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    Scottish winter climbing news

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    Martin Holland standing beneath the line of Bogle Eyed (III) on Binnein Shuas. This was climbed as an alternative to Laggan Fantasy on the second ascent of the three-sectioned North-West Integrale on the mountain. (Photo Juim Bayliss)

    Martin Holland standing beneath the line of Bogle Eyed (III) on Binnein Shuas. This can be climbed as an alternative to Laggan Fantasy on the three-sectioned North-West Integrale. (Photo Jim Bayliss)

    On Saturday January 31, Martin Holland and Jim Bayliss were looking for a climb to suit the forecast of strong Northerly winds with fairly continuous snow and not too far from Aviemore, where they were staying.

    “I remembered a report on scottishwinter.com from last year of some new routes by Masa and Yuki Sakano on the North-West ridge of Binnein Shuas and we thought they might fit the bill for the day,” Martin told me. “It’s not a long walk in, but breaking trail, sometimes in thigh deep snow, took a while.

    We climbed Location, Location, Location, which I’m guessing may be the second ascent. We split the route in to two pitches, which seemed the obvious thing to do as there’s an initial steeper section with a good block belay above, followed by a short walk to a more slabby delicate section.

    We then walked up the ill-defined ridge aiming for Laggan Fantasy” However, on crossing the wide easy angled gully forming the obvious step in the ridge we spotted a short, but well formed, ice line down and right of Laggan Fantasy. It started from the lowest section of steep crag containing Laggan Fantasy and gave 20m of excellent water ice climbing followed by 10m of easy ground to a good belay at blocks.

    We called the route Bogle Eyed and graded it III. It’s a short route, but in keeping with the routes of Masa and Yuki, and was a good choice for the conditions.”

    Canine Capers

    Brian Davison on the technical crux of 101 Dalmatians (VII,7) where precarious moves above the crack lead to an easing in the angle. [And yes, this is a current photo and not a throwback to the 1970s – Brain Davison does still wear a Whillans Harness!] (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Brian Davison on the technical crux of 101 Dalmatians (VII,7) where precarious moves above the crack lead to an easing in the angle. [And yes, this is a current photo and not a throwback to the 1970s – Brain Davison does still wear a Whillans Harness!] (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “After the routes done around New Year,” Andy Nisbet writes, “I began to realise Lurcher’s Crag wasn’t worked out after all, particularly when conditions became increasingly icy as the cold spell began to bite. I didn’t have much respect for the depressions between the ridges, largely because they had hard slabby starts and much easy ground higher up, but with a need for somewhere local and deep snow around, Sandy Allan and I thought we’d try one which didn’t look too hard. So on January 8 we waded down South Gully and along the terrace to the groove between Reindeer Ridge and St. Bernard’s Ridge. It turned out not to be too difficult and gave what turned out to be the common pattern for these grooves, two harder pitches, then easy ground to a final headwall. I wasn’t sure about political names but given the date, it was hard not to call it Je Suis Charlie (Grade III).

    After a following couple of weeks of stormy and snowy westerlies, many cliffs were swamped in soft snow and with Brian Davison up for a long weekend and insisting on all three days climbing, the venue had to be west facing and accessible to my weak legs. The next groove to the right seemed like a good option but this time we descended Central Gully (the top is easy) to reach it. Brian was well ahead of Sandy and me as usual and not having seen much of him since the car park, didn’t really know where we were going. He did stop below the first groove south of Central Gully and asked if this was it, because it looked good. I had it in my head that it was very smooth but when I caught up, it looked quite reasonable and much icier than I’d seen before. We weren’t expecting the ice so had blunt gear with us; a good excuse for pointing Brian at it. It was still quite thin and with not much protection but the usual two tricky pitches led to an easier finish. Topical names seemed to be theme so Beagle has Landed even added the doggy part and became the name (Grade V,4), although Sandy thought Grade IV was high enough.

    The next day we made a fruitless trip to Beinn Bhan in deep snow and bad spindrift so the following day need to be a short(ish) walk-in again. So it was back to Lurcher’s to the groove, which was the intention for the day before. This of course turned out to be the one with the smooth start but again it was iced, albeit steeper and thinner than the Beagle Has Landed. The ice didn’t reach the base but a steep crack in a smooth V-groove almost reached it. The crack was clearly going to be hard and looked like it might end in snow which might cover either smooth rock (to the pessimist) or continue to the ice. Brian was happy to give it a go and take what came, which turned out to be increasingly precarious moves as the angle eased. The next pitch appeared to be well iced but the ice was very thin and there was a difficult bulge again with a strenuous move with gear leading to a precarious one above it. After that was a heavily snowed slab with a decreasing thickness of ice interspersed with increasing blobs of turf. A lot of digging and faith was required but Brian came up with both, so the three of us reached easy ground. This time there was a chimney in a headwall and being forced to lead something, I did some dithering before commitment solved it quickly. The world news that day was dull so it was back to dog names. I called it 101 Dalmations, which the others reluctantly accepted, and we graded it (VII,7).

