Martin Moran (1955 – 2019)

Martin Moran in his element – on the front end during a technical winter first ascent. Omerta (VIII,9) was climbed with Pete Macpherson in November 2010 and is considered to be one of the more challenging test-pieces in the Northern Corries. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

Last year was a terrible period for Scottish mountaineering with Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry’s accident in February, and then three months later, Martin Moran was lost in the Indian Himalayas. Personally, I found it difficult to reconcile that three great climbers had been lost in such a short space of time, so as a result, this tribute to Martin is well overdue.

Martin’s achievements were so far ranging from Scotland to the Alps, and Norway to the Himalayas, that I have only summarised Martin’s Scottish contribution below. A full obituary will be published in the 2020 Alpine Journal. Many people have already paid tribute to Martin – Ian Parnell has written a detailed obituary for the Himalayan Journal and a series of tributes will appear in this year’s Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.

Martin was born in 1955 and was brought up on North Tyneside. His parents had a love for the hills and holidays were taken in the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District. Later, Martin spent his teenage years exploring the Cheviots and camping with the Scouts. He studied Geography at St Catherine’s College Cambridge and became a chartered accountant, but the hills and mountains continued to be a major draw. Martin was a fast learner. He made his first winter visit to the Scottish mountains in December 1978 and three years later he had climbed the North Face of The Eiger. His mind was made up – he would become a mountain guide. In 1982 Martin joined the British Mountain Guides training scheme having negotiated an annual three months leave of absence from his accountancy job.

During the winter of 1984/85 Martin put himself on the map with the first winter round of the Scottish Munros. Supported by his wife Joy, Martin walked over 1000 miles over 83 days and made 150,000m of ascent to complete the 277 summits. Apart from the Cuillin on Skye, the Munros do not involve technical climbing, but in winter they are a serious mountaineering proposition. To put the achievement into context, a winter Munro round has only been completed twice since.

Martin qualified as a British and IFMGA Mountain Guide in March 1985 and six months later he set up his guiding business with Joy, in Lochcarron, in the North-West Highlands. The Winter Munros had caught the public imagination and he immediately attracted clients. Guiding in the North-West Highlands was tough with longer approaches than Glen Coe or the Northern Cairngorms, but Martin was interested in attracting a more adventurous brand of client. His brochure advertised ‘visits to remote corries with potential for new routes’ and that promise was fulfilled with the first ascent of Crown Jewel (IV,5) on Beinn Alligin with Nigel Adey and Mick Guest in March 1986. Martin went on to record dozens of new routes with other course attendees.

In the mid 1980s the North-West Highlands had not been thoroughly explored as a winter climbing venue and there were countless opportunities for exploring new ground. As Martin’s business grew he took on other guides and mountaineering instructors. Not surprisingly, Andy Nisbet the most prolific Scottish winter climber of all time, took on the remit of exploring new ground to heart, and made many first ascents with clients on Martin’s courses.

I first met Martin on his local mountain Fuar Tholl one glorious Saturday afternoon in February 1994. Dave Hesleden and I had just completed a new ice climb on the South-East Cliff and bumped into Martin on the summit. Martin introduced himself and asked what we had just climbed. He knew the line, of course, but said he’d ‘forbidden’ Andy to climb the route and was going to have a go himself later in the week. For many climbers having a line plucked from their home ground would have been a considerable disappointment, but Martin acted with grace and charm and warmly congratulated us on our ascent.

Martin’s contribution to Scottish winter climbing was enormous. He climbed well over a hundred new routes, many at the highest grades. “There are many impressive winter cliffs in the Torridon Highlands”, he wrote, “but only three can be described as truly awesome – Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress, the West Central Wall on Beinn Eighe and the Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. All are places where a significant grip factor is added to the intrinsic difficulties of the climbs.”

