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    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!”

    Looking up the line of Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left side of the upper part of Minus One Buttress. This outstanding line is one of the finest thin face routes added to Ben Nevis in recent years (Photo Remi Thivel)

    Looking up the line of Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left side of the upper part of Minus One Buttress. This outstanding line is one of the most aesthetic-looking thin face routes added to Ben Nevis in recent years. (Photo Remi Thivel)

    Remi Thivel has provided more details about his inspirational run of routes on Ben Nevis climbed with Laurence Girard in early March.

    After warming up on Minus One and Minus Three gullies on March 10, Remi and Laurence had an outstanding day on March 11 when they started up Astronomy, crossed over to the Basin and then made the second ascent of Spaced Out (VII,7) before finishing up the icy wall left of the Orion Direct exit. Climbing solo, Remi then made the second ascent of a more direct version of Shooting Star (VI,6) thinking it was Urban Spaceman.

    The following day (March 12) they made an early repeat of Point Blank (VII,6) before adding Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left flank of Minus One Buttress. This beautiful-looking corner is very rarely iced, and is one of the most compelling new ice lines added to the Ben in recent years. Remi and Laurence’s tally of four outstanding routes over two days is one of the most impressive displays of thin ice climbing the mountain has ever seen.

    The pair was assisted by the outstanding conditions that week, but not surprisingly, Remi knows Ben Nevis well and this was his ninth trip to the mountain. “I decided to climb the dihedral [of Total Kheops] when I got to the bottom just because it looked very nice,” Remi told me. “I didn’t know it had never been done before. The ice was thin but sticky and very good, and it is not very steep. I did not know my client before the trip, but she was very motivated for anything so we just climbed all day and every day. Such beautiful conditions, we had to take advantage of it!”

    Iain Small moving up to the first crux bulge on a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small moving through a bulge on From The Jaws of Defeat, a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained and spectacular 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The vertical triangular headwall on the left side of the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis is split by a spectacular groove that runs up to the very apex of the wall. It had fascinated me for years, so when Iain Small suggested we try and climb it last Sunday (March 23), I jumped at the chance.

    Unfortunately, conditions were not too helpful as a deep thaw had stripped the cliffs the previous week, and before it had a chance to re-freeze, a heavy snowfall had smothered the crags on Friday and Saturday. We hummed and hawed about trying something in Coire na Ciste instead, but in the end we settled for Plan A and headed up to the base of Carn Dearg.

    Iain and I had climbed the deep chimney on the left side of the triangular headwall when we made the first ascent of The Cone Gatherers in 2008. On that occasion we raced against darkness as we climbed into the gloom of the December twilight, which sums up the challenge of climbing on this wall because it is such a difficult place to get to.

    This time, with longer March days we felt we had time on our side, but our initial choice of line ground to halt in deep snow overlying unfrozen turf. With our time advantage quickly slipping away, it would have been easy to turn tail, but instead we knew that we had to find an alternative that relied solely on snowed up rock. I remembered that the rock was clean and steep on the wall left of Staircase Climb Direct that I had climbed with Chris Cartwright way back in 1999, so we retraced our steps and headed up towards that.

    The tactic worked. Iain led a spectacular tech 8 pitch left of an overhanging prow, and then we ploughed up easier ground for a couple of pitches to gain the foot of the triangular headwall. The snow was deep with a layer of windslab, and at one point I was considering the wisdom of continuing (especially when we heard the boom of one of the Castle gullies avalanching), but there was the odd running belay, which encouraged upward progress.

    The first pitch on the headwall was steep and devious, but eventually it led to the base of a spectacular 50m-long groove that soared vertically upwards into the late afternoon sky. This was a perfect Iain Small pitch, with reasonably straightforward tech 7 climbing to start, but as it steepened the protection became sparser, and two crux sections led to a devious slabby finish. At the top, Iain likened it to a mini version of The Great Corner, but there was no time for pleasantries as the light was fading fast.

    Two long snow pitches took us onto the upper crest of Ledge Route, where a welcome set of footsteps wound down into the lower reaches of Number Five Gully and the warmth and welcome of the CIC Hut. It had been a fine adventure snatched from the very jaws of defeat.

