January has been disappointing month for Scottish winter climbers. The weather has been dominated by warm high pressure systems and any snowfall has quickly disappeared with sudden thaws. The dry air and associated wet bulb effect has allowed the remaining snowpack to freeze but opportunities have been limited. The snow gullies in the Northern Corries on Ben Nevis have been popular, and there have been one or two other interesting ascents. Steve Holmes and Ali Rose repeated Grand Central at the head of Observatory Gully on Ben Nevis. Encountering icy conditions they found it a grade easier than the first ascent and rated it a bold V,5.
The finest climbing day of the month was Sunday January 9 when an east-west split resulted in a wonderful winter day on the Cairngorms, with the hills frozen and white with fresh snow. Contrary to the weather forecast, this band of cold clear air also extended across to the far North-West where three teams were in action on An Teallach.
Doug Bartholomew and Graham Wyllie made an early repeat of Lord Berkeley’s Seat (VI,6). According to Andy Nisbet and Simon Jenkins, who made the first ascent in 1991,” this spectacular route up the vertical front face of the Seat is not as hard as it looks, and is possibly V,5 with well frozen turf and not too much snow.” Looking at the photos of Graham and Doug’s ascent this is hard to believe, but the route clearly deserves more ascents. Erick Baillot, Andy Sharpe also had their eye on Lord Berkeley’s Seat that day, and as consolation, made the third ascent of Monumental Chimney (V,7).
The big news from An Teallach however, was Guy Robertson and Adam Russell’s second ascent of TheWailing Wall (IX,9). This outstanding line up the left side of the upper Hayfork Wall was first climbed by Martin Moran and Murdoch Jamieson in December 2010. Guy is working on a new book about Scottish winter climbing and told me he was going to attempt the route a couple of weeks before. Hats off to Guy for predicting good conditions so far in advance, and being in position in the right place at the right time with two photographers, especially given the weather forecast! Their ascent is reported on UKC with a couple of outstanding images by Hamish Frost.
On the same day, on other side of the country, four parties visited The Stuic on Lochnagar. Stuart Macfarlane and Di Gilbert made an early repeat of The Stoee Chimney – when conditions are lean, going under the chockstone seems to be the way to go at IV,6. Ascents were made of First Light and Daybreak Corners, and Forrest Templeton and I made the first ascent of True Grit (V,7). This takes a line up the centre of the depression between Bonanza and Twilight Groove and features a stenuous second pitch up an overhanging niche and groove that was superbly led by Forrest.
Unreported from December 28 was the first ascent of Polished Up (VI/VII,6), the line of cracks on the wall between Slaterless and Seam-stress on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda by Wojciech Polkowski, Sebastian Gidelski. Surprisingly, this short but good-looking addition, had not been recorded before.
Finally, a cold north-westerly blast brought the northern corries of Braeriach briefly into condition on January 20. Mark Robson and I added Against All Odds (IV,6) on Elation Buttress in Coire an Lochain and Wolf Moon (IV,6) to the right of Hostage to Fortune in the neighbouring Coire Ruadh. Conditions were good for mixed climbing that day with frozen turf and well rimed up rock, but needless to say, the situation was only temporary, and warm air soon moved in stripping the cliffs.