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    Chasing The Ephemeral – 50 Routes for a Successful Scottish Winter will be published by Mica Publishing in November. The cover photo shows Robbie Miller on the second pitch of the Cumming-Crofton Route (VI,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    Chasing The Ephemeral – 50 Routes for a Successful Scottish Winter will be published by Mica Publishing in November. The cover photo shows Robbie Miller on the second pitch of the Cumming-Crofton Route (VI,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    As soon as the second edition of Ben Nevis – Britain’s Highest Mountain (which I co-authored with Ken Crocket) was published in 2009, Tom Prentice asked me whether I would like to write a book about Scottish winter climbing. The original idea was to produce a selected guidebook describing 50 of the finest routes, but the more we discussed it, the concept gradually began to change. The problem with describing the absolute best Scottish winter routes is that they require good conditions and many become climbable all at the same time. For me, being in the right place at the right time has always been the underlying Scottish winter climbing skill, so the selection criteria for the book evolved into a series of routes that cover the full range of climbing opportunities throughout the season – from snowed up rock routes in the first snows of November through to high up ice routes in April.

    After three years of discussion with Tom, I finally put pen to paper in 2012. It immediately became clear that this was a book about winter climbing strategy and tactics. I set about describing how to choose the most appropriate route to suit the prevailing weather and conditions (strategy) and then how to approach, climb and decend safely and efficiently (tactics). These strategy and tactics have been derived from long personal experience. Like many folk I have juggled climbing with a full time job and family, and have not had the flexibility to go climbing exactly when I pleased. In fact for nearly 20 years, my climbing was constrained to Sundays, but by careful choice of routes and venues I was able to successfully winter climb nine Sundays out of ten. I have described these thought processes in the book and then illustrated them with a selection of outstanding winter routes that I have enjoyed. Many will be well-known favourites, but others will be less familiar. My intention is not to create a tick list, but to prompt Scottish winter climbers to think widely about where to go and what to do.

    Chasing the Ephemeral – 50 Routes for a Successful Scottish Winter will be a sumptuously illustrated book with routes from III to VII covering all major winter climbing areas in Scotland. Many people have kindly helped review the text and provided images, and I will be contacting a few more folk for some final photos in the coming weeks as we move to the final stages of production and publication date of November 2016.

    Italian guide Renzo Corona climbing The Shield Direct (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. As far as I know this is the first time this modern classic has been climbed this season. (Photo Renzo Corona collection)

    Italian guide Renzo Corona climbing The Shield Direct (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. The photo was taken on February 13 and as far as I know this is the first time this modern classic has been climbed this season. (Photo Renzo Corona collection)

    I receive all sorts of correspondence for scottshwinter.com but the following email from February 14 made me smile…

    “Hello, I apologize for my English, I’m Renzo Italian mountain guide crown have been to you for a tour with friend Martin, the time left us to climb, the first day to know a little stayed at Cairn Gorm of Aladdin the way the Flame, the second on Carn Megadich, the way Smith routes, the third day to the well-nevis Carn Deargh the way Schield direct, beautiful, today Fort Williams visits to distilleries, sure be back, we loved it… even the beer!”

    I think Renzo’s account has suffered the ravages of Google Translate, but The Lamp (V,6), Smith’s Gully (VI,5) and The Shield Direct (VII,6) is a pretty good haul for a first three days in Scotland. Bravo Renzo and Martin!

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Josh Wharton concluded his trip report on the successful visit made by Steve House, Mikey Schaefer and himself in early January with some tips for the visiting North American. It’s always interesting to have an outside perspective on the Scottish winter game, so here are Josh’s tips:

    Days were very short in early January, with light from approximately 8:30 to 4:30. I’d recommend going later in the season when days are longer.

    If you want to climb regardless of weather and conditions (just make sure Nick is around!), the nastiness you will encounter cannot be understated. I’d recommend bringing two sets of clothing, and as many as eight pairs of gloves. That makes it possible to alternate between dry sets each day, and stay reasonably comfortable. Thick, fresh Gore-Tex is also key. Don’t bring any down.

