SMC Journal New Routes Website

Hot off the press – the new SMC Journal New Routes website contains over 9000 route descriptions representing the most comprehensive Scottish new routes listing available.

The Scottish Mountaineering Club collects route descriptions for new routes climbed each year and publishes them in the SMC Journal. These descriptions are now available online via the following interactive website:

https://newroutes.smc.org.uk>

The website is available to all and works on any desktop, tablet or smartphone that has an Internet connection. It includes all routes that have been published in the Journal and are not included in a definitive guidebook.

The website also includes links to a full set of scanned SMC Journals and a selection of mini guides. First ascents can also be searched by climber name.

The SMC is committed to maintaining a comprehensive record of Scottish climbing, so if you have climbed a new route or have any comments or corrections, please submit them via the red new route button. New route descriptions will be added to the website on a frequent basis once they have been checked and moderated.

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Southern Highlands Twin Pack

Rich Bentley leading pitch 1 of Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker (IV,4) on Beinn a’ Chreachain in the Southern Highlands. (Photo Stuart McFarlane)

On December 11 Dec, Stuart McFarlane, Di Gilbert and Rich Bentley visited Beinn a’ Chreachain in the Bridge of Orchy hills. Fuelled by stories of ‘unclimbed icicles’ by Erik Brunskill, I’d always meant to explore here,” Stuart told me.

“Being in the company of two experienced Mountain Guides, who had discussed the best line of approach, I could fully enjoy the scenery and beautiful clear day. After what felt like walking for hours, we arrived at the lochain, beneath this impressive crag.

Initially we climbed Rubadub Ridge (IV,4) since the approach had eaten into our day. We were up this in no time and Rich had spotted a short, steep groove line, left of the start. We then descended, climbed Rich’s groove, and belayed beneath the upper corner of Rubadub Ridge. I climbed up, surmounted a short wall and followed a ramp around a tower to finished up a short corner. Di commented that she had never climbed so much turf on a route before and enjoyed what the Southern Highlands had to offer!”

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker was graded IV,4. Stuart is having a good start to winter, and two days previously (December 9) he made the first ascent of The Lonemond Picket (III) on Ben Lomond with Blair Keogh. This150m-long route starts up Solo Buttress before taking a zig zag line up the left wall.

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Pollaidh Perfect

Caption: John Higham on the first ascent of No.2 Buttress Original Route (IV,6) on Stac Pollaidh. The route comes up from the gully below the climber before emerging between the pinnacle on the far left and the main tower. Their line of footsteps traversing below the main tower before gaining the arete are clearly visible. (Photo Iain Young)

Iain Young and John Higham made a winter ascent of No.2 buttress on Stac Pollaidh via a variation of Original Route (an ancient summer Diff) on December 12.

“It was a fabulous day out and our third attempt on the route,” Iain reports. “The first time the mountain was under heavy snow, it was snowing, we went the wrong way, but the turf was soggy anyway. That day we escaped up the slabby ground that leads to the summit ridge from below Bats in the Belfry – hard enough in itself under powder! The second time, at the back end of Storm Arwen, we found the start of our planned line, ibut things were again not frozen.

Yesterday persistence paid off. We started further up the gully than the summer start of Release the Bats, followed a snowy ramp out right to a steep turfy groove and then climbed a short, hard (for us at least), but well-protected crack. Ledges and short steps led to the ridge at the base of the upper tower mentioned in the summer description of Release the Bats. This was bypassed on the east side before the arete was regained in a fantastic situation. Some steep moves on good hooks on the headwall above, before a move left into the obvious finishing gully. The final slab taken in summer was then avoided on the right to gain the summit ridge. Overall, IV,6 in five shortish pitches.”

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Base Jump Buttress

Huw Scott climbing the initial groove of Base Jump Buttress (IV,5) on Sgurr Dearg in Skye. This section of cliff was previously unclimbed in either summer or winter but had been the location for several base jumps. (Photo Mike Lates)

Nathan Adam, Huw Scott and Mike Lates made the first ascent of Base Jump Buttress (IV,5) in Coire na Banachdaich on Sgurr Dearg in the Cuillin in December 10. Nathan takes up the story:

“Huw and I had a wee nosey at the north east facing crag on Garbh Bheinn on Friday but got chased off with mushy conditions so we knew that the next day we’d have to go higher. Mike joined us for the day, and we enjoyed a lovely sunrise walk up the West Ridge of Sgurr Dearg and dropped down to have a look around the cliffs.

