Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in December, 2010

    More Cambus Ice

    Neil Morrison on the first winter ascent of Urban Decay, Cambus O'May, Aberdeenshire. Note the bolt runner clipped just left of his left hand! (Photo Neil Morrison Collection)

    Neil Morrison contacted me last night about yesterday’s post about ice climbing at Cambus O’May:

    “I was there on Wednesday (December 22) and led one route [Urban Decay (Severe)] which was exciting leading.  Was back today (December 26), great fun and I led one of the lines [Magic Bus F5+] and Sandy Simpson another [Deathwish 2 F5+] but its all on it’s way out now.  I top roped the corner left of Heinous de Milo last Wednesday and was keen for a go on the lead but it had fallen down so I was spared!”

    The awe-inspiring Hayfork Wall of An Teallach. Haystack (VI,7) climbs the chimney in the centre and breaks left to finish. The Wailing Wall (IX,9) runs up the left side of the smooth wall to its right. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Martin Moran and Murdo Jamieson climbed an exceptional new route on An Teallach on December 23 . Martin told me afterwards that this route “is definitely one of the best I’ve done.”

    The Wailing Wall (IX,9) takes the left-hand side of the upper Hayfork wall which presents a superb fissured face 70 metres high on the left side of the classic Hayfork Gully in A’Ghlas Thuill. “The Hayfork wall is potentially one of the finest mixed climbing venues in the country,” Martin explained. “With a high altitude (900-970m) the wall gathers snow readily and is often in condition.” The 90m-long route climbs the slim corner-crack right of the modern classic Haystack (VI,7 and first climbed by Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey in  January 2000), before taking an unlikely line up the wall above.

    Climbed on-sight, The Wailing Wall stands as one of the most challenging winter routes in the country. “The grade is a bit tentative  because the route is quite short,” Martin told me.  “But it certainly felt ‘a step beyond’ on the on-sight lead and is quite a bit harder than The Secret.”

    A Stratchclyde police helicopter approaches The Brack with Beinn Ime and The Cobbler in the background. Headtorches and camera flashes on the approach were mistaken for distress flares and a rescue was mounted whilst the two Petes (Benson and Macpherson) were climbing a new finish to Great Central Groove on The Brack. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Pete Macpherson and Pete Benson added a challenging new finish to the classic Great Central Groove on The Brack on December 22, but they had an exciting incident whilst climbing the route. Pete M takes up the story

    “We went down to The Brack on the 22nd to try and repeat Mammoth but it was black, so we ended up doing a harder last two pitches to Great Central Groove. Anyway, as we walked up in the dark we stopped to take pics on the way. When we got to the crag, Pete illuminated the cliff with his super duper bright head torch. We then noticed a car at the road flashing us but didn’t think anything of it. I headed up the first pitch to the sound of a helicopter in the background, and when Pete arrived at the belay he got a phone call from his wife. It turned out someone saw our headtorches and mistook them for distress flares and phoned the police which sparked a helicopter and the MRT team to be scrambled. They traced Pete’s car and rang his partner who phoned Pete to alert us. Pete then phoned the Police and let them know we were OK. Good to see there are people watching out for us!”

    The pair climbed the first two pitches of Great Central Groove on well frozen turf and streaks of ice. From the big turf ledge, Pete M climbed the steep left crack rather than continuing up the corner, and then made a very thin traverse to top of the corner and a block belay. Pete B then headed up overhung ramp-groove, partly on thin ice, to a turfy exciting exit. “It was a great crux lead,” Pete M told me! “And overall, it made for a lovely route at about VII,9.”

    Shauna Clarke making an early repeat of The Prophet (VI,7), Beinn an Socach. It is not known whether this route has seen any repeats since it was first climbed in January 1991. It was thought to be a more technically difficult and bolder undertaking than the neighbouring modern classic, Messiah (VII,7). (Photo Dan Moore)

    On Saturday December 18, Dan Moore and Shauna Clarke made an early ascent of The Prophet (VI,7). This rarely climbed route was first climbed by Graham Little and Kev Howett in January 1991.