    Navigation can be a real issue. Having satellite maps on your phones, with map and compass back-up was ideal.

    The Grades didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and of course are highly influenced by Nick’s mood. I found the routes we climbed to generally be in M5 to M7 range, but often quite spicy. (This was partly due to useless cams, and my inexperience with Hexes.)

    Conditions are incredibly variable. If you can source local knowledge, do it! If not, the Northern Corries and Ben Nevis are apparently the most reliable areas.

    Gear: a single set of cams to #4, a large selection of Hexes and stoppers (offset wired hexes seemed best), and a selection of 6 to 8 pins, with an emphasis on specters and beaks, seemed about right. We placed no screws on the routes we climbed.

    A pair of junky approach skis could save a lot of energy over the course of the trip.

    The CIC Hut on Ben Nevis is fantastic, and I highly recommend spending some time there. There is an excellent drying room, so you do not need to worry about drying your kit. 

    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!

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an  Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    “It’s always great to see visiting climbers enjoying the Scottish winter, and early January saw just that,” Simon Yearsley writes. “I picked up US climbers Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer from Edinburgh Airport on January 2 and spent the evening at our house pointing at maps and guidebooks and generally building the psyche. What then happened over the next eight days was pretty cool: Josh and Mikey set off in one of our campervans, soon joined by Steve House and between them they dispatched eight routes in a really smooth style over six days climbing with two rest days. There were two things which for me made the trip really stand out: the weather and conditions definitely weren’t at their best (Josh did say he nearly cried on several occasions the weather was so gnarly!) but they still managed to get out; and also they were pretty self-sufficient for the whole trip, unlike many other top-flight visiting teams who’ve tended to have lots of support and folk to go out with them on the hill. Yes, they had lots of online support from various folk including me, Ian Parnell and others, but they were really operating on their own with only Steve having been in Scotland once before, many years ago on a BMC Winter Meet.

    I asked Josh to pen a quick resume of their trip, which makes interesting reading. The only thing I’d add for context is that whilst they climbed in the Northern Corries and on Ben Nevis, they were really psyched and determined to hit the more remote locations – how frustrating for them to have the weather they had, and I really hated texting Josh so tell him that no, Giant’s Wall would not be in nick with a freezing level of 850m!

    It’s good to see that Scotland’s winter climbing has such a big impact on top flight team. All we need now is another 30+ visiting climbers here for a week… roll on the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet next week!”

    Scottish Winter Trip Report by Josh Wharton

    Scotland has a well-deserved reputation as a stronghold of traditional mixed climbing, so Mikey Schaefer, Steve House, and I arrived excited to get a taste of the winter scene. Here’s a trip report of what we got up to:

     January 3: On our first day we walked into the Northern Corries in driving rain, low visibility, and the occasional knockdown gust. A fine introduction to Scottish misery… or is it fun? At the small lochs everything went white, and the cliffs, as best we could see them, were covered in thick slush. Judging ‘Nick’ to be in full effect, we climbed Fallout Corner (VI,7). It felt like well-protected M5, climbed in a snowy blender.

     January 4: Again, it was driving rain at the car, with horrendous winds and low visibility; a little like post-holing out to climb in a nasty Patagonian Storm. We headed for Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9). There was significant snow, and avalanches were rumbling about the corrie. As we racked up a sizable avalanche came down The Vent, inconveniently just as Mikey was changing layers. His pack and gear was shellacked with wet snow, and he received a very cold snow shower.  After a bit of fumbling around to get re-sorted and warmed up, we picked a different spot to belay. Daddy Longlegs proved quite fun. It was covered in slush, and it was difficult to look up in the deluge of snow, but at least the cams worked. Seemed like spicy M6+. We rapped the route to avoid any more avalanches.  I’d ordinarily consider seven to eight hours of walking, and 3.5 pitches in two days pretty pathetic, but in this case Mikey and I were pleased with our efforts.

     January 5: Rest Day. We collected Steve at the Edinburgh airport in the evening, and made a late night drive to Ben Nevis.