    As a postscript, the final two depressions have also been climbed recently. I climbed the one between Dog Day Afternoon and Summit Ridge on a wild day when stopping to belay would have been purgatory (Wallydraigle, III). And on January 27, Sandy and I climbed the depression between Ptarmigan Ridge and Sweep, finishing up its headwall to join Ptarmigan Ridge – conditions were slushy at best.”

    Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Gift Horse (IV,5) on Meall Bhuidhe in Strathconon. Loch Beannacharain is just off picture to the left and the head of Strathconon is in the background. (Photo John Mackenzie)

    Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Gift Horse (IV,5) on Meall Bhuidhe in Strathconon. Loch Beannacharain is just off picture to the left and Strathconon is in the background. (Photo John Mackenzie)

    “Dave Broadhead and I managed to wade up, and wade out, of an icefall up near the head of Strathconon, above Loch Beannacharain,” John Mackenzie writes.”It’s a place that probably no-ones heard of apart from James Edwards who ‘gifted’ me this route after having to retreat from it a few years back.

    There is a massive depth of snow on north and north-east faces and this icefall naturally lies on the north side of a most modest hill called Meall Buidhe. It had a rather convoluted approach from Inverchoran and after another outing with Andrew James to another icefall that turned out to be a waterfall on January 19 (insulated by snow higher up) I noted that James’ line was in fact frozen.

    Dave was curious so on January 22 we snow-ploughed up to the base of the thing where all of a sudden it became a lot bigger than it looked from below. Two vertical screens of ice and a final icefall up a wide runnel all looked very promising and all went well until the big screen was reached which turned out to be a hanging fragile carapace. Fortunately just to its right steep ice led to what seemed like easy ground on this third pitch but in fact this is where the difficulties began. Snow covered rock slabs which were smooth had to be crossed to a corner where a poor icicle runner then led to improving gear (a tied-off peg that could be placed and removed by hand) and a good, fortunately, belay a little higher. An ungradable pitch!

    Dave then had the ‘cream’ where the upper icefall gave a lovely pitch of 35m, quite steep and with a window on the upper bulge where you could see torrents of water running behind. Unfortunately all this joy exited onto a depth of snow, saved by a tiny sapling but worse followed.

    The only way off was up to the crest of the ridge and the only way up was to spread weight by lying, kneeling or burrowing. We all know that climbing is supposed to be playtime but with the wind getting up and the afternoon progressing and progress tardy, the play aspect was a little stretched. We eventually made the crest and followed it eastwards and down to the glen above Inverchoran. Small hills can bite sometimes!”

    Steve Perry leading the first pitch of Hidden Gully (V,6) on the West Face of Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh on Skye. The steep chimney section comprising the second pitch can be seen looming above. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    Steve Perry leading the first pitch of Hidden Gully (V,6) on the West Face of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh on Skye. The steep chimney section comprising the second pitch can be seen looming above. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    Steve Perry and Michael Barnard added an excellent new winter route to Skye on January 17. Unfortunately Steve’s email sat in my spam folder for a couple of weeks, so better late than never, here is Steve’s story:

    “Having spent the whole afternoon sifting through guidebooks and trying to find a crag suitable for the current conditions, I received a call from Michael Barnard who suggested going to Skye that very evening. Why hadn’t I thought of that? A quick call to the Skye guru Mike Lates for a conditions update saw us driving west soon after and arriving at Carbost just after midnight.

    I had no plan whatsoever for Skye, but Michael did – Hidden Gully – a route first soloed in June 1908 by an F.Greig on the West Face of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh and graded Diff.

    The West Face was easily recognisable on the approach that next morning through Coire a’ Ghreadaidh by the very distinct ice line of White Wedding, with our line being somewhere just right of it. On the final traverse into the crag Hidden Gully finally revealed itself. Michael’s first thoughts were that the route looked more like a chimney than a gully, and mine were that it appeared steep for a Diff, but most essentially it looked a very attractive line so it was game on.