Sadly, our original targets were out of condition but a crag covered in rime and with some inviting looking grooves drew us further up the hillside. It turned out this was a crag which some folk had base jumped from which seemed insane as there isn’t much vertical relief! We found a groove line cutting the middle of the crag and Huw took us up this for a pitch of excellent sustained climbing that was more about the feet than axe placements. I probed out left towards a fine hanging corner under Mike’s pressure, but ground to a halt where the crack disappeared so I went right up the edge of a fine slab before some short steep steps up two chimney faults led to the top of the crag and sunshine.

We drove back through Glen Shiel on December 11 to visit Druim Shionnach. Garry Campbell joined us too. The cliff is in great condition right now with bomber turf and ice free cracks. We were intent on Argentine Lemon, but I misread the description and climbed Macavity instead which turned out to have great sustained climbing up grooves and chimneys, worth two stars at least for the upper chimney. Probably the second ascent and hopefully will get some more attention now the new SMC Winter Climbs West guidebook is out.”

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Winter Begins!

Ole Kemi climbing Millennium Buttress (V,5) on The Stuic on Lochnagar. The route was first climbed over 22 years ago and this is possibly the first repeat. (Photo Stuart McFarlane)

Once again, it’s been a slow start to the Scottish winter season and most of November was unseasonably mild. There was a three-day window in late November when the snowed up rock routes in the Northern Corries came briefly on condition and those lucky enough to be in position made ascents of Savage Slit, The Hoarmaster, Hooker’s Corner and Deep Throat. 

Winter started for real on Sunday December 4 with teams in action across the Cairngorms. In the main, it was the easier routes in Coire an t-Sneachda that attracted most attention, but Neil Adams and Paul Ramsden made an enterprising visit to Carn Etchachan and came away with a rare ascent of Snake Charmer, which at V,6 is one of the easiest routes on the Upper Tier. In Coire an Lochain, Dave Almond and partner climbed Fallout Corner (VI,7) followed by the testing War and Peace (VII,8) the following day. 

On the other side of the Cairngorms, The Stuic is continuing to gain popularity. On December 4, Nathan Adam and partner climbed the classic First Light (IV,5) followed by the excellent Morning Has Broken (V,6).

Three days later Stuart McFarlane and Ole Kemi visited the cliff and climbed Millennium Buttress (V,5). To my knowledge this is the first time the route has been repeated. As the name suggests, the first ascent took place on the first day of the century. I remember a tough day with John Ashbridge walking through deep snow from the road after not much sleep folowing the festivities the night before!

As I write snow continues to fall across the Highlands and the strong north wind is freezing the exposed turf. Winter has started!

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Duncan Tunstall (1962 – 2022)

Duncan Tunstall climbing in Glen Esk in the Southern Cairngorms. Duncan added hundreds of new routes across Scotland and was at his happiest when pioneering adventurous new ground. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

My friend Duncan Tunstall died last month. Duncan lived with an inoperable brain tumour for 20 years, but this never stopped him living life to the full. Duncan had huge energy, great imagination, and an unstoppable love for adventure. He made first ascents in the Karakorum, China and the Alps and climbed well over 200 new routes in Scotland.

Duncan joined the North London Mountaineering Club in the 1980s and enjoyed many climbing adventures with Mick Fowler and friends on the loose sea cliffs in the South-West. In 1987 he visited the Karakorum with Stephen Venables and Phil Bartlett where they made the first ascent of the spectacular Solu Tower (5957m) on the Biafo-Solu divide, just south of the Hispar Pass. He returned to Pakistan in 1991 and ventured up the little-known Nobande Sobande Glacier where he made the first ascent of the West Ridge of Hanispur (c5900m) with Wiz Pasteur and Angus Atkinson.

Other expeditions followed including an attempt on the West Ridge of Nilkanth (6596m) in the Indian Garwhal with Chris Pasteur in 1993, and ascents in the Russian Altai Mountains with Mick Fowler and Paul Allison in 1998. In 2005, Duncan made his finest ascent in the Greater Ranges when he climbed the 1300m-high North Face of the impressive Xiashe (5833m) in Sichuan, China with Ed Douglas. Their new route took five days and was the second ascent of the peak by just a few days.

In the early 2000s Duncan was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He decided to leave his job as an oil trader in London and move, with his wife Jacqui to Aboyne in Aberdeenshire where he spent his time volunteering for local charities and exploring the Southern Cairngorms. His desire to look round new corners soon led to first ascents on Lochnagar and Beinn a’Bhuird, but Duncan was always attracted to the unusual. He thoroughly explored Glen Esk in the Angus Glens, an area rarely visited by climbers. He made the awe inspiring 200m-high Earn Crag his own with first ascents of Dschubba (V,7) and High Grade Low Grade (VII,8) with Andy Nisbet and Dave Almond – all big five pitch routes on very steep and adventurous terrain. On Craig Maskeldie he added Snowlake Reunion (IV,5) with Stephen Venables and the magnificent eight-pitch long Once in a Blue Moon (VII,7) with Henning Wackerhage and myself.