    “It doesn’t look like it sees many ascents,” Dan told me, “but it has varied and interesting climbing. There are some very tenous moves on the second and fourth pitches with some sketchy gear! The third pitch has a strenous pull through a roof but has good protection. Having climbed Messiah yesterday [December 23] I would say the Prophet is a trickier and more serious proposition. Though not as sustained, it has technically harder moves. With the less than adequate gear in places wondered if the grade of VI,7 was a consensus? Messiah was safer and never too difficult – in current condition at least!”

    Beinn Laoigh and Beinn Chuirn in the Southern Highlands. The classic frozen waterfall Eas Anie can be seen on Beinn Chuirn in the far right side of the picture. The 340m-long Tarsus (III) lies on Stob Garbh, the cliff low down on the right side of Beinn Laoigh. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    On December 19, Andy Nisbet and Sonya McCallum visited the North Face of Stob Garbh on Beinn Laoigh (or Ben Lui as its often spelled), and climbed the crest of the buttress to the right of Garbh Couloir (a Grade II first climbed solo by Jamie Hageman in March 2008.) “Tarsus (III) had a mixture of some good tricky sections and much easier ground, but it was better than it looks from below,” Andy told me.

    Andy and Sonya also visited Ben Lomond on December 18  where they added two more routes to their additions from last year. Flake Dance (IV,5) takes a line up the left side of A Buttress, joining Pole Dance at the very top, and on C Buttress they found Collie Ramp (II), the prominent left-slanting ramp starting about 25m left of Lomond Corner.

    Across in Arrochar, Stuart MacFarlane and Ian Dempster made an early repeat of Default Mode V,6 on Beinn Ime. Tom Prentice, Charlie French and I made the first ascent of this route way back in January 1995. It takes the left-hand of the two prominent vertical fault lines to the right of Ben’s Fault (Headfault (VII,7) takes the RH one), but all I can remember about it is that we climbed it in a blizzard and couldn’t see a thing. “It is enjoyable turf climbing, similar to Headfault, but with more spaced protection,” Stuart reminded me. “That traverse right, beneath the roof, is certainly quite some way above last runner!”

    After rushing to announce the second ascent of The Sting on Beinn an Socach earlier this month, I’m reluctant to declare a second ascent this time around, but I would be surprised if Default Mode has had many ascents. “Beinn Ime is not a frequently visited crag,” Stuart explained. “I know of people doing Ben’s Fault, Andy Clarke repeated Headfault, and Andy Sharpe and I made a possible third ascent two seasons ago. I would speculate, Default Mode is a second ascent, but then again, we both thought that a few weekends ago too!”

    Also in Arrochar, Pamela Millar and Martin Holland visited Beinn an Lochain on December 17  and climbed a variation start to Monolith Grooves. “I’d been told the bottom pitch wasn’t great so did a left-hand start up a corner-groove just left of the normal start,” Martin explained. “This lead direct to the belay (it’s effectively a direct start to Purple Blaze). I  guess it will have been climbed before, but gave 20m of fairly sustained IV,4 climbing and was a good way to start Monolith Grooves.”

    Ricketty Ridge on the West Face of Quinag. The new additions, Rickets (V,6) and Ramshackle Gully (IV,4), climb the the defining gullies to its left and right. Ricketty Ridge itself, provides a fine V,7, but it rarely holds snow and ice. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    On December 22 and 23, Andy Nisbet and Jonathan Preston had an enjoyable couple of days climbing on the Western Cliffs of Quinag in the far North-West. They started off by climbing Rickets (V,6), the deep gully that curves right behind the 200m-high Ricketty Ridge, and they returned the following day to add Ramshackle Gully to the right of the Ridge.

    “We had two gorgeous days on an accessible but rarely visited cliff,” Andy told me. “We watched the sun set from the top of Rickets and still made it to the car without torches.”