And it is on these three walls that Martin’s most celebrated new Scottish routes lie. In 1989 he climbed Reach For the Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl, and in 1993 he succeeded on the Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe. But a new line on Beinn Bhan’s huge Giant’s Wall on the left side of Coire nan Fhamhair eluded him, until March 2002, when he breached the impressive unclimbed terrain between Gully of the Gods and Great Overhanging Gully with Paul Tattersall. Moran first spotted the great corner splitting the upper section of the cliff, thirty years before when he visited the corrie as a 17 year-old Scout on a camping trip. The Godfather (VIII,8) provided a huge struggle, especially when both headtorches failed as they were climbing into the night, but it has now seen several repeats and has become one of the most prized routes in the Northern Highlands.

A notable aspect of Martin’s new routing was his creativity. In March 1989 he soloed Das Rheingold, a girdle traverse across Beinn Bhan’s four corries. With over 2.8km of sustained climbing up to Grade V across little known terrain, it was a bold step into the unknown. Other notable successes include the first ascent of Storvegen (VI,8), a spectacular 200m-long ramp-line on the big cliff behind the Old Man of Storr on Skye, and the first winter ascent of the continuously overhanging Hung Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8) on the North Face of Am Basteir.

Martin moved with extraordinary speed in the mountains, and in June 1990 he set a new 3h 33m record for the Cuillin Ridge, beating the previous time by an astonishing 17 minutes. This fitness translated to the Alps where he climbed many Grandes Courses including a very fast 36-hour ascent of the Peuterey Integrale. Without doubt, Martin’s outstanding alpine achievement took place in the summer of 1993, when he climbed the 75 major 4000m peaks in a single journey with Simon Jenkins. They covered over 1000km on bike and foot, and made over 70,000m of ascent in 52 days.

Martin’s winter climbing showed no sign of slowing down with age. In late 2010 he had a superb run of routes resulting in two new Grade VIIIs and a Grade IX. His campaign started with the first ascent of Omerta (VIII,9) in Coire an t-Sneachda with Pete Macpherson. Soon after, the pair made the fifth ascent of The Secret on Ben Nevis (VIII,9) before making the second ascent of The God Delusion (IX,9) on Beinn Bhan, widely regarded as the hardest route in the Northern Highlands. Later that December he teamed up with Murdoch Jamieson and Francis Blunt to make the first winter ascent of Feast of The East (VIII,9), a summer E1 on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe. A few days later he was with Jamieson again to climb The Wailing Wall (IX,9) on the awe-inspiring left side of Haystack Gully on An Teallach. This was one of the first Scottish Grade IX first ascents to be climbed on-sight.

Martin wrote in a fluid and entertaining style and authored several books. His magnum opus was Scotland’s Winter Mountains, a thoroughly researched treatise on how to survive, walk, climb and ski in the Scottish mountains in winter.

Martin was still setting the pace just months before his accident, and in February 2019 he made the first ascent of Scarred for Life (VIII,9) on Beinn Eighe with Robin Thomas. This route lies on the rarely visited North Face of Sgurr Ban and was arguably the most adventurous pioneering climb of the Scottish winter season.

Martin’s achievements whether hill walking, fell running, winter climbing or as an alpinist were both ground breaking and inspirational. Nobody will ever know exactly what happened on that fateful day on P6447 in the Indian Himalayas on 26 May 2019, but it is possible that a cornice collapse triggered the massive avalanche that swept away Martin and his seven companions. One thing is for certain – Britain had lost one of its finest ever mountaineers.

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End of Season Wrap Up

Mike Lates on the first ascent of Christmas Comes but Once a Year (IV,4) on Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye. This superb-looking route was climbed back in February immediately following Storm Ciara. (Photo Lucy Spark)

With settled high pressure and cool nights, winter climbing conditions have looked superb over the last month, but with the hills close due to Coronavirus, it is all been rather academic. However. I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up on some new additions that were missed from earlier in the season, and cover the final days leading up to lockdown on March 22 when some significant new routes were climbed.

