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    Scottish winter climbing news
    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the he first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson made the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis on February 3.

    “It had some pretty technical climbing which was hard work to protect as everything was a bit icy,” Iain told me. “I think the Secret only deserves VIII,8 when compared to this at VIII,9. There were quite a few teams about. Folk were on Archangel and Avenging Angel Direct. Canadians Jon Walsh and Michelle Kadatz climbed Knuckleduster, which had been our first choice, but clearly we need to get up earlier! We saw them back at the hut and Jon said was really enjoying being back on Scottish mixed even in the wild conditions that we were having. He said he had never actually had to climb routes with goggles on before!”

    The Cathedral on Lochnagar with the original line of Judas Priest (V,5) marked in red and the the possible new Direct Finish (V,5) marked in blue. Judas Priest (V,5), which was first climbed by Brian Findlay and Greg Strange in December 1986, is one of the classics of Lochnagar’s Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Cathedral on Lochnagar with the original line of Judas Priest (V,5) marked in red and the the possible new Direct Finish (V,5) marked in blue. Judas Priest (V,5), which was first climbed by Brian Findlay and Greg Strange in December 1986, is one of the classics of Lochnagar’s Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On January 31, Forrest Templeton and Kevin Murphy climbed a possible new Direct Finish to Judas Priest (V,5) on The Cathedral on Lochnagar.

    “We climbed the first pitch of Judas Priest,” Forrest explained, “but instead of breaking right when it reaches easy ground, we continued directly up an obvious steepish groove parallel to the top of the second pitch of Spellbound onto the terrace that this route crosses to finish up the normal finish of Judas Priest. I belayed at the bottom of a wide slabby chimney corner, which was a full 50m from the bottom. Kev came up but belayed slightly below this on the terrace at the foot of the rib to the right of the big corner and I used the original belay as a runner before climbing up into a hanging groove on the rib with a technical start.

    Alpine-like grooves and bulges were followed to a narrow square cut exit at the top of a steep 15m chimney-groove. The second pitch was 30 to 35m long. The standard of the second pitch is similar to the first of Judas and it makes quite a sustained and direct two-pitch route. Don’t know if it’s been done before but either way it makes a good outing with lots of oomph in it’s short length!”

    The Cathedral is a popular cliff on Lochnagar and its routes see many ascents. There are a number of possible finishes to Spellbound and Judas Priest, as well as the adjacent routes Sepulchre and Trinity, but to my knowledge no alternative finishes have been recorded. Please get in touch or leave a comment if you’ve taken a different exit to any of these routes so the next edition of The Cairngorms guidebook can be fully up to date.

    Ramon Marin on the first ascent of Tangerine Dream (VII,8) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This prominent chimney-crack lies to the left of The Groove Climb and finishes on the large terrace leading into Number Four Gully. (Photo Douglas Russell)

    Douglas Russell on the first ascent of Tangerine Dream (VII,8) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This prominent chimney-crack lies to the left of The Rattler and finishes on the large terrace leading into Number Four Gully. (Photo Ramon Marin)

    Douglas Russell and Ramon Marin added a challenging new single pitch climb to the left side of the Central Tier of South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis on January 31. Russell takes up the story:

    “On Sunday, Ramon Marin and myself headed up to the Trident Buttress area on the Ben. We were planning on getting on Sidewinder or Strident Edge, but when arrived at the buttress we realized we had packed the selected guide instead of the definitive one. Looking at the buttress we noticed an obvious chimney and flake system on the left-hand side, so decided to jump on that as it looked like fun climbing and such an obvious line.

    I started up noticing that there were some loose blocks at the bottom and lots of verglas on the rock. The gear was pretty poor but good enough to persuade me upwards. At the top of the chimney I was stopped by a bulge. Looking around for gear I managed to get a wobbly Terrier in. It didn’t fill me with much confidence and I couldn’t bring myself to commit to pulling over. So I opted to lower off / down climb back to the belay.

    Knowing the top Terrier placement would take a bomber Bulldog we took the Bulldog out of the belay and replaced it with an axe. Ramon set off up armed with the spare Bulldog and was soon at my high point. He replaced the Terrier and pulled the bulge without too much difficulty and found himself at the upper flake system. We thought once we reached the flake the climbing would ease off but we were wrong. With some very thin hooks and some poor feet he made steady progress and soon found himself on the big snow bay at the top.

    We are unsure of the grade. Ramon thinks it felt harder than Sundance [on Beinn Eighe] and with worse gear. We felt it had a definite Tech 8 move in it, but with low commitment value being a single pitch. We are suggesting VII,8. We may have found it hard due to the style of the climbing, but time will tell!”