Although Duncan was powerfully built, he was surprisingly good on his feet as a rock climber and very skilled at ascending loose rock. He led me up the first ascent of Golden Buttress – serious six pitch E3 on Earn Crag with confidence and style. We enjoyed many adventures together from climbing sea stacks to seeking out new crags, but our finest undertaking was the first ascent of the SW Spur of Punta Baretti on the south side of Mont Blanc in 2009. Duncan was the perfect partner for this Walker Spur scale adventure that was very much a leap into the unknown. On the second day, Duncan’s skill with unstable ground was essential, and he sent tons of rock crashing to the glacier a thousand meters below when we encountered a huge band of rotten schist. We had three bivouacs and Duncan constructed excellent head-to-toe platforms whilst I cooked dinner each night.

Closer to home, Duncan added dozens of routes to the sea cliffs at Longhaven – some of the longest on the Aberdeenshire Coast – and from 2008 to 2014 he developed the crags at Vat Burn in Deeside resulting in an excellent new venue with over 130 climbs. Duncan did not lead all the routes and generously offered them to his friends once the lines were cleaned – the list of first ascensionists includes Andy Nisbet, Mark Atkins, Stephen Venables, Jamie Andrew and Julian Lines. In 2015 Duncan moved on to clean Bellamore Craig under the summit of Pannanaich Hill and another 80 routes were added to the area. These Deeside climbs are Duncan’s legacy – his efforts resulted in over 200 routes that will be enjoyed for generations of climbers to come.

Duncan was considerably more than just a climber. He was so full of life, that at times, it was both intoxicating and unnerving to be with someone who didn’t know whether the current day was to be their last. Duncan had a quick intelligence and was a stimulating conversationalist. His mind darted from one thing to the other, often obliquely and at a tangent, but always sharp and insightful. Being in Duncan’s company was both exhilarating and exhausting, but he was also generous and kind.

Stephen Venables described Duncan as one of the loudest, bluntest, kindest, most loyal and most provocative companions he had ever had in the mountains. There is no doubt that Duncan Tunstall was both a force of nature and one of climbing’s great characters – the world is a lesser place for his passing.

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The Fear Factory

Greg Boswell stepping out on to the huge hanging icicle of The Fear Factory (WI6R) on the Little Brenva Face on Ben Nevis. This magnificent feature was the last great unclimbed icefall on Ben Nevis. (Photo Hamish Frost)

On form Greg Boswell succeeded on one of the most prized objectives on Ben Nevis on March 6 when he made the first ascent of The Fear Factory (WI6R), the prominent hanging icicle on the lower part of the Little Brenva Face, with Guy Robertson and Hamish Frost.

The upper part of the hanging ice fang was climbed Dave MacLeod and Andy Nelson when they climbed The Snotter in February 2013. They ascended steep rock further right to gain the ice, but the prize of the complete ice feature remained.

“Finding an ice feature so distinct in Scotland is almost unheard of,” Greg told me. “Even in European terms, it would be classed as a big crazy piece of real-estate, let alone on Ben Nevis!

It was an absolute pleasure to reach the huge fang completely on ice. The climbing itself wasn’t overly physically taxing. The main difficulty was dealing with the delicate fang and the lack of protection – it was too dangerous to place screws in case it detached. In the end it was a 20m run out from my last protection to finally reach the safety of the easy ground above.

All in all, it was an amazing route and totally surreal to belay Hamish and Guy up the line after having climbed such an out-there pitch. We called the route The Fear Factory and opted for the Continental grade of WI6R as we feel this is the logical way to grade such an out of the ordinary Scottish route.”

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An Ice Surprise

Andy Harrison on the first ascent of An Ice Surprise (IV,4/5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. The route continues up the line of steep icefalls on the left for another four pitches to the to the top of the cliff. (Photo Dave Riley)

Dave Riley and Andy Harrison had an excellent day on Lurcher’s Crag on February 25. They climbed a continuous run of ice between Central and Diamond gullies up the highest part of the crag resulting in the 365m-long An Ice Surprise (IV,4/5).

“We had a fantastic day on Lurcher’s Crag making the most of the weather window and the aspect,” Dave told me. “We traversed the bottom of the crag looking for the best line and were enticed by very icy conditions in the central depression directly below the apex of the cliff. We climbed four pitches on ice, with some nice steep sections through overlaps, before joining easier terrain in the middle of face. We moved up this to below the summit buttress and took icy grooves and a gully (previously climbed by Have an Ice Day) to the left of St Bernard’s Ridge. This led to easier ground for a long pitch to the top. For sure some of this ground has been covered before, but maybe not as a continuous direct line?

