This blog is a celebration of Scottish winter climbing. As per my statement of March 5, the original post was kept live for a number of days and has now been removed.
This blog is a celebration of Scottish winter climbing. As per my statement of March 5, the original post was kept live for a number of days and has now been removed.
On July 15, Rick Allen and Sandy Allan succeeded in making the first ascent of the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat (8126m). This 13km-long route was first attempted in the 1970s and was widely considered to be one of the Himalayas last great challenges. It is the longest ridge on any 8000m peak and Rick and Sandy’s ascent and descent took an arduous 18 days.
This blog deliberately focuses on Scottish winter climbing, so I do not intend to describe their ascent here, and neither is it my story to tell. However, their success does have direct relevance to www.scottishwinter.com, as both Rick and Sandy are Scottish climbers with a strong background in Scottish winter climbing stretching back over 30 years. Sandy has taken part in many first ascents, often partnering Andy Nisbet. It is difficult to single out a single climb, but the route that springs to mind is the first ascent of The Rattrap (VIII,8) on Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch in 1986. This was only the second time this stupendous face had ever been climbed in winter, and despite at least a couple of determined attempts, the route is unrepeated.
Rick has a similarly impressive Scottish winter pedigree, with the first winter ascent of the spectacular Raven’s Edge (VII,7) which he climbed with Brian Sprunt in 1984, to his name. The last time I climbed with Rick was in February 2009 when he was on a flying visit to Aberdeen. It was a typical Rick Allen determined and opportunistic outing. Rick had dug out some ancient climbing clothes from the 1980s from his attic, we skied up Glen Callater in deep powder snow (Rick on ancient wooden skis) and against all the odds, climbed a good new icy mixed line on Creag an Fhleisdeir.
It is Rick and Sandy’s combined Himalayan experience however, that undoubtedly contributed to the Mazeno success. I cannot do full justice to all their climbs, but their routes include the Muztagh Tower (Sandy), a 12-day first ascent on Ganesh II (Rick) and new route on Dhaulagiri (Rick). Together, they have climbed a new route on Pumori, previously summitted Nanga Parbat, and both climbed Everest (on separate trips).
Before they left for Pakistan, Rick sent an email to friends and colleagues describing the forthcoming trip to Nanga Parbat. Both Rick and Sandy had attempted the Mazeno Ridge with Doug Scott in 1992 and 1995 and were well aware of the commitment and risks involved. “If you are someone who prays, please pray for us,” Rick wrote. “If not, please pray anyway.”
Rick and Sandy’s ascent of the Mazeno Ridge has been described as the most important British success in the high Himalaya since Steve Venables ascent of the Kangshung Face in 1988. From a Scottish perspective, it is almost certainly the most impressive mountaineering achievement since Dougal Haston climbed Everest in 1975.
I was thrilled when I heard of their success last Thursday. My emotions ranged from relief that they were safe and well through to great excitement at their fantastic success. But above all, it is hugely inspiring that two friends I’ve known for over 30 years, have pulled off the mountaineering ascent of their generation.
Postscript July 25: I wrote the above account when information on the Mazeno Ridge ascent was still limited and scant. Full details are now emerging on the expedition website which is retrospectively updating the diary of events. It is clear that Rick and Sandy’s success was greatly supported by the rest of the team – Cathy O’Dowd from South Africa and Lhakpa Nuru, Lhakpa Rangduk and Lhakpa Zarok from Nepal. All are highly accomplished Himalayan climbers in their own right (Cathy for example, was the first woman to climb Everest from both the north and south sides), and all six traversed the Mazeno Ridge to the Mazeno Col – an outstanding achievement in its own right.
Simon Gee and Justin Tracey from Reeltime Adventure have made an excellent video of last month’s BMC International Winter Meet.
“Hopefully catches a bit of the spirit of the event without getting bogged down on any one route or party,” Simon told me.