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar. Unlike previous winter meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar climbed during the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet. Unlike previous Meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Weather Gods did not smile kindly on the BMC International Winter Meet that was held at Glenmore Lodge from January 24 to January 30. Over 35 guests from 30 different countries were teamed up with UK hosts and let loose on the Scottish hills. Unfortunately a major thaw preceded the event and the first two days were spent dry tooling at Newtyle or sea cliff climbing in the warm sunshine at Cummingston and Logie Head. The exception was Andy Nisbet who showed his great experience by leading a party up Fiacaill Couloir on ice that had survived the thaw. Despite the non-wintery start, there were smiles all around, and for several of the visitors, climbing by the sea was a new experience in itself.

    With lower temperatures, an overnight snowfall, and a temporary lull in the gale force winds, winter climbing final kicked off on Wednesday January 27, and teams headed off to the well-known ‘early season’ locations of the Northern Corries, Ben Nevis and Beinn Eighe. In Coire an t-Sneachda, Original Summer Route, Fingers Ridge and The Message were climbed and in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Deep Throat, Western Route, Sidewinder and Ewen Buttress all saw ascents. Full marks went to Raphael Slawinski (Canada) and Erik Eisele (US) who both made ascents of The Vicar (VII,8) as their first-ever Scottish winter routes with Dave Garry and Tom Livingstone. The Beinn Eighe teams climbed East Buttress and West Buttress, and on Ben Nevis the best conditions were found on Tower Ridge and North-East Buttress. Unfortunately it had not been cold for long enough to bring the mixed routes into condition, except for Sioux Wall (VIII,8) which was well rimed and saw an ascent by Uisdean Hawthorn and Luka Strazar, and Ian Parnell and Ian Welsted (Canada). This was ten years after Parnell’s first winter ascent of this landmark route with Olly Metherell in December 2005.

    Thursday January 28 dawned wild and windy, but it was still cold with a thaw forecast in the afternoon. Attention focused on the Northern Corries, and in Coire an t-Sneachda, The Haston Line, Houdini, The Message, Hidden Chimney Direct, Patey’s Route, Stirling Bomber and Invernookie were climbed together with Central Crack Route, Deep Throat, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Hooker’s Corner in Coire an Lochain. The highlights were ascents of The Gathering (VIII,9) by Tom Livingstone and Ian Welsted (Canada) and Never Mind (IX,9) by Dave Almond and Luka Strazar (Slovenia). Elsewhere in the Cairngorms on Lochnagar, Michael Rinn (Germany) and I climbed a new V,7 on The Stuic that was sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales. Across on Ben Nevis, Raphael Slawinski (Canada) led The Secret (VIII,9) in very stormy conditions.

    Friday was a write-off with more gales and thawing conditions, but that evening snow began to fall and everyone prepared for one last push on Saturday January 30 to finish the Meet on the high. Unfortunately for most it was not to be, as the winds and unrelenting blizzards were too strong and all parties attempting to climb in the Northern Corries were beaten back. The only climbing in the Cairngorms took place in in Stac na h-Iolaire, a small crag within walking distance of Glenmore Lodge where a number of new additions up to Grade IV were found. Enterprising visits to Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh came to nought with teams reporting black rock or avalanche conditions, but surprisingly the determined teams that ventured across to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe to climb in the teeth of the westerly storm were rewarded with ascents of Spectre (V,6), Tilt (VI,7) and Chimney Route (VI,6).

    The Meet finished that night with a disco at Glenmore Lodge that lasted well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Despite the challenging weather and conditions (almost certainly the worst ever experienced on a BMC International Winter Meet), the week was a great success. Every evening, presentations were made showing the winter climbing potential in Scotland, Canada, USA, Greece, India and Portugal. Ideas were shared, friendships made, new partnerships formed and the overseas guests returned home with a new-found respect for the Scottish mountains, the Scottish weather and for all those who climb in them.

    Thanks once again to Glenmore Lodge for hosting us and Nick Colton and Becky McGovern from the BMC who set such an upbeat tone throughout the week and worked so hard behind the scenes to make the event run so smoothly. Tom Livingstone has also written a report on the BMC website.

     

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Josh Wharton concluded his trip report on the successful visit made by Steve House, Mikey Schaefer and himself in early January with some tips for the visiting North American. It’s always interesting to have an outside perspective on the Scottish winter game, so here are Josh’s tips:

    Days were very short in early January, with light from approximately 8:30 to 4:30. I’d recommend going later in the season when days are longer.