     January 6: We left the parking lot a bit after 7am, dropped some kit and had a brew at the CIC Hut, and headed to the Number Three Gully Buttress for Knucklebuster (VIII,9). Conditions were a little kinder, and colder, so it was decidedly less miserable. Although it was still properly winter, with blowing snow and low visibility. On this day, I realized that locals actually do pay attention to the forecast. Suddenly there were lots of people out climbing. Knucklebuster (I believe we climbed the ‘Direct’ version) was the best route of the trip; enjoyable thoughtful climbing, aesthetic features, some sticky ice in the corners, and comfortable belay spots! Again, not super hard technically, perhaps easy M7, but often spicy. We almost missed the descent down the Number Three Gully, but Steve’s phone saved the day.

     January 7: After a lovely night in the hut we headed for The Secret (VIII,9). It was nasty again, although not as wet, and no one was out. Things rimed up considerably overnight. We fixed a line so Mikey could take some photos, and I led the route in one long pitch. The rime, and verglass was very thick, and it was extremely difficult to see the hooks and feet, or get any quality protection. Cams were completely useless, and with only four hexes, and a limited knowledge of how to place them, it felt especially spicy. I climbed at a crawl to make sure I didn’t fuck up. Cool climb, but a bit hard to enjoy given the conditions. Next we soloed out across ledges to the base of the chimney pitch on Darth Vader (VII,7). Steve led to top in one big pitch. Good fun.

     January 8: The weather was gorgeous and clear, so of course we decided to take a rest day. We joked that there’s no point in climbing when Nick is in such a good mood! With the clear weather it was nice to finally see the mountain and a bit of the countryside. We weren’t sure where conditions would be good, so we opted to head back to the Northern Corries.

     January 9: We started into the Corries in clear, cold weather. How nice! I hoped to try the Hurting, but could see from a distance, that it was heavily rimed. So we made a spur of the moment decision to go to the Ventricle (VII,8). It proved tricky, and covered in lots of powder snow. Steve put in a nice, epic effort; climbing to the ledge in one big pitch. Despite the grade, this pitch seemed like one of the trickiest of the trip. I’d say proper M7R. I climbed the second pitch to the right of the slot via mostly ‘hero’ hooking in heavy rime. Good times, but a surprisingly long day.

     January 10: Hopeful to go big on our last day, we set the alarm for a painful 4am; packed for the Citadel (VII,8) on The Shelter Stone. Unfortunately we had used up our mojo, and went back to sleep when the alarm sounded. We salvaged the day by climbing the Genie (V,7) and Magic Crack (VII,7). Fun, good quality routes, and there was a nice big track into the corrie for a change. I headed over to The Hurting (XI,11) at the end of the day, just to have a look. It was completely covered by 4 to 8 inches of rime. Since it was our last day, I dropped a line and tried it on Mini-Traxion anyway. I managed to climb the first half of the route by using fins of rime as handholds, unique! After that, it was too steep and fragile to climb the rime with my hands, and the rock features were buried. Another trip I guess!

    Tim Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Tim’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sophie Grace Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Sophie’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It’s been such a busy season that I didn’t have time in March to acknowledge the 500th post on scottishwinter.com

    The blog has been running five years and has attempted to record the majority of significant winter climbing activity in the Scottish mountains during that time. It’s been a remarkable period, and winter climbing has grown in popularity and gone from strength to strength. Standards have soared and climbers are considerably more adept at choosing venues and catching routes in condition during slender weather windows.

    Five years ago, a new Grade VIII was headline news, but now ascents of this standard are commonplace and new Grade IXs are climbed every season. And this year has seen the first on sight Grade X’s courtesy of Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson, which have opened a new chapter in the history of Scottish winter climbing.

    I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site. Without you, scottishwinter.com could not exist, and I have been struck by everyone’s generosity in sharing their Scottish winter experiences. Andy Nisbet’s insatiable appetite for exploring new ground makes him my most regular correspondent, but the success of scottishwinter.com is due the enthusiasm and commitment of the hundreds of people who have sent me photos and first hand accounts.

