Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in November, 2010

    Pamela Millar on the first ascent of Emstead Grooves (III), Beinn an Dothaidh. This 105m-long mixed route climbs ground to the right of Emel Ridge. (Photo Martin Holland)

    The Bridge of Orchy cliffs to the south of Glen Coe have seen a fair amount of activity over the last few days. The crags are now well frozen and have escaped the very heavy snowfalls further east.

    In the North-East Coire of Beinn an Dothaidh, there have been ascents of all the modern classics such as Ménage a Trois, Pas de Deux and The Skraeling. On November 25 on the left side of the coire, Martin Holland and Pamela Millar climbed a new line named Emstead Grooves (III) up the mixed ground to the right of Emel Ridge.

    Across on Beinn an Socach the classic fault-line of Second Coming had an ascent and Stuart MacFarlane and Gary Houston had a near miss on The Sting (V,6). They had to abseil off below the top pitch in the dark having just climbed the crux pitch (the 4c corner of summer Scorpion). “This corner is superb,” Stuart told me. “In my opinion, it is one of the finest pitches in the Southern Highlands.” The Sting was first climbed in January 1991 by Graham Little and Kev Howett and may not have seen a repeat in the intervening 20 years.

    Roger Everett and I ventured further west on Sunday November 28 and visited Beinn Eunaich. We climbed the prominent Grade V,5 fault-line to the left of the great cleft of The Black Shoot. This cliff has fascinated me for a long time. The Black Shoot was first climbed in summer by the Victorians at the end of the Nineteenth Century, and it had a winter ascent by Raeburn and company in 1900 at a reputed grade of III, but it looks far harder. Since Raeburn’s visit there have been only two other winter visits prior to ours – the great Jim Bell in 1927 and Graham Little and Dave Saddler in 1986!

    Snow, snow and more snow. Roger Webb on easy ground during the first ascent of Enigma Variations (VII,8), Stac Pollaidh. (Photo James Edwards)

    Roger Webb and James Edwards braved the snow-strewn roads north of Ullapool on Sunday November 28 and made a winter ascent of the summer HVS Enigma Grooves on Stac Pollaidh.

    After a gruelling approach through thigh-deep snow, they followed the summer route to beneath the direct finish, and then moved left to join the final pitch of Party on the Patio. The crux was the wide chimney-crack on pitch 2, which was climbed by mantelshelfing onto the head of an axe spanned across its width.

    “Roger’s lead of the crux pitch was nothing short of a master class in mono point use,” James told me. “Roger used a thin blind seam and the odd fingernail size pebble on the vertical wall. I was very impressed, and even more so when I had to second it. The next pitch started with some full body climbing up an overhanging off-width. It was a great contrast to Roger’s delicate precision on his pitch, but certainly more to my liking.”

    The aptly named Enigma Variations was graded VII,8 and is fine companion to the winter November Groove (V,6) first climbed by Neil Wilson and G.Thomas in March 1989.

    Go West

    Rosie Goolden leading the final pitch of Lemon Groove (V,6) on the West Face of Druim Shionnach in Glen Shiel. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    With blizzards sweeping cross the country from the East, and the Cairngorms covered in deep snow, going West was the obvious choice this weekend.

    The favoured venue was Ben Nevis, where many mixed climbs such as Sioux Wall, Darth Vader, Gargoyle Wall, Babylon, Slab Climb and Tower Face of the Comb saw ascents.

    On Saturday November 27, Mark Davidson, Rosie Goolden, Andy Nisbet visited the West Face of Druim Shionnach in Glen Shiel where they found the excellent-sounding Lemon Groove (V,6) which climbs past the right side of the larger right cave on the cliff. “It’s an improbable line,” Andy told me, “and climbing past the cave gives an exciting and helpful pitch.”

    Pete Macpherson contemplating the crux pitch of The Secret (VIII,9), Ben Nevis. Macherson's ascent with Martin Moran was the fifth ascent of this touchstone mixed test-piece. (Photo Pete Macpherson Collection)

    Yesterday (November 23), Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran made an ascent of The Secret on Ben Nevis. This modern test-piece, high on Creag Coire na Ciste overlooking Number Three Gully, was first climbed in December 2007 by Andy Turner, Steve Ashworth and Viv Scott. Since then it has been the focus for a number of teams and Pete and Martin’s ascent is thought to be the fifth ascent.

