Scottishwinter.com

    Scottish winter climbing news
    Tim Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Tim’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sophie Grace Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Sophie’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It’s been such a busy season that I didn’t have time in March to acknowledge the 500th post on scottishwinter.com

    The blog has been running five years and has attempted to record the majority of significant winter climbing activity in the Scottish mountains during that time. It’s been a remarkable period, and winter climbing has grown in popularity and gone from strength to strength. Standards have soared and climbers are considerably more adept at choosing venues and catching routes in condition during slender weather windows.

    Five years ago, a new Grade VIII was headline news, but now ascents of this standard are commonplace and new Grade IXs are climbed every season. And this year has seen the first on sight Grade X’s courtesy of Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson, which have opened a new chapter in the history of Scottish winter climbing.

    I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site. Without you, scottishwinter.com could not exist, and I have been struck by everyone’s generosity in sharing their Scottish winter experiences. Andy Nisbet’s insatiable appetite for exploring new ground makes him my most regular correspondent, but the success of scottishwinter.com is due the enthusiasm and commitment of the hundreds of people who have sent me photos and first hand accounts.

    I try to use all the material that is sent to me, and endeavour to follow up significant ascents, but I’m aware that sometimes events do pass me by. I prefer to communicate directly with the climbers involved, rather than report events second hand, so please continue to get in touch with your latest adventures.

    April was a good month for late season winter climbing with ice hanging in on the Ben and high north-facing corries in the Cairngorms. Despite a cold start to May, the 2015 winter is finally drawing to a close, and the new season will be with us in six months’ time!

    The line of Angels and Demons (IV,4) on Angel's Peak in the Cairngorms. The classic Angel’s Ridge (I) takes the left-hand skyline and Angel’s Delight (IV,4) climbs ice (not present in this photo) up the large depression further right. (Photo Phil Ingle)

    The line of Angels and Demons (IV,4) on Angel’s Peak in the Cairngorms. The classic Angel’s Ridge (I) takes the left-hand skyline and Angel’s Delight (IV,4) climbs ice (not present in this photo) up the large depression further right. (Photo Phil Ingle)

    Masa Sakano and Phil Ingle made an enterprising visit to the remote An Garbh Choire in the Braeriach massif on March 22 and added a long mountaineering route to the north face of Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine). The route follows snow/ice all the way, and finishes by the summit of the peak.

    Angels and Demons (IV,4) is located on the left side of the north face. The first two pitches climb steep ice and snow (up to tech 4), followed by a 200m-long broad snow slope. Above a 15m ice wall (crux), leads to the final 90m icy snow slope. Masa and Phil made an enterprising ascent – the temperature was thawing to the summit and the first two pitches of the route had disappeared the following day.

    “The route follows a broad in places, but well-defined feature,” Masa told me. “Once you set off, you can’t go wrong. I think it was a decent route – not many routes are 450 metres long and top out on a Munro summit!”

    Postscript: A couple of weeks ago Gordon Scott (a long time Aberdeen climber but now living in KL) wrote to me with some recollections of climbing on Angel’s Peak:

    “In the (very) dim and distant past I went into the bothy in An Garbh Choire one New Year time (late 1980s) with a couple of people – James Getley and his brother (all Lairig Club members) and we did a route up on the North Face of Angel’s Peak. We specifically avoided Angels Delight by climbing to its left as we were young and not very good at winter climbing; Grade IVs were hard then. Nothing really sticks in the memory of the climb apart from it was long, we topped out in mist and poor weather and negotiating some cornices at the top of Garbh Choire to get back to the bothy, which was possibly the most dangerous part of the day’s outing. I’ll see if I can find any more records of the route – I’m pretty sure we’d have come in from the right, from the bothy, and joined the present route where the lower buttress peters out into the snow and got into the central basin that way and followed it to the top up the icefall mentioned (which may not have been there). As Angels and Demons is much more direct, I’m happy that the credit goes to the guys who climbed it recently as it’s a long way in especially in a thaw.”

