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    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the he first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson made the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis on February 3.

    “It had some pretty technical climbing which was hard work to protect as everything was a bit icy,” Iain told me. “I think the Secret only deserves VIII,8 when compared to this at VIII,9. There were quite a few teams about. Folk were on Archangel and Avenging Angel Direct. Canadians Jon Walsh and Michelle Kadatz climbed Knuckleduster, which had been our first choice, but clearly we need to get up earlier! We saw them back at the hut and Jon said was really enjoying being back on Scottish mixed even in the wild conditions that we were having. He said he had never actually had to climb routes with goggles on before!”

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar. Unlike previous winter meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar climbed during the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet. Unlike previous Meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Weather Gods did not smile kindly on the BMC International Winter Meet that was held at Glenmore Lodge from January 24 to January 30. Over 35 guests from 30 different countries were teamed up with UK hosts and let loose on the Scottish hills. Unfortunately a major thaw preceded the event and the first two days were spent dry tooling at Newtyle or sea cliff climbing in the warm sunshine at Cummingston and Logie Head. The exception was Andy Nisbet who showed his great experience by leading a party up Fiacaill Couloir on ice that had survived the thaw. Despite the non-wintery start, there were smiles all around, and for several of the visitors, climbing by the sea was a new experience in itself.

    With lower temperatures, an overnight snowfall, and a temporary lull in the gale force winds, winter climbing final kicked off on Wednesday January 27, and teams headed off to the well-known ‘early season’ locations of the Northern Corries, Ben Nevis and Beinn Eighe. In Coire an t-Sneachda, Original Summer Route, Fingers Ridge and The Message were climbed and in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Deep Throat, Western Route, Sidewinder and Ewen Buttress all saw ascents. Full marks went to Raphael Slawinski (Canada) and Erik Eisele (US) who both made ascents of The Vicar (VII,8) as their first-ever Scottish winter routes with Dave Garry and Tom Livingstone. The Beinn Eighe teams climbed East Buttress and West Buttress, and on Ben Nevis the best conditions were found on Tower Ridge and North-East Buttress. Unfortunately it had not been cold for long enough to bring the mixed routes into condition, except for Sioux Wall (VIII,8) which was well rimed and saw an ascent by Uisdean Hawthorn and Luka Strazar, and Ian Parnell and Ian Welsted (Canada). This was ten years after Parnell’s first winter ascent of this landmark route with Olly Metherell in December 2005.

    Thursday January 28 dawned wild and windy, but it was still cold with a thaw forecast in the afternoon. Attention focused on the Northern Corries, and in Coire an t-Sneachda, The Haston Line, Houdini, The Message, Hidden Chimney Direct, Patey’s Route, Stirling Bomber and Invernookie were climbed together with Central Crack Route, Deep Throat, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Hooker’s Corner in Coire an Lochain. The highlights were ascents of The Gathering (VIII,9) by Tom Livingstone and Ian Welsted (Canada) and Never Mind (IX,9) by Dave Almond and Luka Strazar (Slovenia). Elsewhere in the Cairngorms on Lochnagar, Michael Rinn (Germany) and I climbed a new V,7 on The Stuic that was sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales. Across on Ben Nevis, Raphael Slawinski (Canada) led The Secret (VIII,9) in very stormy conditions.

    Friday was a write-off with more gales and thawing conditions, but that evening snow began to fall and everyone prepared for one last push on Saturday January 30 to finish the Meet on the high. Unfortunately for most it was not to be, as the winds and unrelenting blizzards were too strong and all parties attempting to climb in the Northern Corries were beaten back. The only climbing in the Cairngorms took place in in Stac na h-Iolaire, a small crag within walking distance of Glenmore Lodge where a number of new additions up to Grade IV were found. Enterprising visits to Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh came to nought with teams reporting black rock or avalanche conditions, but surprisingly the determined teams that ventured across to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe to climb in the teeth of the westerly storm were rewarded with ascents of Spectre (V,6), Tilt (VI,7) and Chimney Route (VI,6).

