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    Scottish winter climbing news
    Ally MacAskill on the first ascent of the excellent Oneicicle (V,5) in Coire a’Bhasterir on Skye. This was one of 20 new routes climbed during the two-week long Skye Winter Climbing Festival in late January to early February. (Photo Mike Lates)

    Ally MacAskill on the first ascent of the excellent-looking Oneicicle (V,5) in Coire a’Bhasteir on Skye. This was one of 20 new routes climbed during the two-week long Skye Winter Climbing Festival in late January to early February. (Photo Mike Lates)

    Several folks have commented that I left a bit of a teaser about the Skye Winter Climbing Festival following my post about Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. The festival was an outstanding success with over 20 new routes and only one day of climbing lost to the weather. Mike Lates, Skye guide supremo, and organiser of the Festival, has kindly provided the following report.

    “The fifth Skye Winter Climbing Festival expanded this year to two weeks instead of a long weekend,” Mike writes. “It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off big style with participants and the weather all playing their part. We were forced to move away from the Glen Brittle Memorial hut because of their renovations and moving next door to a pub sounded dangerous!

    The aim has always been to demonstrate that Skye should not be written off for winter climbing. Historically it has suffered because of a general obsession with the much-hyped Winter Traverse and a very slow realisation that the Cuillin offers superb mixed climbing. Ironically, the fickle weather that makes a huge undertaking like the Traverse unlikely, is precisely what technical Cuillin climbing needs, and boy did this year prove it!

    Ironically this year has seen more ice than I’ve ever known – I’d even placed more Cuillin screws before Christmas than any previous season’s total. More ice formed hugely early January but I was gutted to see it diminish a couple of days beforehand. Tim Oates and Michael Barnard were just sharp enough to snatch the big ice pitch of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (IV,4) on Day 1 of the festival (January 24) but the following day saw all but the highest ice destroyed in a tropical storm.

    The skies cleared overnight and the next day (January 26) saw Rory and Malcom Morris, Craig Rennie and Dylan Coutts add two new lines on Thuilm; the first called Generous Gully (I) because I’d pointed it out to them as an obvious target.

    We went into Coir’ a’Bhasteir on Wednesday (January 28) to discover huge fat ice on the back wall behind the lochan that had definitely not been there on Monday. Our conclusion was that a slurry of slush had just sunk down the wall and stuck solid. Many of the new arrivals over the next few days had little or no ice experience and these walls provided a selection of superb 50m lines for folk to try their hand.

    Friday (January 30) started OK but degenerated into a mega-storm that I was glad to see everyone return from. Four of us climbed the right-hand of two prominent lines that had often form thinly but always remained elusive. Word-meister (Mak Francis) Beads concluded it should be called Twicicle (IV,5).

    At the opposite end of the Ridge James Sutton was doing battle on Con’s Cleft (E1) with his brother Doug using tools for the first time and Ben Weir presumably shouting advice from below the overhang! They were stopped 25m from the top and it was my pleasure (Type 2 at times) to head back with James on the Sunday (February 1) to complete the ascent. I’ve limited experience, but thought VII,7 was James being pretty conservative.

    Michael Barnard was back on the Saturday (January 31), this time with Josh, and, again, he mopped up. South Gully on South Crag is pretty low lying and had been on my ambition list. The guys did another shorter route too. Next day he was beside us on the Alasdair cliffs on a really good looking icy groove-line which they named Skye High and gave it V,7. Monday (February 2) was the first day with little wind and Ally MacAskill and I headed back into Coir’ a’Bhasteir and thoroughly enjoyed steep ice on Onceicle (V,5).

    Tuesday (February 3) saw a split across the island with a huge dump stopping abruptly south of Sligachan. Fiona Murry and Alison Coull committed to the swim into the Bhasteir icefalls on their second attempt but were rewarded with Making Memories (V,6) on Garbh-bheinn the next day. I’d been into this virgin cliff twice before but never had any joy. It’s an unusually vegetated gabbro cliff but Wednesday February 4 saw it dripping with ice and frozen turf and none of Tuesday’s snow! Mo Barclay, Stuart Leonard and I grabbed the first good-looking line leading to a tight crux chimney with a crucial chockstone. Full of character we thought Chockolates was worthy of two stars at V,6. Stuart from Hong Kong and came up with the perfect name for another route we snatched before dark – Yat for the Doh translates as One for the Road. James also snatched the third ascent of The Smear (V) that day as consolation for backing off Deep Gash Gully, again with his very game brother.

