guy and Greg have climbed together this year. A new winter route on Creag an Dubh Loch is as good as it gets.

“The venue seemed a pretty obvious choice in the end,” Guy continued. “We followed the summer line all the way – to be honest this is where the ice took us, pretty much direct into the top corner. Gaining the ice at the start required some faith – kind of like the Etive Slabs, but without touching rock!

Greg belayed below the Goliath Icicle, which was in pretty good shape. Above this, a beautiful weep formed on the slab just right of the thin crack, which led to the big upper corner. This sported a few ice streaks, but unfortunately these were of the eggshell variety, so little use – this pitch was probably the crux, giving sustained teetering on reasonable hooks but very poor feet.

The final pitch up to the plateau was a romp up thick Grade IV ice. As expected it was a ‘top drawer’ experience, just like any other route on this wall. I’ve been lucky enough to do a handful now, and they are all of exceptional quality. Their ephemeral nature just makes them all the more special, and I’m looking forward to the next one already!”


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International Winter Meet Day 6

All go on the South Wall Garbh Bheinn! The final day of the winter meet reached a climax with first winter ascents of Gralloch (IX,10) and Scimitar (VII,8) doubling the previous number of winter routes on the wall. (Photo Neil Adams)

Two new routes on Garbh Bheinn was the big news from the last day of the winter meet (February 28). The South Wall is very rarely in winter condition, but continuous storms had plastered it in snow making it a very wintry proposition. Tim Miller, Callum Johnson and Damian Granowski (Poland) made the first winter ascent of Scimitar (VII,8) and Neil Adams, Peter Hoang (Canada) and Lukas Klingora (Czech Republic) made the first winter ascent of Gralloch (IX,10). Damian led the simmer crux of the VS Scimitar, and Peter made an outstanding lead of Gralloch, which is E2 in summer.

At a more modest level, Al Todd and I took a few hours away from our event coordination duties to make the first ascent of Cabin Fever (IV,6) in the Monadhliath. This two-pitch route lies on the south-east facing Stac Buidhe and was the first route on the cliff. Situated less than an hour’s walk from the Meet HQ in Laggan it was ideal for a quick morning dash.

The weather deteriorated quickly through the day and the avalanche danger was very high. Teams on Ben Nevis wisely restricted themselves to the Douglas Boulder and Vanishing Gully areas. Of note was the possible second ascent of Right-Hand Chimney (VI,7) by Alfie Maun, Emily Ward and Wadim Jablonski from Poland. Wadim thought the route merited at least M7 so it will be upgraded in the next Ben Nevis guidebook.

The weather was wild in the Northern Corries, but ascents were made of Honeypot and Wachacha on the Mess of Pottage, and Jamie Skelton and Tyrm Saeland (Norway) climbed Big Daddy in Coire an Lochain. Everyone was down safe and back for the final event at Tisos in Aviemore where Guy Robertson made an outstanding presentation that captured the essence of pioneering new routes across the Highlands in both winter and simmer.

The meet had been a major success with over 150 routes climbed, and on the final morning there were many tired legs at Aviemore Youth Hostel. Ideas had been shared, friendships made and partnerships formed. Our international guests had been given a magnificent taste of Scottish winter climbing and left with huge smiles on their faces.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – was hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 5

Looking down Minus One Gully (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. The Minus Face has been in rare excellent condition this week, and Minus One Gully, long considered the most difficult gully on the Ben, has been the most popular gully of the meet. (Photo Hamish Frost)

Heavy snowfall overnight on strong westerly winds resulted in dangerous windslab conditions on the fifth day of the International Meet (February 27). On Ben Nevis this confined teams to wind scoured cliffs such as the Minus Face, where the three Minus gullies saw multiple ascents. I took time out of my event coordinator role to team up with volunteers Stuart MacFarlane and Ian Dempster (who had carried food up to the hut) to make the first ascent of Superwoman (V,6). This takes a line if icy grooves up the previously unclimbed steep east flank of the Little Tower on Tower Ridge. Even though the route lies low in the mountain we had to tread very carefully to avoid setting off windslab that was lying precariously over smooth neve. The route was named after Carole Hawthorn who has kept everyone superbly fed and watered in the hut throughout the meet.

