Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in February, 2010

    In 2005, the establishment of Crossroads, a bolted route on the lower tier of Beinn Udlaidh stirred up considerable controversy as this page from the May 2005 issue of Climb magazine shows. The bolts were subsequently taken out and Andy Turner has now put up Behind the Sun (VII,7), a traditional route meeting the full challenge of the wall.

    On February 23, Andy Turner made the first ascent of Behind the Sun (VII,7) on the lower tier of Beinn Udlaidh. This gently overhanging line is based on a series of icicles that lead to an ice curtain leading through an overhang. Prior to this ascent Udlaidh’s lower tier had been almost completely ignored. The one exception was the bolted route Crossroads that was established in 2005. This route only had a limited life as the bolts were taken out a few months later. Andy’s ascent vindicates this action, as it is now clear that this very steep wall is capable of providing traditional winter routes for the talented and bold. I suspect Andy has rather undergraded the route – take a look at his blog for more details and photos

    Also on Udlaidh, Greg Boswell and Tim Blakemore added The Grin (VI,7), a continental-looking line that starts to the left of the Smirk and climbs an ice bulge before traversing left to a hanging icicle. More details on Greg’s blog


    Dave MacLeod on his second attempt on Anubis in January 2010. This photo captures the extreme angle of the crux pitch. The route was graded Scottish XII and thought to be equivalent to M11 in technical difficulty. (Photo Andy Turner)

    On February 20, Dave MacLeod stunned the winter climbing world with the first winter ascent of Anubis, a challenging summer E8 6c, high up on Ben Nevis.

    Dave MacLeod made the first summer ascent of Anubis, which follows an intermittent crack-line running up to a huge roofed prow on the front face of The Comb in July 2005. He had dreamed of climbing it in winter ever since, and after completing his long-term project to free the nearby aided winter route Don’t Die of Ignorance (XI,11) in March 2008, he duly turned his attention to Anubis. Unlike Don’t Die, which took six attempts, Dave succeeded on Anubis on his third visit. After climbing the long crux section, which overhangs 12m over its 35m length, he tied his 70 metre ropes together and continued up icy grooves with the rope just clipped to the belay as a runner until he was on Grade IV ground. He then untied and soloed to the top.

    Dave has suggested Anubis is Scottish XII and a full account can be read on his blog

    Postscript 29th May 2010: Unfortunately when Dave climbed the route the crux section was not frosted white and many commented afterwards that the route was not in genuine winter condition. I disagree, and my argument about why this climb is a bona fide Scottish winter ascent was published in the May issue of Climb magazine.

    “The conditions question is one that should quite rightly be asked about any first winter ascent of a summer route. Unlike the first ascent of a winter-only line, which by definition is a ‘first’ because nobody has climbed that way before, a first winter ascent of a rock climb has to meet certain criteria to allow it to qualify for the ‘winter’ tag.

    Unfortunately, the first ascent photos of Anubis on MacLeod’s blog showed that the route was white except for the crux section that appeared black. Seasoned winter climbers know that staring at pictures on a computer screen is a poor way of judging conditions, and will have experienced the personal disappointment of taking photographs that fail to capture the winteriness of the day. MacLeod’s account of battling icy cracks, verglas and fighting to protect cracks choked with ice is a more telling assessment of the conditions, and his description of the climbing rings true for many high-end Scottish winter climbs. Throw in the fact that Anubis was climbed during one of the coldest periods of the coldest winter for fifty years on a big north-facing crag 3500ft up Ben Nevis, and it’s no surprise that the cream of today’s Scottish winter activists – Parnell, Robertson, Small – all firmly believe that this was a genuine winter ascent.

    Some critics argued however, that Anubis failed to meet the MCofS guidelines that a Scottish winter ascent ‘should have a ‘winter’ appearance with snow, hoar frost, rime-ice or verglas covering the rock.’ As one of the architects of these guidelines – written some 15 years ago – I can state that they were not written for climbs like Anubis, which overhangs 12m over its 35m-long crux section. They were to provide guidance for vertical or off-vertical climbs and discourage quasi-winter ascents of routes with snow on ledges with otherwise dry rock. If we disallow Anubis on appearance grounds, we’ll have to wipe the slate clean on many other big Scottish first winter ascents including Grade IXs such as Sassenach and this year’s Super Rat, (see this month’s Scottish Winter Notes) that both feature climbing through roofs that didn’t have their undersides white with hoar frost.