I think they have one an excellent job in capturing the nature of the meet. I have been fortunate enough to attend many of the winter meets and I felt this year’s was the best one ever. The friendly atmosphere created by Nick Colton and Becky McGovern from the BMC is very inclusive, and although some very impressive climbs were done, all standards were catered for the event was not at all elitist.
The winter meets run every two years or so, and if you are an enthusiastic winter climber and know your way around the Scottish mountains, I would recommend participating. It is a great opportunity to meet other climbers, both from abroad and the UK, and to showcase our unique style of climbing.
Good news – The SMC released the following statement earlier this week:
“Thanks to the work carried out by Neil McGougan, John Orr and team, the roof on the CIC hut has been repaired and will be fully open from 16 January 2012.”
When I first visited Aberdeen in the mid 1980s, my good friend Rick Allen took me along to an Etchachan Club meeting. Unlike other climbing club evenings, this was not held in a pub, but somewhere in the University, and was a member’s slide show. Pictures were shown of the latest new routes, both summer and winter, hard routes in the Alps, and secret projects in the Cairngorms. At the centre of it all and conducting proceedings was a distinguished looking gentleman in his fifties, and Rick whispered in my ear that this was the legendary Bill Brooker.
Bill Brooker was at the heart of Scottish mountaineering for over 60 years. At the age of 14, he cycled to Skye and climbed Sgurr nan Gillean. Later that evening he heard talk of the Inaccessible Pinnacle, and asking whether it was really ‘inaccessible’, he was told, “It is for the likes of you!” This was too great a challenge to be ignored, and next day with no previous climbing experience at all, the young Bill Brooker went and soloed it.
At the age of 17 he burst on to the Aberdeen climbing scene in January 1949 with the first winter ascent of Crystal Ridge (III) on Coire Sputan Dearg. Later that summer he added several new routes to Lochnagar and made the second ascents of Parallel Buttress and Tough-Brown Ridge Direct. The following winter he pioneered of two of Lochnagar’s most loved winter routes – Shadow Buttress A (IV,5) and Giant’s Head Chimney (IV,4), and then in the winter of 1953 in the company of Tom Patey, he made his most celebrated climbs – the first winter ascents of Eagle Ridge (VI,6) on Lochnagar and Mitre Ridge (V,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird. Even today, these are amongst the most sought after winter climbs in Scotland.
The climax of Brooker’s winter climbing career took place in 1956, when during successive weekends, he made the first winter ascents of Parallel Buttress (VI,6), Route I (V,6) and Eagle Buttress (IV,3) on Lochnagar. It is easy to forget these routes were climbed before front point crampons and twin tools. Aberdeen climbers were masters at climbing snowed-up rock, and even though ice was climbed by cutting steps using a single axe, the standard of Cairngorm mixed climbing was extremely high.
Brooker was also an accomplished rock climber and added many first ascents to the Cuillin on Skye including the well known Crack of Dawn (HVS) and Dawn Grooves (HVS). But of all his routes, the first ascent of Waterkelpie Wall (a seven pitch E1) on Creag an Dubh Loch, which he climbed with Dick Barclay in August 1958, I find the most astonishing. This was the first route to venture onto the imposing Central Gully Wall, and to attempt this daunting line with only a small handful of pegs and a few rope slings shows incredible bravery and confidence, and puts our modern armoury of protection into perspective.
Bill Brooker’s charm and outgoing nature meant he was a natural ambassador for Scottish climbing. He became president of the SMC and edited the influential SMC Journal for twelve years. He moved from his job as a teacher to Aberdeen University and he was eventually honoured by becoming a Master of the University. Unfortunately, a cruel illness robbed him of his youthful athleticism and he became increasingly immobile as he became older and was unable to access the hills.
Despite his illness, Bill maintained a keen interest in Scottish climbing. On several occasions Niall Ritchie and I visited Bill’s home and showed him slides of recent Scottish climbs. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and I remember describing the first ascent of Sour Grapes – a corner high on Lochnagar – and his eyes lit up when he recognised the feature projected on the screen. “I always wondered what that would be like as a route,“ he told us.