    If you want to climb regardless of weather and conditions (just make sure Nick is around!), the nastiness you will encounter cannot be understated. I’d recommend bringing two sets of clothing, and as many as eight pairs of gloves. That makes it possible to alternate between dry sets each day, and stay reasonably comfortable. Thick, fresh Gore-Tex is also key. Don’t bring any down.

    Navigation can be a real issue. Having satellite maps on your phones, with map and compass back-up was ideal.

    The Grades didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and of course are highly influenced by Nick’s mood. I found the routes we climbed to generally be in M5 to M7 range, but often quite spicy. (This was partly due to useless cams, and my inexperience with Hexes.)

    Conditions are incredibly variable. If you can source local knowledge, do it! If not, the Northern Corries and Ben Nevis are apparently the most reliable areas.

    Gear: a single set of cams to #4, a large selection of Hexes and stoppers (offset wired hexes seemed best), and a selection of 6 to 8 pins, with an emphasis on specters and beaks, seemed about right. We placed no screws on the routes we climbed.

    A pair of junky approach skis could save a lot of energy over the course of the trip.

    The CIC Hut on Ben Nevis is fantastic, and I highly recommend spending some time there. There is an excellent drying room, so you do not need to worry about drying your kit. 

    Martin Holland contemplating the 55m-high icefall of Gentlemen's Excuse Me (IV,5) near Drumochter. The route was climbed in two pitches and descended by abseil. (Photo Gregor Ewing)

    Martin Holland contemplating the 55m-high icefall of Gentlemen’s Excuse Me (IV,5) near Drumochter. The route was climbed in two pitches and descended by abseil. (Photo Gregor Ewing)

    “I was out yesterday [January 21] on Geal-charn, Drumochter,” Martin Holland writes. “We were heading for the main Creag Dhubh crag, but some nasty snow conditions on the approach above the crag forced a change of plan. Gregor Ewing, Linda Gentleman and I ended up climbing a possible new line on the second crag north-east of the main crag. The crag is only 60m or so high, but the climb gave two very good ice/turf pitches. It climbed at V,5 on the day and required a delicate approach on the first pitch, if it was better formed and taking screws it might be IV,5 or possibly IV,4, so I’ve suggested IV,5 as the bottom pitch will always be steep. In good conditions it would be worthy of a star for the first pitch.

    The route name choice is because Linda Gentlemen uncharacteristically came off a few times on the second, resulting in some broken ice, colourful language and apologies!”

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    “I drove up from Liverpool and met up with Ramon Marin on January 12,” Dave Almond writes. “Ramon is a super strong M15 ice climber but had only tried his first ever Scottish winter route with Dougie Russell that weekend. For his second route I chose Neanderthal (VII,7) in Lost Valley, which was plastered as thick as it comes and offered an exciting challenge. I took the first pitch and Ramon romped up the second. The third was intimidating to look at but was very enjoyable. We topped out at 3.30pm and I thought we were going to be able to walk out in the daylight but on descending to the base of the cliff we became embroiled in a rescue of a young lady who had taken a nasty fall and was in a lot of pain so we eventually made it to the car park for about 9pm.

    I offered Ramon a rest day and used it to drive up to Beinn Eighe. We walked in and had a go at Boggle (VIII,8) but due to us walking in too slow and the first pitch taking too much time we abbed off to leave it for another day. The following day we eased down the grade and did Shang–High (VII,7) which was lots of fun. I had a great time introducing Ramon to the delights of Scottish climbing and he certainly enjoyed the locations, climbing and the views whilst I enjoyed his culinary expertise and great company!”

    Less than a week later (January 20), Ramon climbed Sundance (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe with Adam Russell. All in all, an impressive debut into the world of Scottish winter climbing!

    Guy Steven following the second pitch of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. The route was first climbed by Ian Parnell, who made four attempts before he finally succeeded with Andy Turner in March 2009. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Guy Steven following the second pitch of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. The route was conceived by Ian Parnell, who made four attempts before he finally succeeded with Andy Turner in March 2009. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Murdoch Jamieson and Guy Steven made the second ascent of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall on January 20. Murdoch takes up the story:

    “Guy and I had made an arrangement with each other weeks ago to do something last Wednesday.  Having had climbed on Beinn Eighe the Saturday before [January 16], I was aware that the walk in wasn’t to bad and West Central Wall was in good condition. We had a look at a few options, but settled for attempting Bruised Violet. Guy cruised up pitch 1 in no time at all.  I led pitch 2, which was fairly tricky in places – a stiff pull over a roof from the upper girdle ledge and a tricky traverse right. The arête I found quite pumpy due to a few thin hooks and keeping in balance but it was fine really. The kit is there. Not exactly the dream belay ledge was gained with gear everywhere but it worked.