    I try to use all the material that is sent to me, and endeavour to follow up significant ascents, but I’m aware that sometimes events do pass me by. I prefer to communicate directly with the climbers involved, rather than report events second hand, so please continue to get in touch with your latest adventures.

    April was a good month for late season winter climbing with ice hanging in on the Ben and high north-facing corries in the Cairngorms. Despite a cold start to May, the 2015 winter is finally drawing to a close, and the new season will be with us in six months’ time!

    John Dalton making a rare traverse of the Rum Cuillin in winter conditions. The transitory nature of winter conditions on the mountains of the Inner Hebrides means that  completing such a traverse is an almost impossible expedition to plan. (Photo Iain Young)

    John Dalton making a rare winter traverse (III) of the Rum Cuillin in 1983. Awkward access, low altitude and the transitory nature of cold conditions means that planning winter mountaineering on the Scottish Islands in advance, is an almost impossible task. (Photo Iain Young)

    Soon after the new SMC guidebook Inner Hebrides and Arran was published, Iain Young contacted me about the Rum Cuillin in winter.

    “Back in early spring 1983, John Dalton and I traversed the full Rum Cuillin ridge in pretty much full winter nick, “ Iain explained. “John and I were on the island for a week doing geology field work (I did much of my PhD research there) and were staying in one of the bothies around Kinloch Castle. After getting to bed one foul, wet and cold night we woke to one of those all too rare, perfect, West Highland mornings – cold, clear and a hard frost – and to see plastered hills. We immediately gave up on the idea of ‘work’ and set out on a traverse of the ridge under snow.

    Conditions were close to perfect – light rime, plenty of snow, no neve, frequent verglas, snow down to just below the level of the Trallval-Ainshval col. We weren’t burdened with axes, crampons or rope, but I’d done the ridge twice before in summer, and the Hallival-Askival section probably twice more, so we were armed with quite some knowledge of the holds! Starting on Barkeval, everything was taken direct as per the classic summer traverse (I recall one exciting section on the Askival  pinnacle where a combination of melting off, and prising verglas from, little holds with my fingers was required – and the tricky little slab on the way up Ainshval was also thought-provoking), though I am not sure whether or not we went to the West top of Trallval which is off of the main ridge line.

    Overall, we thought it was technically harder than the Aonach Eagach or Curved Ridge, though much  escapable – perhaps akin in difficulty to Castle Ridge on the Ben in winter. Crampons etc. would certainly have made the tricky parts much, much easier and much more secure… A fantastic and rather unique day out –  given the difficulty in getting there, it would be very hard to plan for such a thing.”

    Aside from the Skye Ridge, winter ascents of Scotland’s major ridge lines have not been systematically recorded, so it would be interesting to know if anyone else has had the rare good fortune to make a winter traverse of the Rum Cuillin.

    Colin Grant climbing the great Scottish sea cliff classic Prophecy of Drowning (E2) on Pabbay in the Outer Hebrides. Colin climbed at a high standard in summer and winter for over fifty years and was an inspiration for all that knew him. (Photo courtesy John Hutchinson)

    Colin Grant climbing the great Scottish sea cliff classic Prophecy of Drowning (E2) on Pabbay in the Outer Hebrides. Colin climbed at a high standard in summer and winter for over fifty years and was an inspiration for all that knew him. (Photo courtesy John Hutchinson)

    In September, Glasgow climbers were shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Colin Grant. Colin had been a lifelong mountaineer with a seemingly ageless capacity for climbing and hill walking. Colin was well into his third round of Munros and still climbed to a high standard. In his mid sixties he made ascents of modern Scottish classics such as Prophecy of Drowning (E2) on Pabbay and Gemini (VI,6) on Ben Nevis – big impressive routes that climbers many years younger would be delighted to add to their tick list.

