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    Iain Young making the first ascent of Boustie Buttress (III,4) in Corrie of Clova in the Angus Glens. (Photo John Higham)

    Iain Young making the first ascent of Boustie Buttress (III,4) in Corrie of Clova in the Angus Glens. The mid-December cold blast even brought relatively low-lying routes in Glen Clova into winter condition.(Photo John Higham)

    “Whilst not quite in the same league as Boggle or Culloden,” Iain Young writes, “John Higham and I enjoyed a fine (civilised, sunny and short) day out in Clova on Saturday December 13.

    With all ways west and north-west out of Aboyne apparently suffering from closed snow gates, and thinking Lochnagar or Beinn a’Bhuird would be very hard work, we decided to try Corrie Brandy. However on the way in we changed our minds and headed into the Corrie of Clova to climb one of the two attractive ribs catching the morning sun. Three short pitches, with the crux a surprisingly steep, (well frozen) turf-filled groove cutting through the final tower – Boustie Buttress (III,4).

    John of course at some stage remembered he had actually been in there 15 years before and soloed the rib to the right…  Home in time for a cold beer and an early meal. The Angus Glens are surprisingly varied.”

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. This is probably the first route to be climbed on the summit cliff of the mountain. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Saturday December 13 Roger Webb and I decided to gamble on the summit cliff of Beinn a’Mhuinidh in the Northern Highlands. We had stared at this NW-facing crag whilst descending Slioch on several occasions, and as far as we knew, nobody had ever visited it before. With a cliff base at 550m it is low-lying, but we were counting on it being blasted free of snow and fully frozen.

    Our optimism was misplaced because as we approached the foot of the face through a snow storm the ground was still soft under our feet, and the cliff covered in snow and not as steep as we had hoped. Prospects looked bleak, so whilst Roger sorted the gear, I headed right to look at a steeper looking buttress that was just visible a long way to the right. From underneath I could see that it reared up into a steep headwall. This was excellent news as there would be little reliance on turf, but there was no obvious line and it looked extremely difficult. As I walked back to Roger, I looked back, and through the blowing snow there was a hint of a right-trending diagonal weakness. So perhaps there was a way?

    We climbed easy snow and ice up the lower half of the buttress to reach the foot of the headwall. The rock was worryingly compact, there was no belay and failure looked increasingly likely. But sure enough,  a hidden gash cut deep into the crag, so I stamped out a platform in the snow and Roger set off up the gash that soon reared up into a steep chimney. Hopeful looking spikes turned out to be rounded and useless, so Roger continued up as we were blinded by yet another snowstorm. On the plus side, the turf was frozen.

    But you should never give up when Scottish winter climbing. When the chimney tightened and steepened, Roger found a crucial cam placement that gave him the confidence to commit to the squeeze section above. After a brief struggle he moved up to a good ledge on the blunt crest of the buttress. When I came up I was concerned about the blank-looking wall above, but miraculously the rock changed at this point from completely unhelpful to cracked and featured. It had stopped snowing too. An excellent pitch linking grooves up the headwall led to easier ground, where Roger bounded along the final easy ridge to the top. All that was left to do was to bag the summit and then descend the long south-easterly slopes back to Incheril.

    Martin climbing the second pitch of Boggle (VIII,8) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe during the first winter ascent. (Photo Robin Thomas)

    Martin Moran climbing the second pitch of Boggle (VIII,8) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe during the first winter ascent. (Photo Robin Thomas)

    Last week’s ferocious storms relented on Saturday December 13 providing a well-timed weather window before a quick thaw on Sunday. The fast onset of winter made venue choice tricky, as lying snow had insulated unfrozen turf, and there were deep drifts on some of the approaches. The solution was to go where the wind had scoured the hillside, and where the crags faced into the wind so the exposed vegetation was frozen. The Northern Corries fitted the bill as they were windblown, and provided good mixed climbing conditions. Ben Nevis on the other hand was not so good as it had collected large amounts of snow and most climbing was restricted to the lower lying cliffs such as the Douglas Boulder.