    Gordon has now checked his records and has provided a more detailed account:

    “The SMC Cairngorms guidebook (Fyffe and Nisbet) lay in the bottom of a box full of old climbing guides and other related books, so a bit of reliving history was needed before I got the bottom! We were brave (foolhardy even?) when I look at what we were doing back in the early to mid-1980s. Anyway, reading through the guidebook, James Getley, his brother and I walked in to Garbh Choire bothy on 5 January 1986. We did something on January 6 on the easy angled slopes (the icy slabs) on the north east side of Sgor an Lochain Uaine and then on January 7 we climbed the slopes to the left of Angel’s Delight to the top – the upper part of the route would approximate to Angels and Demons. We were definitely round to the left of the buttress which defines the left side of Angel’s Delight as we went back two days later to do Angel’s Delight having climbed Chokestone Gully on January 8. We used our steps from January 7 to get us to the bottom of Angel’s Delight. We never claimed the route as we expected it had been climbed before and too easy (fear of ridicule in the Lampie?) As it was mostly a snow slope with a short steep bit at the top, we viewed it as a different way to the summit.“

    Steve Perry climbing the second pitch of Eclipse (IV,5) on Clach Leathad. Given the cliff’s proximity to Glen Coe it is likely that winter climbers have visited the crag befote, but no details have been recorded. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry climbing the second pitch of Eclipse (IV,5) on Clach Leathad. Given the cliff’s proximity to Glen Coe it is likely that winter climbers have visited the crag before, but no details have been recorded. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Such a neglected hill; Clach Leathad in proper Gaelic. My Dad used to talk about about it affectionately as one of his favourites (also easily reached when no-one had cars), but then it was demoted as a Munro. And there are strong rumours of folk ice climbing on it but no-one has recorded anything. So despite being at the top of Glen Coe, it has remained as a backwater for climbers. But pictures frequently appear in the Glen Coe avalanche blog, with such a great view from the top of Meall a’ Bhuiridh.

    Come the second half of March, Steve Perry and I were looking for somewhere high and icy, since the buttresses were now too bare and Ben Nevis was too long a walk. I’ve been meaning to go there for years, but never quite got round to it, and the pictures showed grooves with narrow white stripes that could be ice.

    We caught the chairlift. £10 for a few hundred feet seemed a lot, but then we did pay so market forces say it’s justified. It was a gorgeous day (March 22) and the snow was rock hard out of the sun. But most of the walk up Meall a’ Bhuiridh was in the sun, with long johns and warm trousers feeling very inappropriate. By the time we got to the summit, I was already feeling dehydrated and realised that Clachlet was still a long way off. We spent a few minutes taking photos and then pushed on.

    The choice was a long traverse on steep snow or going up on to Creise and then descending. The latter allowed us to leave rucksacks so we chose it. The disadvantage turned out to be that the descent was some of the steepest snow I’ve ever descended, and with only one rope, abseiling wasn’t really an option. So we scared ourselves perched at the top of 1000ft of concrete hard neve but eventually made it down to the cliff.

    The most obvious line was a thin white stripe up a big corner system on the left, so we headed for that and were delighted when it turned out to be ice, although much steeper than I’d thought. Including the descent, this turned out to be the theme for the day. I was keen to get going so set off with plans where to place our only ice screw. The ice narrowed to a foot wide in a slot but being forced into the slot from above had caused it to bulge slightly. The freeze had only been overnight so some water was still dripping down the slot and the ice was softer than ideal. A couple of finger crossing moves gained perfect ice above the slot and easier ice to a big block out of the firing line on the right, and with a great view of the next pitch.

    This was Steve’s, a longer section of steep ice but without the bulge. I had the perfect viewpoint as he made steady progress, even with nuts in a crack on the right. The ice was thin in places, even with axes touching the rock, but every placement was first time and he seemed in his element. Then he ran out the rope on the upper slopes and called for me to climb. It was a brilliant pitch; we reckoned the route was at least as good as The Curtain, similar length, slightly harder but still IV,5, and in a lovely place. I ran out the rope in an extended pitch to the top and more photography from the summit cairn. The view was just staggering; white peaks in every direction; Ben Cruachan, Beinn Lui, Ben More and Stobinian, Schihallion, Ben Nevis, and an unidentified solitary peak a long way north.

    There was time for another route and we were just about psyched for the descent again. It didn’t seem quite as bad this time although the consequences were the same. We chose an easier line of icy turf which soon fitted the theme of being much steeper than it looked but keeping with perfect first time placements. So again the ice screw didn’t get placed and my enthusiasm kept me going for at least 60m with our 50m rope. Above there was an ice filled groove in an isolated buttress, then Steve kept going for another 60m pitch.

