Mid December Update

John Higham climbing an unnamed Grade III on Creagan Cha-no. This is one of 20 new routes added to this popular small cliff on the east side of Cairn Gorm this season. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The first half of December was wild and windy, which rather limited activity. The Northern Corries were popular, and on Creagan Cha-no, the new mini guidebook prompted a flurry of activity filling in the remaining lines, which are mostly in the lower grades.

One of the most interesting ascents of the month took place on Ben Nevis on December 9 when Michael Barnard and Katy Bowen added a new finish to Blockhead (V,6) on Creag Coire na Ciste. The route was first climbed by Chris Cartwright and I in 1998 and is described in the SMC guidebook as ‘a good introduction to modern Nevis mixed climbing’. The contemporary mixed climbs of the day such as Cornucopia and Darth Vader were quite testing, so I remember it felt rather refreshing to find an easier mixed route amongst the harder climbing. In the lean conditions that have characterised this season so far, Michael mistook the final corner for a Godefroy Perroux route called Trop Belle Pour Toi (which lies further left), and ended up climbing a steeper right-hand corner to finish.

“The pitch went at the bold end of VI,7,” Michael told me, “and certainly would not be a good introduction to mixed climbing! I must have sounded like a broken record at times, with comments alternating between ‘No way is this a Grade V’ and ‘Just give me a placement!’ At one point while eyeing the gear below and worrying about the next move I ended up clipping into one of my axes; this allowed me to place a peg. Katie was generous enough to remove this on second, allowing someone else to improve on the style.”

On December 11, Martin Holland and Euan Whittaker made an enterprising visit to Coire Brochain on Braeriach. “We knew we’d need to head high for crags to be properly white with freezing levels going above the summits during the day,” Martin told me. “We decided to aim for Domed Ridge as we figured we’d be able to find it in the misty conditions. In the mist we started right down at the toe of the buttress and poorly consolidated snow conditions on the lower slabs forced us leftwards for two pitches until the ground steepened and we moved leftwards in to the gully line, which bounds the lower part of the ridge. The gully surprisingly doesn’t seem to be recorded as a route or a variation. We then followed this gully until it rejoined the normal route at the flattening in the ridge. Given time and conditions we then decided to abseil in to Campion Gully and descend.”

Martin and Euan felt their four-pitch outing was worth IV,4, but since they did not finish at the top of the cliff, they are reluctant to record their climb as a new route.

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Happy Tyroleans Repeated Again

Dave Almond leading Happy Tyroleans (VIII,9) in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm. This fiece test-piece was first climbed by Austrians Florian Schranz, Heinz Zak and Egon Netzer in 2001. Eighteen years on, it remains one of the most difficult Scottish winter first ascents ever climbed by an overseas team. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Dave Almond made a successful start to his season with two big routes, notably a repeat of Happy Tyroleans (VIII,9) in the Northern Corries with Helen Rennard. Dave takes up the story:

“Despite being ready to blast up the 360 miles if winter made an appearance for a three day stretch, I ended up having to roll the dice on both trips I made this year, and winter cheated me by only hanging around for a day or two each time. On my first trip on November 24, with Helen Rennard, we began our season with a successful ascent of Hanging Garden (VII,8) on Ben Nevis that offers some lovely relaxed climbing up the arête above the Gargoyle Wall Cracks.

High on success we tried Demon Direct (IX,9) in the Northern Corries on which I did 40m of climbing and down climbing to get to 10m, then my axe ripped whilst placing gear. Tired and pumped I walked out. Whilst on Demon I had looked across at Happy Tyroleans and decided it was more viable than Demon.

Back again with Helen on the December 10 we found a totally white cliff, blue skies and no wind. Having fought my way up to the base of the crux headwall I was hanging out recovering before the big moves when my left foot slid off the wall and I barn doored off. Fortunately my gear held me and I opted to lower off and pull the ropes. Round two and up, to get a not so slick ascent. The moves are powerful due to it being fairly substantially overhanging but I was assisted with usable ice. The top pitch should not be forgotten and comes highly recommended. Unfortunately the weatherman decided enough was enough and sent me packing for home.

Many thanks to Helen for the perfect catch.”