Mike Lates and Lucy Spark climbed the finest new route of the winter on Skye on February 13 when they made the first ascent of Christmas Comes but Once a Year (IV,4) on Sgurr nan Gillean. This follows a beautiful icy groove on the left side of High Crag. “As with all ice routes in the Cuillin this route needed the right sequence of storms, minor thaws and refreezes to form,” Mike told me. “Real credit goes to Lucy for following all day in microspikes.” (Mike forgot his crampons!) Mike and Lucy also climbed In Pinn Icefall Lite (III,5) on March 6, which climbs the prominent ice sheet to the right of In Pinn Fall.

In the Northern Highlands on January 19, Roger Webb and Neil Wilson found Escape Gully (II) on Creag a’ Chaorainn on Sgurr Nan Clachan Geala. This starts 100m right of the Last Lap and is the only gully on the face. On March 4, Adrian Gaughan and Jo Polak ascended Saltire Gully Right to Left (II) on Beinn Alligin. This follows the right to left gully of the two intersecting gully lines on the South Face. A week later on March 13, Mark Robson and I had a fine adventure on End of Days (VI,6) on An Ruadh-Stac. This takes an unlikely six-pitch line taking in all three tiers to the left of North Face. On March 19, Tim Miller and Jamie Skelton made the first winter ascent of The Modern Idiot (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. And finally on March 22, Jamie Hageman climbed Feadan Breun (II), the prominent gully cutting the north-east face of Sron na Breun, a northern outlier of Gleouraich.

There were some good additions on Ben Nevis. On Creag Coire na Ciste, Dave Almond and Jack Brooks made an early repeat of The Sorcerer (VII,8) on November 18 adding an exciting Variation Finish (VI,7). Further right on February 5, Mark Robson and I squeezed in Piccadilly Circus (V,6), the well-defined rib between Central Gully and Central Gully Right-Hand. On Secondary Tower Ridge, Will Rowland, Nathan Adam added Dry Birds (V,6) on March 11. This follows the left facing corner just left of the steep cracked wall of Watery Fowls and gives good technical mixed climbing.

In the Southern Highlands, James Seaman, Peter Nellist climbed Door Step Route (III,4) on February 28, a winter ascent based on Central Rib. Earlier in the season on November 14, Sophie Grace Chappell and I visited Coire Ban on Meall a’Choire Leith and found Ace In The Hole (III,4) and Wild Card (IV,5). Unreported from Day 5 (February 27) of the Winter Meet was the first ascent of A Very Naughty Boy (VII,8/9) by Tim Miller and Damian Granowski from Poland. The route takes a left-trending line across the steep wall to the right of False Rumour Gully finishing up The Enemy Within. The only unreported new routes from the Cairngorms are Onlooker (IV,5) and Looking Up (III) on the West Flank of Stac an Fharaidh. Both routes were climbed by Jonathan Preston and Mungo Ross on March 20.

Kevin Woods completed a winter Munro round in 97 days. This was a significant achievement given the high winds and stormy weather that characterised the season. A winter Munro round is a very rare event and had only been achieved twice before by Martin Moran in 1984-5 and Steve Perry in 2005-6.

One of the most notable events of the season took place on March 20-21 when Will Rowland completed the Greater Cuillin Traverse (starting up Pinnacle Ridge) followed by the Red Cuillin. He left Slichagan at 3am and reached Camasunary at 9pm that evening. He started at 7am next morning and reached Slichagan at 7pm. This is the first time this link up has been achieved in winter, and Will follows in his father Clive’s footsteps, who was first to complete the feat in summer conditions in 1982.

Route descriptions for all the new routes reported in this post, and others throughout the season, will be published this autumn in the 2020 Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.