    All that neve was quite tiring on the legs and the return was either back over Meall a’ Bhuiridh or by traversing round it. We tried the latter but I doubt it was easier and we’d certainly missed the chairlift. But a brilliant day nevertheless. We gave the first one a topical name Eclipse, and the second Holme Moss (IV,4), being steeper moss than it looked. Of course, if anyone else wishes to record them, we’ll back down.

    Uisdean Hawthorn climbing Clefthanger (VII,7) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge with Indicator Wall in the background. The line of Call Me Ishmael (VIII,9) is marked in red. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn climbing Clefthanger (VII,7) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge with Indicator Wall in the background. The line of Call Me Ishmael (VIII,9) is marked in red. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn had a remarkable run of routes on Ben Nevis last week. The first three days were a prelude for the main event – a new route on Indicator Wall. But even so, Boomer’s Requiem, Le Panthere Rose, Astral Highway, Riders on the Storm, Clefthanger and Kellett’s Route were a pretty good haul. Riders on the Storm and Clefthanger were particularly noteworthy, as Uisdean’s father, Doug, had made the first ascents 30 years before. Clefthanger has seen very few repeats and is now thought to be VII,7 rather than the originally given grade of V (and VI,6 in the Ben Nevis guidebook).

    On day four (March 16), Uisdean teamed up with Iain Small for a new route on Indicator Wall. This takes a tenuous line between Stormy Petrel and Psychedelic Wall and was the brainchild of Iain who had been on the first pitch twice before and found less than perfect ice on both occasions. “It’s one of those fantasy lines you’ve spied out as a possibility, but in reality you doubt the chances of ever actually finding it in condition,” Iain told me.

    “Iain had pointed out the line the day before while climbing Clefthanger and Kellett’s,” Uisdean wrote on his blog. “I felt fairly confident about it until Blair [Fyffe] mentioned that Iain had fallen of it when he tried it last time. ‘Hmm,’ I thought. ‘I don’t think I have ever seen Iain fall of anything, even in summer. Come to think of it even at Ratho I have spent entire sessions with him where he climbs the hardest routes with out falling off! God, what have I let myself in for?’”

    After three days of bright blue skies, the day dawned murky and cloudy, but this the ice this time was better.  Soon Ian had led the serious upward traverse of the first pitch. Uisdean then set off on the next lead. “Eventually with a Peanut, small wire and half a peg I committed to the move through the overlap and onto the thin ice wall,” Uisdean wrote. “From below this just looked like another slab however once on the wall with the prospect of hitting the slab below I realised it was very close to vertical and felt steep especially on thin and slightly aerated ice. No gear for the next ten meters (the ice was too thin for screws) a definite no fall zone. I eyed a small stance with a bulge of ice above good enough for a screw and aimed for that. I made the stance clipped the screw and RELAXED!”

    When Iain arrived at the belay grinning all over, he told Uisdean that he had always thought about climbing that wall but was never quite sure if it would be possible. “Uisdean did a brilliant job on the second pitch breaching the central overlap and barrier wall,” Iain explained. “From the first belay nothing could be seen (especially in the mist) and I was only able to give him a vague verbal sketch of the line that might go. He would have to go on dead reckoning. Uisdean departed from the stance and quickly navigated the central slabs then started to work hard for gear, very hard. Out of sight I could only wait and agonize over what he would find on the steep wall above the overlap. What harsh task had I sent him out on? Suddenly the ropes moved, steadily paying out until fully shot. I started to dismantle the belay, preparing to move together and hoping he had reached the good ledge traversed by Flight of the Condor. Still clipped into one wire the cry ‘safe’ came, Uisdean had cracked the pitch, one that had always seemed the most crucial and the least likely to be climbable.”

    This left Iain with the last pitch through the steep, jutting headwall. “It was an almost violent transition from the delicate balance on thin ice to physicality and brute force,” Iain recounted afterwards. The first two pitches were bold thin ice but the final mixed pitch was a complete contrast at Tech 9.

    “The whole experience brought to mind epic sea tales, reinforced by the surrounding classic route names (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Albatross and Stormy Petrel),” Iain explained. “What name could capture our voyage? A memory of a whole chapter in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick dedicated to whiteness made me smile. It was apt and I had to admit, I had been chasing this white beast of a route for a few years now – Call Me Ishmael had to be the name.”

