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    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.

    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.”

    Ally MacAskill on the first ascent of the excellent Oneicicle (V,5) in Coire a’Bhasterir on Skye. This was one of 20 new routes climbed during the two-week long Skye Winter Climbing Festival in late January to early February. (Photo Mike Lates)

    Mike Lates on the first ascent of the excellent-looking Onceicle (V,5) in Coire a’Bhasteir on Skye. This was one of 20 new routes climbed during the two-week long Skye Winter Climbing Festival in late January to early February. (Ally MacAskill)

    Several folks have commented that I left a bit of a teaser about the Skye Winter Climbing Festival following my post about Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. The festival was an outstanding success with over 20 new routes and only one day of climbing lost to the weather. Mike Lates, Skye guide supremo, and organiser of the Festival, has kindly provided the following report.

    “The fifth Skye Winter Climbing Festival expanded this year to two weeks instead of a long weekend,” Mike writes. “It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off big style with participants and the weather all playing their part. We were forced to move away from the Glen Brittle Memorial hut because of their renovations and moving next door to a pub sounded dangerous!

    The aim has always been to demonstrate that Skye should not be written off for winter climbing. Historically it has suffered because of a general obsession with the much-hyped Winter Traverse and a very slow realisation that the Cuillin offers superb mixed climbing. Ironically, the fickle weather that makes a huge undertaking like the Traverse unlikely, is precisely what technical Cuillin climbing needs, and boy did this year prove it!

    Ironically this year has seen more ice than I’ve ever known – I’d even placed more Cuillin screws before Christmas than any previous season’s total. More ice formed hugely early January but I was gutted to see it diminish a couple of days beforehand. Tim Oates and Michael Barnard were just sharp enough to snatch the big ice pitch of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (IV,4) on Day 1 of the festival (January 24) but the following day saw all but the highest ice destroyed in a tropical storm.

    The skies cleared overnight and the next day (January 26) saw Rory and Malcom Morris, Craig Rennie and Dylan Coutts add two new lines on Thuilm; the first called Generous Gully (I) because I’d pointed it out to them as an obvious target.

    We went into Coir’ a’Bhasteir on Wednesday (January 28) to discover huge fat ice on the back wall behind the lochan that had definitely not been there on Monday. Our conclusion was that a slurry of slush had just sunk down the wall and stuck solid. Many of the new arrivals over the next few days had little or no ice experience and these walls provided a selection of superb 50m lines for folk to try their hand.

    Friday (January 30) started OK but degenerated into a mega-storm that I was glad to see everyone return from. Four of us climbed the right-hand of two prominent lines that had often form thinly but always remained elusive. Word-meister (Mak Francis) Beads concluded it should be called Twicicle (IV,5).

    At the opposite end of the Ridge James Sutton was doing battle on Con’s Cleft (E1) with his brother Doug using tools for the first time and Ben Weir presumably shouting advice from below the overhang! They were stopped 25m from the top and it was my pleasure (Type 2 at times) to head back with James on the Sunday (February 1) to complete the ascent. I’ve limited experience, but thought VII,7 was James being pretty conservative.

    Michael Barnard was back on the Saturday (January 31), this time with Josh, and, again, he mopped up. South Gully on South Crag is pretty low lying and had been on my ambition list. The guys did another shorter route too. Next day he was beside us on the Alasdair cliffs on a really good looking icy groove-line which they named Skye High and gave it V,7. Monday (February 2) was the first day with little wind and Ally MacAskill and I headed back into Coir’ a’Bhasteir and thoroughly enjoyed steep ice on Onceicle (V,5).

    Tuesday (February 3) saw a split across the island with a huge dump stopping abruptly south of Sligachan. Fiona Murry and Alison Coull committed to the swim into the Bhasteir icefalls on their second attempt but were rewarded with Making Memories (V,6) on Garbh-bheinn the next day. I’d been into this virgin cliff twice before but never had any joy. It’s an unusually vegetated gabbro cliff but Wednesday February 4 saw it dripping with ice and frozen turf and none of Tuesday’s snow! Mo Barclay, Stuart Leonard and I grabbed the first good-looking line leading to a tight crux chimney with a crucial chockstone. Full of character we thought Chockolates was worthy of two stars at V,6. Stuart from Hong Kong and came up with the perfect name for another route we snatched before dark – Yat for the Doh translates as One for the Road. James also snatched the third ascent of The Smear (V) that day as consolation for backing off Deep Gash Gully, again with his very game brother.