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Ewan Lyons (1969 – 2020)

Ewan Lyons in Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe in May 2019 looking over to the Eastern Ramparts. On that day he climbed Boggle (E1) and made the first ascent of White Hammer (E2). Quiet and unassuming, Ewan was the most prolific Scottish winter solo climber of his generation. (Photo Michael Barnard)

On March 13 Ewan Lyons, known to some as Captain Solo, died as a result of a fall on Beinn Dearg. Dave Kerr has written the following tribute:

Ewan was one of the most prolific and accomplished Scottish winter soloists of recent times. His solo ascents were particularly impressive when compared with his lead standard. Ewan’s role model was Tom Patey who reputedly soloed at about the same grade he led. VI 6 was Ewan’s lead limit and he regularly soloed V 5.  Many of his solo ascents were at remote and rarely visited venues further adding to the commitment required. He had an impressive confidence and fluidity of movement on ice and although a list of routes can never give a full impression of a person some of his solo days were remarkable: One weekend involved Ice Maiden (V,5) on Ben Alder on the Saturday and a link-up of False Scorpion (V,5), Sideslip (III) and Red Chimney (V,5) in the Cairngorms on the Sunday. A day on Liathach featured eight routes of up to V,5.   Another Cairngorm day consisted of Cascade (V,5), Cascade RH (IV,4), Devil’s Alternative (IV,4, FWA) and The Chancer (V,6). His UKC logbook for The Chancer recorded with characteristic understatement ‘note to self: do more pull ups.’

Ewan had a seemingly uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time to climb ephemeral ice routes. In reality it was more canny than uncanny, a product of his huge experience in the Scottish mountains.  In addition to his climbing he was also a double Munroist (including Tops) and had completed rounds of Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds and Furths. If you wanted some beta on an obscure hill or crag Ewan was the man and often the main challenge climbing with him was to find a route he hadn’t done.

The week before Ewan’s accident we climbed Royal Pardon as a three. Looking back it illustrates much of what made Ewan a good climber, a great climbing partner and a good guy to spend time with.

Self-deprecating about his speed and abilities on the walk in, he dispatched the crux with style in far from ideal conditions. At the stance, whilst Andy led the top pitch we joked and traded ‘Half Man, Half Biscuit’ lyrics. Never one to worry about kit, Ewan climbed in a pair of cheap waterproofs with the arse hanging out of them. Back in the car park Ewan and Andy swapped numbers to climb again in the future. Andy knew about Ewan because, despite him not being well known, those in the know knew. Andy and I headed home to Inverness but Ewan, typically, stayed in the west hoping to solo the following day before the weather deteriorated. He was always keen for the chance to get another route in.

There was of course much more to Ewan than just climbing. Music, building projects and his job as a lecturer at University of the Highlands and Islands all helped to pass the time when he wasn’t in the hills. Spending time with his wife Karen, friends and family were all really important to Ewan and climbing partners have said he was particularly popular with their children.

Ewan’s death leaves a big hole in the lives of those who knew him but it also robs the Scottish climbing scene of one of its most committed and adventurous under-the-radar enthusiasts. Many of his regular climbing partners paid tribute to him mentioning his calm determination and easy going nature. I can think of no better tribute than a friend’s summary after climbing with Ewan for the first time: ‘Aye, he’s a proper climber.’

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Hindmost Ridge

John Higham arriving at the top of the previously unclimbed Hindmost Ridge (IV,4) on The Devil’s Point. This 400m-long route is one of the longest ridge climbs in the Cairngorms. (Photo Iain Young)

The first ascent of Hindmost Ridge on The Devil’s Point on March 4 demonstrated that there are still major unclimbed features even in well-known parts of the Highlands such as the Cairngorms. Iain Young, John Higham and Kenny Brookman’s ascent of the 400m-long ridge bounding the right side of Geusachan Gully on the south side of the mountain was a major coup and one of the finest ascents of the season. Iain takes up the story:

“I spotted this possible target on a photo back in August, did some research and couldn’t quite believe it hadn’t been climbed already by the likes of Mac Smith, Bill Brooker, Tom Patey, Greg Strange, Andy Nisbet or Simon Richardson! One possibility was that what I had seen on the picture was a bit of an optical illusion. So, I had to find out if it was real.