    And at a grade of VIII,9 Call Me Ishmael is now the most difficult route on Indicator Wall.

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of Nevis Queen (V,6) on Goodeve's Buttress. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of a new V,6 on Goodeve’s Buttress on Ben Nevis. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday March 15 was a glorious day on Ben Nevis. The sun shone and the air was crystal clear. After last week’s thaw the snow had re-frozen into hard neve, and the high-level ice routes were in superb condition. The mountain was busy of course, with many teams visiting Observatory Gully intent on the thin face routes on Indicator Wall and Gardyloo Buttress. In Coire na Ciste the pace was less frantic and high up on Raeburn’s wall Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry were climbing the steep icefall of Le Panthere Rose for the camera.

    Given the ideal conditions and almost carnival atmosphere in the corrie, I couldn’t believe that I’d chosen the worst ice on the entire mountain to climb. Helen Rennard and I were attempting a new line to the left of The Alpine Princess on Goodeve’s Buttress, and I had ground to a halt on the opening moves. The initial gully of 70 degree ice looked to be in perfect condition, but when hit with an axe it dissolved into a series of brick-shaped lumps exposing bare rock beneath. The lack of purchase was bad enough, but with every move, so much material fell off that it threatened to push me off balance. Slowly and carefully I down climbed back to the belay and we reconsidered our options.

    I thought I knew this part of the mountain well, so I was surprised to find a hidden V-groove up and right that I hadn’t noticed before. Steep mixed moves on good holds led into the groove, which had a ribbon of ice less than 10cm wide at its back. This time the quality of the ice was good and the V-groove led rather neatly to the top of the gully. We were on our line again and back in business!

    Helen took the lead up an awkward left-leaning ramp that led to a superb narrow hanging groove in the arête between two of the variation finishes to The White Line. It was a spectacular pitch – never too hard and a delight to climb on such a clear day. Another long pitch took us to the plateau on the rope stretch and the welcome rays of the warm afternoon sun.

    Simon Richardson approaching the through-route of Time Lords (VI,6) on the North Face of Aonach Beag. Surprisingly the tunnel shaped feature was entirely composed of ice and not based on an underlying chokstome. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Simon Richardson approaching the through-route of Time Warp (V,5) on the North Face of Aonach Beag. The original line of Blackout is off picture to the left, and the easier-angled line of ice left of the chimney was soloed by Ewan Lyons two days later at a grade of IV,4. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Roger Webb and I visited the North Face of Aonach Beag on March 14. It was a memorable day on several counts – the weather was superb and we climbed a good new route – but most importantly, it was nearly 30 years ago that we first climbed on Aonach Beag together. The climb in question was modest Grade II called Whiteout, but it holds personal significance for both of us. Not only was it the first route on the cliff, it was also a precursor to great ice lines of King’s Ransom and Royal Pardon that we climbed two years later.

    As the name suggests, the weather was terrible the day we climbed Whiteout, but even so were dimly aware through the blowing snow that the steep headwall on the right side of the cliff was dripping with impressive ice features. Three days after the first ascent of Royal Pardon in February 1987, Roger returned to the cliff with John Dunn and climbed Blackout – a route based on the deep overhanging chimney cutting through the right side of the headwall. Careful reading of their description reveals that they did not actually climb the chimney, but steep ice on the left flanking wall instead. This meant the chimney itself was untouched, so it fitted the bill perfectly for an objective last weekend that required to be high, north facing and based on a natural drainage line.

    Roger led a long mixed pitch to the right of the wide entry gully of Whiteout to gain the snow bay beneath the chimney. It was a deceptively difficult lead that looked straightforward from below, but was a case where 45 degree snow was really 70 degree ice and the slabby mixed walls were in fact overhanging. It was a stark reminder that the North Face of Aonach Beag is serious crag that only reluctantly gives up its protection opportunities away from the main ice lines. Roger only found one rock runner on the 60m pitch – the other two pieces of gear were ice hooks driven into turf.

    The chimney was choked with ice and looked magnificent. It was deep and overhanging but a curious formation of ice appeared to block it at half-height. There was a hint of through-route, but if it existed would we be able to squeeze behind it? The lower half of the chimney looked inviting, but it turned out to be unconsolidated snow, and I was soon forced to bridge up ice on the sidewalls to reach the icy constriction.