    The following day everything seemed to be running and dripping in Coir’ a’Mhadaidh but Murdo and Beads found Farcicle (V,5) still user friendly in the fridge that is Coir’ a’Bhasteir. This point was further exaggerated the following day when Francis and John found the North West Face Route (III) on Gillean in stunning nick as they climbed up above the clouds while everyone else headed south.

    This incomplete summary focuses largely on new route highlights but there was much more activity with teams on established routes, wandering the corries, getting excited on the ridges and peaks. My favourite memory was stood on the balcony of the bunkhouse, listening to the ice cracking as we watched the full moon light up the Cuillin at the far end of the loch. And finally, huge thanks to the staff and locals at the Old Inn for making us all so welcome. We’ll be back!”

    The entry for The Shroud in the Nevisport New Routes book. The great hanging icefall of The Shroud on the North Wall of Carn Dearg is one of the most sought after pure ice routes on Ben Nevis. It is not often in condition, but this year it has had several ascents with even left-hand and right-hand versions available. The first ascent by Andy Clarke and John Main on 2 February 1993 was particularly bold, as the free-hanging ice fang did not connect with the belay ledge. (Photo Colin Moody)

    The entry for The Shroud in the Nevisport New Routes book. The great hanging icefall of The Shroud (VI,6) on the North Wall of Carn Dearg is one of the most sought after pure ice routes on Ben Nevis. It is not often in condition, but this year it has had several ascents with even left-hand and right-hand versions available. The original description reveals that the first ascent by Andy Clarke and John Main on 2 February 1993 was particularly bold, as the free-hanging ice fang did not connect with the belay ledge. (Photo Colin Moody)

    In today’s Internet and Social Media world, it is interesting to reflect that only a few years ago, news about new routes was passed around by word of mouth. As is the case today, significant events were highlighted in climbing magazines, and most new route descriptions made their way into club journals such as the SMCJ, but there could be a lag of over a year before a description was published and folk were aware that a route had been climbed.

    Many climbing shops in the UK hosted new routes books, which allowed a more rapid sharing of information. Colin Moody has done a fantastic job photographing  two volumes of the Fort William Nevisport New Routes book and making them available on his blog. It captures many of the important developments in the 1980s and 1990s in the Western Highlands.

    “Recording of routes was often done soon after the events (sometimes the same day) so these books were considered good sources of up to date information,” Colin explains on his blog. “They have been held by many grubby hands. I was told that for University John Redhead did a study of how long after people went into Pete’s Eats they wrote up their routes!

    The Nevisport books in Fort William were mostly for nearby Glen Nevis but also covered climbs from the Outer Hebrides, Skye, Creag Dubh and the rest, even a few central belt routes. Winter climbs on Ben Nevis, Creag Meagaidh and others were written up. Many routes (especially short ones) were never sent in for the SMC Journal, I’ve noticed a few routes that never made it into the guidebooks. Andy MacDonald has kept these books and let me borrow and copy them, unfortunately an earlier book has gone missing.”

    Well done to Colin for taking the initiative to make this material available for all. I for one, have enjoyed browsing the pages and sensing the immediacy and first-hand nature of the reports.

    Several other new routes books throughout the UK few can be viewed at rockarchivist.co.uk

    Keith Ball climbing the second pitch of The Crack (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The route follows an inverted staircase of overhanging steps up the centre of the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. The crack line cutting through the second step can be seen directly above Keith’s arm. (Photo Dave Rudkin)

    Keith Ball climbing the second pitch of The Crack (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The route follows an inverted staircase of overhanging steps up the centre of the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. The crack line cutting through the second step can be seen directly above Keith’s arm. (Photo Dave Rudkin)

    Dave Rudkin and Keith Ball notched up an important repeat on Ben Nevis on February 21 when they made the second ascent of The Crack (VIII,8). This HVS summer line takes the striking crack system running up the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. Due to its steepness it is rarely in condition, and Dave and Keith chose to attempt it directly after a heavy snowfall. The Crack was the most difficult of the 30 or so new winter lines that Chris Cartwright and I added to Ben Nevis over a ten-year period from the mid-1990s. It’s great that almost 15 years to the day, it has seen another ascent!