    The Meet finished that night with a disco at Glenmore Lodge that lasted well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Despite the challenging weather and conditions (almost certainly the worst ever experienced on a BMC International Winter Meet), the week was a great success. Every evening, presentations were made showing the winter climbing potential in Scotland, Canada, USA, Greece, India and Portugal. Ideas were shared, friendships made, new partnerships formed and the overseas guests returned home with a new-found respect for the Scottish mountains, the Scottish weather and for all those who climb in them.

    Thanks once again to Glenmore Lodge for hosting us and Nick Colton and Becky McGovern from the BMC who set such an upbeat tone throughout the week and worked so hard behind the scenes to make the event run so smoothly. Tom Livingstone has also written a report on the BMC website.

     

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    “I drove up from Liverpool and met up with Ramon Marin on January 12,” Dave Almond writes. “Ramon is a super strong M15 ice climber but had only tried his first ever Scottish winter route with Dougie Russell that weekend. For his second route I chose Neanderthal (VII,7) in Lost Valley, which was plastered as thick as it comes and offered an exciting challenge. I took the first pitch and Ramon romped up the second. The third was intimidating to look at but was very enjoyable. We topped out at 3.30pm and I thought we were going to be able to walk out in the daylight but on descending to the base of the cliff we became embroiled in a rescue of a young lady who had taken a nasty fall and was in a lot of pain so we eventually made it to the car park for about 9pm.

    I offered Ramon a rest day and used it to drive up to Beinn Eighe. We walked in and had a go at Boggle (VIII,8) but due to us walking in too slow and the first pitch taking too much time we abbed off to leave it for another day. The following day we eased down the grade and did Shang–High (VII,7) which was lots of fun. I had a great time introducing Ramon to the delights of Scottish climbing and he certainly enjoyed the locations, climbing and the views whilst I enjoyed his culinary expertise and great company!”

    Less than a week later (January 20), Ramon climbed Sundance (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe with Adam Russell. All in all, an impressive debut into the world of Scottish winter climbing!

    Guy Steven following the second pitch of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. The route was first climbed by Ian Parnell, who made four attempts before he finally succeeded with Andy Turner in March 2009. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Guy Steven following the second pitch of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. The route was conceived by Ian Parnell, who made four attempts before he finally succeeded with Andy Turner in March 2009. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Murdoch Jamieson and Guy Steven made the second ascent of Bruised Violet (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall on January 20. Murdoch takes up the story:

    “Guy and I had made an arrangement with each other weeks ago to do something last Wednesday.  Having had climbed on Beinn Eighe the Saturday before [January 16], I was aware that the walk in wasn’t to bad and West Central Wall was in good condition. We had a look at a few options, but settled for attempting Bruised Violet. Guy cruised up pitch 1 in no time at all.  I led pitch 2, which was fairly tricky in places – a stiff pull over a roof from the upper girdle ledge and a tricky traverse right. The arête I found quite pumpy due to a few thin hooks and keeping in balance but it was fine really. The kit is there. Not exactly the dream belay ledge was gained with gear everywhere but it worked.

    It had been agreed before we set off that I would lead on and link pitches 3 and 4 together which had been suggested in Ian’s description. So I did, and it was fine – just the usual, steep physical climbing that the quartzite offers. The top pitch has probably the hardest move on the whole route – a thin pull on nothing to gain a chockstone. I almost fell off seconding. The route is a good one and Ian suggested it was top of the grade. I think it probably is. I genuinely find grading pretty difficult in winter.  Overall it was very sustained with no real desperate moves (apart from at the top but that is different!)”