    As I squirmed deeper into the mountain I could see that the through-route was there, but it looked too tight. Chopping away the ice to collapse the feature would have not only have sent a ton of ice down on top of Roger but also turned the chimney into a desperate overhanging slot. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts I tried to squeeze behind the ice one last time, and like a cork out of a bottle, I suddenly slipped through and my head popped out through a narrow window half way up a curtain of icicles. Some wide bridging and a few steep pulls took me into the easier upper continuation gully with 60m of easier ground to the top.

    Roger thought the route was very 1980s in style, taking such a prominent feature draped in ice, so we called the route Time Warp to mark 30 years of climbing together on Aonach Beag.

    Iain Small on the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge. The nearby Clefthanger, first climbed in winter by Arthur Paul and Doug Hawthorn in 1985, has seen a couple of repeats recently and is thought to weigh in at VII,7 rather than the guidebook grade of VI,6. (Photo Blair Fyffe)

    Iain Small on the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge. The mixed routes in this area of the mountain are rarely visited, but the nearby Clefthanger, first climbed in winter by Arthur Paul and Doug Hawthorn in 1985, has seen a couple of repeats recently. It is thought to weigh in at VII,7 rather than the guidebook grade of VI,6. (Photo Blair Fyffe)

    Iain Small and Blair Fyffe added another technical test-piece to Ben Nevis on March 10 when they made the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9).

    “After all the ice climbing recently I was pretty keen to get back on some mixed,” Iain told me. “After the wild weekend conditions it was difficult to know what might be in so I headed up the Ben for a wander around Observatory Gully. It was blowing a Hoolie with a lot of spindrift and even an avalanche from above Tower Scoop but at least that flank of Tower Ridge was gathering snow on the faces. I retreated to the CIC and had an impromptu night there. Blair was free on Tuesday so I arranged to meet him at the hut the next morning, with the additional request to bring some pieces up for me as I was out of food.

    The delivery was made and we headed up to the crags with an improving day forecast. Plenty of folk were heading up for the ice routes, which left us with no queues for mixed options. The area of steep rock to the right of Tower Scoop and Clefthanger had always looked like a contender for some steep mixed so we went for a look. It’s actually overhanging but at the left margin was a steep corner rising from the left end of a long ledge, after a quick discussion we decided to try that and if it was unfriendly we could always join a queue for an ice route.

    The initial short corners to the long ledge were helpful and the big corner sported a crack, so game on. It was a steep pitch but with gear once the ice and frozen dirt were hacked out, it felt great to be doing some pumpy technical moves again. Moving out left from the corner to a semi hanging belay the next pitch followed a stepped corner ramp to a small perch below a vertical corner with ice drooling down and fringing the twin overlaps with icicles. This gave a bold fantastic bit of climbing that lead to easy snow and a belay below the final pitch. Icy steps and a steep ice pillar led to the Eastern Traverse and with clear blue skies we opted to finish up Tower Ridge and catch some superb evening sun at the top.

    The line felt like VIII 9 and we called it The Piece Maker due to Blair’s lunch-making duties earlier. Plus it placates Dave’s nearby route Angry Chair!”

    Far North

    Steve Perry below the Tower during the first winter ascent of the 470m-long Tower Ridge (V,6) on the North-West Face of Ben Hope. The face was first explored by Jim Bell in 1933. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry below the Tower during the first winter ascent of the 470m-long Tower Ridge (V,6) on the North-West Face of Ben Hope. The face was first explored by Jim Bell in 1933. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “All the options were too snowy, and I’m too old and wise for wading,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Steve Perry and I had a couple of scores to settle from earlier in the winter but neither looked promising. So the old adage is that if the snow is too deep, drive to the opposite end of the country to find less. So on March 4, Ben Hope it was. Steve used to live up there and knew the mountain so he was keen.

    Grass growing in the middle of the road; I love it; it means you’re somewhere properly remote. It’s a childhood memory; we used to go camping in the Highlands, and not many families had cars in the 1950s. So I used to watch out for grass in the middle of the road, and then you had arrived, as had we at Ben Hope.

