Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in March, 2010

    Guy Robertson making second ascent of Pic n'Mix (IX,9), Coire an Lochain, Northern Corries.

    Greg Boswell on the first pitch of Pic'n Mix (IX,9), Coire an Lochain, Northern Corries. (Photo Guy Robertson).

    On Monday March 29, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell made the second ascent of Pic’n Mix in the Northern Corries. This fierce (IX,9) was first climbed by Ian Parnell and Tim Emmett in April 2006. The route starts up Never Mind, a steep 60m-high HVS rock climb on the pillar between No.3 and No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. The second pitch follows the E3 groove of Mindless before breaking back right then left to an independent finish. Prior to its first ascent it saw a number of determined winter attempts and was regarded as one of the last great problems in the Northern Corries. Afterwards Emmett compared it in difficulty to Happy Tyroleans (IX,9).

    Parnell and Emmett only succeeded after a two-day battle with deep hoar frost covering the route. It was a similar story for Greg and Guy who also found the route deep with hoar frost, but they succeeded after a long nine-hour day. See Greg’s blog for more pictures

    So yet another fabled test-piece is repeated this winter – what a season!

    Iain Small after pulling through the crux overlap on the first ascent of Ship of Fools in April 2007.

    Iain Small after pulling through the crux overlap on the first ascent of Ship of Fools in April 2007. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Yesterday March 27, Iain Parnell and Greg Boswell made the second ascent of Ship of Fools (VIII,7), high up on Indicator Wall. This quintessential thin ice route takes a series of very thin ice grooves (30 cm wide in places) just right of Riders on the Storm and is one of the most serious routes on Ben Nevis.

    I was astonished by Iain Small’s bold lead of the hollow wafer-thin ice on second pitch during the first ascent in 2007. Later in Alpinist magazine I wrote that I’d just “witnessed one of the finest leads in Scottish ice climbing history”. Ian Parnell was unable to climb the thin ice as Iain had done, but he managed to find a difficult mixed alternative just to the right. After this the pair continued up the original line to bag an important second ascent. For collectors of climbing trivia, the route was so named because it was climbed on the 1st April!

    For more pictures see Ian’s and Greg’s blogs.

    Conditions have been good on Indicator Wall, although most teams have focused on the Orion Face. On Saturday March 20, Iain Small and Tony Stone made the third ascent of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner via the Parnell-Scott Direct Start (VII,7). Today, Robin Clothier and Nick Harper linked the Right-Hand Start to Albatross, with sections of Rhyme to finish up a hanging groove just right of Albatross.  Although this route covers little new ground it provides another way up the wall. “Like all the best winter lines, it misses out all the steep bits!” Robin explained afterwards. Fascist Groove (VI,6), the left-hand start to Albatross , was also climbed today. This may be the second ascent of this rarely iced pitch that was first climbed by Roger Webb and Chris Rice way back in February 1983.

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    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!

    Guy Robertson on the final pitch of Redemption (Photo Guy Robertson Collection)

    Guy Robertson on the final pitch of Redemption (Photo Guy Robertson Collection)

    Guy Robertson and Pete MacPherson made the second ascent of Redemption (VIII,7) on Tuesday March 16. Heavily hoared conditions on The Stack meant it was more like Patagonia than Scotland! They found four runners on the entire route. The rime was so deep that Guy and Pete could only make progress by kicking a series of precarious steps. Conditions were very different to the first ascent when Chris Cartwright and I battled up deep powder and cracks lined with bullet-proof ice, but it sounds an equally scary experience!

    A good call by Pete and Guy in the current warm weather and another fabled route gets repeated this extaordinary winter!

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    The left side of the Minus Face with Minus Three Gully in the centre. Differentiation (VI,6) is marked in yellow. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Yesterday March 13, Roger Webb and I went up to the Minus Face to take advantage of the unusually good ice conditions at mid-height on the Ben. Unfortunately the thaw had set in which spoiled our chances of climbing Minus Two Buttress.  We reverted to Plan B, and climbed a good icy mixed route up the rib between Wagroochimsla and Platforms Rib. Differentiation (VI,6) provided three sustained pitches with an unlikely finish through the roof guarding the raised crest at the top of the face.

    It was a murky and windy day, but the ice stayed good in the Minus gullies, which all saw ascents.

    The line of Minus One Direct (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis is marked in red. Lower section of route not shown. (Photo Guy Robertson).

    The line of Minus One Direct (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis is marked in red. Lower section of route not shown. (Photo Iain Small)

    On Wednesday March 10, Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock made a stunning winter addition to the Minus Face by following a line approximating to the four star summer E1 classic Minus One Direct. The trio followed the footsteps left by Iain Small and I three days before (when we climbed Integration) for two pitches and then broke up and right to gain a continuous crack-line leading up the buttress. “The route was never particularly hard,” Guy told me, “but this is possibly the finest winter climb I’ve ever done. The climbing and the line were simply superb!”

    The route was just reward for Robertson and Benson who had tried the line several years ago but were forced to retreat due to a sudden thaw. The topo shows the line of Minus One Direct (VIII,8). Integration (blue) moves left from the top of the lower snowy grooves (half-height in the picture) into the left-facing corner of Subtraction. The original Paul-Muir line up Minus One Buttress (yellow) continues diagonally right in to the Meadow of Minus One Gully and then finishes up the right-facing corner on the right flank (above the figure belaying in Minus One Gully).

    Bullock and Benson, who are currently living in Chamonix,  flew across  to Scotland when they heard about the brilliant winter conditions. This one route was well worth the trip, but based on a tip-off from Robertson, they also made the third ascent of West Central Gully (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe a few days later.