    The Minus and Orion faces on Ben Nevis on 12 March 2014. The red arrow shows the icy V-groove climbed by Remi Thivel and Laurence Girand that afternoon. A perfect combination of heavy snowfall, short thaw and freeze brought the thin face routes into the best conditions in living memory, but unfortunately the optimum conditions only lasted two days before they were swept away with warm air from the Atlantic. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    The Minus and Orion faces on Ben Nevis on 12 March 2014. The red arrow shows the icy V-groove on Minus One Buttress climbed by Remi Thivel and Laurence Girard. A perfect combination of heavy snowfall, short thaw and freeze brought the thin face routes on Ben Nevis into the best conditions in living memory, but unfortunately they only lasted three days before being swept away with warm air from the Atlantic. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    I’ve been trying to find out more details on the extraordinary run of routes climbed on Ben Nevis by a French team staying at the CIC Hut a couple of weeks ago. I was climbing on The Ben on Sunday so was able to extract the following details from the hut book.

    Laurence Girard and guide Remi Thivel started their campaign on March 10 with ascents of Minus One and Minus Three gullies. The weather was cooling down that day after a quick thaw over the weekend had transformed the huge amount of snow lying on the Orion and Minus faces into perfect neve.

    On the morning of March 11, Remi and Laurence started up Astronomy, crossed over to the Basin and then climbed a line between Space Invaders and Journey into Space before finishing up the icy wall left of the Orion Direct exit. Although this line is similar to Shooting Star (climbed by Robin Clothier and Rich Bentley last season), to my knowledge this link up had not been climbed before, and the pitches on Orion Face may be new.

    In the afternoon Remi then made a remarkable solo on the Orion Face. He started up Urban Spaceman (which only saw its first repeat last year) and continued up the chimney of Zybernaught to finish, taking 40 minutes in all.

    The following morning (March 12), Remi and Laurence climbed Point Blank on Observatory Buttress, which Remi wrote was “fantastic and exposed.” In the afternoon they started up Minus Two Gully, but instead of stepping left into the upper gully after the first two pitches, they continued up and into the clean-cut V-groove on Minus One Buttress left of the crux corner of Subtraction. This outstanding feature is rarely iced and was unclimbed in either summer or winter. “The dihedral was fantastic’” Remi wrote. “It was 35 metres-long, 75/80 degrees of thin ice, and protected by a C3 yellow and a C4 green.”

    The perfect conditions disappeared overnight as warm front swept in from the south-west, so Remi and Laurence concluded their remarkable haul of routes with an ascent of Match Point in the rain before finishing up Observatory Buttress Direct climbed on wet snow.

    It was raining and windy the following morning, but they put it to good use – “ A long lie-in and a good breakfast…”

    Murdoch Jamieson nearing the top of Minis One Superdirect (VII,8) on Ben Nevis. This was the first time the direct line up the centre of Minus One Buttress had been climbed in winter, although this pitch had previously been climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock four years before. (Photo Iain Small)

    Murdoch Jamieson nearing the top of Minus One Superdirect (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. This was the first time the direct line up the centre of Minus One Buttress had been climbed in winter, although this pitch had previously been climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock four years before. (Photo Iain Small)

    Following their new route on the Astronomy face of Ben Nevis, Iain Small and Uisdean Hawthorn had an even more outstanding day on March 12.

    “Wednesday was another stunning day with a good frost and rock-solid snow,” Iain told me. “Murdoch [Jamieson] joined us and we followed the line of French teams heading back to the Minus and Orion faces – wise choices given the monster cornice/seracs threatening most other areas. Observatory Buttress also seemed safe, and we spotted a team on a very fat-looking Point Blank.

    With so many quality lines on offer we thought hard and settled on the line of Minus One Buttress as the most aesthetic and compelling, given the generous conditions. Other lines were put aside for another day. With the sheer quantity and quality of neve I was quietly hoping for a very direct line but was happy just to get on this most elusive of winter features.

    Uisdean romped up the first pitch to the big plinth then it was decision time – follow the original winter line or move out right onto the front face as per the summer line. ‘Take a look’ was the consensus. I was totally enthralled climbing that pitch, not really believing you could find conditions that would make it possible, and yet we were there, soaking it up and smiling. This long pitch took us to below the upper Chandelle-like buttress where we joined the line taken during Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock’s ascent of Minus One Direct.

    Murdoch got a great pitch up this on thin ice, and then Uisdean had a slightly unconsolidated lead to the final crest and another dash up North-East Buttress and into the sun. So Minus One Buttress Superdirect (VII,6). There are so many variations on Minus One Buttress now for both summer and now winter I don’t fancy being the writer of the next guidebook. [Don’t worry Iain, that’s me!] Our take on the route will be a rare memory from an unsettled and sometimes frustrating winter. Murdoch even went as far to say that it was ‘quite good!’”

