Scottish winter climbing news

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    The ice routes climbed two seasons ago by Andy Turner and Ruth Taylor on the north side of Am Bodach in the Mamores. (Click on photo for larger image). 1. The Hemulen (V,5), 2. Little My (IV,4), 3. Snufkin (IV,4). (Archive Photo Ruth Taylor)

    To cheer us all up during this lengthy spell of wild and windy weather, I thought I’d post a topo that Ruth Taylor sent me the other day. She visited the crag with Andy Turner on 24th January 2010 and climbed three new two-pitch lines. The approach was from Mamore Lodge.

    “We’ve been meaning to send over this little topo for ages,” Ruth told me. “No idea whether these routes have been done before but we couldn’t find them in the guides. There’s loads more to do there, but we only had a day there and never made it back in!”

    As far as I am aware nobody has ice climbed here before. No prizes for spotting the new route potential!

    The Arch Wall area of Creagan Cha-no on Cairngorm. (Click on photo for larger image). 1. Jenga Buttress (III,4), 2. Daylight Robbery (V,6), 3. Smooth as Silk (VII,7), 4. Arch Wall (VII,7), 5. Arch Enemy (V,5), 6. Fingers and Thumbs (IV,5). Anvil Buttress lies to the left. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    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!

    The Anvil Buttress area of Creagan Cha-no on Cairngorm. (Click on photo for larger image). 1. Chimney Rib (IV,4), 2. Recovery Gully (I), 3. Flaked Out (VI,7), 4. Anvil Gully (IV,4), 5. Anvil Corner (VI,6). Jenga Buttress (III,4) is the next major rib off photo to the right. To the right of this is Arch Wall. (Archive Photo Sandy Simpson)

    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 left side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. From left to right the routes are: Red 67 -Deep Throat (V,6), Pink – Aqualung-Gaffer’s Groove-Bulgy Combination (V,6), Yellow - Swallow-Tail Pillar (VII,8), White – Gaffer’s Groove Winter Variation (V,5), Red – Bulgy (VII,7), Yellow 74 – Savage Slit (V,6), White 75 – Prore (VIII,7), Red – Fallout Corner (VI,7). The route When the Wind Blows (VI,7) mentioned below, starts up Bulgy to below the double roofs, and then traverses left to finish up the upper section of Gaffer’s Groove. (Topo Andy Nisbet/SMC Cairngorms guidebook/Martin Hind)

    Last Sunday (December 16), James Edwards was tempted away from his beloved Northern Highlands to climb in the Northern Corries, with a surprisingly prominent new route in mind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but I’ll let James tell the story:

    “I have always found the area of No. 4 Buttress near Gaffer’s Groove and Aqualung a bit confusing.  For example, I thought the route When the Wind Blows went up the groove-line parallel to Bulgy. When the new guidebook came out with a very clear diagram of that section of the cliff, I was surprised to see the groove-line untracked, and seemingly nothing to do with When the Wind Blows. I thought this was a bit strange at the time, but gave it no more thought, as I had other routes to keep me busy for a while. However last weekend fates conspired for a short Northern Corries day, so Martin Hind and I went to have a look at that bit of the cliff.

    Martin started up the corner of Aqualung, and after clipping an in-situ peg whilst crossing Gaffer’s Groove, he decided to continue on rather than belay there. He continued on up the ‘unclimbed’ groove, which was a funnel for the spindrift making for very unpleasant insecure moves on God knows what, with eyes closed due to the snow blowing around.

    Martin soon completed a full 60m of climbing and reached the easy ground that joins the top pitch of Bulgy. I stripped the belay and wore two sacks to climb, as neither of us fancied descending the Couloir. I recognised the moves on the start of Aqualung, but the powder swim up the groove-come-chimney was new to me. I led through and climbed an easy pitch to gain the plateau, where I must have looked like a very strange genetically modified snail, with my two large sacks on my back! When Martin came up he met an old friend Ewen Todd, and partner Rab, coiling their ropes after topping out to Western Route. Martin told me that he hadn’t seen Ewen since punching him at a party in Glasgow in the 1980s, and thought that he had better apologise, as Ewen looked a bit bigger than him now! It’s funny, the old friends that you bump into in the Corries.