    The following day everything seemed to be running and dripping in Coir’ a’Mhadaidh but Murdo and Beads found Farcicle (V,5) still user friendly in the fridge that is Coir’ a’Bhasteir. This point was further exaggerated the following day when Francis and John found the North West Face Route (III) on Gillean in stunning nick as they climbed up above the clouds while everyone else headed south.

    This incomplete summary focuses largely on new route highlights but there was much more activity with teams on established routes, wandering the corries, getting excited on the ridges and peaks. My favourite memory was stood on the balcony of the bunkhouse, listening to the ice cracking as we watched the full moon light up the Cuillin at the far end of the loch. And finally, huge thanks to the staff and locals at the Old Inn for making us all so welcome. We’ll be back!”

    Keith Ball climbing the second pitch of The Crack (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The route follows an inverted staircase of overhanging steps up the centre of the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. The crack line cutting through the second step can be seen directly above Keith’s arm. (Photo Dave Rudkin)

    Keith Ball climbing the second pitch of The Crack (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The route follows an inverted staircase of overhanging steps up the centre of the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. The crack line cutting through the second step can be seen directly above Keith’s arm. (Photo Dave Rudkin)

    Dave Rudkin and Keith Ball notched up an important repeat on Ben Nevis on February 21 when they made the second ascent of The Crack (VIII,8). This HVS summer line takes the striking crack system running up the front face of Raeburn’s Buttress. Due to its steepness it is rarely in condition, and Dave and Keith chose to attempt it directly after a heavy snowfall. The Crack was the most difficult of the 30 or so new winter lines that Chris Cartwright and I added to Ben Nevis over a ten-year period from the mid-1990s. It’s great that almost 15 years to the day, it has seen another ascent!

    “Keith and I have been up in Scotland working for PYB,” Dave explained. “We have managed to climb some of the classic ice routes on Carn Dearg on our days off, which has been fantastic; firstly we climbed The Shield Direct (with Matt Stygall), then Gemini, The Shroud and finally The Bewildabeast. This weekend we thought the mixed climbing would be good so headed back up that way.  From the CIC hut we carefully negotiated the slopes below Carn Dearg until below The Crack. What a brilliant route! Strenuous and sustained as you say in the guide, I even managed to drop a few hand jams into rimed up cracks – pure joy!  We climbed the difficulties in four pitches but went directly up the chimney (which required a very awkward move to get started) for the fourth pitch instead of traversing [and climbing parallel on the] right as you did on the first ascent.

    I’ve added some photos, and hope they bring back some good memories.  I’m glad I didn’t have leashes on!”

    Steve Holmes leading the initial corner of Inception (V,7) on Ben Nevis. This technical mixed follows a line of grooves and chimneys in the Fawlty Towers area of Secondary Tower Ridge. (Photo Duncan Curry)

    Steve Holmes leading the initial corner of Inception (V,7) on Ben Nevis. This technical mixed route follows a line of grooves and chimneys in the Fawlty Towers area of Secondary Tower Ridge. (Photo Duncan Curry)

    On February 17 Steve Holmes and Duncan Curry added a good mixed route to Secondary Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. The 95m-long Inception (V,7) climbs the left edge of the inset area of crag between Douglas Gap West Gully and the start of 1934 Route. This area is best known for Fawlty Towers, a popular Grade III outing when the weather is poor. Inception starts 15m up West Gully, and lies directly opposite the start of the South-West Ridge on the Douglas Boulder, below a left-facing corner ramp. The route climbs the well-defined initial corner, a constricted chimney followed by a cracked wall to finish up another chimney and snowy grooves to reach the crest of Tower Ridge.