    The summer Anubis is not a classic summer route, and it may never see another repeat as a rock climb. The Comb is an out and out winter venue, and prior to Anubis, the last summer route added to the buttress was way back in 1940, so the assertion that Anubis will open the door for any other rock route to be climbed in winter does not ring true. There is a long tradition of climbing summer routes in winter conditions in Scotland, and some of the finest Scottish routes, from North-East Buttress and Eagle Ridge through to Unicorn and Sioux Wall, all happily co-exist in their summer and winter states. Winter climbers are continually striving to climb harder summer routes in winter. They always have, and they always will.

    More importantly, Anubis opens a door to a new future for the world of winter climbing. The most outstanding feature of this ascent is that MacLeod embraced the full Scottish style and climbed M11 ground-up with leader placed protection. MacLeod has taken M-climbing tools and techniques and combined them with Scottish ethics to produce a climb that is quite unique across the world. We have just witnessed a quantum leap in the development of our sport. M-climbing will never be the same again and MacLeod can quite justifiably claim to have climbed the most difficult traditional mixed route in the world.”

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Stingle (IV,5) in the remote Coire Dhomhnaill, Stob Gabhar in the Southern Highlands. (Photo Duncan Tunstall)

    Andy Nisbet and Duncan Tunstall have had a great couple of days exploring Coire Dhomhnaill (Donald’s Corrie) on the north side of Stob Gabhar. The climbing potential of this remote cliff was first discovered by D.Stewart and N.Wightwick in April 2000 when they climbed The Great Divide (III), the deeply incised gully cutting through the central buttress of the cliff.

    To the left of The Great Divide is a concave face with two fault lines – a groove line direct up its centre and one on the left which forms thicker ice. On February 19 the central groove-line gave Andy and Duncan the excellent 300m-long Donald’s Direct (IV,4) and they finished the day with Mystery Cleft (IV,5), the deep gully in the high bay up and left. Returning four days later with Chris Pasteur they added Clan Donald (IV,4), the companion left-hand fault to Donald’s Direct, and Stingle (IV,5), the icefall and ramp forming a ‘V’ with Mystery Cleft.

    Danger Mouse

    Iain Small on the first ascent of Danger Mouse, Creag an Dubh Loch. At VII,7 it provides the easiest way up the great front face of Central Gully Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Dave Hesleden and I were so inspired by Ross Hewitt and Neil Morrison’s attempt on Mousetrap last weekend, that we tried a new line to its right on Wednesday February 16. Our route was based on the natural weakness of Mousetrap, Kraken, Waterkelpie Wall and King Rat but unfortunately we ground to a halt in the dark two-thirds the way up the face. A steep groove of unconsolidated snow, poor belay and no runners in sight were the recipe for a reluctant retreat.

    I returned yesterday (Febraury 21) with Ian Small. We reclimbed the lower pitches and then continued up the upper pitches of Super Rat to the top. What a difference five days makes! This time, the cracks were clear of ice and the snow more consolidated.

    We called the route Danger Mouse, and at VII,7 it is the easiest way up the front face of Central Gully Wall.

    Postscript (March 1): Over the last few days, well known Cairngorms pioneers, Greg Strange and Andy Nisbet have both independently told me that they had also spotted a similar line to Danger Mouse up the face – as always in climbing, someone has thought about it before!

    Pete MacPherson approaching the King Rat roof on an earlier attempt on Super Rat. The route was finally climbed on the third visit. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Guy Robertson and Pete MacPherson succeeded on their long-standing project on Creag an Dubh Loch yesterday (February 18).

    Super Rat (IX,9) is based on the summer E1 classic King Rat, but takes a more direct line following the crack system throughout. When I first heard about the project I was a little skeptical, because the rounded cracks of Central Gully Wall are not natural winter terrain. However the Super Rat ascent relied on a thin covering of ice and was an archtypical Scottish winter climb relying on precise conditions to make it climbable.

    Congratulations to Guy and Pete for the most important new route of the season so far, and the first winter trip up the awe-inspiring Central Gully Wall for nearly 25 years.

    Ross Hewitt was also successful on his rematch with Mousetrap yesterday, recording the third winter ascent with Tania Noakes.

    The legendary Brian Kellett at the crux of Route B on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis during the first ascent in August 1943. Iain Small and Blair Fyffe climbed this difficult pitch on their new Grade VIII 'The Past is Close Behind'. (Photo J.H.B.Bell)

    Yesterday (February 18) Iain Small continued his magnificent run of new routes on Ben Nevis with the first ascent of The Past is Close Behind (VIII,8). This takes the very steep wall between Kellett’s North Wall Route and The Shroud. Partnered by Blair Fyffe, the six-pitch route proved to be a demanding mixed climbing adventure up walls and cracks with the last two pitches climbed in the dark. The route was named after hearing Jimmy Marshall talk about his famous Ben Nevis routes climbed 50 years ago at the Fort William Film Festival a few days before.