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Boswell and Robertson Continue To Forge Ahead

Greg Boswell setting off up the 45m-long crux pitch of The Forge (X,10) on An Teallach during the first ascent. This sensational line climbs one of the most impressive mixed walls in Scotland. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson kicked the winter season into higher gear with their ascent of The Forge on An Teallach on December 4. This astounding route, which takes a tenuous discontinuous crack-line up the middle of the awe-inspiring vertical wall above Hayfork Gully, was one of the most sought after winter objectives in the country.

In recent years, the Boswell-Robertson team has dominated the Scottish winter scene with a series of outstanding and futuristic routes. Routes such as The Greatest Show on Earth (X,10) on Cul Mor, Range War (X,10) on Creag an Dubh Loch and The Holy Grail (IX,10) on Buachaille Etive Mor (to name just a few) take improbable lines up the some of the most impressive mountain features in Scotland. The Forge, which weighs in at a weighty X,10, is no exception.

The north-facing aspect and high elevation of the Hayfork Wall, means that it is a natural mixed climbing venue, but even so, it was an inspired choice for so early in the season. “Yeah it was an unbelievable route, especially as I’ve never been in the area before,” Greg told me. “When we eventually made it to the top of the gully and saw the beautiful silver hanging wall above, I knew we had to try it! Despite it being the first route of the season and the wall looking so imposing, I was pretty relaxed about trying the line.”

The route was climbed in two pitches with Greg leading the long first pitch that proved to be the crux. Greg described the climbing as ‘very technical, super physical with multiple boulder problem style cruxy sections along the way’. Often there were only ‘minuscule hooks and no foot placements’. The pitch was likened in style to the The Hurting (XI,11) in Coire an t- Sneachda. Guy led the second pitch through a huge roof and technical wall above before reaching easy ground after 40m.

“The route was full on from the word go,” Greg explained. “The climbing was so intricate and enjoyable, that I just kept plodding on and working it out. Looking up after already climbing two-thirds of the crux first pitch, I did wonder if it was ever going to end! I still had a long way to go and it was getting harder as I gained height. But standing on the belay ledge after the four-hour lead, I remembered why I live for this game. That feeling is euphoric! What an awesome line and start to the season – with such a strong route behind us, Guy and I are aching for more!”

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November Cold Snap

Mark Robson celebrating at the top of The Guardian (V,6) in Coire an Lochain on Braeriach after making the second ascent. The lochain below is renowned for its beautiful blue colour and is thought to be the highest loch of comparable size in the country. (Photo Simon Richardson)

After a very warm first half of November, the cold easterlies that set up in the middle of the month were good news for winter climbers. The big decision was whether to go east or west. Going west meant better weather but limited snow, whilst heading east meant the opposite. East was a safer option for snow, but the winds were stronger and visibility poorer.

In the event, most climbers opted to go east and climb in the Northern Cairngorms. In Coire an t-Sneachda the popular early season favourites such as The Message, Fingers Ridge, Hidden Chimney and Pygmy Ridge all saw ascents. Harder routes climbed included Belhaven, Pot of Gold, Smokestack Lightnin’, Watch Out and Wachacha. Across in in Coire an Lochain the ever popular Savage Slit, The Hoarmaster, Hookers Corner and Western Route were all climbed as well as the more testing line of The Vagrant.

Creagan Cha-no proved popular too, with climbers taking advantage of the new SMC mini-guidebook to the cliff. The classic lines of Jenga Buttress, Chimney Rib and Anvil Corner saw ascents, and the awkward looking Mac’s Crack saw an early repeat.

Mark Robson and I headed into Coire an Lochain on Braeriach on November 25 where we repeated The Guardian with a new Alternative Start (IV,4). This avoids the technical and poorly protected crux wall led by Roger Webb on the first ascent, and reduces the grade to an enjoyable V,6.

Across in the West, Tainted Elixir and Dr Noe on Ben Cruachan were climbed, and on Ben Nevis, Dave Almond and Helen Rennard made an early repeat of Hanging Garden (VII,8). This direct finish to Babylon takes the soaring arête directly above the Gargoyle Cracks and was first climbed by Greg Boswell, Jon Frederick and Stuart Lade in February 2017.

