Scottish winter climbing news

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    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

    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, 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 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?

    Robin McAllister on the first ascent of The Water Margin (E2) on Portobello. Robin made a significant contribution to Scottish climbing during the 1990s, and is best remembered for his challenging additions to the Southern Highlands, his series of difficult winter repeats and for developing the Galloway sea cliffs. (Photo Andrew Fraser)

    Robin McAllister on the first ascent of The Water Margin (E2) on Portobello. Robin made a significant contribution to Scottish climbing during the 1990s, and is best remembered for his challenging additions to the Southern Highlands, his series of difficult winter repeats and for developing the Galloway sea cliffs. (Photo Andrew Fraser)

    A few days ago, the terrible news broke that Robin McAllister had died at the young age of 47. Robin was based in Ayrshire and was one of the driving forces in Scottish winter climbing during the 1990s. He spectacularly emerged on the scene in January 1995 when he made the first winter ascent of Direct Direct on The Cobbler with Dave McGimpsey. The winter ascent of this fierce summer HVS took Southern Highlands climbing up a full notch and has seen very few repeats. Originally graded VI,8, it was repeated by Dave MacLeod six years afterwards, and was later upgraded to VII,9 in the guidebook. It is still considered to be one of the most challenging winter outings on the mountain.

    That winter, the McAllister-McGimpsey team also made the second ascent of Rab Anderson’s excellent, but intimidating, Deadman’s Groove (VII,7) on the Cobbler’s South Peak. This set a theme for Robin’s climbing. Over the next three seasons he made second ascents of The Screaming (VIII,8) on Beinn an Dothaidh, Inclination (VII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan, Vertigo Wall (VII,7 – second free ascent) on Creag an Dubh Loch, Prore (VIII,8) in Coire an Lochain and The Cardinal (VIII,8) on Beinn a’Bhuird.

    “By today’s standards these routes might not seem particularly impressive,” Dave McGimpsey recalls. “But gear has improved so much since then, and Robin was one of very few climbers in Scotland at the time actually trying to repeat these routes. If he’d maintained his momentum I think he would have progressed on to repeating the big VIIIs in places like the Shelter Stone and Creag an Dubh Loch – he was certainly strong and bold enough. High magazine published a list of all the Grade VIIIs at the time, which Robin obsessed over for a good while, but sadly he suddenly stopped climbing and it was never to be.”

    Robin also left his mark with dozens of new winter routes across the Highlands, but it was in the Southern Highlands that he scored his greatest successes. He was most proud of the first ascents of Interstellar Overdraft (V/VI) on Merrick with Stuart Mearns, and Resolution (VI,7), which follows a peerless line taking the full challenge of the great central wall on The Brack, with Dave McGimpsey and Andrew Fraser.

    In summer, Robin climbed many of the big routes across Scotland up to about E5, but it was in Galloway where he left his mark. “This was not just in terms of his 150 or so new routes,” Andrew Fraser remembers, “but in being the driving force behind almost all of the hard routes and development of the Rhinns peninsula. Routes which spring to mind are Behind the Mask (E1) on Mullwharchar, Spectacular Bid (E6) on Meikle Ross, Edge of the Abyss (E4) on Finnarts Point, Sweaty Trembler (E5) at Portobello, Zero Tolerance ( E5) at Laggantalluch Head, and the development of the Kiln o’ the Fuffock and Crammag Head. In fact, almost every single hard route in the South-West is a McAllister creation. Elsewhere, The Blundecral, True Finish (E5) and Gulliver’s Travels (E2) on the Meadow Face on Arran, and Tales of the Old Days (E5) on Creag Ghlas were Robin routes. All these climbs were done in a ten-year climbing span from 1990 to 2000.”

    Scott Muir recalls that Robin took him up his first ever winter climb – North Wall Groove on the Cobbler with Dave McGimpsey – when Scott was fifteen years old. “It was his drive and enthusiasm for new routing, and climbing with him on the sea cliffs of Stranraer and around Ayrshire and the Southern Highlands, that set me on course for a life of climbing and exploration. He was a massive inspiration, role model and mentor – his passion for climbing and the mountains was infectious.”

    Although Robin or I never climbed together, I came to know Robin quite well. It seems strange to say it now, but the 1990s was a pre-Internet age, and climbing information was shared by word of mouth, journals and magazines. I often had long conversations with Robin on the phone when he would describe his latest adventures, and quiz me for details of routes he aspired to do. I was intrigued that he wanted to repeat some of my climbs, but more importantly, I was struck by his infectious enthusiasm, boundless energy and plain love for the sport.

    Rest in peace Robin – you will be sadly missed.

    (Thanks to Andew Fraser, Dave McGimpsey and Scott Muir for their help in compiling this tribute).

    Lee Harrison moving up to the foot of Snuffleupagus (IV,6) in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. The route follows the line of corners directly above Lee’s head. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    Lee Harrison moving up to the foot of Snuffleupagus (IV,6) in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. The route follows the line of corners directly above Lee’s head. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    On November 23, Michael Barnard and Lee Harrison climbed Snuffleupagus (IV,6), a new two-pitch line in Coire an Lochain on the very left side of No.4 Buttress. “It starts up grooves and corners parallel to and left of Oesophagus,” Michael told me. “It then moves leftwards to finish near a route called Sarcophagus which I chanced upon a couple of years ago. That had been done on the solo so the bleak name seemed justified, but this time we decided to go for something more upbeat!”

