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    Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published by Simon Richardson

    Guy Robertson following the ice section on the bold second pitch of One Step Beyond (IX,9) during the first ascent. The combination of steep technical mixed with thin vertical ice, makes this route one of the most challenging winter climbs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Guy Robertson following the vertical ice section on the bold second pitch of One Step Beyond (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe during the first ascent. The combination of steep technical mixed with thin vertical ice, makes this route one of the most challenging winter climbs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Pete Macpherson and Guy Robertson made a highly significant addition to Beinn Eighe’s Far East Wall on January 29. One Step Beyond (IX,9) takes the line left of King of the Swingers, and is based on an unusual hanging ice smear that oozes from a seep half way up the wall.

    “We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else in Scotland,” Pete told me. “I think it’s quite unique. We’ve been to Far East Wall numerous times over the years but have never seen ice form so abundantly around this area before. We spotted the ice just before New Year when we had to make a hasty retreat off another line due to the onset of bad weather.

    Conditions and weather were great last Wednesday, so we thought we’d have a look. To be honest I had reservations as to whether it would go, and after succeeding on only three routes this season with three failures due to poor weather, I was keen for success. Guy headed up the first pitch that starts below the big corner of King of the Swingers and belayed below the impending grooved arête to the right of the ice feature. Gaining the niche below the groove on pitch two involved some intricate moves, but when I was standing below it I was taken aback by the steepness of the groove above.

    The groove was extremely strenuous tech 9 with absolutely no rest in sight, so I just kept climbing until I pulled round onto the ice into a wee icy niche, pumped out of my mind and ‘one step beyond’. I was way above my last gear (a small peg only half in), so I stood perched on the ice for an hour and half, scared out of my wits, as there was no more gear. Guy reassured me that there was nothing below me if I fell off – nice one, cheers for that Mr Robertson! Eventually I plucked up the courage to climb up to a bomber hanging belay at the top of the ice.

    A thin crack system sprouts from the top of the ice. It looked utterly desperate, but appeared to be well protected by small nuts. Guy headed up the crack (solid tech 9), but unfortunately dropped our small wires at the start of the pitch. Gutted but not deterred, Guy pulled out a cracker of a lead, especially so when one of the cracks petered out over a bulge forcing him instinctively out onto the arête.

    The next pitch is common to King of the Swingers and is solid VII,7, but I really struggled with it as I was so wrecked and it was getting dark. I stopped about two metres from the top below a steep tech 6 corner as both my arms kept cramping up. Guy nailed the last corner on failing arms and that was that. We could hardly untie from the ropes we were so exhausted.

    Climbing One Step Beyond on sight is the stuff of dreams for me. The route is definitely my hardest on sight to date, and we thought it top end IX,9. It most definitely deserves four stars. This morning, four days after our ascent, I received a text from Guy which says it all – ‘Still high as a kite, dude!’”

    North Craig in Glen Prosen in the Southern Cairngorms with the existing lines shown. Red - White Plains Drifter (IV,5 45m); Yellow - Whitewash (IV,5 50m); Blue - White Sun of the Desert (III,4 45m). The new III,4 variation to White Sun of the Desert is marked in green. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    North Craig in Glen Prosen in the Southern Cairngorms with the existing lines shown. Red – White Plains Drifter (IV,5 45m); Yellow – Whitewash (IV,5 50m); Blue – White Sun of the Desert (III,4 45m). The new III,4 variation to White Sun of the Desert is marked in green. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    On Friday January 24, Ian McIntosh, Sharon Wright and Martin (Wilf) Holland decided to visit North Craig in Glen Prosen. “We were looking for somewhere East and low to avoid the worst of the weather and preferably with a southerly aspect,” Wilf explained. “None of us had been there before and I was gambling that the bouncing freezing levels had built some ice on the crag. Also, forecasts differed quite widely on freezing level with some saying freezing above 500m all day and others saying the freezing level would rise to above the summits in the afternoon.