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New Mini Guidebook to Creagan Cha-no

Roger Webb on the first ascent of Ghost (IV,7) on the newly named sector Grooved Pinnacle Buttress that lies to the right of Blood Buttress on Creagan Cha-no. This route was one of four new routes added to this part of the cliff during the October cold snap. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Today, the Scottish Mountaineering Club published a mini-guide to the popular and easily accessible Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm. This is the first guidebook published for the cliff and includes all routes climbed until the start of the current season. Over 65 routes are described with grades ranging from II to VII and illustrated with eleven topos and a map.

The mini-guide can be downloaded as a pdf from the SMC website

<https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/downloads/creaganchano>

The cost is £2.99 and all profits go to the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.

The guide has been has been selling like hot cakes, and within minutes of it coming on sale Alex Riley pointed out a small omission. On January 8 this year he climbed a Left-Hand Finish to Once Were Alpinists (III,6) with Caelan Barnes and Sam Palmer. “Rather than moving right at the overhang I moved left over the rib making a few hard mantelshelf moves up on breaks,” Alex told me. “Obviously the route gets a bit of comedy grade, but it felt much harder and bolder than expected, and moving left as I did it probably weighs in at V,7. It’s not a huge variation, but worth logging due to the quality of the climbing and the exposure… It’s a great finish, I was pretty gripped leading it!”

No doubt there will be a few other routes that have escaped inclusion, and many other new climbs will be climbed this season. So as usual, if you have any news about climbing on the cliff please get in touch so we can maintain the definitive record.

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The Edge of Profanity

Martin Hind following the The Edge of Profanity (V,7) on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm during the first ascent. Martin has given up with axe torques at this point, and is hand jamming the flared offwidth – note the dangling ice tool by his feet. (Photo Roger Webb)

Finding good early season winter climbing conditions can be a tricky business. The winter weather that started on the night of October 26 came in on strong north-westerlies depositing deep snow on eastern aspects and insulating the turf. The well-known early season cliffs in the Northern Corries of Cairn Gorm have a helpful north-west facing aspect, and on October 28 the Mess of Pottage saw ascents of Sharks Fin Soup, Honeypot and The Message. Over in Coire an Lochain, the ever popular Savage Slit and Western Route also saw ascents.

Roger Webb, Martin Hind and I visited Creagan Cha-no on the eastern side of Cairn Gorm on October 28. We soon realized that this east-facing crag was a poor choice. Not only was the turf buried under windblown snow and largely unfrozen, but the cliff was catching the full force of the late autumn sun.

Fortunately I knew of an ‘unclimbed’ line of grooves and cracks on the north-facing right flank of Left Buttress, and sure enough this was in the shade and nicely hoared up too. I say ‘unclimbed’ because below the crux section on the final impending wall we found a wire nut and screwgate karabiner, which we presume had been used for retreat. The climbing was awkward and sustained up to this point, but above, the crack opened up into a flared offwidth. It was only after repeated falls that I managed to stack a couple of large hexes which gave me the confidence to squirm upwards to a tiny patch of exposed frozen turf that enabled a scary top out onto a blank slab. Martin, who is far more naturally gifted climber than I, followed with style and elegance. The falls and ensuing rest point mean that a clean ascent awaits, but The Edge of Profanity (V,7) certainly packed a punch for its short length.

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New Winter Season Kicks Off In Style

Stephan Wrede on the first ascent of Tour de Force (VI,6) on Sgurr Thearlaich on Skye. Unusually heavy October snowfalls brought high snowed-up rock routes into winter condition at several venues across the Highlands. Stephan is from Canada and this was his first experience of mixed climbing. (Photo Mike Lates @skyeguides)

Mike Lates and Stephan Wrede gave the new winter season a flying start on October 28 with a new route on The Cuillin. Tour de Force (VI,6) is situated on the Great Stone Shoot Face on Sgurr Thearlaich. The three-pitch route starts 10m right of BC Buttress and follows a series of corners and grooves guarded by brutal roof on the first pitch. The late October snows have brought several high and exposed cliffs into good winter climbing condition. The trick, as always in very early season, is to choose snowed-up rock routes rather than those that rely on frozen turf.

“It feels like Christmas has come early,” Mike told me. “The first two pitches had very steep cruxes that luckily yielded sinker placements (eventually). A total bonus was climbing in the sun on some properly good ice on the easier-angled third pitch. It was a busy day on the hill and some bold souls even appear to have been going for a fast Traverse wearing microspikes rather than crampons!”