    “Keith and I have been up in Scotland working for PYB,” Dave explained. “We have managed to climb some of the classic ice routes on Carn Dearg on our days off, which has been fantastic; firstly we climbed The Shield Direct (with Matt Stygall), then Gemini, The Shroud and finally The Bewildabeast. This weekend we thought the mixed climbing would be good so headed back up that way.  From the CIC hut we carefully negotiated the slopes below Carn Dearg until below The Crack. What a brilliant route! Strenuous and sustained as you say in the guide, I even managed to drop a few hand jams into rimed up cracks – pure joy!  We climbed the difficulties in four pitches but went directly up the chimney (which required a very awkward move to get started) for the fourth pitch instead of traversing [and climbing parallel on the] right as you did on the first ascent.

    I’ve added some photos, and hope they bring back some good memories.  I’m glad I didn’t have leashes on!”

    Steve Holmes leading the initial corner of Inception (V,7) on Ben Nevis. This technical mixed follows a line of grooves and chimneys in the Fawlty Towers area of Secondary Tower Ridge. (Photo Duncan Curry)

    Steve Holmes leading the initial corner of Inception (V,7) on Ben Nevis. This technical mixed route follows a line of grooves and chimneys in the Fawlty Towers area of Secondary Tower Ridge. (Photo Duncan Curry)

    On February 17 Steve Holmes and Duncan Curry added a good mixed route to Secondary Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. The 95m-long Inception (V,7) climbs the left edge of the inset area of crag between Douglas Gap West Gully and the start of 1934 Route. This area is best known for Fawlty Towers, a popular Grade III outing when the weather is poor. Inception starts 15m up West Gully, and lies directly opposite the start of the South-West Ridge on the Douglas Boulder, below a left-facing corner ramp. The route climbs the well-defined initial corner, a constricted chimney followed by a cracked wall to finish up another chimney and snowy grooves to reach the crest of Tower Ridge.

    The day before (February 16), Pete Harrison and Tom Livingstone scored a notable repeat with the third ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. “We both thought the route was very good,” Pete told me. “We reckon it’s worth two stars because it’s fairly short, but it has excellent quality climbing. The first pitch is steep to start then a bit strenuous up the wide crack, and is fairly well protected. The second pitch is beautiful face climbing on small edges – teetery, but with good wires where needed. The third pitch was an icefall… We both thought VIII 8 was spot on, and not soft!”

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Bolero (V,5) in Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs. This mid-height north-facing crag has been proved to be a good location for middle grade ice routes this season. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Bolero (V,5) in Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs. This mid-height north-facing crag has been proved to be a good location for middle grade ice routes this season. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “After such good conditions on Mullach nan Rathain but the rest of the north-west with little snow, and reports of bare rock in the Cairngorms, somewhere kind of middling was needed,” writes Andy Nisbet. “Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs might just do the job, so Dave McGimpsey and I gave it a go on Sunday February 15. The forecast was for increasing wind so an early start (by our standards) was made. The plan was that the wind would blow our bikes up the road and get us to the crag, then we’d be sheltered on the north facing cliff and once we’d done a route, it didn’t matter what hit us for the way home.

    The only snag (but one we could handle) is that it seemed a nice day and there wasn’t much wind to blow us up. Garbh Choire Mor seemed a bit bare but it gets the sun, so our crag would be fine. Which it was until we walked along the approach terrace and couldn’t see any snow or ice. Plans A and B were completely bare, so improvised plan C of climbing some easy ice at the right end of the crag would have to do. But when we got there and looked at the route descriptions, there was a tempting but very steep corner that held a strip of ice. Then we realised that the existing route Bunny Boiler climbed the second ice line from the left and the steep corner was the first. So why not give it a go? At least I’d had early morning thoughts and added an ice screw to the rack at the last minute.

    There was an easy introductory pitch leading to the corner; maybe we should solo it. But we decided to put the rope on and it turned out to be much steeper than it looked. Which of course made the corner even steeper and rather intimidating. But there was a fine horizontal crack in the perfect place for a belay, so no excuses really.

    I set off up the corner with the odd position of climbing pure ice but with bare rock either side. The right side was completely smooth but the left side soon gave a bridge and a good runner. Back up the ice and a spiral bulge called for the ice screw. Some strenuous moves up from this led to another bridging ledge on the left. It turned out I could actually step left and just rest on a strange perch with a nice crack for runners. Back on to the ice, now a little hollow, but a couple of moves not kicking too hard soon solved this. The finish was up a hidden gully on to the windy plateau.