    Full of confidence from their first ascent of Omerta (VIII,9) in Coire an t-Sneachda last week, the pair made a swift ascent.  Martin led the awkward first pitch and Pete took the lead for the spectacular crux pitch. The grade is settling down at VIII,9 but most importantly, as Pete explained “The Secret is a fantastic line and great climbing.”

    Pete Davies on the first ascent of Catriona (VIII,8), Ben Nevis. This technically demanding route climbs the left arete of Cornucopia before finishing up the corner right of The Secret. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    It’s been a busy few days on Ben Nevis with many hard classics such as Darth Vader, Cornucopia, Sioux Wall and Gargoyle Wall all seeing ascents.

    Big news from the weekend, was the first ascent of the improbable left arete of Cornucopia by Sheffield-based climbers Pete Davies and Tim Marsh. Pete spotted the line when making an ascent of Cornucopia the week before, and teamed with Tim on Sunday November 21 to make an on sight ascent. Catriona (VIII,8) climbs the arete to the left of Cornucopia and then an easier second pitch up a turfy corner to the right of the main pitch of The Secret. Pete led the crucial arete pitch. “I think this is a good addition because the positions are so good,” he told me. “Its quite unusual for a winter route to be stuck out on an arete like that. We gave it Grade VIII because the start is quite serious.”

    Helen Rennard, who was on the other side of Number Three Gully making a smooth ascent of Gargoyle Wall with Finlay Wild, had a grandstand view of the proceedings. “It took Pete over four hours to lead the crux pitch. He was cool as anything the whole way up – it was unbelievable to watch.”

    Roger Webb styling up a new Grade IV chimney-line on Creagan Coire Cha-no. Just before this photo was taken, Roger trundled a huge block perched in the triangular niche below his right boot. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    As usual, early season activity continues to focus on the Northern Corries. During the weekend Coire an t-Sneachda was especially popular and there were ascents of The Lamp, Belhaven, Burning and Looting, Pot of Gold and Houdini.

    Also of note was an adventurous visit to Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach by Neil Adams and Andy Inglis who made an ascent of Phoenix Edge (V,6). I’ve not heard of any other repeats of this summer VS since it was first climbed by the Andy Cunningham and Andy Nisbet in January 1990, so this may well have been the second winter ascent.

    On Sunday November 21, I revisited Creagan Coire Cha-no with Roger Webb. We climbed the prominent narrow buttress split by a IV,4 chimney to the left of the previous routes and made the first winter ascent of Duke’s Rib, which gave a fun Grade II. The real spice of the day came when we climbed Arch Wall to the right of Jenga Buttress resulting in an exciting VII,7. The crux was a strenuous and poorly protected sequence through a capping arched roof, and these moves will stay firmly implanted in my brain for several months to come!

    Stag Rocks in the Loch Avon Basin. Thumper (III) lies on the right wall of the prominent Diagonal Gully that slants right to left in the centre of the crag. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    The south-facing Stag Rocks in the Loch Avon Basin are a good option after a fresh snowfall. They are best early in the season before the sun gets high in the sky and strips the crag.

    Last week, on Wednesday November 10, John Lyall, Andy Nisbet and Simon Yearsley climbed the ridge between The Cardinal and Diagonal Gully. The result was Thumper (III), which starts up a short wall and corner by the start of The Cardinal to gain the crest of the ridge above. It lies partly in the shade and as Andy told me “it’s a nice thing to do in the afternoon when the sun has melted other routes.”

    There has only been limited activity in the Loch Avon Basin so far this season. Earlier this week, Scott Webster and Mark Mosgrove visited The Shelter Stone and made an early repeat of Western Union (IV,6). This 210m-long mixed line climbs the ground between Clach Dhian Chimney and Western Grooves and was first climbed during the 1997 International Winter Meet by Andy Cave and Graeme Ettle with the great Slovenian climbers Janez Jeglic and Andres Stemfelj.