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first ascent of Dark Star on Ben Nevis. This five pitch-long VI,5, takes the line of grooves on the left side of the Astronomy face overlooking Minus Gully. It had been lusted over by Nevis winter aficionados for several decades waiting for the right conditions. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first ascent of Dark Star on Ben Nevis. This five-pitch VI,5 takes the line of grooves on the left side of the Astronomy face overlooking Minus One Gully. It had been lusted over by Nevis winter aficionados for several decades waiting for the right conditions. (Photo Iain Small)

    The thaw last weekend and high pressure and overnight frosts earlier this week, finally transformed the huge quantities of snow on Ben Nevis into ice and neve, to the delight of those fortunate enough to be in the vicinity mid-week.

    “The Minus Face was in stunning condition, “Iain told me. “I had been watching the webcam and hoping that signs of actual rock emerging from the previous uniform whiteness meant neve. And it did, like I’ve never seen before! I managed to get hold of Uisdean (Hawthorn) and we arranged for a day on Tuesday, then Murdo (Jamieson) would join us on Wednesday if the conditions were OK . [They were - second post to follow!] No ambiguity about that, a welcome change after so many call offs and aborted days out. Time to cash in on the Ben in classic garb!

    On Tuesday (March 11) we aimed for the Astronomy face and a line of corners and grooves bounding it’s left side and overlooking Minus One Gully. This gave us five fine pitches on perfect neve and ice, finishing up North-East Buttress in beautiful sunshine. Dark Star was VI,5 in those conditions, but on an average year it could prove quite thin in places.

    There was an Alpine feel to the Minus Face with the many French teams based at the CIC Hut making the most of conditions. Left-Hand Route and Right-Hand Route were popular along with the Minus gullies, and one guided team followed the Smith-Holt Route into the basin and finished up Spaced Out. The guide then soloed Great Slab Rib and up Urban Spaceman – a pretty good day out!”

    James Wheater on the first ascent of Icefall of Doom (V,5) on Creag an Dubh Loch. This steep two-pitch route lies on the right wall of North-West Gully on the far right-hand side of the cliff. (Photo Steve Addy)

    James Wheater on the first ascent of Icefall of Doom (V,5) on Creag an Dubh Loch. This steep two-pitch route lies on the right wall of North-West Gully on the far right-hand side of the cliff. (Photo Steve Addy)

    On March 2, Steve Addy and James Wheater visited Creag an Dubh Loch and made the first ascent of the striking blue icefall halfway up the right side of North-West Gully. It lies up and left of the icefall of Blizzard Nightmare and the summer routes such as The Strumpet, and rather surprisingly for such a prominent feature, it had not been climbed before. Steve takes up the story:

    “Last February I soloed up North-West Gully and spotted the icefall but it wasn’t quite complete. I didn’t think any more about it, but fast-forward to February 16 this year when James and I were skiing over the frozen Dubh Loch. We were struck by the monstrous cornices, the amount of snow build-up and the tantalising streaks of ice on the cliffs. Then James spotted the obvious icefall, and we both thought it looked good and guessed that it was probably unclimbed.

    So on Sunday past (March 2), we trudged up to the Dubh Loch with vague plans of looking at this icefall, Bower Buttress or trying a route on the Central Slabs if the snow had consolidated. The cornices were still huge and the snow didn’t feel great, so we decided to have a look at the icefall. It was good to salvage the day with this route, which although short, was good fun! We called the route (with tongue in cheek) Icefall of Doom and graded it V,5.”

    Also on March 2, Jason Currie and Neil Morrison took advantage of good, but slightly thawing ice conditions, to make the third winter ascent of Sword of Damocles on the nearby Broad Terrace Wall.

    Olov Isaksson on the first ascent of Eggäschpili (IX,9) in Stob Core nan Lochan. This demanding route taking a series of slim corners on the left wall of SC Gully is one of the hardest Scottish winter first ascents ever climbed by an overseas team. (Photo Karin Zgraggen)

    Olov Isaksson on the first ascent of Eggäschpili (IX,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. This demanding route taking a series of slim corners on the left wall of SC Gully is one of the most difficult Scottish winter first ascents ever climbed by an overseas team. (Photo Karin Zgraggen)

    Olov Isaksson from Sweden and Karin Zgraggen from Switzerland pulled off a significant accomplishment on February 28 when they made the first ascent of Eggäschpili (IX,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe.

    “I had such an amazing time on the BMC Winter Meet that I decided to return,” Olov told me. “We (Karin Zgraggen and I) started off by climbing Magic Crack on Thursday (February 27). It was very iced up but still brilliant. This was Karin’s first Scottish climb and she definitely shared my enthusiasm!