    We approached from Glen Doll. There was more snow around than I’d expected and less ice than I’d hoped for when we got to the crag. The steeper lines of White Plains Drifter and Whitewash weren’t in, but we did climb the line of White Sun of The Desert. The ice was thin and a delicate approach was required. However, I think the ice may have been more solid than on the first ascent as we were able to take a more direct line up the steep section by an icy corner and groove. It’s essentially the same line and grade and I think the route taken will vary with conditions.

    With the freezing level rising we opted for a quick second route, which I’d guess is new. It was mostly Grade I ground, but had a good finish up an icy corner. Unforgiven (II) climbs a series of ramps to finish up a corner-groove defining the left side of a pinnacle-like feature can be seen 20m right of White Sun of the Desert at the top of the crag.”

    Robin McAllister on the first ascent of The Water Margin (E2) on Portobello. Robin made a significant contribution to Scottish climbing during the 1990s, and is best remembered for his challenging additions to the Southern Highlands, his series of difficult winter repeats and for developing the Galloway sea cliffs. (Photo Andrew Fraser)

    Robin McAllister on the first ascent of The Water Margin (E2) on Portobello. Robin made a significant contribution to Scottish climbing during the 1990s, and is best remembered for his challenging additions to the Southern Highlands, his series of difficult winter repeats and for developing the Galloway sea cliffs. (Photo Andrew Fraser)

    A few days ago, the terrible news broke that Robin McAllister had died at the young age of 47. Robin was based in Ayrshire and was one of the driving forces in Scottish winter climbing during the 1990s. He spectacularly emerged on the scene in January 1995 when he made the first winter ascent of Direct Direct on The Cobbler with Dave McGimpsey. The winter ascent of this fierce summer HVS took Southern Highlands climbing up a full notch and has seen very few repeats. Originally graded VI,8, it was repeated by Dave MacLeod six years afterwards, and was later upgraded to VII,9 in the guidebook. It is still considered to be one of the most challenging winter outings on the mountain.

    That winter, the McAllister-McGimpsey team also made the second ascent of Rab Anderson’s excellent, but intimidating, Deadman’s Groove (VII,7) on the Cobbler’s South Peak. This set a theme for Robin’s climbing. Over the next three seasons he made second ascents of The Screaming (VIII,8) on Beinn an Dothaidh, Inclination (VII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan, Vertigo Wall (VII,7 – second free ascent) on Creag an Dubh Loch, Prore (VIII,8) in Coire an Lochain and The Cardinal (VIII,8) on Beinn a’Bhuird.

    “By today’s standards these routes might not seem particularly impressive,” Dave McGimpsey recalls. “But gear has improved so much since then, and Robin was one of very few climbers in Scotland at the time actually trying to repeat these routes. If he’d maintained his momentum I think he would have progressed on to repeating the big VIIIs in places like the Shelter Stone and Creag an Dubh Loch – he was certainly strong and bold enough. High magazine published a list of all the Grade VIIIs at the time, which Robin obsessed over for a good while, but sadly he suddenly stopped climbing and it was never to be.”

    Robin also left his mark with dozens of new winter routes across the Highlands, but it was in the Southern Highlands that he scored his greatest successes. He was most proud of the first ascents of Interstellar Overdraft (V/VI) on Merrick with Stuart Mearns, and Resolution (VI,7), which follows a peerless line taking the full challenge of the great central wall on The Brack, with Dave McGimpsey and Andrew Fraser.

    In summer, Robin climbed many of the big routes across Scotland up to about E5, but it was in Galloway where he left his mark. “This was not just in terms of his 150 or so new routes,” Andrew Fraser remembers, “but in being the driving force behind almost all of the hard routes and development of the Rhinns peninsula. Routes which spring to mind are Behind the Mask (E1) on Mullwharchar, Spectacular Bid (E6) on Meikle Ross, Edge of the Abyss (E4) on Finnarts Point, Sweaty Trembler (E5) at Portobello, Zero Tolerance ( E5) at Laggantalluch Head, and the development of the Kiln o’ the Fuffock and Crammag Head. In fact, almost every single hard route in the South-West is a McAllister creation. Elsewhere, The Blundecral, True Finish (E5) and Gulliver’s Travels (E2) on the Meadow Face on Arran, and Tales of the Old Days (E5) on Creag Ghlas were Robin routes. All these climbs were done in a ten-year climbing span from 1990 to 2000.”