A reconnaissance in September confirmed two things; the ridge was there but it was also a long way from anywhere. A team of three seemed like a good idea, for what promised to be a long but straightforward route, as it meant lighter loads. John and Kenny needed little persuasion to be roped into the venture.

Of course, these south-facing routes need enough snow to be enjoyably wintry, but not so much snow overall that the approach takes away all the enjoyment. A kind of Scottish winter Goldilocks zone. On the first attempt, in November last year, things were too warm and the crag was bare, so we took an enjoyable alternative at grade II/III up a slabby rib finishing on a broad snow arete leading to the ridge just north of the summit of Carn a’Mhaim.

The next attempt had to wait till early March, after the series of icy storms that saved the winter overall. This time even lighter loads, but much more snow, resulted in a five and a half hour approach from Linn of Dee via Derry Lodge…

The route itself initially looked a bit bare, however, a hidden series of snowy and icy turfy grooves led upwards from near the bottom of Geusachan Gully in a sort of wintry spiral. First left of the initial nose, then right of the crest, before two trickier pitches took us, after 200m of climbing, to a further 200m of moving together type ground. Very, very enjoyable, sunny and kind of alpine in ambience.

All smiles on the trackless summit, despite the thought of the four hours back to the car! The route name references both the Devil (as in the Devil take the Hindmost) and the fact that the ridge sits behind the frontal face.”

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The Irony and Scotophobia

Dave Almond on the first ascent of The Irony (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe. This steep and sustained mixed route on the Eastern Ramparts is a more direct version of the summer E1 Claustrophobic Corner. (Photo Jamie Skelton)

Dave Almond had an outstanding trip up to Scotland last week and came away with two new routes on Beinn Eighe. Dave takes up the story:

“I drove up on the March 7 and started my week with a very soggy ascent of Slav Route (VI,5) on Ben Nevis with Owen Samuels followed by a slightly more amenable weather day on Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) with Jamie Skelton. This had been on my list for a few years but it rarely looks white enough as it follows an overhanging corner system that shelters it from most weather. This time it was looking good with ice and frozen turf plastered over the left-hand aspects. It was originally climbed in four pitches but Jamie decided to keep climbing after pitch one running the first two pitches together. I followed up and ran the next two together, which made for a really entertaining climb that builds slowly to the overhang climax on the top wall. Every pitch was excellent and it certainly deserves its three star rating.

After a much appreciated rest day Jamie and myself headed up to the summit of Beinn Eighe and after a front pointing crawl on hands and knees up the ridge we geared up in the 80mph wind and ran for the shelter of the Eastern Ramparts. Jamie suggested we looked at the summer line of Claustrophobic Corner. Despite its unappealing name we set to but ended up taking a more direct line through the overhangs right of the summer line, sticking with the cracks, which gave some fine technical moves followed by powerful moves through the to the belay. We called our route The Irony and after some careful pondering graded it IX,9.

The following day with a better weather forecast we again headed up feeling a bit heavy-legged. This time we picked the summer E1 Fear of the Dark on the Eastern Ramparts. Initially it climbs the right hand side of a big chimney which follows a drainage line offering good ice then swings right around the huge block on the Upper Girdle to climb a very icy corner going right past an overhang and up a steep corner to a belay. We then deviated from the summer line and took an obvious chimney direct to a platform and a choice of easy exits.

The Irony is worthy of three stars as we were buzzing after doing it, whilst with  Scotophobia VII,8 we were tempted to abseil off as we were tired and got soaked down to our underpants on route with the heavy snowfall and rising temperatures. But we dug deep and made it to the top with a sigh of relief.”

Dave says he loves the name Scotophopia – “when fear of the dark reaches a degree that is severe enough to be considered pathological, it is sometimes called scotophobia”. The route lies between the Iain Small and Pete Macpherson’s Fear of the Cold and Dark (VIII,8) and the summer line Fear of the Dark.