Andy Inglis and Maarten Van Haaren made and ascent of Central Grooves (VII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan, and Luca Celano, Carl Nystedt (Sweden), Nicolas Dieu, Michael Poulsen (Denmark) ploughed through deep snow on the Aonach Eagach traverse. Other Glen Coe based teams, headed to Creag an Socach above Bridge of Orchy, in search of less snowy conditions. Messiah had ascents from at least three teams, but the most notable climb was the third ascent of Defenders of the Faith (IX,9) by Peter Hoang and Neil Adams. This very steep mixed route was first climbed by Dave MacLeod and Fiona Murray in 2006, and was the first Scottish Grade IX to receive an on sight first ascent. A little to the south, Paul Headland, Kirsty Pallas and Neil Byrne (Ireland) made a ski ascent into Beinn Uhdlaidh and climbed the classic Quartzvein Scoop.

Further north, Rich Bentley, Seokju Woo (South Korea) and Neil Silver picked their way through a difficult avalanche-prone approach to make a rare ascent of Trespasser Buttress (IV,5) on Creag Meagaidh. Seokju, who has had a superb meet climbing several challenging routes, enjoyed the wild setting, and rated this his finest of the week. In the Cairngorms, The Message and Honeypot were climbed in Coire an t-Sneachda, and Andrew Marshall, Jakub Cejpek (Czech Republic) and Gwilym Lynn visited Hell’s Lum and climbed a very snowy Deep Cut Chimney.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 4

Rene Lisac from Croatia climbing Gully of the Gods (VI,6) on Beinn Bhan. Rene said afterwards that this was the finest route (of any description) that he had ever done. (Photo Scott Grosdanoff)

On February 26, the wind dropped and all eyes turned to Ben Nevis with close to 40 climbers from the International Meet active on the mountain. The standout performance came from Peter Hoang (Canada) and Neil Adams who made an ascent of The Shroud (VI,6) followed by Mega Route X (VI,6). Peter was keen to reach the summit of the Ben, so they continued up Jubilee Climb and circumnavigated Coire na Ciste to tag the summit before descending Coire Leis. The Shroud has not touched down and is currently a hanging ice fang. Peter used his extensive Canadian icefall experience to judge that this potentially very risky ascent was in safe condition. Even so, he rated the climb at WI6/WI6+ on the Canadian scale and commented that he had never climbed an icicle that did not hang vertically before – it had been blown sideways by the wind.

Mega Route X was also climbed by Murray Cutforth and Tom Phillips (Netherlands), and Gemini (VI,6), another highly sought after Ben Nevis classic, was climbed by Alex Mathie and Franz Friebel (Switzerland). Other routes climbed on the Ben include Boomer’s Requiem, Minus Two Gully, Minus Three Gully, The Curtain, Orion Direct, Platforms Rib and Route 2/Route 1 combination. CIC hut host Robin Clothier made a rare ascent of Right-Hand Route (VI,6) on Minus Two Buttress with Nicholas Wylie. This route also saw an ascent from Masa Sakano and Frano Udovic (Croatia).

Event Coordinator Al Todd, found time in his busy schedule to climb the classic Vanishing Gully with photographer Hamish Frost. Wadim Jablonski (Poland), Emily Ward and Alfie Maun abseiled off their route on the Douglas Boulder to assist a climber (not on the meet) who had been avalanched in Number Five Gully.

Further north, Scott Grosdanoff and Rene Lisac (Croatia) climbed Gully of the Gods (VI,6) on Beinn Bhan and Dave Almond and Trym Saelend (Norway) made the third ascent of Feast of the East (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe. Dave said that Trym, who is best known for the first ascent of The Corkscrew Route on Cerro Torre, was absolutely buzzing after the ascent.