    One of the nicest features of this crag is the easy descent, although a southerly wind didn’t allow us the normal free wheel on the bikes back to the car. The recent routes here have dance names, but since this had been an ice dance, the name Bolero (V,5) seemed appropriate.”

    Uisdean Hawthorn linking pitches 1 and 2 during an early repeat of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh’s Pinnacle Buttress. This rarely in condition route was first climbed by Dave Hesleden and Bruno Sourzac in 2005 and is one of Scotland’s most sought after ice climbs. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn linking pitches 1 and 2 during an early repeat of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh’s Pinnacle Buttress. This rarely in condition route was first climbed by Dave Hesleden and Bruno Sourzac in 2005 and is one of Scotland’s most sought after ice climbs. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn teamed up with Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson to complete a remarkable double on Creag Meagaidh last week (February 12 -13). Uisdean takes up the story:

    “Having got down from doing Han Solo on the Ben, I sat in the van, checked the weather and then texted Iain Small to see if he was about on Thursday. He quickly responded saying he and Blair were headed to see if The Fly Direct (VII,6) was there, and I was welcome to join them.

    When we got to the loch the next morning we could see the crag looked good with lots of white lines streaking down the cliff.

    The Fly Direct was in good condition apart from a sugary section on the first pitch, which Iain skilfully picked his way past. We did it in five long pitches making for a fairly quick fun ascent. I had arranged to go out with Murdoch Jamieson on Friday and Iain decided to join, as Extasy (VIII,8) was looking incredibly icy so we stashed the gear decided to come back for that.

    The next day the three of us were buzzing with excitement as we geared up below the crag. We wondered whether we could link pitches 1 and 2 together and thought our ropes would reach. So I set off, on what turned out to be an extremely interesting pitch! I picked my way up the features weaving from icy corner to steep ice onto the icy slab then up a turfy groove. I even got to place my first warthog (my joinery apprenticeship coming in handy), which was the only gear for the last 20m. And thankfully I had enough rope to reach the ledge

    Iain and Murdoch both led the their pitches very well. Iain’s had a very delicate bold step to gain an ice ramp, and Murdoch’s a steep committing mixed corner. Me being indecisive and description inaccuracies meant an easy 20m pitch took longer than it should have. That left a long pitch to the top with a few hard steps, which Iain took in his stride leaving us grinning at the top still in daylight. [This was the fourth ascent of Extasy].

    I would have been delighted to climb just one off these routes in a season but to climb them both in two days, after doing a new route on Ben Nevis the day before, left me on a high and loving Scottish ice, and wondering why would anyone want to climb anywhere else.”

    “I’m not sure how our first two pitches on Extasy relate to the original description but we definitely climbed the original pitch four corner on our third pitch,” Iain explained. “I had arranged a day out with Blair on Thursday [February 12] and driving up Uisdean got in contact about joining us. I reckoned The Fly Direct would be a good bet and Blair was very keen for this rare classic. Also it would give me a chance to scope out conditions on the crag for Friday with Murdoch and Uisdean. The Fly lived up to its reputation and descending we got to check out Extasy. The face was teeming with ice and we could pick a line of grooves and ramps that led to the corner pitch. So we were back next day and with cooler conditions helping we had a great climb, giving the old warthogs a rare day out!”

    Michael Barnard climbing the line of Shear Fear (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. This steep two-pitch line on the west side of Tower Ridge provides a direct finish to Vanishing Gully. (Photo John MacLeod)

    Michael Barnard climbing the line of Shear Fear (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. This steep two-pitch line on the west side of Tower Ridge provides a direct finish to Vanishing Gully. (Photo John MacLeod)

    Michael Barnard and John MacLeod climbed a possible new ice route on Ben Nevis on February 14. “We climbed the obvious icefall overlooking the easier upper gully of 1934 Route, which makes a good finale to Vanishing Gully,” Michael told me. “I guess it could have been done before, but I can’t find any record. We called it Shear Fear and graded it VI,5. It’s often thin, and would be at least a grade easier with thicker ice.”

    As Michael says, this is a very obvious feature (when formed) and it makes a natural finish to Vanishing Gully. Michael is absolutely correct that there is no published record of a route hereabouts, but I seem to recall a description in the CIC Hut Book of an ascent by (I think) an Italian party.

    I’ll have a look at the hut book again when I’m next in the CIC, but in the meantime, if anybody knows of an ascent of this excellent-looking line, the please get in touch or leave a comment.