    In the 1970s Colin pioneered winter climbing in the Bridge of Orchy hills, often in the company of Colin Stead. The two Colins added the classic lines of Slow March and Far West Buttress to the North-East Coire of Beinn and Dothaidh, and were first to climb routes on Meall Bhuidhe (The Circus) and on Creag Coire an Dothaidh (BO Buttress ascended the same day as Salamander Gully by Ken Crocket and John Hutchinson). Colin also paired up with Ian Fulton to climb Second Coming, the first winter route on the very impressive Creag an Socach, as well as adding the rarely climbed Central Grooves to nearby Ben Cruachan.

    Further afield in the Central Highlands, Colin made the first winter ascent of Slab Rib Variation on the First Platform of Ben Nevis with Colin Stead and added the quasi-classic Turf Walk to Aonach Mor with Roger Everett. Colin also visited the remote and enigmatic Maiden Crag on Ben Alder with Chris Rice and Roger Webb to add Nightshift (probably unrepeated).

    A committed family man, there was far more to Colin than climbing. Gifted academically, Colin studied Chemical Engineering at Strathclyde University and then worked in industry for a time, before returning to Strathclyde as a lecturer. He became head of the Chemical Engineering Department in 1987 and held that post for 20 years, making him the longest serving departmental head in the history of the University, before becoming the Dean of the Engineering Faculty. Colin was awarded many professional honours and was highly respected by colleagues and students alike.

    Colin was not one to suffer fools gladly, but he would always challenge with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. When I was in my mid-twenties I remember him bending my ear on a journey up to Creag Meagaidh that I was paid too much (rates for Petroleum Engineers are typically more than Chemical Engineers), but on the hill he was fast, focused and good company. After climbing North Pillar (the only route on the Post Face that Colin hadn’t climbed) in double quick time, we were wondering what to do next when Colin suggested that we attempt the imposing feature to the right of Trespasser Buttress in the Inner Corrie. Buttons (III,4) was one of my first new winter routes in Scotland, and full credit goes to Colin for spotting the ingenious line that was far more straightforward than it had any right to be.

    Colin was a stalwart of the Rannoch Mountaineering Club, organising all their overseas climbing trips, and was a role model for not growing old. Somehow, Colin gracefully maintained the energy and capacity of youth and it is difficult to believe that he is no longer with us. I for one will miss Colin at the SMC dinner next month, as he always made a point of seeking me out for some playful banter and figurative poke in the ribs. Colin will be greatly missed.

    Andy Nisbet topping out on Just A Spot O’Sightseeing (IV,6) on the Mess of Pottage in the Northern Corries. This was the first recorded winter ascent of this summer Severe. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Andy Nisbet topping out on Just A Spot O’Sightseeing (IV,6) on the Mess of Pottage in the Northern Corries. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Andy Nisbet and Simon Yearsley succeeded on the first winter route of the season today (November 5). Simon takes up the story:

    “It’s been a pretty warm autumn, and although I’ve had a growing sense of excitement as I always do at this time of year, it’s been tinged with growing frustration that it just hasn’t got cold. So, it was good to see the winds turn to the north this week, and things start to get white! There was lots of fresh snow on the Ben and the higher Cairngorms from Monday, and a few rumours circulating about folk getting out, but for me, the weather didn’t really look like it was playing ball until Wednesday… and I’ll admit it, I was really tired after the drytooling competition at Ice Factor on Saturday. So, a few hurried texts with Andy on Tuesday and we had a plan – a very simple plan… head into the Norries and see what was white and climbable. Harry Holmes (far stronger than me and so not as tired after the comp) texted me saying he had the same idea, so it looked like it might be a sociable day too.

    It had snowed pretty hard overnight, and with a few squally snow showers on the way into Coire an t-Sneachda, all the cliffs in the coire were wonderfully white. We headed over to Mess of Pottage as I wanted to look at the summer route – Just A Spot O’ Sightseeing. This 90m Severe was done in 2006 by Olivarius and Hughes, and climbs Hidden Chimney Direct, before moving over easier ground, then slabs and cracks to a steeper finish in the buttress right of Hidden Chimney. This part of the Mess of Pottage is very well travelled, and local guides often take a variety of different lines in the upper section if Hidden Chimney is full of climbers… Andy thinks he’s done Hidden Chimney Direct at least 15 times! The summer route Just a Spot o’ Sightseeing takes a line well suited to early season conditions, being rockier than the easier lines to its right, which are grouped together as Jacob’s Edge. As such, it seems worth describing and naming as a winter route. Later in the season it can be as easy as Grade III, this grade depending on Hidden Chimney Direct Start banking up. Who did it first is lost in the snows of time.