    Dave Kerr high up on Fishmonger (VI,6) on Lord Reay’s Seat on Foinaven. Roger Webb and Neil Wilson made the first winter ascent of this steep-chimney line in January 1998 by climbing the chimney throughout. Kerr and Baillot followed the summer route, which deviates from the chimney, and then took an independent line to the top. (Photo Dave Kerr Collection)

    Dave Kerr high up on Fishmonger (VI,6) on Lord Reay’s Seat on Foinaven. Roger Webb and Neil Wilson made the first winter ascent of this steep-chimney line in January 1998. During their repeat of the route, Kerr and Baillot may have followed a different line in the upper section. (Photo Dave Kerr Collection)

    Erick Baillot and Dave Kerr had a great weekend climbing on the quartzite cliffs in the Far North-West.

    “On Saturday [January 16] Dave and I had a short easy day on Bucket Buttress on Quinag,” Erick told me. “We repeated both Great Gig in the Sky (VII,7) and Sworn to Secect (VI,7). Great Gig in the Sky is worth three stars, because despite being really short, it packs a lot of climbing in only 45m – really cool! Sworn to Secrecy is also three stars in my book, only it is slightly less difficult than GGiS because it is less sustained.

    The next day [January 17] we started from Gunlaich House at 4.50am on our bikes bound for Loch Dionard below Foinaven. This section only took 90 minutes because we were able to cycle in the gillie’s Land Rover tracks! From there a two-hour walk took us to the bottom of Lord’s Reay’s Seat. The whitest and most obvious line was Fishmonger (VI,6) – it was our initial goal but we had an open mind. Pobble looked good but the chimneys were entirely dry.

    I linked the first two pitches but from there the description was difficult to follow. I reached the ‘obvious platform’ after only 30m of climbing (which was the undefined crux of our route). This included steep pulls with little gear off the deck and a rather spicy traverse right. We then followed the ledge right for 20m and climbed a chimney (which had some fairly stiff moves weighing at Tech 6) to find ourselves on easier ground… the rest of the route as per the description was at least 40m to our left across smooth slabs covered by a thin layer of powder! We opted to exit up an obvious gully slanting rightwards. We finished up a 15m chimney and took a belay on the right side of the buttress. From there Tech 3 – 4 ground took us to the summit. We were back to our van at 18.10pm after 13 hours on the hill.”

    Correspondence between Andy Nisbet, Fishmonger first ascensionist Roger Webb is currently ongoing. Erick and Dave may have followed the original summer line of Fishmonger that was first climbed by W.Fraser and P.Tranter in September 1964, and then taken an independent line to the top. If so, they would like to call it ‘The Mis-Plaiced Variation’.

    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl.  This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl. This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Iain Small and Andy Inglis set out to make an early repeat of Snoopy (VII,7) on Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress on January 17, but they found insufficient ice on the lower section of the route. Instead they made the probable second ascent of Reach for The Sky (VII,6). Although this route was first climbed in 1989, it not known to have had a second ascent

    “We managed to traverse from the belay below Snoopy’s brown groove and gain the thin traverse ledge of Reach For The Sky that leads to the steep headwall,” Iain told me.

    “We didn’t have the description for Reach For The Sky as we had set out for Snoopy, but the brown groove was not iced and looked horribly slopey and devoid of gear. I spotted the traverse ledge and just followed my nose up the steep mixed ground above. Andy then continued up the steep ground to gain an icy fault and easier ground. I’m not sure exactly how it ties in with the original line but we both felt it was Tech 7 – maybe it gets more iced up in better conditions. It was good steep climbing, pretty airy like Shoot the Breeze and it salvaged the day after backing off Snoopy. We’ll have to wait for more ice – it was amazing how little there was around Torridon given the soaking it had during the run up to Christmas!”

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Shoot the Breeze (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe. The route was first climbed in winter by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in January 2013 and immediately hailed as apotential modern classic. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Shoot the Breeze (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. This sustained and spectacular route was first climbed in winter by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in January 2013 and is destined to become a modern classic. (Photo Iain Small)

    On January 16, Andy Inglis , Murdoch Jamieson and Iain Small made the second ascent Shoot the Breeze (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall. This sensationally positioned route rose to prominence last year last year when it was featured in the book The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland.