    Steve Perry finishing up the ridge crest after the first ascent of Batman (VI,7) on the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain on Liathach. The main summit of Liathach (Spidean a’Choire Leith) is behind. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry finishing up the ridge crest after the first ascent of Batman (VI,7) on the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain on Liathach. The main summit of Liathach (Spidean a’Choire Leith) is behind. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Ice conditions have been great,” writes Andy Nisbet. “But the long mild spell in the North-West went on and on. Finally a colder day was forecast for February 13, but with rain and gales. A couple of days ago the forecast changed slightly and the low pressure was due to track further south, with the wind switching into the south-east. It took some faith and ignoring cautious mountain forecasts to realise that the north-west was actually going to have good weather. But would there be any ice left?

    Driving into Torridon with Steve Perry, you would have thought not. There were some incomplete streaks on the Pyramid [on the south side of Liathach] but otherwise just patches. What a change from snow down to the road and wading up just eight days ago. Still, we’d driven over so might as well go as high as possible and at least see if the turf was still frozen; it was a lovely day after all. It’s lucky we even took climbing gear. The first sign of hope was when we had to put crampons on at about 850m, but then we reached the ridge and looked across at the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain, and wow!

    Every ledge was white with the tell-tale grey fringe of ice at its base. Every groove was filled with ice; it had obviously been the right altitude for thaw and freeze. While the rest of the corrie was bare apart from a few ice streaks, this face just looked as good as you can get. We descended into the corrie on neve and headed for the right face of a ridge called Holy Ghost. I climbed Holy Ghost with clients in 1996, but although the finish was great, I was aware that the start was avoiding the main difficulties. Now it was time to bite the bullet.

    We geared up in a big wind scoop at the base and I set off up the supposedly easy first pitch. I was soon surprised by a tricky move but there was enough momentum to keep going. It probably would have been sensible to belay on a terrace but I kept going through a big turn right and climbed a shallow chimney to a ledge above Trinity Gully Right-Hand, which looked in great nick apart from a substantial chockstone which was iced but looked about Tech 5. It must need a big build-up to be Grade III,3.

    Steve joined me below a wide crack with a smear of ice down its right wall. We didn’t have the sharpest gear (again) but I don’t mind thin ice (as long as it’s not too steep), so I kept the lead up excellent quality ice until the groove above turned very steep. With the advantage of having studied photos, I knew to move right and pull up an awkward wall to reach a very unlikely position on a ledge with overhangs above and below. The rock on this ledge looked awful, but with everything frozen hard, my three belay points felt adequate.

    It was Steve’s turn to pull over a bulge on to an inset ledge and gain a reassuring crack we could see from below. When I first arrived at the stance, the next step right looked wild. But after I’d been there for a while, I became convinced that it was all in balance. It was somewhere in between of course, but it took Steve a while to convince himself that it could work. A peg runner of middling quality did help a lot but the ice placements were all to the right and footholds all to the left (there being mid air for the feet to the right). A final commitment looked hopeful but an axe popped out of the thin ice and he tested the peg. It rotated in the crack but held (just I presume). Some more wellying of the peg and time for another go. This time it worked and he was onto better ice overlaying turf, an ideal combination. The rope speeded up the best ice he’d ever climbed (but he wasn’t on Ben Nevis in April 2002) and he reached the crest of the ridge.

    That left me a lovely pitch up the crest of the ridge, common to Holy Ghost, and the crest of the Northern Pinnacle ridge above its difficulties. We strolled up to Mullach nan Rathain for food and brilliant views. It was just one of those special days. Grading was hard, and with sharp tools VI,6 might have been right. But conditions were a bit special and less ice would have made it technically harder probably with better gear. So we settled for VI,7 and the name Batman, which I seem to remember is why the ridge was called Holy Smoke.”

    The line of Navigator (VI,6) on Stob a’Choire Mheadhoin. This very secluded cliff can only be seen from the West Highland Railway or from the summit ridge of Meall Garbh (another rarely visited winter venue). (Archive Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet, Steve Perry and Dan Bailey added an excellent new route to Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin in the Central Highlands on February 11. Andy takes up the story:

    “Is it cheating to climb with three axes? So Steve Perry asked in the middle of the crux section. The jury of Dan Bailey and myself on the ledge below decided it wasn’t. It could only be a question from the leashless era, as Steve had fallen some 10m when a large block pulled and he ended up with no axes. Fortunately one of them landed up beside us but the other was well up the pitch. Having lowered a loop of rope for the lower one, and then again to borrow mine, the third was retrieved and the pitch successfully climbed, sustained turfy grooves that could only be linked with a bit of guile.