    Scott Muir recalls that Robin took him up his first ever winter climb – North Wall Groove on the Cobbler with Dave McGimpsey – when Scott was fifteen years old. “It was his drive and enthusiasm for new routing, and climbing with him on the sea cliffs of Stranraer and around Ayrshire and the Southern Highlands, that set me on course for a life of climbing and exploration. He was a massive inspiration, role model and mentor – his passion for climbing and the mountains was infectious.”

    Although Robin or I never climbed together, I came to know Robin quite well. It seems strange to say it now, but the 1990s was a pre-Internet age, and climbing information was shared by word of mouth, journals and magazines. I often had long conversations with Robin on the phone when he would describe his latest adventures, and quiz me for details of routes he aspired to do. I was intrigued that he wanted to repeat some of my climbs, but more importantly, I was struck by his infectious enthusiasm, boundless energy and plain love for the sport.

    Rest in peace Robin – you will be sadly missed.

    (Thanks to Andew Fraser, Dave McGimpsey and Scott Muir for their help in compiling this tribute).

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “So said Dave McGimpsey when we got back to the car,” Andy Nisbet recounts. “Which seemed a bit mean; better than being pulverised by gales and spindrift in the East, I thought. Thanks should first go to James Roddie for blogging pictures of Coire na Caime (Liathach), showing the best conditions since 1994. Although it has to be said this was only in the high east corner of the corrie and much of the rest was bare except for the easy gullies. I immediately picked out an icefall on the buttress between Gullies 2 and 3, and not one I remembered seeing before. This corner of the corrie, lying under the summit of the mountain, is rarely visited, largely I think because it’s the hardest to reach, and clean slabby rock is not much of a temptation either. The weather has been unusual this year with snow in Torridon on a south-easterly wind when normally that direction would be dry; so it had drifted on to that face.

    Dave, Sandy Allan and I set off on Monday (January 20) to climb the icefall, although not having been to the corrie for some ten years, I forgot that the traditional approach up Coire Dubh is not the best. After three hours, I had remembered many times! But now we were there, and the icefall was looking good, if a bit wet and thin in the middle section; the freezing level was 200m higher than the monk had predicted. But the ice was soft, never brittle and actually continuous over three long pitches. The thin section seemed to justify a grade of V,4 given that the ice would rarely be thicker and the belay wasn’t the best. And being No.2 Buttress, the name of Two Faced seemed to fit.

    Conditions were so good on the buttress that, even though time was getting on, we felt we should try a gully line to the right. And it went well, again continuous snow and ice, and quite steep for a couple of steps (Strike 2; III,4). If the approach was long, so was the descent over the summit and we reached the car well after dark.

    With more routes to do, it was a case of keeping very quiet. Which is quite difficult when folk ask you for recommendations for venues in this unpredictable season. But you know that information nowadays spreads so fast. After an essential rest day, the forecast wasn’t great for Wednesday (January 22) but we knew from last time that gales in the Cairngorms and heavy rain in Lochaber meant that it might be fine in Torridon (given a southerly wind). Sandy was busy, so Dave and I returned to Coire na Caime, this time approaching over the top. We were in good form when we stood under No.1 Buttress, which has one ice route from 1994 on its right side. I had always been put off a return by slabby rock, but this time it was white of unknown quality. With no runners on Two Faced and little prospect of any on a route up the centre of this buttress, we had gone light with a 60m half rope and a small rack.

    It soon turned out that the white stuff on ledges and any grooves was in fact neve, and there was a continuous line of snow and ice leading up to a smooth barrier wall. The rope did run out, but a brief moving together gained a prefect belay of two large nuts. The barrier wall had to be passed by a line of ice on the right, leading to a second and bigger barrier wall. The existing route was moving towards us at this point, so we agreed to try a line up steeper white grooves near the left arete of the face. Dave headed along a ledge and was soon delighted that the smooth grooves were filled with neve and not powder. Another long pitch gained easy ground. First Foot was quite hard to grade; it felt a bit like a Ben Nevis open face (although not so steep) and we decided on IV,4. You could have argued for IV,3 or V,4 also.