Bill Brooker’s death in November was a huge loss to Scottish climbing. He was a great man and his life touched many people in both his personal and professional life, but for climbers, he will be forever remembered as the architect of some of the greatest mountain climbs in the land.
Following on from the Creagan Cha-no – Anvil Buttress Topo post, the photo above shows the routes on Arch Wall. This wall typically provides two-pitch routes up to 70m long, with pride of place going to the eponymous Arch Wall (VII,7) and Smooth as Silk (VII,7), although later in the season the lower 15 or 20m can bank out. As I said in the previous post, Creagan Cha-no is best considered an early to mid season crag.
I chanced upon the cliff in September 2010 when walking down Strath Nethy with a Silver DofE Expedition from the Aberdeen Deeside Explorers group.
We were planning a traverse of the Cairngorms from Glenmore Lodge to Braemar, but we had to call off the trip after the first night. The weather was horrendous with snow and gale force winds, and later we found out that we’d experienced the coldest September night on record on the Cairngorms. As we retreated down Strath Nethy from Loch Avon the rain stopped and the clouds began to clear, and I noticed a frieze of cliffs high up on the plateau edge. They looked attractive, but rather small from afar, but the following weekend I went along to have a look. I was delighted to find a well featured little cliff comprised of excellent granite. It was another wet day, but between the showers I wandered up Duke’s Rib at Moderate (later climbed at Grade II).
Intrigued, I checked through my collection of Cairngorms guidebooks when I returned home. The crag was referred to in the 1960 Mac Smith guide to the Northern Cairngorms, but was considered to be too short for worthwhile climbing. (In those days a winter route was required to be at least 500ft long to be valid, and even summer routes had to be at least 300ft in length to be worthy of recording). Subsequent climbing guidebooks to the Cairngorms mentioned Cha-no, but more recent editions dropped the reference, so the cliff faded into obscurity.
But tastes and styles change. Fifty years on it is perfectly acceptable for a mixed route to be 60m in length if it has good climbing, and in this respect Creagan Cha-no fits the bill!
Several people have asked me for a topo of Creagan Cha-no, the recently developed winter cliff on Cairngorm. The photo shows the Anvil Buttress area, and a topo of the Arch Wall area will be covered by a second post. Full route descriptions can be found in the 2011 Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal that was published in December.
Creagan Coire Cha-no is an attractive little granite cliff tucked under the east flank of the Cha-no spur on Cairngorm overlooking Strath Nethy. The cliff faces east so it is best considered an early to mid season venue. It strips quickly when the sun rises high in the sky in March and April.
Cha-no is not a major crag, but it does have the distinction of being the most accessible winter cliff in the Cairngorms. It lies less than 2km away from the Coire na Ciste car park and the approach from the plateau via Recovery Gully (NJ017063) takes just over an hour. The cornice can normally be avoided on the left (looking down). The return is even quicker at about 45 minutes.
The crag is 70 metres high at its highest point, and sports 15 two-pitch routes, ranging from Grade II to VII. Most of the major features have been climbed, but there is potential for several shorter lines. With a cliff base of 950m, the routes come into condition early. Later in the season the cliff catches the sun, and some routes may bank out and have cornice difficulties. Cha-no provides a welcome alternative to the Northern Corries, with, a beautiful view and a ‘remote’ feel away from the hustle and bustle of the ski area.
The cliff is steeper than it looks, and (something of a novelty for a Northern Cairngorms crag), the cracks are very vegetated. The finest routes are Jenga Buttress (III,4) and Anvil Corner (VI,6) – both climbed on my first winter visit to the cliff with Sandy Simpson last November.
The SMC have recently issued a note on the CIC Hut as follows:
“As you may be aware, the CIC Hut sustained significant damage to the roof during the recent exceptional weather. A large area of roof cladding on the Allt a’Mhuillin side of the original building has been lost. It is hoped that a weather window may emerge in early January to enable materials to be flown up to effect a temporary repair with more permanent work taking place in the spring.