    The day before (February 16), Pete Harrison and Tom Livingstone scored a notable repeat with the third ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. “We both thought the route was very good,” Pete told me. “We reckon it’s worth two stars because it’s fairly short, but it has excellent quality climbing. The first pitch is steep to start then a bit strenuous up the wide crack, and is fairly well protected. The second pitch is beautiful face climbing on small edges – teetery, but with good wires where needed. The third pitch was an icefall… We both thought VIII 8 was spot on, and not soft!”

    Uisdean Hawthorn linking pitches 1 and 2 during an early repeat of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh’s Pinnacle Buttress. This rarely in condition route was first climbed by Dave Hesleden and Bruno Sourzac in 2005 and is one of Scotland’s most sought after ice climbs. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn linking pitches 1 and 2 during an early repeat of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh’s Pinnacle Buttress. This rarely in condition route was first climbed by Dave Hesleden and Bruno Sourzac in 2005 and is one of Scotland’s most sought after ice climbs. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn teamed up with Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson to complete a remarkable double on Creag Meagaidh last week (February 12 -13). Uisdean takes up the story:

    “Having got down from doing Han Solo on the Ben, I sat in the van, checked the weather and then texted Iain Small to see if he was about on Thursday. He quickly responded saying he and Blair were headed to see if The Fly Direct (VII,6) was there, and I was welcome to join them.

    When we got to the loch the next morning we could see the crag looked good with lots of white lines streaking down the cliff.

    The Fly Direct was in good condition apart from a sugary section on the first pitch, which Iain skilfully picked his way past. We did it in five long pitches making for a fairly quick fun ascent. I had arranged to go out with Murdoch Jamieson on Friday and Iain decided to join, as Extasy (VIII,8) was looking incredibly icy so we stashed the gear decided to come back for that.

    The next day the three of us were buzzing with excitement as we geared up below the crag. We wondered whether we could link pitches 1 and 2 together and thought our ropes would reach. So I set off, on what turned out to be an extremely interesting pitch! I picked my way up the features weaving from icy corner to steep ice onto the icy slab then up a turfy groove. I even got to place my first warthog (my joinery apprenticeship coming in handy), which was the only gear for the last 20m. And thankfully I had enough rope to reach the ledge

    Iain and Murdoch both led the their pitches very well. Iain’s had a very delicate bold step to gain an ice ramp, and Murdoch’s a steep committing mixed corner. Me being indecisive and description inaccuracies meant an easy 20m pitch took longer than it should have. That left a long pitch to the top with a few hard steps, which Iain took in his stride leaving us grinning at the top still in daylight. [This was the fourth ascent of Extasy].

    I would have been delighted to climb just one off these routes in a season but to climb them both in two days, after doing a new route on Ben Nevis the day before, left me on a high and loving Scottish ice, and wondering why would anyone want to climb anywhere else.”

    “I’m not sure how our first two pitches on Extasy relate to the original description but we definitely climbed the original pitch four corner on our third pitch,” Iain explained. “I had arranged a day out with Blair on Thursday [February 12] and driving up Uisdean got in contact about joining us. I reckoned The Fly Direct would be a good bet and Blair was very keen for this rare classic. Also it would give me a chance to scope out conditions on the crag for Friday with Murdoch and Uisdean. The Fly lived up to its reputation and descending we got to check out Extasy. The face was teeming with ice and we could pick a line of grooves and ramps that led to the corner pitch. So we were back next day and with cooler conditions helping we had a great climb, giving the old warthogs a rare day out!”

    Will Sim on the third pitch of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. When the route was first climbed five years ago, Robin Thomas’s lead of this Tech 9 pitch was one of the finest on sight leads ever achieved at the time. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    Will Sim on the third pitch of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. Robin Thomas’s ascent of this pitch in 2010 was one of the earliest on sight Tech 9 leads. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    On February 5, Andy Inglis and Will Sim made the second winter ascent of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. Martin Moran and Robin Thomas first climbed this tough sounding route in February 2010.