    Given the active and constructive recent discussion about the recording of routes on popular cliffs, I asked Andy Nisbet’s opinion on Lee and Michael’s route. “Snuffleupagus is different,” Andy explained. “I’m guessing a bit without going there, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been considered as a route until recently. But nowadays folk treat cliffs like crags – every feature can be climbed and claimed as a new route. Creagan Cha-no is like that and folk are liking it. So perhaps the old school like me should just go with the times… it will go in the Journal, although hopefully I’ll get a chance to look at it first!”

    The right side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm showing the line of Torquing to Myself. 1. Torquing Heads (VII,7), 2. Western Slant (IV,5), 3. Cut Adrift (III,4), 3a. Cut Adrift RH Start, 4. Torquing To Myself (III,4). (Photo and Topo Simon Yearsley)

    The right side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm showing the line of Torquing to Myself. 1. Torquing Heads (VII,7), 2. Western Slant (IV,5), 3. Cut Adrift (III,4), 3a. Cut Adrift RH Start, 4. Torquing To Myself (III,4). (Photo and Topo Simon Yearsley)

    Simon Yearsley had an enjoyable day in the Northern Corries on November 25, coming away with a possible first ascent on No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. His climb raises some interesting aspects about the recording of new routes.

    “I was due to climb with Helen Rennard again on Monday,” Simon explains, “but she was pretty tired after two days on the Ben – one new route and one VIII,8, so she gave her (very understandable) apologies. The forecast was excellent, so I pottered up to Coire an Lochain by myself to check out the far right hand side of the crag. It’s probably fair to say that 99.9% of the Northern Corries have been well and truly explored by several generations of keen instructors from Glenmore Lodge. However, given that there’s always the chance of finding the 0.1%, and also that I’d been giving a talk recently, extolling the virtues of new routing in Scotland and encouraging folk to look at existing venues with “New Route Eyes”… so I thought it appropriate to check out this wee area. It looked like the ground immediately right of “Cut Adrift” could hold give a short route, and at a grade I hoped I’d be able to solo.

    I found it a bit nerve racking starting out to solo a route, but things quickly settled down and progressed quite quickly to a fine blocky ledge below the steep final wall. A flaky crack lead out left, but I must admit it took a couple of nervous attempts to start the crack. Once committed it was of course much easier than contemplation, and I was soon standing on the plateau. Coire an Lochain doesn’t have too many reasonable IIIs, so, whilst the route is fairly minor, it is a useful addition, especially as it makes a good early season line. I must admit to chuckling about the name – I’d stood on the blocky ledge for a good ten minutes, muttering to myself about I should start the final flake crack… seeing as the route lies close to Torquing Heads and Torquing West… ‘Torquing To Myself’ seems appropriate.”

    Simon sent his account to Andy Nisbet, editor of the highly authoritative New Routes section in the SMC Journal, who was quick to respond. “It’s unlikely that Torquing to Myself hasn’t been done before,” he wrote. “Glenmore Lodge instructors including me, have taken folk up routes in that area, but it’s difficult to be precise about exactly where we went.”

    I pushed Andy a little further, and asked whether Torquing to Myself would be recorded in next year’s SMCJ.

    “It’s difficult to know what to do with this route,” Andy replied. “It took some persuading to include [the nearby] Cut Adrift (in the SMCJ) but I actually went and did it myself. And it was good, and not what I’d done before (but others might have). But Simon Y’s line has been climbed before, or roughly so, because it’s less steep than Cut Adrift and does bank out a lot, in fact in mid-season is Grade II. But it’s a bit like Sneachda and the routes that were regular Glenmore Lodge routes but never recorded (like the ribs between the Trident Gullies). After several attempts to claim them, Allen Fyffe did put them in the last guide, and rightly so. The area on the right side of Fiacaill Buttress is another area used by instructors. I’ve had a couple of claims, but I know the routes have been done hundreds of times and have refused; again maybe they should be in the next guide. The “twin ribs” are another instructor area that perhaps should be in the guide, as they are good fun if rather trivial to more experienced folk.

    But that’s not a reason why they shouldn’t be recorded because, as Simon points out, he enjoyed the day and if he felt it worthwhile, then so will others. So I think I’ll put it in the SMCJ as a first recorded ascent. I don’t actually know what I did [in this area] – you just took your two students and soloed up ahead of them leading, pointed out runner placements and generally supervised, not thinking about where you went or recording it; there was enough to worry about. Glenmore Lodge have stopped that sort of instruction these days.”

    “I’m pretty relaxed about all of this, “Simon responded, “but if I had to choose, I think I’d come down on the side of recording all routes, and if this means that we document some routes as first recorded ascents, then that seems in my view to be a positive thing. I think we’ve moved on a long way from the days of ‘don’t record’.”

    So the conundrum – should we record good and accessible lines in popular areas that are known to have unlisted ascents (such as the Northern Corries), or avoid any possible ambiguity by purely focusing on new routes (typically very hard) that are more certain to be breaking new ground?

    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.

    Looking towards the summit of Nanga Parbat from one third of the way along the Mazeno Ridge. This 13km ridge, long considered to be one of the greatest unclimbed challenges in the Himalayas, has just been climbed by Scottish climbers Sandy Allan and Rick Allen in a gruelling 14-day ascent. They reached the summit on July 15 and then took four days to descend the mountain via the Diamir Face. (Photo Rick Allen)

    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, 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.