    After 230m of climbing, time was again getting on, but the last gully line on No. 2 Buttress was too hard to resist. We decided just to dump the gear and solo it. Again the ice was good and we knew it was less steep than the others, so we climbed it without any heart fluttering and actually made it back to the car without torches. The gully is joined at the very top by the easier option of No.3 (Pinnacle) Gully, so the name of Strike 3 does at least for now (Grade III). I should say before anyone rushes up there, that Coire Dubh Beag was pretty black, and even Coire Dubh Mor was poor with Poachers Fall probably not quite doable. And the steeper icefalls on Am Fasarinen were also too thin.”

    Simon Yearsley making the first ascent of Galifrey Groove (IV,4) on Ben Nevis. After last week’s generally settled weather, a series of occluded fronts over the weekend made predicting climbing conditions difficult, and this is one of the few new routes climbed in recent days. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

    Simon Yearsley making the first ascent of Gallifrey Groove (IV,5) on Ben Nevis. After last week’s generally settled weather, a series of occluded fronts over the weekend made predicting climbing conditions difficult. As a result, this is one of the few new routes climbed in recent days. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

    “It’s proving tricky to make the best of the fluctuating conditions this winter,” Simon Yearsley writes. “This weekend was no exception. The forecasts changed daily as a variety of fronts pushed through at seemingly random speeds. So, as Malcolm [Bass] has to make the long drive up from North Yorkshire to get his winter hits, we decided to go high and climb on the Ben with the hope that we’d at least have a good choice of different altitudes and aspects to choose from. Even as the weekend approached, our plans had to adapt to the shifting forecasts. Friday and Saturday deteriorated before our very eyes, and by the time we got to Saturday evening, Sunday wasn’t looking too great, and we were distinctly running out of weekend. Fortunately, Malcolm had Monday off work, so decided to walk up to the CIC hut on the Sunday, and climb in the short weather window on Monday, January 21.

    The mid morning walk up to the Ben was a very sociable affair as we chatted to a stream of friends, the majority of whom were making their way down because of unstable snow conditions high up. We spent the afternoon and early evening pottering around various mid-height areas of the Ben. Snow conditions were not ideal, and things definitely not freezing at 1000m, despite the forecast 700m freezing level in the afternoon. However, we did see that the central groove line on North Trident Buttress was looking nice and icy, and if the promised freeze came in later that evening and overnight, it looked like a worthwhile short new line. Malcolm and I had spotted this feature several years ago (it’s even drawn as a feature on the line drawing in the guidebook), and when Helen Rennard and I had climbed the next-door ramp-line of Day of The Doctor in November, I’d confirmed it was a nice-looking line.

    We left the hut pretty early on the Monday morning, with everything nicely frozen. The climbing was very pleasant up the open icy groove, which gave several steep steps and a quite tricky leftwards traverse back into the upper groove. The top pitch was well positioned with a short V-groove on the left providing more entertainment. The route was only 60m long to where it joins the horizontal ridge crest of that part of the buttress, but given the fact that Malcolm had to be home that evening, and that the weather had decided to change (again!) and it was now raining (!!) we agreed to finish the route there. We also took the decision to establish an abseil point on the horizontal ridge. With a sling and crab in place, this route and Day of The Doctor provide useful mid-height objectives that can easily both be done one after the other, with the option of an abseil descent if you don’t fancy continuing to the plateau.

    The name was pretty easy… something to illiterate with ‘groove’ and to have a connection to Doctor Who. It had to be ‘Gallifrey Groove’.

    When Helen and I climbed Day Of The Doctor in solid turf and powder conditions, we both thought it would be easier with more ice. When Malcolm and I did Gallifrey Groove in icy conditions, we both thought it would be harder with less ice. Both routes felt like IV,5 in the conditions they were climbed in. Both are pleasant wee routes, probably both climbable in a variety of conditions. The more ice, the easier they’ll be!”