    Actually we’d done well to be there at all, having rather missed the inversion weather and replacing it with whiteout. We were on Stob a’Choire Mheadhoin at a crag you can only see from the railway, hence its neglect until Mike Geddes soloed an unknown route there in an unknown year, and I heard about it posthumously. I had climbed there in 2000 and several times in 2013 but have never heard of anyone else visiting the cliff. The approach to the cliff is from above at a break in the cornice where the ridge to its summit changes direction. Fortunately I realised that we had changed direction and must have passed the break, which is about 50m long.

    Next challenge was to find the cliff, and then the route – the descent was diagonal across steep snow. Now it was completely white and we edged our way down, feeling for each step in case of losing balance; it would have been a terminal slide on hard snow. After a while, Dan thought he spotted some a dark shape ahead; was it the cliff? It turned out it was, but where on a big cliff. Again fortunately, the snow conditions were very similar to those in a photo I’d brought with me, so we soon picked out that we were at three rocks shown in my photo. And it wasn’t difficult to find the start of the route, an iced groove.

    After a suggestion to solo it was turned down by the others, I felt very happy with that decision as I led it, reaching the second pitch of my projected line. Unfortunately the small gap in the ice on my photo turned out to be a 6 foot roof but there was a good looking line to its left, albeit with a bulging start. Steve took over and despite a commentary of suggestions from the belayers as to how to climb it, managed to work out a sequence, which the seconders didn’t use. Higher up, it was much steeper than it looked (when isn’t it), but he cracked it despite the airtime.

    The third pitch turned out to be much easier and very icy (I’m good at planning these things) and left Steve with an innocent looking chimney-crack. It very much wasn’t easy but Steve led it with some precarious bridging and occasional watch me comments while I seconded it using a more old fashioned method. As on previous routes, our line felt pretty substantial and we gave it 150m VI,6, provisionally named Navigator. The return to the car even includes the Munro and the excellent walking conditions saved some torch battery life.”

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of Storm Trooper on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This was used to access the thin ice smear (above and right of Guy’s head) resulting in a new addition called (in keeping with the Star Wars theme) Han Solo (VIII,7). Storm Trooper has two starts – the one climbed by Guy and Uisdean was the start used on the first complete ascent of the route by Andy Turner and Steve Ashworth in January 2008. (Photo Uisdean Hawthorn)

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of Storm Trooper on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This was used to access the thin ice smear (above and right of Guy’s head) resulting in a new addition called (in keeping with the Star Wars theme) Han Solo (VIII,7). Storm Trooper has two starts – the one climbed by Guy and Uisdean was the route of the first complete ascent by Andy Turner and Steve Ashworth in January 2008. (Photo Uisdean Hawthorn)

    “Uisdean Hawthorn and I climbed a new route/variant on February 11 on the Ben,” Guy Robertson told me. “Very interesting conditions with a fair bit of black rock but lots of verglas and thin ice high up. We climbed an obvious ice smear that had formed directly above the first pitch of Storm Trooper. There’s a wee gully that feeds it from above so I think it’ll come in again reasonably often. I led the first pitch of Storm Trooper – mostly on thin ice, which was very cool – then Uisdean led the smear itself.

    Though the climbing was never technically particularly hard, the whole thing was pretty spicy with two pitches of VIII,7 or thereabouts. Uisdean’s lead of the smear was impressive; the ice was maybe only about three inches thick at best, and a lot thinner in places. All in all a pretty cool ‘cerebral’ experience and I’d have thought one of the harder bits of ice the Ben has to offer. Uisdean called the route Han Solo for self-explanatory reasons!”

    Postscript 17 February 2015: No sooner had this post been published than I received an enthusiastic email from Tim Neill saying that he and Nick Bullock had made the second ascent of Han Solo earlier that day (February 16).

    “I just caught the post on your blog about Guy and Uisdean’s line on the Ciste cliff,” Tim wrote. “Good to read the details… I’d spoken to Uisdean earlier in the week and he’d described the line and randomly over the weekend I’ve been doing a neat film job for Mountain Equipment and Nick Bullock and I managed to repeat the line and get it all on film.

    Anyway, the climbing was wild… Nick got Pitch 1 and I managed to make it up the smear pitch… fairly sensational. All of Guy’s comments stand… I hope the film will showcase the great ice on the Ben as well as possible!”