    Neil Morrison and Ross Hewitt attempting Mousetrap (VII,8), Creag an Dubh Loch.

    Neil Morrison and Ross Hewitt attempting to make the third ascent of Mousetrap (VII,8), Creag an Dubh Loch. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It was a fantastic day yesterday (February 13) on Creag an Dubh Loch. Big news was the first winter ascent of Sword of Damocles (VIII,9) on Broad Terrace Wall by an on-form Iain Small and Doug Hawthorn. This steep E2 chimney-line had been in the sights of several top winter climbers in recent years and had been attempted at least once before. Iain texted me to say that the crux chimney pitch was ‘very hard’ but they had useful ice on the second difficult summer pitch.

    Across on Central Gully Wall, Ross Hewitt and Neil Morrison made a brave attempt on Mousetrap. This 200m-long VII,8 was last climbed in 1986, but unfortunately Ross and Neil were shut down by poor ice on pitch 5.

    Meanwhile, Dave Hesleden and I made a winter ascent of Minotaur (VII,7) on the Central Slabs. We took a more direct line than the summer route and enjoyed four pitches of good well protected mixed climbing.

    Martin Moraon on the bold first pitch of Silver Fox (VII,8), An Teallach. This sustained 90m-long route takes a line up the left side of Hayfork Gully. (Photo Pete MacPherson)

    An Teallach has seen some great new additions recently. On January 21 Martin Moran and Pete MacPherson climbed The Silver Fox (VII,8), which takes the slabby wall on the left side of Hayfork Gully starting from just below the gully splits. The route sports bold and technical climbing on the first pitch and was named in memory of the well known Inverness climber Will Wilkinson who tragically lost his life in an avalanche on Ben Nevis earlier in the season.

    This week in Toll an Lochain, Dave McGimpsey, John Mackenzie, Andy Nisbet and Roger Webb found Tulach Ard (V,6), a left-facing corner high on the Constabulary Couloir wall of Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress, and further right Nisbet and McGimpsey climbed a 400m-long V,5 up an icefall and series of icy grooves.

    Iain Small setting off on the crux pitch of White Fright (VII,6) on the Little Brenva Face, Ben Nevis. His only runner for the next 60m was a weighted sling on a rounded spike. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small and I had an exciting time on Ben Nevis yesterday, Sunday February 7. The very steep headwall of the Little Brenva Face had intrigued us for some time so we decided to take a look.

    This part of the mountain is comprised of very compact rock, but there is a line of shallow grooves running up the right side of the face left of the depression climbed by Route Major. We climbed Slalom to reach the headwall and then followed a zigzag line to gain the groove-line. We expected difficult mixed climbing and had not brought any ice screws, but conditions were tough with iced over cracks and thin ice.

    During his lead of the crux second pitch on the headwall, Iain only found one poor runner. I had a similarly torrid time on the overhanging chimney above and we were both very relieved to arrive on the easier upper headwall pitch.

    White Fright (VII,6) fills a surprisingly large gap on the mountain and is a fine companion route to Wall of the Winds (VI,5), that takes an easier line to the left.

    In the CIC Hut we chatted to Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner who are recreating Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith’s famous week on the Ben 50 years ago when they made six first ascents and repeated Point Five Gully. Dave and Andy had just made short work of The Great Chimney (V,6) and Pigott’s Route (V,6) and both conditions and weather look good for the rest of the week.

    The impressive back wall of Coire Gorm on Cul Mor. Cul Moon (VII,7) takes a line of cracks and chimneys just right of the prominent ice streak on the left side of the photo, and By Appointment (VII,6) climbs the left side of the impressive overhung wall on the right. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Conditions have been particularly good lately in the magnificent Coigach mountains just north of Ullapool. Roger Webb and I visited the remote Coire Gorm on Cul Mor on Sunday January 31 and added Cul Moon (VII,7). The route takes the weakness left of Cul Cats and was remarkably sustained, with success in the balance until we’d pulled through the final overhang on the third pitch. The sandstone was not particularly friendly, and protection was difficult to find, although Roger grimly noted that it was better than when he made the first ascent of Cul Cats with John Lyall in 2000.

    A couple of days later Iain Small and Ross Hewitt made an ascent of The Nose Direct on the Fhidhleir, and Wednesday February 3 they visited Coire Gorm. Their new line, By Appointment (VII,6), takes the steep wall and hanging groove to the right of Invitation Only on the left flank of the impressive wall on the right side of the coire.