    Martin Moran on the first pitch of Omerta (VIII,9) on Fiacaill Buttress, Coire an t-Sneachda. The steep wall that provided the crux second pitch can be seen at the top of the picture. (Photo Pete MacPherson)

    I’d heard rumours on the grapevine of a hard new addition in Coire an t-Sneachda by Pete MacPherson and Martin Moran on Saturday (November 13), so I was delighted when Pete contacted me last night with details of their ascent.

    Omerta climbs the thin crack-line on the left wall of Belhaven on Fiacaill Buttress. Martin led the awkward entry pitch (tech 7) and then Pete led the thin crack through the steep blank wall above. This was very sustained (tech 9) and difficult to protect and unfortunately Pete had to take a rest just one move below easy ground at the top of the pitch. Martin then led the final steep crack up the final wall (another tech 8 pitch), which fortunately was better protected.

    Omerta was graded VIII,9 and takes its place alongside the likes of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) and Demon Direct (IX,9) as one of the more challenging test-pieces of the Northern Corries. “Overall we felt VIII,9 was a fair grade’” Pete told me, “and in keeping with other short hard routes in the Corries – i.e. not a soft touch!”

    Number Three Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis. Sioux Wall takes the shallow left-facing corner line just right of the central arete, and the new Ashworth-Cave route Apache (VIII,9) climbs the vertical crack-line about ten metres to the right. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    News just in… on Saturday November 13, Steve Ashworth and Paddy Cave made a significant addition to Number Three Gully Buttress with Apache (VIII,9), which climbs the bulging wall to the right of Sioux Wall. This imposing shield-like feature is cut by a straight crack line that is gently overhanging throughout its length. Paddy led this crux pitch, which Steve reckoned was slightly more sustained than the crux pitch of the next door Sioux Wall.

    The first ascent of Apache stands alongside The Secret as a significant achievement. Climbed on sight on the first attempt and venturing on to territory untouched in summer it represents the future for hard mixed climbing on Ben Nevis.

    Steve and Paddy were part of a strong Lakes team that had a very productive three days on the mountain. The following day, Paddy and Mike Wilson climbed Cornucopia (VII,8), whilst Steve teamed up with Chris Stirling to make the second ascent of Turf War (VI,6) on The Douglas Boulder.  Turf War was first climbed in 2004 by James Edwards and Gareth Hughes, and is based on the summer line of Militant Chimney.

    On the third day, the team wound down on South Trident Buttress with The Slab Climb (VI,7 – Paddy and Chris) whilst Steve and Mike climbed Pinnacle Arete (IV,5). Throughout the trip, conditions were severe with blowing spindrift and steadily accumulating snow resulting in avalanche conditions on the third day. Also on Monday, locals Kenny Grant and Alan Halewood made an ascent of Cutlass (VI,7) on The Douglas Boulder.

    Sandy Simpson on the first ascent of Anvil Corner (VI,6), Cairngorm. This 60m-long two-pitch mixed climb is comparable in difficulty to The Hoarmaster in Coire an Lochain. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It’s been a busy few days on Cairngorm with many teams focusing on the Northern Corries. The exposed turf is well frozen, and the steeper mixed routes are in good early season condition. Snow fell almost continuously through the weekend so conditions are becoming very wintry. Routes climbed over the last week include White Magic, Fingers Ridge, The Message, Hidden Chimney, Belhaven, Escapologist, Stirling Bomber, Coronary Bypass, Hookers Corner, Savage Slit and Deep Throat.

    Yesterday (Sunday November 14), Sandy Simpson and I visited Creagan Coire Cha-no on the eastern side of the mountain. This little coire has three distinct ridge lines between 60 and 80m high. The longest rib gave a good III,4 on excellent blocky granite with a series of steep steps. Sandy then led the superb corner slicing through the vertical left wall of the central rib leading to the final ridge and an anvil-shaped block. Sandy thought it slightly harder than The Hoarmaster that he’d climbed two weeks earlier, so Anvil Corner (VI,6) seems an appropriate name and grade. We finished the day with the third rib which sports a compelling stepped flake system leading to a bulging offwidth corner. After a fierce struggle (and a short fall) I reached a broad platform, and as dusk fell, Sandy led the final wide crack to the plateau. This was a tougher proposition than Anvil Corner, so VI,7 is probably a fair reflection of the difficulties.