    “We climbed as a three so we each got a good pitch,” Iain explained. “Andy had the first that was great climbing up a steep corner-crack, well protected but a stiff pull. I got the second pitch gaining the arête, which felt pretty intimidating as wasn’t really sure at what point to actually commit onto the arête. Murdo got the incredibly steep out there third pitch and was in his element, and there were none of his usual ‘ledge shuffling’ complaints! Andy then did a quick easier pitch to top out. The snow showers during the day had cleared and the new moon was shining so there were some great views and we could walk out without the head torches.”

    The route saw its third ascent in the hands of Uisdean Hawthorn and Tom Livingstone on January 19 who were both full of praise for the quality of the route.

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first pitch of Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch. This impressive icy mixed route takes a counter-diagonal line to Vertigo Wall and as first climbed by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in December 2012. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first pitch of Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch. This impressive icy mixed route takes a counter-diagonal line to Vertigo Wall and was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in December 2012. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Tom Livingstone pulled off an important second ascent on January 16 when they repeated Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Creag an Dubh Loch in the Southern Cairngorms.

    “Tom didn’t arrive in Perth until 10:30pm,” Uisdean explained. “I had been thinking of going to the North-West but it was a bit late to be driving all that way. This was good, it gave me an excuse to tell Tom that the Dubh Loch was the only option, and I tried to say with confidence that Vapouriser would be in condition and we had other options if not. Guy [Robertson] and Adam [Russell] had been in, and made impressive, but unfortunately unsuccessful, attempt to repeat The Giant. If there was ice on that, and with all the rain on the East Coast, there would be a fair chance other things would be good.

    Despite sleeping through an alarm and not leaving Perth until 5.30, we made it to the crag by 10.30 am.  I was expecting a wade through deep snow however, it wasn’t to bad as the loch had frozen and the wind had consolidated some of the snow the day before.

    We arrived at base of Vapouriser and I was pleasantly surprised at how fat it looked, but we both did think it looked a little unconsolidated. On the first pitch I discovered it was very unconsolidated and with sections unattached to the rock, resulting in a serious two hour lead to climb 40m, with a lot of ice coming of and doing its best to hit Tom belaying below. Another cruddy ice pitch and a very spicy bit of ledge crawling on to another ice smear led us to the diving board belay with Tom leading up the slot above missing out on both the ‘wild exposure’ as it was know dark and the ‘good gear’ as it was icy. We stood on the top at 8pm with not a breath of wind and the outline of the loch far below and both felt very satisfied. It was Tom’s first route of the season and my third big route on Central Gully Wall. Only one more in the middle left to do!”

    Kenton cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Kenton Cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Last week saw one of the standout events of the season when The Needle (VIII,8) on the Shelter Stone was ascended on consecutive days. Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool climbed the route on January 8, and the following day, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams also made an ascent.

    “It was my second route of the season after the short one I did with Dave Almond in the Corries,” Ian explained. “It was also Kenton’s first of the season and it told in terms of mental fitness once night descended at the Needle Crack, where I ended up aiding a quarter of the pitch. Having said that I gave it all I had and it was a fantastic day in so many ways, but perhaps most because I’d almost dismissed the idea of the harder routes on Shelter Stone being proper winter routes. For some reason, perhaps influenced by the chat in the 90s that it was almost impossible to get the cliff fully in condition, I’d avoided that part of the cliff.