    An excellent choice was Beinn Eighe where Martin Moran and Robin Thomas took full advantage of the wintry conditions. “After several years of eyeing the line, I finally got on Boggle on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe on Saturday,” Martin told me. “It was worth the wait and a special thrill to climb a Robin Smith route in winter.”

    Boggle (E1) was first climbed by Robin Smith and Andy Wightman in October 1961 and was unrepeated for over 40 years. “Boggle is one of the mystical routes pioneered in summer by the late Robin Smith in his brief but mercurial career,” Martin explains on his blog. “The route climbs the central portion of the Eastern Ramparts on East Buttress. His description was as enigmatic as it was vague. He said, ‘Climb by cracks, grooves, flakes, corners, hand traverses and mantleshelves away up and right on the crest of the pillar.’ Since 1961 it probably remained unrepeated until Andy Nisbet climbed it 10 years ago, found the features and confirmed a modern grade of E1, 5b. Boggle remained one of the few E1’s on the mountain that had not received a winter ascent.”

    Martin and Robin graded their winter ascent of Boggle VIII,8, and described it as “a monolithic and super-sustained winter line with pitch grades of 8, 8 and 7.”

    Although the season has barely started, the first winter ascent of Boggle will almost certainly be a contender for one of the stand out ascents of the winter.

    Ally Swinton looking up the line of Punching Numbers (VI,7) on Creagan Cha-no. Mac’s Crack (VI,7) is the obvious deep crack on the left. (Photo Gav Swinton)

    Ally Swinton looking up the line of Punching Numbers (VI,7) on Creagan Cha-no. Mac’s Crack (VI,7) is the prominent deep cleft on the left. (Photo Gav Swinton)

    Ally Swinton visited Creagan Cha-no with his Dad, Gav Swinton, on December 5. Walking under the cliff, Ally noticed that the steep intermittent crack-line to the right of Mac’s Crack in the Tower Area wasn’t on his topo, so he decided to give it a go. Ally started up the obvious groove (common with Mathers-Mellergard) before continuing up the corner and roof line with a wild final sequence. It had “good gear and pumpy moves”, Ally told me. “The route really packed a punch. I found an amazing Stein pull in the crux section that gave the route some real character.”

    Ally and Gav called their new line Punching Numbers. The Mac’s Crack wall is steeper than it looks from below and I’m sure this new addition fully deserves its VI,7 rating.

    Roger Everett on the first ascent of Rumbling Ridge (III,4) on Braeriach. Rocky ridges make good early season routes as their relatively low angle means they collect snow and they do not rely on frozen turf. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the first ascent of Rumbling Ridge (III,4) on Braeriach. Rocky ridges make good early season routes as their relatively low angle means they collect snow and they do not rely on frozen turf. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    After a very warm November, the winter season season finally got underway in the first week of December as westerly winds brought snow to the higher tops. As usual, The Northern Corries were the most popular venue and there were ascents of The Message, Pot of Gold, Hidden Chimney and Invernookie in Coire an t-Sneachda, and over in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit and Ewen Buttress also saw ascents.

    Over on Skye, Mike Lates, Jamie Bankhead and Iain Murray made an ascent of BC Buttress on Sgurr Thearlaich. This relatively high altitude crag overlooking the Great Stone Shoot comes into condition very fast, and the trio found an alternative start which brought the grade down from IV,5 to IV,4.

    Finally on December 5, Roger Everett and I added to our collection of obscure routes on the north side of Braeriach with the first ascent of the three-pitch Rumbling Ridge (III,4). This provided a good early season excursion to blow away the autumn cobwebs. The name refers to the rickety second pitch, which is a lot more solid after Roger trundled a series of stacked blocks.

    With storms and blizzards forecast for the next few days, it looks like winter has now well and truly arrived!

    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!’”