    Cambus Ice

    Bob Elder climbing the iced up line of Pinball Wizard on the back wall of Cambus O’May Quarry in Upper Deeside in deepest Aberdeenshire. (Photo Jim Woodley)

    Bob Elder and Jim Woodley made a visit to the Cambus O’May Quarries in Upper Deeside (see Northeast Outcrops guidebook) last Sunday (December 19) and climbed a number of ice lines.

    “The back wall is well iced,” Bob reported. “There’s an odd line on the east wall (Urban Decay summer line) that’s OK and a few that are nearly there (corner just left of Heinous de Milo – bolts just out of reach!). There’s a few ‘Sword of Damocles’ icicles around, so take a helmet!”

    This is the first time I’ve heard of folk climbing in these granite quarries, and it is a venue worth considering when access to the higher hills is difficult. This is particularly useful as there are few easy access climbing options on the south side of the Cairngorms.

    Roger Webb on a new Direct Finish to North-West Corner on Stac Pollaidh. This 115m-long summer V Diff was first climbed in winter by John Lyall and Hannah Burrows-Smith in December 2000 and graded IV,5. (Photo James Edwards)

    Yesterday, (December 22), James Edwards and Roger Webb visited Stac Pollaidh. It was another bitterly cold day, and a temperature of -16C was recorded in the valley.

    They climbed the first two pitches of North-West Corner and then went straight up for a further two pitches of Tech 7 adding another 60 metres of new ground. On November 28, they made the first winter ascent of Enigma, so this is the second new addition the pair has made to Stac Pollaidh this season.

    “Once again Roger got the hard bit,” James told me. “Rather than a master class in monopoint crampon technique as last time, his exposition was a lesson in brute strength and fighting ability with the steep turfy sandstone cracks!”

    Jon Bracey on the third ascent of The Godfather (VIII,8). This touchstone route, first climbed by Martin Moran and Paul Tattersall in March 2002, is one of the most revered routes in the Northern Highlands. (Photo Rich Cross)

    Rich Cross and Jon Bracey made a lightning visit to the Highlands last weekend and came away with ascents of Central Buttress on Stob Core nan Lochan and Messiah above Bridge of Orchy. On Sunday December 19, they made the third ascent of The Godfather on Beinn Bhan.

    “The Godfather is class, a really brilliant journey,” Rich told me “Our ascent was not without incident as I broke the handle off my axe on the second pitch – we considered going down but days like that don’t come around very often, so we managed to press on seconding with the stump. An amazing day with light winds and almost blue skies, but really cold!”

    The Godfather is acquiring a reputation for giving parties a rough ride. On the first ascent, Martin and Paul had a torrid time climbing with a failing head torch, and a near miss second attempt resulted in a badly damaged ankle and an epic retreat. These big North-West routes don’t come easy!

    Doug Hawthorne and Ewen Todd on the first ascent of Greymane Wall (V,4), Coire Scamadal, Skye. The pair were intending to climb the vertical icicle on the right of the photo, but since they were belayed to it, they chose a less direct line to the left. (Photo Colin Threlfall)

    Some late news – during the first cold spell in early December, Doug Hawthorne made a couple of productive visits to Coire Scamadal on The Storr on Skye. The potential of Coire Scamadal as an ice climbing venue was first noticed by Mike Lates, and during January last year it was developed with some of the finest ice routes in the British Isles.

    Doug kicked off this season’s campaign with a repeat ascent of Scamtastic (V,5) with Robin Clothier and then returned with Ewen Todd on Wednesday December 8 to climb the steep ice left of Silverpine. The ice ran out halfway up the face and the pair continued to the top via two pitches of tenuous mixed climbing.

    “Greymane Wall at V,4 may be a bit of a sandbag from what I could see,” Mike Lates told me. Certainly this is the first route in the coire to venture away from the security of the steep ice lines. It will be interesting to see as Coire Scamadal is further developed, whether it remains a pure ice venue, or starts to offer steep mixed routes as well.