    I’d been in contact all week with visiting Americans Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer and so had a good idea that close up conditions were a lot more wintery than some reports were suggesting. With mine and Kenton’s day fixed as Friday to fit round our family commitments we were super lucky to have Thursday completing the conditions set up with all day snow and 80mph winds followed by the blue sky calm on Friday. We left the car at 4.45am and after breaking trail started climbing at 8.15am, we diagonalled in from Clach Dhian Chimney area, climbed the Steeple layback rather than the Crack for Thin Fingers mainly as we got a bit lost as the snow was making the footless ramp pitch look very different from the photos I had. We reached the bottom of the Needle Crack at twilight at which point the verglas, my lack of wide gear, and mental exhaustion (lots of excuses!) meant I ended up aiding the middle section of the pitch eventually climbing the 3-4 inch crack in the left wall to a ledge from where I could free climb up the arête. We then lost even more time trying to thread the eye of the needle which after Kenton had dug out the through tunnel he failed to get his chest through – Kenton goes to the gym a lot but he’s a lot slimmer than I am. My guess is we topped out about 9.30pm and were back at the car just after midnight. Despite my failure on the Needle Crack it was one of my most enjoyable days out and the hardest day I’ve had for a while. Guy [Robertson] reckons the route should be IX,8 as the crux is at the top and I agree. In the fully hoared up conditions we had I think the route is one of the best in Scotland!”

    The strong Scottish based team of Andy Inglis and Neil Adams had a similarly fulfilling eperience. “Neil and I had been eyeing up the forecast for most of the week, swithering on whether the crag would be absolutely buried,” Andy told me. “A prospect I could quite believe judging by the monsoon last week which for a while made escaping Aberdeenshire on the Friday night rather ‘challenging’! Our guesswork paid off, the forecast played ball with a stunning morning on Saturday, and some decent blokes had even stuck in a trail down Pinnacle Gully for us. As it happened, they seemed to also have also put in tracks up the route too, which was a bit of surprise and we spent much of the day guessing who it might have been! As for the route…. long, very sustained and high quality with the crux right at the top, which Neil dispatched in style (I assume, as it was dark by then unsurprisingly!) Its incredibly fulfilling to eventually climb a route that you spend years dreaming about, training for, watching the forecast and conditions for… and it all coming together… in many ways it was the essence of Scottish winter climbing.”

    Regarding Ian’s comment on the grade, Andy commented: “Neil led the crux so he is probably better placed to say, but I think The Needle is so sustained and situated in a serious a place to climb, that suggesting it has the same overall grade as stuff like Sioux Wall, The Gathering and The Secret (just for instance) is Bonkers. For me it was like doing a long mid grade VIII,8 into the 1st pitch of Unicorn, so I can understand Guy’s logic for his suggested grade of IX,8. Without question it’s a four star route though!”

    Uisdean Hawthorn doing battle with the fierce second pitch of Crusade (VII,8) during the second ascent. This steep line on Church Door Buttress was first climbed by visiting US climber Steve House with Sam Chinnery during the 2005 International Winter Meet. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn doing battle with the fierce second pitch of Crusade (VII,8) during the second ascent. This steep line on Church Door Buttress was first climbed by visiting US climber Steve House with Sam Chinnery during the 2005 International Winter Meet. (Photo Iain Small)

     

    On January 9, Iain Small and Uisdean Hawthorn pulled off an important repeat when they made the second ascent of Crusade (VII,8) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe.

    “After climbing up on Church Door Buttress in summer 2013 I had liked the look of the line Sam Chinnery and Steve House climbed during the BMC Winter Meet of 2005,” Iain told me. “It’s the furthest right of the winter lines before the buttress becomes dominated by the great summer Extremes. Up on the Ben after Hogmanay on a windy day of iced cracks and spindrift, we came across a solitary Yank foiled in his pursuit of taking photographs of his fellow climbers. They were on Knuckleduster and it looked unhelpfully verglassed.

    ‘Who are they?’ we enquired.

    ‘Steve and Josh,’ came the reply.

    So it was Steve House – that explained a lot!

    Later in the week Uisdean was in the Coe with Ben Bransby for a couple of days, reckoning mixed conditions would be fine there. I teamed up with them on the Saturday and suggested Church Door Buttress having had my memory jogged about Steve and Sam’s line up there. It was a steep line of corners and flakes, the second pitch giving the crux for Uisdean. Not surprisingly it’s pretty tough for the grade and in a great situation!”