    Gary Kinsey making a beeline for the prominent pillar taken by the line of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6), on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. “It’s the best line I have climbed so far at Cha-no,” James Edwards commented afterwards. “On the main pitch every move was interesting, and the protection is excellent.” (Photo James Edwards)

    Gary Kinsey making a beeline for the prominent pillar taken by the line of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6), on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. “It’s the best line I have climbed so far at Cha-no,” James Edwards commented afterwards. “On the main pitch every move was interesting, and the protection is excellent.” (Photo James Edwards)

    18 February 2013: First ascent Max Encouragement (VI,7) on Arch Wall by Masa Sakano and Luke Abbott. This steep pitch climbs the parallel cracks just right of the second pitch of Daylight Robbery on the Arch Wall headwall. Masa originally graded the route V,6, but the pitch looks as hard as the next door Smooth as Silk (VII,7), so eventually Masa agreed to the upgrade!

    7 December 2013: Two quick additions by Roger Everett and myself on Blood Buttress. Giant Steps (IV,6) climbs the crest between Blood Thirsty and True Blood, and True Blood Direct (III,4) takes hanging groove and icicle avoided by the original line.

    2 January 2014: First ascent of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6) by Gary Kinsey, James Edwards and Roger Webb. This takes the prominent rib about 50m up and right from Arch Wall. “The main pitch was 40m with another 20m of easy ground to the summit plateau,” James reports. “At one point, just before the end of the difficulties, I was completely flummoxed as to how to sink my tools into the great big sods of turf just out of reach, and Gary’s advice to ‘just pull and step up lad’ left me feeling quite short. Then I spied a tiny seam just on the arête. I just got the tip of my pick in it and stepped up with a wobble (and a tiny squeak). When Roger reached the same point, I kept quiet (of course) about the hidden seam, but noted with disappointment that his wobble and squeak was far smaller than mine!”

    Scary Monsters

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Scarebear (VI,5) on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin. This prominent line on the left side of the crag was one of the last unclimbed gullies in the Cairngorms. (Photo Heike Puchan)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Scarebear (VI,5) on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin. This prominent line on the left side of the crag was one of the last unclimbed gullies in the Cairngorms. (Photo Heike Puchan)

    “Looking across to Stacan Dubha from Stac an Fharaidh a few days ago,” Andy Nisbet writes, “I couldn’t help noticing this snowy gully. I thought I knew the crag well and that all the main lines had been done, but here was an apparently easy gully. Heike Puchan was after a climbing partner for Sunday (January 12) so I was trying to think of somewhere suitable. ‘The gully might be a bit easy, but it’s a nice remote place and conditions are good,’ I said.

    That meant Saturday resting, so I tried hard to imagine how windy it was on Saturday and that the forecast for Sunday was better. But as we battled in to Sneachda against a gale and spindrift, I wasn’t convinced and had to tell myself and Heike that a southerly wind was a bad direction for Sneachda and that it would be better on as soon as we reached the plateau. It did at least improve when we descended out of Coire Domhain but even at Loch Avon it wasn’t calm. Walking conditions were great though.

    The lower slopes were banked out so we soloed up to the base of the gully. Well, it clearly wasn’t Grade II as I had thought, and in fact there was considerable doubt as to whether it would go at all. That did at least explain why I hadn’t noticed it. I’m sure I had, but without ice it probably looked impossible so the memory was deleted. I started by convincing myself that the ice might be good and that you could always abb off. I soon found that the ice on the slabby walls wasn’t good, in fact you hit rock with every blow and the only technique was to pull the axe down until it jammed on something, then keep pulling down and never out, then step up and hope nothing slipped. The good point is that I could see an unexpected crack above and the second good point was that as soon as the angle eased, even if it was only a hold, then the ice was hugely better.

    After an easy bit there was a longer slabby section, and the thinnest ice coming round the side of an overhang. I couldn’t get the axe to jam on anything and it was looking hopeless, but then I spotted that the angle had eased up on the right. If I climbed up under the overhang and reached a long way right, there might just be something. It was a bit committing leaning so far but at least the axe held on something, now would the feet hold on very little. Obviously they did and really there was only one precarious move followed by a lot of holding your nerve.