    It turns out that of course, that the groove had been done before, probably first by Rab Anderson and certainly by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Es Tressider. It all stemmed from a slight error in the original SMC guidebook where the summer line of Gaffer’s Groove (the one we climbed), was never marked, but the winter version of it was, which takes a different line. The combination of Aqualung, Gaffer’s Groove and Bulgy does take a very strong natural feature up the cliff however, and could be worth noting for those No. 4 Buttress aficionados who are running out of things to climb at a mere mortal grade V,6 or thereabouts.”

    Glen Prosen Ice

    North Craig in Glen Prosen in the Southern Cairngorms with the new routes climbed by Henning Wackerhage and Arno Alpi marked. Red - White Plains Drifter (IV,5 45m); Yellow - Whitewash (IV,5 50m); Blue - White Sun of the Desert (III,4 45m). The central arête in the photo is taken by the summer HVS High Plains Drifter. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    On Saturday December 17, Henning Wackerhage and Arno Alpi took a chance, and visited North Craig on Mayar in Glen Prosen. This glen is rarely visited by climbers, and lies south of Glen Clova. Their optimism paid off, as the south-facing crag (which up until now was home to just a single rock route) was attractively icy, and they climbed three new single pitch ice routes.

    “We encountered thin and hollow sounding ice making the climbing interesting at times,” Henning explained on his blog. “But after a prolonged freeze on an icy day with sunshine most routes should be up to a grade easier, deserve more stars and the crag will be a mini Beinn Udlaidh (so we hope!). Presumably conditions will be good here if Look C Gully in Corrie Fee is in nick. We started with the most icy route. Unfortunately the ice was quite thin and hollow sounding in places. Nonetheless, it is a rare privilege to climb ice in the sunshine in December in Scotland!”

    Nick Bullock on Bullhorn-Benson Variation (VII,8) to West Central Gully on Beinn Eighe. The pair climbed the route in error for the normal line last March and their new addition has only just come to light. (Photo Pete Benson)

    I received an intriguing email from Pete Benson last week…

    Hi Simon

    I have just been looking through my photos of last year with Guy [Robertson] of West Central Gully [on Beinn Eighe], and he was confused.

    “Did you not climb the line on the left after the first pitch as described in the guidebook?”

    “Ehh, no we climbed on the right!”

    As we didn’t have a guidebook, Nick [Bullock] and I climbed the icy corner on the right to reach an icicle, which seemed like the obvious line on the day (it had much more ice) and followed this directly on thin ice up to the summit snow slopes. So it looks like we did a new line.



    One look at Pete’s photo shows that this is indeed, a testing and challenging new line. I immediately checked with Pete to ask for a name and grade.

    “I think the Bullhorn-Benson Variation sounds about the same grade as the original from speaking to Guy (VII,8) but it will be very dependent on the amount of ice available when you are forced to quit the corner and span to the thin ice on the right. As for a name… I think to leave it as a variation to West Central Gully would be the most appropriate!”

    Neil Silver (belaying) and Simon Davidson climbing Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Finishes to Darth Vader and nearby climbs marked as follows: A – Darth Vader, B – Catriona, C – Alternative Finish to Darth Vader, D – Cornucopia, E – Avenging Angel. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Simon Yearsley sent me the above photo the other day asking me to clarify the finish to Darth Vader, so I’ve labelled the exits of DV and its surrounding climbs as they were climbed on the first ascents.

    I suspect that the finishes to Darth Vader and Cornucopia are often inter-changed. When Chris Cartwright and I climbed Cornucopia in April 1996 (the first route to gain the platform below these finishes) it was dark, so we fumbled around in the dark before climbing Finish D. The following March when we climbed Darth Vader, we finished up A, as it was the other obvious exit. Both finishes are a little harder than they look and weigh in at about Technical 6.

    Simon noted that when he climbed Darth Vader with Malcolm Bass on March 17 2008 he took Finish C. “It was probably at the same sort of grade as the DV crux pitch,” Simon told me. “When we did it, it had a useful smear of ice down the top of the right wall which you could dynamically stick from just below the topmost part of the corner.”