    When Ian Parnell Will Sim and I were climbing Slenderhead in Stob Coire nan Lochan during the Winter Meet, we were ogling a steep corner on the opposite side of the gully. It looked like a great line and I really wanted to get a closer look. So, on Friday (Febrauary 28) Karin and I went back up and we managed to climb it (after putting up a big fight).

    The first pitch (20m, crux) starts in a left-facing corner. Technical and sustained climbing (not great protection) led to a system of cracks. We climbed these to a ledge and moved right into another left-facing corner (belay). The second pitch (15m) climbs the corner, which is still sustained, but has better protection. We belayed on a small slanting ledge. The third pitch climbs five more metres of steep terrain followed by 10m of easier climbing. (The pitch looked straightforward so I changed to a warmer pair of gloves, which was a big mistake as I got incredibly pumped and was very close to falling off). The third pitch ends on a big slanting ledge. After this one can follow easy ground to the top, but we choose to abseil off from here, as Karin was getting hypothermic and refrained from climbing the third pitch.

    Since this was my sixth Scottish climb, I don’t really think that I’m qualified to give it a grade. All I can say is that it felt a lot harder than the other Grade VIIIs that I’ve climbed (Slenderhead, Crazy Eyes and Godfather). So maybe its Grade IX, but I’d prefer to wait for someone more experienced to give it a repeat. For a route name we agreed on Eggäschpili – this means something like ‘corner games’ in Karin’s local Swiss dialect (Canton of Uri).

    On Saturday morning my arms were still cramping as I picked up my backpack and started the hike up to the Ben. Will had suggested that we try Centurion, but it felt like a better idea to use the legs rather than the arms. So after chatting with some locals at the CIC Hut we headed up Tower Ridge and had another great day out!”

    From a history writer’s perspective, Eggäschpili is arguably the most important new route of the 2014 winter season (so far). Very few overseas parties have succeeded on adding cutting edge new Scottish winter routes, and Olov and Karin’s remarkable ascent joins a very short list that includes Raven’s Gully Direct Finish (Chouinard-Tompkins 1970), French Connection (Damilano-Lewale 1995), Happy Tyroleans (Schranz-Zak-Netzer, 2001) and Bavarinthia (Papert-Fritzer 2011).

    Sandy Allan climbing through the cornice on the first ascent of Risk of Ice (V,4) in Coire na Feola on Ben Wyvis. Current mountain hazards include large cornices, avalanche-prone slopes, warmer than forecast temperatures, and huge amounts of snow. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Sandy Allan climbing through the cornice on the first ascent of Risk of Ice (V,4) in Coire na Feola on Ben Wyvis. Current mountain hazards include large cornices, avalanche-prone slopes, warmer than forecast temperatures, and huge amounts of snow. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “John Mackenzie used to talk with awe about the cornices above Coire na Feola of Ben Wyvis,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Also the great central icefall, which one day would form, and he hoped he would be there. But John Lyall saw it and climbed it in 2012. In prime conditions, this is one of Scotland’s great icy cliffs. So most of the attention had been on the ice lines and the buttress left of the central icefall was unclimbed.

    In February 2013 I was driving south from Ben Hope. It was very warm, 15 degrees in Inverness, but the ice had been great on Ben Hope so I just wondered if it had survived the thaw and that buttress might be iced. Wet ice is great to climb and cornices that year were small. When I got down to the corrie, the line was bare but Gael Force Grooves was fat ice top to bottom. It looked very steep for Grade IV but I had walked a long way and it was too tempting. So I scared myself and climbed what seemed on the day, one of the best Grade V’s I’d ever climbed (it gets one star).

    But the buttress was still waiting and I finally decided the walking conditions were good enough. Jonathan Preston didn’t need much persuasion and we headed in on Friday (February 28). The forecast was clear and cold so it was a bit disappointing when the mist began to form as we approached the top of An Cabar. The plateau was totally white but the mist thin and it was easy to follow the crest line. I had a picture of the map in my head so just legged it, waiting for a descent, after which we would traverse to the north and descend into the corrie. It did seem a long way, and then a cornice appeared on the right, so I knew we’d gone too far (this descent was totally in my imagination). But where actually were we?

    We backtracked a bit and then started to descend; by this time we hadn’t seen anything other than white for an hour. As it steepened we put crampons on. Jonathan was quicker and went ahead. Suddenly the ground ahead cracked open and slid off into space. I’ve never seen Jonathan run so fast back uphill. Despite us walking on neve, the vibration of his footsteps (he is a big lad) had set off a small slab avalanche that had given us warning of an imminent cornice edge. We jibbered for a bit but quickly decided to come back the following day (March 1) when it was supposed to be clear.