    Malcolm Bass on the first pitch of The Road (VI,6), Seana Braigh, Northern Highlands. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    I was a little surprised when we met Malcolm Bass and Simon Yearsley in the North Face car park on Sunday night to see a couple of mountain bikes strapped to the back of Simon’s camper van. Clearly this prolific pair had a project lined up, and sure enough after sampling some excellent ice mid-height ice on the Ben, they set off up north to put to rest a long sought after objective.

    The route they had in mind was a line of icy grooves left of the crest of Flowerpot Buttress in the remote Luchd Coire on Seana Braigh. They first spotted the line in 1998 when making the first ascent of a Girl’s Best Friend on Diamond Buttress. They returned the following season, but the crucial central slabby section was insufficiently iced so they were not able to complete the line. This time, the hunch paid off, and on March 10, they added The Road (VI,6) an excellent, varied mixed line.

    The route name was inspired by the modern classic The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The long approach up Corriemulzie driving up a drifted-in estate road and then cycling up the deserted Strath was not as grim as the novel, but arduous all the same.

    Iain Small starting up the Subtraction groove on the first ascent of Integration (VIII,8), Minus One Buttress, Ben Nevis.

    Iain Small starting up the Subtraction groove on the first ascent of Integration (VIII,8), Minus One Buttress, Ben Nevis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    I got home at 3.30am on Monday morning after an amazing journey up Minus One Buttress on Sunday March 7. Iain Small and I climbed the first four pitches of the summer route North-Eastern Grooves (VS) and then continued up the overhanging corner system of Subtraction (E1). We started climbing at 7.30 am and reached the crest of North-East Buttress eight pitches later. We were down at the CIC Hut by 10pm and after a welcome brew (thanks Colwyn!) we were back at the car at midnight.

    The first three pitches were the same as the legendary route Minus One Buttress (VII,6) that was first climbed by Arthur Paul and Norrie Muir in April 1974. To my knowledge this route has only been repeated twice and was last climbed in February 1988 by Alan Shand and George Armstrong. Robin Clothier, Chris Cartwright, Dave Hesleden and I were climbing Astronomy at the time, and seeing George and Alan on the great plum of Minus One Buttress, we turned left at the top of Astronomy and headed down North-East Buttress. We climbed the first two pitches of Minus One Buttress, but a rapid thaw set in that afternoon and the neve turned to mush so we had to abseil off. Minus One Buttress has not been climbed since in winter, so it was a great privilege to climb it by any route.

    The lower pitches are a VII,6 Nevis thin face climb in their own right, and to follow this by heading up  the great Subtraction groove later in the afternoon felt pretty out there. Overall the route weighed in at VIII,8 and hats off to Iain for an outstanding lead of the daunting crux pitch.

    We called the route Integration because it links together two great summer lines into a composite whole, and integration is more difficult than subtraction!

    Iain Small on the first ascent of Fear of the Cold and Dark (VIII,8), Beinn Eighe. (Photo Pete MacPherson)

    Iain Small on the first ascent of Fear of the Cold and Dark (VIII,8), Beinn Eighe. This route is a more direct version of the summer E1 Fear of the Dark. (Photo Pete MacPherson)

    Iain Small and Pete MacPherson are on a roll. On Tuesday March 2 they visited the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe and came away with a new VIII,8 – Fear of the Cold and Dark. They started up the summer E1 Fear of the Dark before going direct up  the very steep ground above. Serious, strenuous and fantastic climbing was the verdict!

    There have been some excellent new additions in Torridon recently. On February 5, Martin Moran and Robin Thomas made the first winter ascent of the summer E1 Pale Rider, on the Eastern Ramparts. With pitch grades of 8, 8, and 9 this sounds a tough proposition. See Martin’s blog for his account of the climb

    Also on Beinn Eighe, Andy Nisbet and Helen Rennard visited the Pineapple Cliff on February 28 and climbed the steep Pina Colada (VII,7) that takes the well-defined buttress between the left and central chimneys. Icy cracks made it hard work to place gear and Andy compared the route in stature and quality to the routes on the nearby Fuselage Wall.

    On February 18, Roger Webb, Martin Hind and Andy Wardle visited Liathach’s Coire na Caime and added Shining Glory, a good VII,7 mixed route to the buttress between Jerbil and The Andes Couloir.

    Guy Robertson on his first attempt on Sherlock (VIII,8), Mainreachan Buttress, Fuar Tholl. (Photo Dave Hesleden)

    Guy Robertson on his first attempt on Sherlock (VIII,8), Mainreachan Buttress, Fuar Tholl. (Photo Dave Hesleden)

    A long standing problem in the North-West was put to bed yesterday (March 3) when Guy Robertson and Iain Small made the first winter ascent of Sherlock on Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress. This steep HVS line on the vertical right flank of the buttress has been the target of several teams in recent years. One very accomplished pair had tried it three times before conceding defeat.

    Guy tried the route on Feb 28 with Dave Hesleden but the pair ran out of daylight close to the top of the buttress. This time Robertson and Small started up Sleuth Start but where that goes left they kept going directly up to the first terrace where a short pitch led right to the second pitch of Sherlock, which they followed to the top.  Guy told me that it was “a really cool, sustained route, not too hard but with lots of interest all the way (VIII,8).”

    Guy and Iain were surprised to encounter footsteps high up on the route. It turns out that Rich Cross and Andy Turner were there on Monday March 1.  They climbed a line graded VI,7 that starts up Moriarty, then follows Sherlock pitch 2 and half of pitch 3, before going away out left and back right and continuing direct to the top.

    The list of first ascensionists on Mainreachan Buttress now reads like a who’s who of Scottish winter climbing: Spence, Fyffe, MacInnes, Jenkins, Moran, Fowler, Wills, Anderson, Milne, Richardson, Webb, Cartwright, Dale, Nisbet, Robertson, Benson, Currie, Small, Turner, Cross…