The split grade is annoying but if the line of least resistance was taken through the lower icefalls, then IV, 4 would be fine, however, on the day we climbed a few body lengths of vertical ice. In addition, I’m pretty sure we joined the groove pitch of Have An Ice Day which Andy, Sandy and Steve graded V, 5. They climbed it in mid-December when I presume it was less banked out and leaner, whereas we found it more like IV, 4 in fuller conditions.”

As Dave says, parts of this route may have been climbed before, but it is not possible to say for sure. Existing description make no mention of approaching the upper cliffs from directly below via the icefalls, so this section is likely to be new. Unfortunately, detailed knowledge about Lurcher’s was lost with Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry’s tragic accident on Ben Hope in 2019. Whether this ascent follows completely new ground or not, it certainly provides an outstanding icy adventure directly up the centre of the cliff.

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Far North Holibobs

Robin Clothier making the first ascent of the Left-Hand Finish (III,4) to Positive Vegetation on Stac Pollaidh. This excellent route first climbed by Erik Brunskill and Dafydd Morris in November 2001. (Photo Stuart McFarlane)

Stuart McFarlane, Di Gilbert and Robin Clothier had a productive few days in the North-West last week. 

On February 16, they walked into Beinn Dearg, hoping to escape Storm Dudley. The plan worked and they made the first ascent of the Dudley Direct Start (IV,6) to The Tower of Babel. This climbs the lower tier below original, giving an additional 50m climbing at same grade. The full force of Storm Dudley hit them at the top of the route however, and the walk out with over 30cm of fresh snow made for hard going.

On Friday 18 February, after poor weather the day before, they enjoyed the scenic walk up to Bucket Buttress on Quinag “After getting a feel for this excellent steep crag, Robin and I climbed Di Time (IV,6),” Stuart explained. “This starts to the left of Beer Time and joins its chimney, before moving back right up a steep wall. Due to Jenga blocks visible from below, Di wisely decided that two seconds on this pitch was unwise and stepped aside for this route.

Saturday February 19 dawned a spectacular, cold and clear morning. The prize of winter climbing on Stac Pollaidh, could not be missed! Robin had climbed December Grooves with Euan Fowler the month previously, and I fancied Positive Vegetation (IV,5). I led crux pitch onto the big ledge, belayed beneath upper wall. We traversed left for 45m to beneath two parallel corners. Three Day Grooves takes the bigger left-hand corner, but Robin climbed the steeper right-hand one that finished with a pull onto a massive blob of turf. We graded our new finish III,4.

Climbing on Stac Pollaidh is right up there with Beinn Nuis on Arran – mountain, snow and sea!”

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The Last Crusade

Guy Robertson on the first ascent of Last Crusade Winter Variation (IX,9) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. The route continues up the grooves above to gain the hanging ice fang. Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) takes the prominent V-groove to the right and gains the front face of the ice. The icicle-draped overhang of The Ninety Five Theses (IX,9) can be seen high on the right. (Photo Greg Boswell)

Greg Boswell has just returned to Scotland after two months of high standard ice and mixed climbing in the Alps. He put his fitness to great effect on February 21 when he climbed a winter version of The Last Crusade on Church Door Buttress on Bidean Nam Bian with Guy Robertson. Without doubt, this new IX,9 is the route of the winter so far.

“The main attraction on Monday was the big hanging ice fang that was looming over the top of the crag,” Greg told me. “We opted for the two corner systems than ran up to the ice directly. We didn’t have a guidebook with us, but on the second pitch I was forced left slightly to eventually gain the big corner running parallel to the ice feature. I climbed this for a bit then blasted right to gain the ice. It was such a fun pitch to lead with some tricky climbing and hard-won gear, as the whole crag was glazed in a layer of bullet hard verglas. Looking at the guide when we got back, it turned out that we’d done most of The Last Crusade apart from the last corner where I moved right halfway up this to reach the beautiful ice cascade.”

The Last Crusade is rated E3 in summer and was first climbed by Rab Anderson and J.May in 1992. Iain Small was first to recognise the winter potential of the right-hand side of Church Door Buttress with first ascents of Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) and The Ninety Five Theses (IX,9). Iain had noticed that in summer there seems to be a constant spring-fed weep down that section of the cliff that forms a set of hanging icicles in winter. This ice grows quickly when the temperature rapidly fluctuates as we’ve seen recently.

Greg rated Last Crusade Winter Variation a ‘very stiff’ IX,9. “It wasn’t as hard as Lost Arrow, but the crux was nippy, and my gear fell out mid crux due to the verglassed cracks. But it might feel safer in different conditions.”

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