    Nice steady climbing leading up to the chimney uncovered great conditions, and soon we were both into the deep jaws of it. Verglas harder than tank armour covered both sides but a vertical line of well-spaced chock-stones afforded good, but quite bold protection. Michael liked the look of all this and off he went. The climbing was a strenuous pleasure, back-and-footing then precariously balance on a chockstone and repeat, onwards and upwards. Slowly standing up onto the final chockstone I emerged from the walls to fantastic exposure and to seeing both ropes disappear through a very small hole. Like some Arctic pot holer I crawled through and found Michael in the brand new world that was the top half of our route.

    The gully ended here but an obvious line of weakness now gave still high quality climbing, technical and sustained, culminating in exposed traverse moves to a groove and above us the last pitch – a fine interesting V-groove leading up finally onto easier ground.

    After some debate the grade was settled at V,6. The two things that we did totally agree on however were that the route warranted three stars and that F.Greig was certainly going well in 1908!”

    Neil Wilson on the first ascent of Sideshow (IV,6) on Cul Mor. The route lies on the left side of the secluded Coire Gorm where the cliff is cut by a number of chimneys and fault lines. (Photo James Edwards)

    Neil Wilson on the first ascent of Sideshow (IV,6) on Cul Mor. The route lies on the left side of the secluded Coire Gorm where the cliff is cut by a number of chimneys and fault lines. (Photo James Edwards)

    James Edwards and Neil Wilson visited Cul Mor on January 24 and found an excellent new chimney-line that they called Sideshow (IV,6).

    “Neil Wilson and I went in to Cul Mor to poke about after seeing the icy pictures of The Greatest Show On Earth,” James told me. “The temperature was a bit warmer than advertised, so we switched plans to mixed routes and instead found fantastic conditions for mixed climbing.

    Last time Neil was there (in 2002) he made the first ascent of the route Three Chimneys with Roger Web. I’d teamed up with Roger for the route Four Eagles on my last visit (2006), so we started up to the right of both those routes and climbed a superb 180m-long chimney-fault line at around IV,6. It had a couple of quite pokey moves that required a little thought, but with gear at either eye level or overhead when the difficulties arose what was there not to like?

    The views from the crag were as stunning as always, and the experience of climbing in that corrie truly is one of the Greatest Shows on Earth!”

    Chris Cartwright climbing the prominent V-groove of Enigma during the first winter ascent in January 1997. The route was first climbed in summer 1952 by Marshall, Cole and Oliver and was repeated in winter by Malcolm Bass and Andy Brown in January 2008. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Chris Cartwright climbing the prominent V-groove of Enigma (VII,7) during the first winter ascent in January 1997. The route was first climbed in summer 1952 by Marshall, Cole and Oliver and was repeated in winter by Malcolm Bass and Andy Brown in January 2008. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Erik Baillot and Dave Kerr made the third winter ascent of Enigma (VII,7) on Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress on January 24.

    “We had a great day climbing on this magnificent crag,” Erik told me. “It was the second time this winter, as we climbed Mainline Connection in mid-December (which deserves three stars). We went for Enigma because we thought it would be well sheltered from the worse of the wind. It probably was but it was still a wild day and we got pummelled by fierce wind.

    The route was great and we think that it deserves three stars. We climbed it in five pitches and the climbing was always interested due to iced up cracks and verglas.

    Pitch 3 was the crux. I climbed an iced crack to a narrow left ramp (30cm) with only one hard-won runner before exiting on the ledge with no turf pro left (used in the iced up crack well below). We felt this warranted VII,7 (of the soft kind) but still serious.

    The highlights of the route were the groove seen on the picture on SMC guide [and above] and the lone bonsai Scot pine tree growing at the end of pitch 8! That’s the only photo we took, as the weather was so wild that the camera never came out.”

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Godzilla (IX,8) on Beinn Bhan during the second ascent. This route was first climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock in March 2011 and was among the first few Grade IX’s in Scotland to receive an on sight first ascent. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Godzilla (IX,8) on Beinn Bhan during the second ascent. This route was first climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock in March 2011 and was one of the first few Grade IX’s in Scotland to receive an on sight first ascent. (Photo Iain Small)

    On January 24, Iain Small, Andy Inglis and Murdoch Jamieson made the second ascent of Godzilla (IX,8) in Coire nan Fhamair on Beinn Bhan. This exceptionally steep expedition is a direct version of The Godfather, taking an intricate line through the lower wall, before climbing two pitches of The Godfather corner to finish.

    “I managed to hook up with Andy and Murdoch and we eventually settled on walking into Beinn Bhan to take a look,” Iain told me. “We packed some screws to keep our options open but hoped the quick thaw on the Friday hadn’t made much impact and that the freezing level would be low enough and the crag sheltered.