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Israelite First Winter Ascent

Greg Boswell powering up the first pitch of The Israelite (VIII,8) during the first winter ascent. This highly prized objective on the awe inspiring Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch was climbed on the fourth attempt. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell pulled off a long sought after new route on March 4 when they made the first winter ascent of The Israelite (VIII,8) on Creag an Dubh Loch. This summer E4 provides superlative rock climbing but it is often wet, so under the right conditions, it was a logical target for a winter ascent.

With the Eastern Cairngorms swamped in snow, I suggested to Guy, who is renowned for being one of the finest tacticians in the game, that this was an inspired route choice. Guy was having none of it:

“Fourth time in to try the route. Wettest February on record. Two weeks of cold but not too cold. Everywhere above 900m totally swamped. Pretty obvious choice of venue, I thought!”

Well maybe, but impressive all the same as this was the first route Guy and Greg have climbed together this year. A new winter route on Creag an Dubh Loch is as good as it gets.

“The venue seemed a pretty obvious choice in the end,” Guy continued. “We followed the summer line all the way – to be honest this is where the ice took us, pretty much direct into the top corner. Gaining the ice at the start required some faith – kind of like the Etive Slabs, but without touching rock!

Greg belayed below the Goliath Icicle, which was in pretty good shape. Above this, a beautiful weep formed on the slab just right of the thin crack, which led to the big upper corner. This sported a few ice streaks, but unfortunately these were of the eggshell variety, so little use – this pitch was probably the crux, giving sustained teetering on reasonable hooks but very poor feet.

The final pitch up to the plateau was a romp up thick Grade IV ice. As expected it was a ‘top drawer’ experience, just like any other route on this wall. I’ve been lucky enough to do a handful now, and they are all of exceptional quality. Their ephemeral nature just makes them all the more special, and I’m looking forward to the next one already!”

 

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International Winter Meet Day 6

All go on the South Wall Garbh Bheinn! The final day of the winter meet reached a climax with first winter ascents of Gralloch (IX,10) and Scimitar (VII,8) doubling the previous number of winter routes on the wall. (Photo Neil Adams)

Two new routes on Garbh Bheinn was the big news from the last day of the winter meet (February 28). The South Wall is very rarely in winter condition, but continuous storms had plastered it in snow making it a very wintry proposition. Tim Miller, Callum Johnson and Damian Granowski (Poland) made the first winter ascent of Scimitar (VII,8) and Neil Adams, Peter Hoang (Canada) and Lukas Klingora (Czech Republic) made the first winter ascent of Gralloch (IX,10). Damian led the simmer crux of the VS Scimitar, and Peter made an outstanding lead of Gralloch, which is E2 in summer.

At a more modest level, Al Todd and I took a few hours away from our event coordination duties to make the first ascent of Cabin Fever (IV,6) in the Monadhliath. This two-pitch route lies on the south-east facing Stac Buidhe and was the first route on the cliff. Situated less than an hour’s walk from the Meet HQ in Laggan it was ideal for a quick morning dash.

The weather deteriorated quickly through the day and the avalanche danger was very high. Teams on Ben Nevis wisely restricted themselves to the Douglas Boulder and Vanishing Gully areas. Of note was the possible second ascent of Right-Hand Chimney (VI,7) by Alfie Maun, Emily Ward and Wadim Jablonski from Poland. Wadim thought the route merited at least M7 so it will be upgraded in the next Ben Nevis guidebook.

The weather was wild in the Northern Corries, but ascents were made of Honeypot and Wachacha on the Mess of Pottage, and Jamie Skelton and Tyrm Saeland (Norway) climbed Big Daddy in Coire an Lochain. Everyone was down safe and back for the final event at Tisos in Aviemore where Guy Robertson made an outstanding presentation that captured the essence of pioneering new routes across the Highlands in both winter and simmer.

