Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in December, 2009

    Simon Richardson on the first ascent of Once in a Blue Moon (VII,7), Glen Esk. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    Glen Esk on the eastern side of the Cairngorms is rarely frequented by winter climbers due to its low altitude. On December 27 Duncan Tunstall and Andy Nisbet were quick off the mark with the first ascent of the prominent 250m-high Maskeldie Buttress (III,4), which dominates the skyline as you walk up the glen along Loch Lee.

    Yesterday (December 30) I teamed up with Duncan and Henning Wackerhage to make the first ascent of Once in a Blue Moon (VII,7), the prominent steep buttress to the right of Unich Gully. Few people would believe that a new eight pitch Grade VII could lie within 30 miles of the city limits of Aberdeen, but this winter is opening up the most unlikely of possibilities.

    Stac Pollaidh from Sgurr an Fhidhleir. The Ghost Road (VII,5) soloed by Barry Middleton, takes a line up the far side of the West Buttress directly below the summit. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Christmas Eve, Barry Middleton made the first winter ascent of The Ghost Road (VII,5) on the West Buttress of Stac Pollaidh. Barry initially thought he was climbing the Grade III Polly Fume, but unable to find any protection he became committed on this summer HVS and kept on going!

    Dave Hesleden on the first ascent of Tinkerbell Direct (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It has been a late start to the winter season. November is typically an excellent month for mixed climbing in the Cairngorms, but unseasonally warm temperatures meant that only the most determined found winter routes high on Braeriach and Beinn a’Bhuird. The snow arrived in earnest at the end of November, and the Scottish mountains turned increasingly wintry.

    Big news in Glen Coe is the long awaited second ascent of Against All Odds (VII,7) by Guy Robertson and Blair Fyffe in late December. This prominent winter line to the right of Ossian’s Cave on the North Face of Aonach Dubh was first climbed by Mick Fowler and Chris Watts in February 1988. Recent milder winters have meant the route has been rarely in condition and the first pitch description ’move up right and tension to a bendy sapling’ put off many suitors. Guy and Blair climbed the route entirely free, eliminating the tension traverse and three points of aid on the third pitch.

    The other notable event in the Coe was the first winter ascent of Line Up on the Buachaille by Andy Nelson, Andy Sharpe and Kenny Grant. This summer HVS on the left side of Rannoch Wall had been eyed up by several activists over the years, but this wall is renowned for its spaced protection and flat holds. The clearly on form Nelson, made a very smooth lead of the crux corner, and overall the route provided a sustained VII,8 with difficulties on all three pitches.

    On No. 2 Gully Buttress, on the West Face of Aonach Dubh, John Lyall and Andy Nisbet took advantage of the cold snowy conditions before Christmas with the first winter ascent of Steptoe (VI,7) and a new route The God Daughter (VI,7), which takes the big groove between Rose Innominate and Oz.

    Across on Ben Nevis, Rich Cross and Andy Benson made the first winter ascent of Lysystrata on Number Five Gully Buttress (VI,8) in early December. This steep summer HVS gave two pitches of well protected technical climbing up a series of grooves, and is clearly a good choice when access to the higher cliffs is limited by too much snow.

    Iain Small and I also visited the upper tier of South Trident Buttress and climbed Polyphemus Pillar (VI,6), the steep buttress right of Poseidon Groove. A couple of weeks later in mid December, Dave Hesleden and I had a productive weekend on the mountain climbing Ramsay Gray, a new 300m VI,5 route based on the steep pillar right of Route Major on The Little Brenva Face. On Creag Coire na Ciste we added Tinkerbell Direct (VI,6), which takes the steep icefall avoided by the original route and finishes up the headwall above.

    This blog celebrates the wild and whacky world of Scottish winter climbing.

    I will post details about significant and exciting ascents through the season – mainly new routes and repeats. Please email me at to get in touch with news of your latest adventure.