    After a rather snowy and exciting drive we walked into increasingly grim weather with heavy graupel squalls blinding us and wavering our thoughts. As conditions underfoot began to firm up we could spot the crag through the poor dawn light and things looked wintry. We grabbed the chance to gear up in a brief lull and avoided too much misery. The previous evening’s route of choice was now a bit too real, but we silently climbed the remaining slopes to below the monumental wall and by some consensus Andy tied in and started the journey.

    Six pitches later we topped out in the dark and wind, the thaw hadn’t caught up yet and we were all tired, relieved and even happy. There really is nothing so essentially ‘winter only’ as an outing on those looming prehistoric cliffs!”

    Matt Buchanan making the first winter ascent of Arch Chimney on Creag Tharsuinn in Arrochar. This was one of the last ‘old school’ summer routes on the cliff to receive a winter ascent. (Photo Dafyyd Morris)

    Matt Buchanan making the first winter ascent of Arch Chimney (V,5) on Creag Tharsuinn in Arrochar. This was one of the last ‘old school’ summer routes on the cliff to receive a winter ascent. (Photo Dafyyd Morris)

    Dafydd Morris and Matt Buchanan laid an old ghost to rest with the first winter ascent of Arch Chimney on the Upper Buttress of Creag Tharsuinn on January 22.

    “Matt and I headed back to Creag Tharsuinn to give Arch Chimney a go, once again!” Dafydd explained. “I say again, because when we did the winter ascent of Hangover in the corrie two years ago we had a look at it, but on that occasion it was a hoared up rocky chimney/corner line. We went back later that season to try it only to spend four hours taking the gear for a walk in waist deep snow. Zero visibility meant we wandered aimlessly round the cliffs trying to get our bearings without success so beat a not so hasty retreat to the Village Inn in Arrochar for consolation pints!

    This time, the deep snow was still there, and to our horror so was the low cloud cover. After another wander round, thinking bloody hell not again, the cloud lifted and presented the crag to us, and right enough, we were miles away from our objective. A wade later to the bottom of the route revealed an icy slabby corner. Luckily we’d left all the ice gear behind as we’re really good at reading conditions!

    So I managed to get a great peg in at the bottom of the pitch, and that was it gear-wise pretty much. The ice was too thin for screws anyway. Back and footing up the corner it was a bit awkward swinging the axes in the confined space but this led to a great belay below the Arch pitch which Matt dispatched pretty sharpish. The route was 65 to 70 metres all together and followed the summer line. We had the usual debate about the grade. I thought V,4 whilst Matt gave it V,5. I guess it would really depend on the ice build up on the first pitch. A great day out whatever – you gotta love the Southern Highlands. This time the pint in the Village Inn tasted a bit sweeter!”

    Private Eye

    Iain Small on the first winter ascent of Private Eye (VIII,8) on Mainreachan Buttress on Fuar Tholl. The route was first climbed in 1974 by the all-star team of Boysen, Braithwaite and Nunn and graded Scottish VS. The guidebook description has the ominous warning that ‘the route looks very hard and is reported as such.’ (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small on the first winter ascent of Private Eye (VIII,8) on Mainreachan Buttress on Fuar Tholl. The route was first climbed in 1974 by the all-star team of Boysen, Braithwaite and Nunn and graded Scottish VS. The guidebook description has the ominous warning that ‘the route looks very hard and is reported as such.’ (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson had a memorable couple of days climbing in the Northern Highlands last week. First off was Fuar Tholl on January 22.

    “We reckoned the North-West would be a better venue with a higher snow line and reports of good ice and conditions in general,” Iain told me. “I was keen to revisit Mainreachan Buttress and Murdoch was easily persuaded, with the promise of a first visit in glorious weather plus a possible new line to try. Private Eye was one of the last remaining summer lines to await a winter ascent and its ‘Scottish VS’ grade and worrying description made it an ideal proposition. After a memorable dawn walk in we geared up and descended to find the conditions were very favourable, with ice hanging and the rock white.

    We made a different start to the summer slabby ramp of pitch 1 and then tried to follow pitch 2 to the cave belay but Murdoch was drawn left onto a fantastic ice drool that emerged from an icicle-festooned, overhanging fault. As he was belayed below this, I had the delicate task of not braining Murdoch. It was a pumpy, slightly worrying pitch with gear never feeling solid in the icy, shattered rock, but a stiff pull onto a ledge led to more conventional mixed corners and the girdling ledge below the last pitch.

    Murdoch started with the light dimming and was soon nearing the top and making encouraging noises as to the quality. It was all reassuring hooks, gear and turf – the perfect finale. We aren’t sure how much of the original Private Eye we followed but we took the best winter line on the day. Returning to Inverness, Murdoch checked with his landlord Donnie, who of course had done a summer ascent, and could recall a cave!”