    Sandy Allan joined us and sure enough it was clear, but only just. This time we each had a map, and I had even printed out a very large-scale version of the plateau. The light was good enough for us to see where we were going, but not good enough to see if the convex slope suddenly dropped off. Also it had snowed overnight and the slope ahead was the worst aspect. So between Jonathan and I still being nervous about cornices, and Sandy being nervous about avalanches (working for SAIS does seem to do that to you), we dithered a lot before finding our way down the slope into a corrie filled with avalanche debris.

    It wasn’t freezing down in the corrie bottom so the walking suddenly became hard work and there were serious doubts about the turf being frozen. Which turned out to be true for the small bits, so the planned line didn’t work. Well, I was trying to pluck up courage when Jonathan walked in above me and pointed out that his way was easier. So we all walked in, and then I was trying to pluck up courage for the next bit when Sandy suggested that a ledge on the right might just lead somewhere useful. So I went that way and he was right, and the turf even began to improve.

    Jonathan led the next pitch on steeper but properly frozen turf, and then we alternated up towards the top. A huge cornice appeared at times out of the mist but we tried to ignore it and assume we’d find a solution; a part of which was me doing a ten metre pitch and sending Jonathan up. The cornice was huge but at its right end was a snow pinnacle and he just wondered if you could bridge up and reach over. Appearances are deceptive, especially to cornice pessimists like me, and a couple of things happened when he reached it. First of all the pinnacle fell off when he hit it, but more encouragingly it wasn’t as big at the right end as my imagination had thought. So he dug his way through in a few minutes and there was great relief, at least from my end.

    We agreed easily on technical 4 but the overall grade wasn’t easy. It was quite a scary route so perhaps V,4 was fair, although cover the route with neve and it would have been a doddle. Driving home, Sandy’s car came up with a warning on the dashboard, “Risk of Ice”. That will be the first we’ve seen today then, was the general thought, but it seemed an appropriate route name!”

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkeys buttress on Lurchers Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkey buttress on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding both exciting and challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were wrong-footed by logistics, weather forecasts, blocked roads and avalanche-prone slopes throughout the previous weekend. We ended up visiting Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16, which I think was our Plan D!

    The weather was good, but neither of us had been to the cliff before, and our guidebook only listed a handful of routes. The crag had a nice friendly feel with lots of people about, the scenery was magnificent and with our plans in disarray we didn’t really care what we did, as long as we climbed something. Roger fancied The Shepherd, but there were two teams ahead of us, so we went to look at K9. When we got there, we found we were fourth in line, so we thought we’d carry our ice screws up a mixed line on the (Arctic Monkey) buttress to the right. We ended up following a logical sequence of grooves straight up the front face to arrive on the apex of the lower buttress before finishing up the left flank of the easy ridge above. We had no intention of climbing a new route and fully expected it had all been climbed before.

    When I arrived home, I saw a Facebook post from Andy Nisbet saying that he had climbed the face right of K9 with Susan Jensen two days before, and a look at the SMC Journal revealed three more of Andy’s routes on the buttress. I’ve been (inadvertently) following Andy’s footsteps quite a lot this winter, so I put this down to another dose of fate, but I emailed Andy anyway, to find out the relationship of our climb to his recent route, and the other climbs on the buttress.

    About twenty emails and six topos later, we all finally unravelled the relationship between the routes on the buttress. Remarkably they are all independent, although a couple do cross each other. Starting from the left, Andy and Susan’s line from February 14 is called Tetradecaphobia (V,5). It takes the right end of the roof system down which the icicles of K9 form, before climbing the grooves and corners to gain the crest of the upper buttress.

    The route climbed by Roger and I two days later starts about 30m to the right of Tetradecaphobia, and climbs four pitches up corners and grooves to the top of the lower buttress before continuing easier mixed ground to the left of the crest to the top. Roger made a fine lead of the crux third pitch, a bold and technical overlap leading on to smooth slabs, and given the spur of the moment route choice, he suggested we call our climb Impulse Grooves (VI,7). The remaining three routes all start a long way away at the right end of the buttress, although Overdraft takes a natural rising left traverse line, crossing Impulse Grooves on its second pitch, before climbing near Tetradecaphobia and finishing up a set of grooves to the right.

    Overall, given the unusually heavy snow conditions, Lurchers was a good choice on February 16. We saw teams on Left Icefall, Right Icefall, The Shepherd, North Gully, K9, Arctic Monkey and Dotterel.