In Stob Coire nan Locan in Glen Coe, Dorsal Arete, Raeburn’s Route and Twisting Grooves saw ascents, and on the Buachaille, North Buttress was climbed. Also in Glen Coe, John Higham took a break from resupplying the huts with food to make the first ascent of the350m-high Ephemeron Buttress (IV,4) to the left of Ephemeron Gully, with John Hutchinson.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 3

Waterfall Gully (IV,4) on Ben Nevis on Day 3 of the International Meet. The continuous run of February storms combined with a series of rapid freeze thaws have created excellent ice conditions all over the mountain. (Photo Marc Langley)

First of all, the big news from yesterday (February 24) was a new route on Minus Two Buttress on Ben Nevis by Maarten Van Haeren (Canada) and Andy Inglis. Calculus (VIII,8) takes a line directly through the overhangs that girdle the buttress at one-third height. Andy led the Grade VI entry pitch up icy grooves and Maarten pulled out the stops with a superb lead up a stepped corner through the overhang on tenuous hooks. Easier ground shared with Central Route (VI,7 with 2pa and unrepeated) led to the crest of North-East Buttress.

Ice conditions are excellent on the Ben at the moment, and this where the meet focused on day 3 (February 25). Minus One Gully had three ascents, and Callum Johnson and Lukas Klingora (Czech Republic) climbed it so quickly that they also had time for Minus Two Gully. Fresh from his success on Minus Two Buttress the day before, Maarten Van Haeren soloed Orion Direct in a two-hour round trip from the hut. Other ice routes climbed include Left-Hand Route, Waterfall Gully, Vanishing Gully, Thompson’s Route and Tower Ridge, which is ice from bottom to top.

The mixed routes in Coire na Ciste are very icy and in challenging condition. Dave Almond and Trym Saeland (Norway) made an ascent of Sioux Wall, and Rich Bentley and Seokju Woo (South Korea) climbed a very bold and icy Gargoyle Wall – only seven pieces of protection were found in five pitches! Mixed conditions were more amenable lower down the mountain and Neil Adams and Peter Hoang made an ascent of the rarely climbed Kellett’s North Wall Route (VII,7).

In Glen Coe, North Buttress on the Buachaille saw an ascent, and in Stob Coire nan Lochan, Scabbard Chimney, Crest Route and Chimney Route were climbed. Further south on Creag a Socach, Kick Start and The Glass Bead Game had a couple of ascents apiece, and on Beinn Eighe Central Buttress Direct was also climbed.

Several teams are heading north tomorrow, but the meet will continue to focus on Ben Nevis that has some of the best ice conditions for many years.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 2

Tom Phillips from the Netherlands battling up Auricle (VI,7) in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm. A continuous blizzard raged during the second day of the winter meet, but despite the tough conditions some excellent routes were climbed. (Photo Hamish Frost)

The weather forecast for February 24 predicted Scotland would be in the eye of a storm but the exact timing of the anticipated heavy snowfall varied from forecast to forecast. Unfortunately, after a calm start it soon started to snow and the blizzards persisted all day.

Four pairs visited Creag Meagaidh, but were turned back by dangerous avalanche conditions on the approach slopes and routes buried in snow. The weather was wild in the Northern Corries, but Murray Cutforth, Tom Phillips (Netherlands), Nicolas Dieu and Michael Poulsen (Denmark) succeeded on Auricle in Coire an Lochain – a good effort in the conditions as this route is no push over at VI,7. A couple of teams visited Ciste Crag (also known as Cranberry Rocks) and climbed a pair of routes apiece in relative shelter on this low-lying cliff.