    The Beat

    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nan Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone and Dave Almond had a very successful four days climbing in Glen Coe and on the Ben earlier in January. The weather was particularly wild that week, but even so, they succeeded on Un Poco Loco (VII,7 – January 13), Strident Edge (VI,7 – January 14) and Centurion (VIII,8 – January 16). Tom has written a full version of their trip on his blog, and a concise version follows below:

     

    The Beat

    Dave looked up, scoping out the climbing above. He tilted his head and, without warning, his orange helmet rolled backwards, falling straight off. It bounced onto the steep slab and then tumbled out of sight. We were both speechless – how had that just happened? His head torch was still attached and we were on the fifth pitch of Centurion, a classic VIII,8 on the Ben. It would be dark in 90 minutes and we still had over 100 metres of climbing left. ‘This just got interesting!’ I thought.

    ***

    We walked up to Church Door Buttress on Tuesday, seeking refuge from a fresh storm ploughing off the Atlantic. Dave’s new toys were put to good use: his new 19 million lumen headtorch is capable of lighting up the entire mountain, and the GPS watch performed well. We left a breadcrumb trail as we zigzagged up; ‘Water,’ ‘Camp 1,’ ‘Meadow.’

    Un Poco Loco is a fantastic four-pitch route taking an improbable line up the centre of the buttress. A giant, shattered arch hung overhead as I scrabbled around, trying to find my feet. Dave hunkered on the belay below, his feet going stamp, stamp, stamp, trying to ward off the cold. I found tenuous hooks and laybacked off parallel cracks. Howling winds, waves of spindrift, verglas: this certainly was fun. Pulling onto the belay ledge brought relief and the internal chatter began to quieten.

    ***

    The following morning we walked into the Ben with Centurion in mind. Within 50 metres of the CIC hut my boot sank through a snowdrift and plunged into a stream, soaking my foot. The only consolation was that Carn Dearg Buttress looked black, and we wouldn’t be going anywhere near Centurion. We scratched around for an alternative objective. Coire nan Ciste was too avalanche-prone, the lower buttresses were black, a storm was due to slam into Scotland at 6pm that evening and it was already 10.30am… how many lemons does it take for an epic?

    We settled for Strident Edge on the Trident Buttress with Dave Keogh coming along for the ride (an Irishman staying at the CIC). We avoided triggering any slides on the wade up and I started climbing the main pitch around 1pm. The climbing flowed by, and I pulled into the belay groove some time later.

    We topped out in darkness with worsening weather. By the time we were down-climbing back into the Ciste the winds were horrific – blowing us about like puppets, making us hunch over ice axes. The straightforward descent turned into a bit of a Weston-Super-Mare. Irish Dave dropped his head torch but we found it 100 metres lower – lucky man. After a long walk back to the hut (why isn’t there an outside light that comes on at night?) we finally re-packed and headed down to Fort William. I don’t think Irish Dave knew what he was letting himself in for, but hats off for rolling with it and staying strong when the storm hit!

    ***

    Friday morning and we were stood beneath Centurion again, this time lucky enough to have it in decent winter conditions. Dave climbed the first pitch by headtorch, dispatching the tricky and technical moves in style. He was obviously on some weight-loss mission as a Scotch egg and Twix bar flew past my head when he got to the belay I launched into the second pitch – an impressive overhanging corner system with nearly 40 metres of climbing. As it says in the guidebook, the holds just keep coming and the gear keeps on giving. It felt amazing to be stemming wide with loads of air beneath my feet, the belay in sight and the beat of Centurion pulsing through my arms.

    I belayed Dave using a large hex for a belay plate, since he’d forgotten his. I had a smile on my face and we cruised, mellow, floating on the high. I barely needed to swing my arms to keep warm, and we flowed through the route until pitch five When Dave’s helmet fell off his head, I definitely skipped a beat. It’s certainly one of the least expected things to happen to your partner as they climb. He had loosened the straps to make it more comfortable, but perhaps a bit too much.

    Thankfully, Dave’s head is pretty hard and he led the pitch fine, sans helmet and headtorch. When I reached his belay, at the junction with Route II, I figured it would be dark in an hour, we still had 100m of climbing to go and we didn’t know how hard it was. However, Dave wanted to continue, so I obliged and we sprinted for the top.

    We pulled it off just in time, topping out in near-darkness and descending Ledge Route in a giddy, schoolboy ‘just-got-away-with-it’ haze.

    Thanks for a great week Dave, and for choosing ‘up.’