The meet had been a major success with over 150 routes climbed, and on the final morning there were many tired legs at Aviemore Youth Hostel. Ideas had been shared, friendships made and partnerships formed. Our international guests had been given a magnificent taste of Scottish winter climbing and left with huge smiles on their faces.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – was hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 5

Looking down Minus One Gully (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. The Minus Face has been in rare excellent condition this week, and Minus One Gully, long considered the most difficult gully on the Ben, has been the most popular gully of the meet. (Photo Hamish Frost)

Heavy snowfall overnight on strong westerly winds resulted in dangerous windslab conditions on the fifth day of the International Meet (February 27). On Ben Nevis this confined teams to wind scoured cliffs such as the Minus Face, where the three Minus gullies saw multiple ascents. I took time out of my event coordinator role to team up with volunteers Stuart MacFarlane and Ian Dempster (who had carried food up to the hut) to make the first ascent of Superwoman (V,6). This takes a line if icy grooves up the previously unclimbed steep east flank of the Little Tower on Tower Ridge. Even though the route lies low in the mountain we had to tread very carefully to avoid setting off windslab that was lying precariously over smooth neve. The route was named after Carole Hawthorn who has kept everyone superbly fed and watered in the hut throughout the meet.

Andy Inglis and Maarten Van Haaren made and ascent of Central Grooves (VII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan, and Luca Celano, Carl Nystedt (Sweden), Nicolas Dieu, Michael Poulsen (Denmark) ploughed through deep snow on the Aonach Eagach traverse. Other Glen Coe based teams, headed to Creag an Socach above Bridge of Orchy, in search of less snowy conditions. Messiah had ascents from at least three teams, but the most notable climb was the third ascent of Defenders of the Faith (IX,9) by Peter Hoang and Neil Adams. This very steep mixed route was first climbed by Dave MacLeod and Fiona Murray in 2006, and was the first Scottish Grade IX to receive an on sight first ascent. A little to the south, Paul Headland, Kirsty Pallas and Neil Byrne (Ireland) made a ski ascent into Beinn Uhdlaidh and climbed the classic Quartzvein Scoop.

Further north, Rich Bentley, Seokju Woo (South Korea) and Neil Silver picked their way through a difficult avalanche-prone approach to make a rare ascent of Trespasser Buttress (IV,5) on Creag Meagaidh. Seokju, who has had a superb meet climbing several challenging routes, enjoyed the wild setting, and rated this his finest of the week. In the Cairngorms, The Message and Honeypot were climbed in Coire an t-Sneachda, and Andrew Marshall, Jakub Cejpek (Czech Republic) and Gwilym Lynn visited Hell’s Lum and climbed a very snowy Deep Cut Chimney.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 4

Rene Lisac from Croatia climbing Gully of the Gods (VI,6) on Beinn Bhan. Rene said afterwards that this was the finest route (of any description) that he had ever done. (Photo Scott Grosdanoff)

On February 26, the wind dropped and all eyes turned to Ben Nevis with close to 40 climbers from the International Meet active on the mountain. The standout performance came from Peter Hoang (Canada) and Neil Adams who made an ascent of The Shroud (VI,6) followed by Mega Route X (VI,6). Peter was keen to reach the summit of the Ben, so they continued up Jubilee Climb and circumnavigated Coire na Ciste to tag the summit before descending Coire Leis. The Shroud has not touched down and is currently a hanging ice fang. Peter used his extensive Canadian icefall experience to judge that this potentially very risky ascent was in safe condition. Even so, he rated the climb at WI6/WI6+ on the Canadian scale and commented that he had never climbed an icicle that did not hang vertically before – it had been blown sideways by the wind.