    “With all the good weather and pictures of North-West routes in amazing condition we were both desperate to get out,” Andy told me. “Especially with Will off to Norway at the weekend for work (ice climbing in Norway, is that really ‘work’?)

    As it turned out, the day dawned with drizzle, sleet and low cloud and the crux of the day might have been leaving the car. Nearly three hours of slogging through wet snow up Beinn Eighe had us on top, with the freezing level hovering somewhere around the top. Hopes were not high! Dropping into the corrie and moist cloud had us wading about looking for something appropriate after initial hopes of a Far East wall route were dashed, so traversing round to the Eastern Ramparts was the obvious next option.

    As it turned out Will lost patience looking for the start of Boggle and headed straight up into the corner line of Pale Rider. Belaying Will on this first pitch may have been the grimmest period of this winter for me… drizzle rolling past, soaking clothing, and my desire for coffee and warm clothes going through the roof. Fortunately the climbing was superb, engrossing and technical, with three great well-protected pitches! The added unexpected bonus was the third pitch that Martin had written so engagingly of on his excellent blog turned out to be straightforward (in daylight, maybe that was cheating?). The wall was encased in thick rime the like of which neither of us had seen on this wall before, and there was even hero ice up the final chimney of Pale Diedre! Pale Rider is certainly a high quality addition to the wall and definitely three stars!”

    Kenton Cool climbing Cioch Corner Superdirect (VII,8) in Applecross. This rarely in condition route was first climbed in winter by Martin Moran and Chris Dale in February 2003. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Kenton Cool climbing Cioch Corner Superdirect (VII,8) in Applecross. This rarely in condition route was first climbed in winter by Martin Moran and Chris Dale in February 2003. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool made a spirited attempt at a winter ascent of the full height of the A’Chioch buttress in Applecross on February 1. In the process they made a possible second winter ascent of Cioch Corner Superdirect (VII,8), but a complete ascent of the buttress eluded them. Ian takes up the story:

    “I drove up with Kenton Cool on January 31 having agreed that we should do something big in the North-West. We knew conditions were amazing, but even so, I was initially unsure about the Cioch. Unfortunately as we drove up Kenton explained he’d mixed up his diary and we had to be back in Oxfordshire by 6am on Monday. The Sat Nav suggested an 11.5 hours drive, so Beinn Bhan was out. We wandered in on Saturday afternoon to the Cioch when we got up there. There was ice and snow in the first two grooves of Cioch Corner Superdirect, first climbed by Martin Moran and Chris Dale in five pitches in 2003 at VII,8, but the the prize is to carry on up the upper corner which looked black. Luckily the HVS and VS’s left of the Cioch Nose on the upper wall have a different aspect and were holding snow.

    That night temperatures dropped three degrees and the snow level lowered from 300m to two inches at sea level. Next day as we climbed, I quizzed Kenton and it became evident that we had a 4pm cut-off. We climbed seven (and three-quarter) pitches up Cioch Corner Superdirect and then half of Forgotten Corner. The top pitches were VIII,8. With one final pull and then probably another VI,7 pitch to top, 4pm came so we lowered off.

    Kenton arrived home at 5am and I got to Sheffield at 3.30am. So no tick, but we tried!”

    Murdoch Jamieson climbing pitch 6 of The God Delusion (IX,9). “This was a marvel of route finding and a lesson in rope management. Murdoch did a sterling job of extending everything, even at the cost of losing most of his hexes to complement his dwindling supply of quickdraws.” (Photo Iain Small)

    Murdoch Jamieson leading pitch 6 of The God Delusion (IX,9) on The Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. “This was a marvel of route finding and a lesson in rope management. Murdoch did a sterling job of extending everything, even at the cost of losing most of his hexes to complement his dwindling supply of quickdraws.” (Photo Iain Small)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson visited Beinn Bhan on February 3 and made the third ascent of The God Delusion (IX,9). This legendary route was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Benson in 2008 and is considered to be one of the most challenging routes on the Northern Highlands. Iain and Murdoch travelled up to Applecross with an open mind and were contemplating attempting The Messiah, only to find that Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson had climbed it the day before. Iain takes up the story:

    “After Godzilla we were both harbouring an urge to get on the Giant’s Wall again. With the continued good conditions in the North-West this happened more quickly than we bargained for. I think we’d both spent a wee bit too long staring at photos of the Giants Wall… Did any of the features link up? …How do you read that maze of grooves and ramps? One feature that you couldn’t miss was the huge roof capped corner guarded by a perplexing barrier wall below [the line taken by The Messiah]. That could be an option?