    The target was Tower Ridge, the upper part of which Steve had climbed with wife Katie in 2014, but conditions hadn’t been full winter and there was a lot more climbing on the lower part. Plus Steve was keen on climbing the Tower itself, something he’d tried on the day but there wasn’t enough snow.

    Conditions did look good, with the west side white but blown clear of the deep snow deposited on the east side. The ridge starts low down, so it was a nice short walk and soon we were trying to decide where to start. The route would be long so we were hoping to solo up quite a way. Despite this, we fortunately resisted some easier heathery ground to the left and headed for the harder looking true crest. But it turned out to be OK and we zigzagged through a couple of tiers to a steep section and the need for the rope.

    It’s unusual to regret putting on the rope, and this was no exception, as a turfy corner was steep enough to need some serious arm power. Next tier was Steve’s lead and a corner looked hard, although well enough protected. As he got stuck in, it was obvious that the slabby right wall was totally smooth whereas the left with the crack was slightly bulging. This forced a foot on to the right wall but only for balance and not to take any weight off his arms. A helpful chockstone meant he made good progress except we had no big cams and so the chockstone needed to be threaded. The gloves were off and after a tiring age, it was threaded and clipped. A reach up and a quick placement of the axes brought immediate movement and a pull on to a ledge which seemed more comfy than it looked, as his head disappeared into a hole leaving only his legs sticking out. But once he threaded another chockstone, he moved quickly up to a bigger ledge left of the top of the corner. Above was a groove hidden to me, but he soon told me it was an unprotected wide crack. But an unexpected  ledge led left to an easier but very exposed grassy fault and soon a belay ledge.

    ‘We must be up to the halfway rake,’ Steve suggested, but actually it was two more pitches until we could reach the upper section with the Tower itself. Making a decision to get my opinion in first, I pointed out that the Tower looked like The Hurting, and by implication I didn’t want to go there. This comparison seemed to work, possibly helped by recent pictures on Ines Papert on the route, and Steve set off up a corner on the right and formed by the Tower. We were moving together but a difficult move off an undercut ledge slowed him down enough to belay, fortunately above it. I then regained the crest and kept going with the assumption that Steve was climbing too, until I ran out of steam. A final extended pitch led to the top, with the upper section somewhere around III,5. Overall we graded it V,6 but the crux was no soft touch.

    The top was high on the north ridge of the mountain. I rather regret not bagging the Munro, but it saved two miles of road walking if we descended the north ridge, and this was sealed by meeting two local guys who were coming up and had marked the trail with nice footsteps in the deep snow. The length of the descent showed just how long the route had been; we estimated it as 470m. And the big thaw forecast for the evening hadn’t arrived, although the grass in the middle of the road was much more visible.”

    Pete Harrison powering up the Right Pillar of The Shroud (VI,6) on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis. This steep continental-looking ice route has been in the best condition in living memory and has seen several dozen ascents this season. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Pete Harrison powering up the Right Pillar of The Shroud (VI,6) on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis. This steep continental-looking ice route has been in the best condition in living memory and has seen several dozen ascents this season. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Following his successful Scottish hit in January, Tom Livingstone had another superb run of routes in February. Tom takes up the story:

    “Pete Harrison and I were keen for two weeks of hard mixed climbing, ideally in the North West Highlands: Beinn Eighe, Beinn Bhan etc. But Scotland always seems to have other ideas! The ice was in fantastic condition but the mixed wasn’t, or plastered in cruddy ice. We had to face reality, so racked the ice screws.

    We enjoyed the classic ice routes (or rather, Pete did and I behaved like a spoilt child and complained about the lack of mixed. Thankfully I got a kicking and even started to enjoy the ice!). Over a couple of days we did Minus Two Gully (after an attempt at Minus One), Mega Route X (after an attempt at Sioux Wall), soloed The Curtain and climbed both Left and Right pillars of The Shroud.

    Apparently, these routes were all in ‘once-in-a-decade’ condition, which has made me appreciate the experiences a lot more. We kept saying, ‘this isn’t Scotland!’ when lowering off a brilliant two-pitch ice route, or sinking another ice screw to the hilt. The left, free-hanging ice pillar of The Shroud was particularly exciting.