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Jenga KerPlunk Finish

Ross Cowie on the first ascent of the KerPlunk Finish (VII,7) to Jenga on Sail Mhor in the Northern Highlands. This section of the mountain is notoriously loose and a few large blocks we trundled during the making of the route! (Photo Pete Davies)

On March 31, Pete Davies and Ross Cowie climbed Jenga (VI,7) on Sail Mhor in the Beinn Eighe massif and finished up KerPlunk (VII,7), a spectacular exit on the left wall.

The deeply-cut gully of Jenga has an exciting history and was first attempted by Brian Davison and Andy Nisbet in 1996. Unfortunately Brian dislodged a rock, which caused a stack of blocks to fall on top of him resulting in a helicopter rescue. Brian and Andy returned in March 2000 with Dave McGimpsey and Dave Wilkinson to complete the route, which sports an impressively steep finish.

“Jenga gully has a great ambience and its headwall forms an impressive hidden amphitheatre,” Pete told me. “KerPlunk is quite steep, but as it’s possible to bridge and back and foot much of the way, the climbing isn’t too difficult. Good hooks and, for us, very helpful snow ice conditions. There were some loose blocks in places that added an air of seriousness. We trundled the worst offenders when seconding but some suspect rock may remain. Probably one to avoid early season or if things don’t seem fully frozen. All in all, it sounds similar to Jenga in this respect, given Andy’s experience on that line!”

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Catheter Corner

Forrest Templeton leading pitch 1 of Catheter Corner (V,6) on The Scorrie high above Glen Clova. Forrest has led the way with six new routes on this spectacularly positioned crag in recent seasons. (Photo Forrest Templeton Collection)

Forrest Templeton, Kevin Murphy and Matt Smith added an excellent three-pitch mixed route to the north-facing cliffs of The Scorrie in Glen Clova on March 31.

“After yet another beastly easterly, I reckoned it may be worth a punt returning to Clova to have a go at a wee line I had been eyeing up,” Forrest Templeton told me. “So last Saturday, Kevin, Matt and I headed up the Glens. Our objective was high up on the Scorrie so we parked at the car park and followed the Scorrie path. It did seem cold enough and sure enough, as we got higher the snow hardened as did the turf.

Dropping down from the obvious boulder on the ridge we passed below the start of One Man Gastric Band/Scorrie Romp and contoured round the toe of the buttress and belayed below an inset rectangular slab leading up to a capping roofed corner. This was pitch one and was climbed on small turfy protrusions with the occasional torque, crossing a small overlap about half way and a small tree to belay in the obvious corner.

Pitch two constituted the crux and involved a series of underclings on sketchy footholds moving rightwards to reach awkwardly into a turfy groove for axe placements. The corner-groove was followed past another welcoming and more substantial tree over small overlaps to reach the Gastric Band just below an attractive right angled left-facing slabby corner where a commodious and comfortable belay can be arranged.

The third pitch was started on the left side of the slab and followed more turfy protrusions interspersed with some good cracks until a move right into the corner can be made about two-thirds of the way up. Above the difficulties a belay on a large detached block was reached, which lies almost directly between where the Scorrie Romp and One Man Gastric Band converge. From here we followed easier ground to the Scorrie cairn.

Although short, Catheter Corner (V,6) is a good line with a decent amount of quality climbing packed into its short length.”

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More Beinn Chuirn

Sharon Tinsley enjoying Prospectors (IV,4) on Beinn Chuirn during the first ascent. This steep little crag near Ben Lui in the Southern Highlands has provided some excellent mixed climbing this season. (Photo Martin Holland)

Martin Holland revisited Coire na Saobhaidhe on Beinn Chuirn on March 30 with Sharon Tinsley and Ian McIntosh.

“We climbed a couple of what I think are new lines,” Martin told me. “The first (Prospectors) was a very nice Grade IV,4 turf/rock line on the left-hand side of the corrie, which we felt was worthy of a star or two. The second (Gold Star Start) was a short ice line on the lower tier of the right-hand side of the corrie, and would make a good III,4 direct start to the existing route Silver Star (see SMC Journal 2009) in the correct conditions.

It’s worth noting that this corrie is one of those where everything is considerably steeper than it looks from below. We underestimated the standard of the lines we climbed by at least one grade before we got on them, and even the approach slopes are deceptively steep!”

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