    The line actually fits together really well as a winter route, especially in early season before things bank out: the first pitch is Hidden Chimney Direct which as it often is in lean verglassed conditions, felt about IV,6, then an easier section followed by some fun slabs and cracks; and the finish up the steeper buttress proving much easier than it looked, and in a great position. It’s also a bit longer than the summer 90m – the pitches were 50m, 45m and then 25m, giving 120m of nice climbing.

    Harry and his partner Rob Taylor also had a fun day with an ascent of Honeypot. We all finished just after lunchtime, and afterwards, the ever-keen Harry and Rob went down to Newtyle to put some hours getting even stronger on the drytooling route, Too Fast & Furious. Andy and I went to the cafe and ate cake…

    Also taking advantage of the short weather window were Simon Davidson and Kevin Hall.  Round the corner in Coire an Lochain, they had the corrie to themselves and climbed The Hoarmaster in, to quote Simon, ‘Good early season nick, rime and frozen blocks – always worth a punt this time of year before the cracks get choked.’

    Looks like the weather’s warming up again over the next few days, so it just goes to show, with early season stuff, you just got to grab it when you can!”

    Craig Lamb leading the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    A leader on the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were rather confused when were climbing on Lurcher’s Crag on February 16. It was our first visit to the cliff, and the folks climbing the attractive icefall to our left had told us that they were climbing K9, yet the team we met on the top said they had just done Window Gully. We both suspected a case of mistaken identity, because the icefall crux, which involves cutting a window from behind the icefall and stepping on to the front face, reminded us of a famous John Cleare photo of Bill March making the first ascent of Window Gully in March 1972. It’s interesting that we both remember that photo, but we’re both of an age that when we started climbing front pointing was just being developed, and Bill March was one of the stars of the show.

    As if by chance, a couple of days later I received an email from John Lyall that Andy Nisbet forwarded onto me, which helped to explain our confusion:

    “I’ve been puzzled by the description of Window Gully and its position on the crag for a long time,” John wrote. “So when I was on the crag last week I took my camera to sort things out. I was climbing K9, and my photo shows the lower icefall going through the big roof, the rock features behind and the snowdrift all fitting with the first ascent photo of Window Gully.

    I think the confusion goes back to the Bill March 1973 guidebook, where only North Gully is described, but South Gully is mentioned. When Window Gully is described in the next guide (1985), it is described as being between North and South Gullies, but it should have said North and Central Gullies, as Central had now been climbed. The Window Gully icefall presently in the guide is not far enough up the crag, nor is there a position to get a photo like this.

    In 2010, the outside of this icefall was climbed by a few teams up the steepest right hand section, at V,6. Stuart Carter was one of the folk, but he had followed tracks.

    The Bill March guide also mentions summer ascents of what are now Drystane Ridge and Collies Ridge, both at Moderate in the current guidebook. He also names Southern Ridge, which is now called Deerhound Ridge, and grades it Mod. He also describes a route up the buttress to the left of North Gully, giving a grade of Mod and listing the first ascensionists. I feel a bit like Robin Campbell delving into the archives!”

    Allen Fyffe, who made the first ascent of K9 with his son Blair in March 1996, agrees with John’s assessment that the icefall is the same, but it’s not quite as simple as that because Allen and Blair linked in an impressive upper icefall during their ascent. This second icefall is up and left of the main line, so is not always climbed as a follow-on from the lower ‘window’ icefall, and for sure, it was not climbed by Bill March in 1972.

    So if this unravels the history behind K9, what about the route now known as Window Gully which lies a hundred metres further right? Andy Nisbet made an ascent in February 1984 – are there any earlier takers?