Mega Route X was also climbed by Murray Cutforth and Tom Phillips (Netherlands), and Gemini (VI,6), another highly sought after Ben Nevis classic, was climbed by Alex Mathie and Franz Friebel (Switzerland). Other routes climbed on the Ben include Boomer’s Requiem, Minus Two Gully, Minus Three Gully, The Curtain, Orion Direct, Platforms Rib and Route 2/Route 1 combination. CIC hut host Robin Clothier made a rare ascent of Right-Hand Route (VI,6) on Minus Two Buttress with Nicholas Wylie. This route also saw an ascent from Masa Sakano and Frano Udovic (Croatia).

Event Coordinator Al Todd, found time in his busy schedule to climb the classic Vanishing Gully with photographer Hamish Frost. Wadim Jablonski (Poland), Emily Ward and Alfie Maun abseiled off their route on the Douglas Boulder to assist a climber (not on the meet) who had been avalanched in Number Five Gully.

Further north, Scott Grosdanoff and Rene Lisac (Croatia) climbed Gully of the Gods (VI,6) on Beinn Bhan and Dave Almond and Trym Saelend (Norway) made the third ascent of Feast of the East (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe. Dave said that Trym, who is best known for the first ascent of The Corkscrew Route on Cerro Torre, was absolutely buzzing after the ascent.

In Stob Coire nan Locan in Glen Coe, Dorsal Arete, Raeburn’s Route and Twisting Grooves saw ascents, and on the Buachaille, North Buttress was climbed. Also in Glen Coe, John Higham took a break from resupplying the huts with food to make the first ascent of the350m-high Ephemeron Buttress (IV,4) to the left of Ephemeron Gully, with John Hutchinson.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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International Winter Meet Day 3

Waterfall Gully (IV,4) on Ben Nevis on Day 3 of the International Meet. The continuous run of February storms combined with a series of rapid freeze thaws have created excellent ice conditions all over the mountain. (Photo Marc Langley)

First of all, the big news from yesterday (February 24) was a new route on Minus Two Buttress on Ben Nevis by Maarten Van Haeren (Canada) and Andy Inglis. Calculus (VIII,8) takes a line directly through the overhangs that girdle the buttress at one-third height. Andy led the Grade VI entry pitch up icy grooves and Maarten pulled out the stops with a superb lead up a stepped corner through the overhang on tenuous hooks. Easier ground shared with Central Route (VI,7 with 2pa and unrepeated) led to the crest of North-East Buttress.

Ice conditions are excellent on the Ben at the moment, and this where the meet focused on day 3 (February 25). Minus One Gully had three ascents, and Callum Johnson and Lukas Klingora (Czech Republic) climbed it so quickly that they also had time for Minus Two Gully. Fresh from his success on Minus Two Buttress the day before, Maarten Van Haeren soloed Orion Direct in a two-hour round trip from the hut. Other ice routes climbed include Left-Hand Route, Waterfall Gully, Vanishing Gully, Thompson’s Route and Tower Ridge, which is ice from bottom to top.

The mixed routes in Coire na Ciste are very icy and in challenging condition. Dave Almond and Trym Saeland (Norway) made an ascent of Sioux Wall, and Rich Bentley and Seokju Woo (South Korea) climbed a very bold and icy Gargoyle Wall – only seven pieces of protection were found in five pitches! Mixed conditions were more amenable lower down the mountain and Neil Adams and Peter Hoang made an ascent of the rarely climbed Kellett’s North Wall Route (VII,7).

In Glen Coe, North Buttress on the Buachaille saw an ascent, and in Stob Coire nan Lochan, Scabbard Chimney, Crest Route and Chimney Route were climbed. Further south on Creag a Socach, Kick Start and The Glass Bead Game had a couple of ascents apiece, and on Beinn Eighe Central Buttress Direct was also climbed.

Several teams are heading north tomorrow, but the meet will continue to focus on Ben Nevis that has some of the best ice conditions for many years.

The 2020 International Winter Meet – Streap Alba Geamhradh – is hosted by Mountaineering Scotland and supported by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, The Alpine Club, British Mountaineering Council and Salewa.

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