    At last, we managed to get our fix with the mixed. Heidbanger (VIII,8) came into condition and we got stuck in, eager for some steepness at last. Pete led the first pitch – an overhanging and technical corner into an offwidth. I had delicate and technical face climbing for pitch two. It was cool to swing into a hanging ice smear at the top of the face with a small but tasty run-out below! We rapped down Mega Route X just before darkness, appetites sated after a thoroughly enjoyable route. I think this was the third ascent, interestingly. There’s a cool video of Greg Boswell climbing it on the BMC TV site.

    Pete returned to Wales and Simon Frost came up the following day – perfect timing. We found ourselves beneath Babylon (VII,8) on Ben Nevis, and Si kindly let me have the crux pitch.

    The next day, we waded through deep snow to Coire na Ciste. The crag was plastered and we had pretty stormy conditions, but The Secret (VIII,9) was white and I was on a mission. Simon led the first pitch – a tricky pitch in its own right – which got me thoroughly warmed up. We had some issues wondering where to belay, but eventually I set off… only to be stopped two metres up the wall by the crux. After several up-down-up-downs, testing a cam and drowning in waves of spindrift, I considered sacking the whole thing off. It was heavily iced and the wind was really buffeting me – not ideal on technical, tenuous moves!

    I got back on, however, and scraped through the lower moves using small hooks and deep lock-offs. Before I knew it, I was committed and gunning for the ‘two-thirds’ ledge. It probably took me a while to make each move but it felt like the route flew by, skipping my feet up the wall on matchbox edges.

    The final headwall cracks were really cool to climb but I was very conscious of completing the route. To fail right near the top, ‘Cracking Up’ style (a grade IX,9 by Nick Bullock, on Clogwyn Du, North Wales where I recently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory), would have made me really pissed! So, with Ueli in mind I carefully pulled onto the snow slope above and whooped with relief.

    Thanks to Pete and Simon for a great few weeks.”

    Steve Perry on the crux of Waive Wall (V,7) in Coire Garbhlach. This secluded corrie on the south-west side of the Cairngorms massif is seldom visited by winter climbers. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry on the crux of Waive Wall (V,7) in Coire Garbhlach. This secluded corrie on the south-west side of the Cairngorms massif is seldom visited by winter climbers. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Coire Garbhlach is a useful place when the Cairngorm ski road is shut, although it does mean I’ve usually climbed there in bad weather,” Andy Nisbet writes. But on March 2, the weather didn’t seem too bad, although there was obviously a lot of snow high up. The corrie has never really caught on for climbers, and I always wonder why until I have to approach through deep heather and then struggle up the rough and bouldery valley base. The rough part (garbh) refers to the water, and any sections of path were washed away during a thunderstorm in the 1990s. But if you can put up with two and a half hours of approach to the upper corrie, then you’ll get seclusion and for Steve Perry and me, that means a new route.

    This was the last of the lines I knew (isn’t it always!), on the left side of the lowest buttress, left of the Grade I called Curving Gully. But as seems to happen there, it turned out to be steeper and therefore better than I’d expected. The only snag was that the approach up the valley must have been sheltered because the route most certainly wasn’t and even gearing up took ages.

    But conditions were great, with the turf well frozen and even some ice at the base. We soloed up towards a steep band with the hope that there was a way through it, and despite going one step beyond Steve’s comfort zone (he had the rope), I belayed below an overhanging flake-crack. It looked well beyond my comfort zone, but despite various suggestions for possible alternative lines, he was happy to give it a go.

    Steve’s ability to progress cautiously and place gear on very steep ground is impressive, and was true here too. Clearing snow in the back of the crack produced several wedged blocks with brilliant placements (assuming they stayed in) and some commitment gained a final capping chockstone. I think he was about to pull over happily when I suggested he threaded it, but he did so and kept the belayer happy. Round about this time, someone appeared on the plateau above and watched us for a short while. I presumed it was just chance he had spotted us, but later we found footsteps which seemed to have come up Curving Gully (no one else ever comes here!), and I guess he’d heard us.

    I persuaded Steve to stop, largely so he could hear if I needed a tight rope, plus we were climbing on a half rope with plenty of potential stretch. But in the end I managed it OK, and even got a fine final crest to the top. The weather wasn’t too bad on top and the descent is easy down the track which leads up to the Munro Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. There was even a team coming up rather late in the day. The route was called Waive Wall, Grade V,7.”