Across in Glen Coe, two teams climbed North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor, and up in Stob Coire nan Lochan, Scabbard Chimney and Spectre saw ascents. Four teams made the long haul up to Church Door Buttress. Willis Morris and Steve Towne (USA) were particularly impressive making a possible second ascent of Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn’s 2016 route Hoargasm (VII,8), followed by Crypt Route (IV,6). Paul Ramsden and Wadim Jablonski (Poland) chose a lower level option and made a rare ascent of Antichrist (VI,7) on Creag an Socach above Bridge of Orchy.

News has yet to filter through from the CIC Hut, apart from Rich Bentley and Seokju Woo’s (South Korea) enchainment of Turf War (V,6) and East Ridge (IV,5) on The Douglas Boulder. Better weather is forecast for tomorrow – watch this space!

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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More Mullach nan Coirean

Suzana El Massri on the first ascent of New Kids on the Block (V,6) in Coire Dearg on Mullach nan Coirean – “A lovely wee crag that feels like a mix between Cha No, Mess of Pottage and Coire Chat.” (Photo Nathan Adam)

Nathan Adam and Suzana El Massri continued their exploration of Mullach nan Coirean yesterday with two new routes in Coire Dearg. New Kids on the Block (V,6) lies 10m left of Captain Caveman, and Turf Factory (VI,6) is on the crag left of Gendarme Ridge.

“I’d been meaning to get back up there since Garry Campbell and myself did the first ascent of Disco Corner a few years ago but it requires a cold freezing level and some freeze-thaw to glue the blocks in,” Nathan told me. “So with a poor avalanche forecast and lots of fresh wind blown snow we decided to take a punt and thankfully it paid off with useful snow and solid turf.

The two highlights of the day were the first pitch on New Kids up a difficult iced corner and the second pitch on Turf Factory which involved some big moves between good chockstones with very little for the feet. The first pitch on Turf Factory was quite scary with poor gear and very shallow turf placements and thin hooks, insecure and balancy granite ledge shuffling at its finest!”

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International Winter Meet Day 1

Luca Celano and Carl Nystedt from Sweden climbing Pot of Gold (V,6) in Coire an t-Sneachda. This route proved very popular on the first day of the meet with three ascents. (Photo Marc Langley)

After twelve months of planning, the 2020 International Winter Meet finally got underway last night when 55 climbers from 23 countries met at Aviemore Youth Hostel. After a slow start to the winter, the February storms have magically transformed the Scottish mountains into a veritable winter climbing playground with ice forming all over the Highlands. The psyche was high as teams dispersed to Mill Cottage, Lagangarbh, Raeburn and the CIC Hut early on Sunday morning (February 23) before hitting the cliffs.

The first pair down was Nicolas Dieu and Michael Poulsen from Denmark who climbed the classic Pot of Gold (V,6) in Coire an t-Sneachda. Other routes climbed in the corrie included Fingers Ridge, Fluted Ridge Direct, Doctor’s Choice, The Lamp, Vortex, Original Summer Route, Yukon Jack, The Slant Direct and Aladdin’s Mirror Direct. Jamie Skelton and Damian Granowski from Poland had an impressive day with No Blue Skies, The Message and Pot of Gold.

A couple of pairs ventured north to Torridon and found excellent conditions on Beinn Eighe. On the Far East Wall, Neil Adams and Peter Hoang (Canada) made an ascent of the modern classic Sundance (VIII,8) and on the Eastern Ramparts, Callum Johnson and Lukas Klingora (Czech Republic) came away with the fourth ascent of Boggle (VIII,8). In Glen Coe, Paul Ramsden and Wadim Jablonski (Poland) climbed the superlative Central Grooves (VII,7) on Stob Coire nan Lochan.

On Ben Nevis, the thaw on Friday saturated the snowpack, which has now frozen hard bringing many routes into condition. Ascents were made of Waterfall Gully, The Curtain, 1931 Route, Italian Climb, Route 2/Route 1 Combination and Orion Direct. Dave Almond and Trym Saeland (Norway) climbed Darth Vader (VII,7) and Rich Bentley and Seokju Woo (South Korea) made an ascent of Tower Face of The Comb (VI,6)

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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