There has been some water ingress to the interior but fortunately not enough to render the premises wholly unusable. Occupation numbers will however have to be restricted until the temporary repairs take place.”
James Dunn, who was in the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis together with Greg Boswell and Will Sim on December 8, has put together a brief video of the wind that day, and the damage to the CIC Hut roof.
After taking the video, the trio attempted to descend, but the wind was so strong and they had to retreat back to the hut. The next day the winds died and they made the second ascent of The Knuckleduster.
The new roof, which is less than three years old, was torn off due to the failure of a fixing. The previous roof lasted over 80 years, which says a lot for the robustness of traditional materials. The CIC Hut has now been temporarily repaired due to the efforts of Hut Custodian Robin Clothier and other members of the SMC, but it is still uncertain whether the hut will remain open through the winter.
A remarkable aspect of last season was the number of Grade IX routes that were on sighted. Previously, only a handful of routes at this level had ever been climbed on sight, but last winter we saw an unprecedented eight new Grade IXs on sighted together with seven on sight repeats. The following list is adapted and updated from Tom Knowles’ post on UKC last January. Hopefully it will inspire many more routes at this level to be climbed this season!
Grade IX+ On Sight First Ascents
Defenders of the Faith IX,9 – Dave MacLeod, Fiona Murray (2006)
Mammoth IX,9 – Greg Boswell, Guy Robertson (2010)
Culloden IX,9 – Gordon Lennox, Tony Stone, Iain Small (2010)
To Those Who Wait IX,9 – Greg Boswell, Will Sim (2010)
Crazy Sorrow IX,10 – Guy Robertson, Pete Benson (2011)
Bavarinthia IX,9 – Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)
Stone Temple Pilots X,9 – Guy Robertson, Pete Macpherson (2011)
Brave New World IX,8 – Iain Small, Simon Richardson (2011)
Godzilla IX,8 – Guy Robertson, Pete Benson, Nick Bullock (2011)
Grade IX+ On Sight Repeats
Demon Direct IX,9 – Dave MacLeod, Gareth Hughes (2003); Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)
The Duel IX,9 – Es Tresidder, Blair Fyffe (2003); Greg Boswell, Steve Lynch (2011)
The Steeple IX,9 – Pete Benson, Guy Robertson (2006)
The Tempest X,9 – Dave MacLeod (2010)
Pic ‘n Mix IX,9 – Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell (2010); Pete Harrison, Simon Frost, Dave Garry (2011)
The God Delusion IX,9 – Martin Moran, Pete Macpherson (2010)
Happy Tyroleans IX,10 – Greg Boswell, Mike Tweedley (2011); Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)
To Those Who Wait IX,9 – Charly Fritzer, Ines Papert (2011)
Grade IX+ Routes Awaiting On Sight Ascents
Guerdon Grooves IX,8 – Dave Cuthbertson, Arthur Paul (1984)
Logical Progression M9 – Mark Garthwaite (1999)
Mort IX,9 – Brian Davison, Andy Nisbet, Dave McGimpsey (2000)
The Cathedral X,11 – Dave MacLeod (2004)
The Hurting XI,11 – Dave MacLeod (2005)
The Scent IX,8 – Guy Robertson, Rich Cross (2007)
Slochd Wall IX,8 – Pete Benson, Guy Robertson (2008)
Don’t Die of Ignorance XI,11 – Dave MacLeod (2008)
Sassenach IX,9 – Andy Turner, Tony Stone (2009)
Super Rat IX,9 – Pete Macpherson, Guy Robertson (2010)
Anubis XII,12 – Dave MacLeod (2010)
Satyr IX,9 – Donald King, Andy Nelson (2010)
The Wailing Wall IX,9 – Martin Moran, Murdo Jamieson (2010)
Note: The definition of On Sight in this list, is a free ascent that is made without prior knowledge gained from attempting, or inspecting the route in winter.