    It had been agreed before we set off that I would lead on and link pitches 3 and 4 together which had been suggested in Ian’s description. So I did, and it was fine – just the usual, steep physical climbing that the quartzite offers. The top pitch has probably the hardest move on the whole route – a thin pull on nothing to gain a chockstone. I almost fell off seconding. The route is a good one and Ian suggested it was top of the grade. I think it probably is. I genuinely find grading pretty difficult in winter.  Overall it was very sustained with no real desperate moves (apart from at the top but that is different!)”

    Dave Kerr high up on Fishmonger (VI,6) on Lord Reay’s Seat on Foinaven. Roger Webb and Neil Wilson made the first winter ascent of this steep-chimney line in January 1998 by climbing the chimney throughout. Kerr and Baillot followed the summer route, which deviates from the chimney, and then took an independent line to the top. (Photo Dave Kerr Collection)

    Dave Kerr high up on Fishmonger (VI,6) on Lord Reay’s Seat on Foinaven. Roger Webb and Neil Wilson made the first winter ascent of this steep-chimney line in January 1998. During their repeat of the route, Kerr and Baillot may have followed a different line in the upper section. (Photo Dave Kerr Collection)

    Erick Baillot and Dave Kerr had a great weekend climbing on the quartzite cliffs in the Far North-West.

    “On Saturday [January 16] Dave and I had a short easy day on Bucket Buttress on Quinag,” Erick told me. “We repeated both Great Gig in the Sky (VII,7) and Sworn to Secect (VI,7). Great Gig in the Sky is worth three stars, because despite being really short, it packs a lot of climbing in only 45m – really cool! Sworn to Secrecy is also three stars in my book, only it is slightly less difficult than GGiS because it is less sustained.

    The next day [January 17] we started from Gunlaich House at 4.50am on our bikes bound for Loch Dionard below Foinaven. This section only took 90 minutes because we were able to cycle in the gillie’s Land Rover tracks! From there a two-hour walk took us to the bottom of Lord’s Reay’s Seat. The whitest and most obvious line was Fishmonger (VI,6) – it was our initial goal but we had an open mind. Pobble looked good but the chimneys were entirely dry.

    I linked the first two pitches but from there the description was difficult to follow. I reached the ‘obvious platform’ after only 30m of climbing (which was the undefined crux of our route). This included steep pulls with little gear off the deck and a rather spicy traverse right. We then followed the ledge right for 20m and climbed a chimney (which had some fairly stiff moves weighing at Tech 6) to find ourselves on easier ground… the rest of the route as per the description was at least 40m to our left across smooth slabs covered by a thin layer of powder! We opted to exit up an obvious gully slanting rightwards. We finished up a 15m chimney and took a belay on the right side of the buttress. From there Tech 3 – 4 ground took us to the summit. We were back to our van at 18.10pm after 13 hours on the hill.”

    Correspondence between Andy Nisbet, Fishmonger first ascensionist Roger Webb is currently ongoing. Erick and Dave may have followed the original summer line of Fishmonger that was first climbed by W.Fraser and P.Tranter in September 1964, and then taken an independent line to the top. If so, they would like to call it ‘The Mis-Plaiced Variation’.

    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl.  This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl. This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Iain Small and Andy Inglis set out to make an early repeat of Snoopy (VII,7) on Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress on January 17, but they found insufficient ice on the lower section of the route. Instead they made the probable second ascent of Reach for The Sky (VII,6). Although this route was first climbed in 1989, it not known to have had a second ascent

    “We managed to traverse from the belay below Snoopy’s brown groove and gain the thin traverse ledge of Reach For The Sky that leads to the steep headwall,” Iain told me.

    “We didn’t have the description for Reach For The Sky as we had set out for Snoopy, but the brown groove was not iced and looked horribly slopey and devoid of gear. I spotted the traverse ledge and just followed my nose up the steep mixed ground above. Andy then continued up the steep ground to gain an icy fault and easier ground. I’m not sure exactly how it ties in with the original line but we both felt it was Tech 7 – maybe it gets more iced up in better conditions. It was good steep climbing, pretty airy like Shoot the Breeze and it salvaged the day after backing off Snoopy. We’ll have to wait for more ice – it was amazing how little there was around Torridon given the soaking it had during the run up to Christmas!”