    Neil Silver and Simon Davidson, who climbed Darth Vader last Saturday, also took Finish C, but this time there was no useful smear of ice, and they thought it to be a tough pitch.

    So, I’m intrigued how other folk have finished Darth Vader, and whether Finish C has been climbed many times before – please drop me an email or leave a comment.

    A blast from the past. A topo of Stob Coire nan Lochan from the March 1974 edition of Mountain magazine with the line of Satyr marked. "Satyr (350ft, VS) brings the number of good climbs in the corrie to four," Mountain reported, "and should help to attract climbers to a ridiculously neglected crag." Satyr saw its first winter ascent in the hands of Donald King and Andy Nelson on December 7 and was graded IX,9. There are now over 60 routes on the crag. (Archive Photo Robin Campbell/Mountain magazine)

    Big news from Glen Coe is the outstanding first winter ascent of Satyr by Donald King and Andy Nelson on December 7.

    Satyr was first climbed in September 1973 by the great Sheffield-based climber Paul Nunn together with Jack Street and Jeff Morgan. They graded it Very Severe (the top Scottish grade at the time), but nowadays it is reckoned to be E1 5a. It is not as popular as the other rock routes on the cliff such as Scansor, Unicorn and Central Grooves, and is rarely climbed.

    Summer routes of this difficulty are now being targeted by an ever-increasing number of top level winter climbers, so it was no surprise to hear earlier this week that a team were working on a winter ascent of Satyr. Donald first attempted the route with Mike Pescod in late November. He returned with Andy on November 30 who climbed the very serious first pitch (thought to be worth IX,8 as a stand-alone pitch) before finishing up Central Buttress. The pair returned on December 5, and climbed Central Grooves to reach their high point on Satyr and then continued up this in two pitches to the top. The second pitch proved to be another demanding technical pitch. Donald and Andy returned once again two days later (December 7) and reclimbed the entire route to record the first winter ascent.

    Satyr was graded IX,9 and ranks alongside The Duel as one of the most difficult winter routes in Glen Coe.  Stob Coire nan Lochan has clearly come a long way since Paul Nunn’s probings in the early 1970s!

    Nick Bullock's new lines on the front face of The Douglas Boulder, Ben Nevis. Red - Nutless (VI,7) first winter ascent, Blue - Rutless (VII,8) a direct finish to Gutless (Yellow) and Green - Feckless (VI,7). (Topo Nick Bullock)

    Nick Bullock has been busy on the front face of The Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis. With Matt Helliker he made the first winter ascent of Nutless with a new Direct Start at VI,7 and the pair also added Rutless (VII,8), a direct finish to Gutless taking a 20-metre overhanging crack and corner.

    On Saturday November 27, Nick teamed up with Pete Benson and climbed the first pitch of Gutless on ice, then broke out right up a shallow groove (ice) and then straight up icy grooves to the ledge of North-West Face Route to finish directly up an excellent steep groove on the right of the very steep wall. The result was Feckless (VI,7).

    A modern mixed re-appraisal of The Douglas Boulder in winter is well overdue, and as Pete told me, “it’s actually rather a big crag!”

    28Mar2010_Ben Nevis001

    The Slav Route area on Orion Face. Orion Grooves (VI,5) marked in yellow, climbs the right side of the face overlooking Zero Gully before finishing up the steep headwall. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Sunday March 21, Tony Stone, Iain Small and I linked together a series of grooves up the right side of Orion Face before finishing up the very steep headwall between Orion Directissima and Slav Route.  We climbed the first three pitches of Zero Gully to reach the grooves which led in three pitches to the final headwall. This is breached by a vertical groove on its right side which gave a superb mixed finish. Whilst sections of the lower grooves have been climbed many times by parties doing Slav Route, it is unlikely that the headwall pitch had been climbed before. We called the route Orion Grooves (VI,5), and similar to Orion Directissima, it provides another way up Orion Face for Ben aficionados who have already ticked off the well-known classics!