    Late Monday evening in Kishorn and down came the weary Monday shift from the Wall. It sounded hard and the faces told us all we needed to know – time for the back-up plan. Another walk through hail and wind but with occasional moonlight brought us back into the land of giants and The God Delusion.

    The route went well and Murdoch topped out only just needing the head torch but soon the moonlight was enough to see by. There were lights over Portree, and further flung spots we couldn’t quite guess. And all around us Applecross shone bright in the moonlit snow.”

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the ice chimney of The Promised Land (VI,6) on Creag an Socach in the Southern Highlands. This pitch is also climbed by Deliverance (VI,6) that had an early repeat in the hands of McFarlane and Dafydd Morris. (Photo Dafydd Morris)

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the ice chimney of The Promised Land (VI,6) on Creag an Socach in the Southern Highlands. This pitch is also climbed by Deliverance (VI,6) that had an early repeat in the hands of McFarlane and Dafydd Morris. (Photo Dafydd Morris)

    It’s been a busy couple of weeks on Creag an Socach above Bridge of Orchy with the rarely formed classics of The Promised Land (VI,6) and Messiah (VII,7) in good condition and seeing several ascents. They were first climbed by Graham Little in the 1980s (The Promised Land with Dave Saddler in March 1987, and Messiah with Bob Reid in January 1988) and were significant ascents during the development of Southern Highlands mixed. Both routes follow strong lines, but unfortunately they are not often in condition.

    Stuart McFarlane and Dafydd Morris had an excellent weekend making an early repeat of Deliverance (VI,6) on January 31, and then climbing the bulk of Antichrist (VI,7) with Andy Clark the following day. Deliverance was first climbed by Al Powell and S.Elworthy in January 1995 and is a direct variation to the central section of The Promised Land. “Deliverance is a superb direct line,” Stuart enthused. “We couldn’t really work out where hairline crack on Antichrist went, so we took the obvious winter line which lead onto the top and joined Second Coming.”

    The hairline crack on Antichrist is on the fourth pitch. When Roger Everett and I made the first ascent in March 1992, we were determined not to deviate from the tapering pillar defined by the fault lines of The Promised Land and Second Coming, so we climbed directly up the apex of the pillar via an impending wall cut by a hairline crack. “A series of steep moves on widely spaced tufts (not visible from below), lead to a ledge,’” the description (rather unhelpfully) reads. “Protection is in the form of a poor knife-blade peg in a crack on the right.” I remember being particularly proud of this pitch and the crucial ‘tuft’ on the crux move was the size of a postage stamp. I’m not sure if this pitch has ever been repeated, but I’m sure with a Pecker or two, it could be better protected than on our ascent. The name of course, was a playful swipe at Messiah, which Graham and Bob had climbed four years before.

    The current guidebook suggests that Deliverance and Antichrist may overlap to some extent, and Stuart has several comments on the descriptions that may be useful for the next guidebook. ”Deliverance starts at flakes below steep rock (Promised Land), moves back right, steps up, then moves left and up a turfy groove to a belay overlooking the ramp of The Sting. Turfy ground then leads diagonally up right (joining Antichrist) through a bulge into a steep groove, stepping left around a block, into snow bay beneath ice chimney of Promised Land. Antichrist starts 5m right of flakes, goes straight up the groove above (Deliverance goes up left one), then takes turfy groove going slightly leftwards to bulge (common with Deliverance), before traversing right, sensational exposure, belaying on ledge on arête. This is a fantastic pitch! Even without last 20m pitch, this would be a worthy V,6 in it’s own right!”