    Another easy section led to a final groove and bulge of crusty snow. It wasn’t obviously possible and the last gear was at least 10m down. Whether I was going up or down, I had to find something. Despite digging, the only thing I could find was a frozen block out on the left wall, and that was some 2 metres away. The moves to reach it were thin, but at least it wasn’t further up. It took a cam, at least something, and then I could reach some turf above it, and placed a warthog, which you could pull out with your hand. But I discovered you could move up on the turf and step back into the groove. I dug away a foot of snow (ominously easily) down to the back of the groove and it was smooth. I was getting a bit desperate but the top was only a move away; a bit of commitment was required. Moving up on a tiny foothold, I found my leg wedged behind the crusty snow in the cleared groove. This was just enough to keep me in balance to reach up for the top, and even though I was an inch short, a hopeful udge gained better placements and it was all over.

    Of course I ran out of rope, but that was less stressful than the climbing, and Heike had the faith to move up a few feet quickly until I reached a belay. There was even less ice for seconding, and certainly the groove collapsed as Heike pulled over. The final pitch was easier to finish on a windless plateau where we could sit for something to eat, except I couldn’t really swallow anything. With the nearby route being Goldilocks, the name Scarebear seemed appropriate. As for the grade, it could be anything from IV to impossible. So we settled for what it probably was on the day, VI,5.

    Update – January 14: Masa Sakano is a Japanese astronomer living in Laggan. Which is a clever move, as jobs in his field are limited there, and he has plenty of time to climb. So I persuaded him to go to Stacan Dubha for an iced groove left of Scarebear. It looked totally smooth in a summer picture so the rack was cut down, and the rack proved of limited use in the end. An independent approach to Scarebear was made and the groove looked well iced, just a pity that it was extensive rather than deep ice. After a hopeful ice screw in crust at the start, the rest was just searching around for placements that hit the rock and stuck rather than just hitting the rock and bouncing. Some 40m further on, the rope ran out but I was in an easier angled upper groove by then, and tied on to a hook, two tied- off ice screws in crust, both my axes and as big a stance as I could make (plus a waist belay); a real Ben Nevis belay in fact. Masa climbed very carefully, then led on very carefully to the top. Googling for scary names suggested the spear-wielding Slogra (V,4).

    Iain Small climbing the crucial second pitch on the first winter ascent of Scansor (IX,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This prominent line has seen at least four prior attempts that all came to a halt near this point. (Photo Tony Stone)

    Iain Small climbing the crucial second pitch on the first winter ascent of Scansor (IX,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This prominent line had seen at least four prior attempts that all came to a halt near this point. (Photo Tony Stone)

    On Friday January 17, Iain Small and Tony Stone pulled off a major ascent with the first winter ascent of Scansor on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This spectacular E2 rock climb up the front face of the pillar to the right of Unicorn, has been the focus of several top teams in recent seasons, but all have been unable to unlock the technical intricacies of the bold and exposed second pitch. Iain takes up the story:

    “It was a pretty dismal start with a damp mild walk and doubts over the forecast of a 900m freezing level. With the still, humid conditions and thick cloud we barely got a glimpse of the crags until we found the buttress. We were just about to give up when we hit the freezing level with fresh verglas oozing down the walls from an impressively icy crag. As the mist cleared a quick glance round into the Unicorn area confirmed we were on!

    We had attempted Scansor two seasons ago, climbing the first pitch to the large block belay. Tony started up the second pitch but it wasn’t to be that day. Down climbing from an in-situ pecker from another team’s attempt, we then abbed off.

    This time round we found some helpful ice in the lower grooves. The second pitch succumbed this time, with tricky-to-find gear initially, and a devious approach as to the best line to gain the traverse ledge. It even provided some reasonable neve to top out on. We then finished up the final chimney pitch of Unicorn.

    All in all, it was a great technical route. Having climbed a new summer line up the front of the buttress with Tony this summer, it was fantastic to get Scansor this time around! We reckoned on IX,9 overall, as it was pretty technical on both pitches and a bold approach is required.”

    Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up thin ice during the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, it was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran added to their long list of cutting edge ascents with an ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar’s Tough-Brown Face on January 11. This much-celebrated route was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Andy Nisbet in March 1986, and has only seen two other repeats. On the second ascent in January 2000, Dave Hesleden and Andy Cave added a direct finish that they thought was harder than anything on the original route.

    “I have real admiration for Dinwoodie and Nisbet doing this route way back in the mid-eighties and questing into the unknown’” Pete told me. “I’ve wanted to do Diedre of the Sorrows for over a decade now, but the Tough-Brown Face is so rarely in good condition that I’ve never had the chance.

    I’ve been on that face three times now, twice on Nevermore, and once when I took a whipper off another new line, so I was keen to actually get to the top of something. Diedre of the Sorrows has a huge reputation for hard bold climbing in a sort of tradition kind of way, rather than a modern steep hard pulling style. There was some nice quality super thin ice on the route, but every time the angle eased, or you reached a ledge, you were met with sugary tool-ripping snow on top of bald slabs, which made for some nerve-wracking moves way above gear.

    That’s the thing about this face compared to everywhere else I’ve climbed in Scotland – you dig out the back of grooves, and nine times out of ten you find nothing, no cracks no gear just an open groove. Martin made a smooth lead of the super thin and serious third pitch, and I got the direct pitch above, which Andy Cave and Dave Hesleden did on the second ascent. Six millimetre-thin ice with Peckers in an icy groove for pro focuses the mind somewhat! We did the last two pitches in the dark, which added to the adventure. All in all, a cracking day out which should keep me happy…until next time!”

    Two contrasting views of the first pitch of Twisted in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right photo shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “There was quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

    Two contrasting views of Twisted (VII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “Quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

    “Back in November Harry Holmes, Dan Tait and I went into Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe with the aim of making the second ascent of Twisted, a three-pitch three star VII,7 to the left of Chimney Route put up by Simon Yearsley and Malcolm Bass last March,” Helen Rennard writes. “However, on the day we found the bottom pitch to be bare, Chimney Route dripping and the rest of corrie disappointingly unfrozen, so we returned to the car having got up nothing.

    Onto January and I was climbing with Dave Almond the weekend of January 11-12. Dave was up from Liverpool for his first trip of the winter and, as ever, was highly motivated to get out, having been training hard at White Goods since October. We were keen to avoid too much driving so opted to stay local to Fort William (where I live). I texted Simon on the Friday for his thoughts on Twisted and he replied “I’d be worried about it being black…I’d have a Plan B.” As it turned out, being too black was not an issue!

    Dave did a great job leading the first pitch, remaining completely calm despite getting only three lots of gear in 30 metres. Pitch one was easily the crux, though the rest of the route maintained a high quality of (run-out!) climbing in an impressive situation. Comparing photos with Simon afterwards it was clear that Dave and I had climbed the route in contrasting conditions to the first ascent; where Simon and Malcolm had been delicately hooking on snowed-up rock, we had had usable ice for most of the route. We thought the VII,7 grade still applied for our conditions, and Dave described it as having “a tasty first pitch followed by a mellow second pitch.”

    As it was, the climb was the least exciting part of the day. While we were gearing up in the foot of Twisting Gully the cornice above us collapsed. I heard a loud ‘boom’ and seconds later was being pummelled by wet heavy snow that obliterated everything around me. I was clipped into the belay, but Dave wasn’t, and I was convinced he had been swept away. After what may have been minutes, but maybe it was only seconds, the snow subsided. Then there was shouting and confusion. Below us, Adam and Dougie Russell and Steve Johnstone, who were under Chimney Route and had also been hit, were shouting up at us to check we were OK. They could see the end of one of our ropes trailing in the snow below with no one attached and thought the worst. I didn’t know what was happening and thought someone had gone, but Dave was still next to me, and Adam, Dougie and Steve were all unharmed. Cue some nervous laughter and Dave commenting that he’d have grabbed onto me as he went past if it had come to that…

    And, with that, he set off up pitch one, not being a man who is easily scared. But it was certainly a lesson to be more aware of the objective dangers when winter climbing in Scotland, and I think it’s fair to say, that the five of us had a lucky escape.”