Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in April, 2012

    Spring conditions in Garbh Choire on Beinn a’Bhuird. Strong easterly winds five days before had deposited significant quantities of snow on westerly aspects. The Simulator (VII,8) starts in North-West Gully on the right side of Mitre Ridge (on far right side of photo) and climbs steep cracks between Primate and Blue Deacon to an exit up snowy shelves. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Sunday April 22, Guy Robertson and I made a trip into Garbh Choire on Beinn a’Bhuird. This is always a special place to visit, especially so in winter, and we had a long day climbing a route on the West Wall of Mitre Ridge. Conditions were challenging with deep soft snow, and higher than forecast temperatures meant that North-West Gully – the approach to our route – regularly avalanched throughout the day. It was as though someone behind the scenes was pressing a button every 20 minutes. This led to a rather perverse line of thought about an artificially controlled climbing environment where climbers’ fitness and skill are put to the test like gladiators in a ring (with apologies to The Hunger Games)…

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Simulator. Using state of the art climate control technology we can continuously adjust multiple environmental factors in our computer-controlled climbing arena to assess the skills and competence of individual climbers. Today we test performance to late season Scottish winter conditions:

    Date: 22 April 2012

    Climbers: Guy Robertson, Simon Richardson

    Arena: Beinn a’Bhuird, Cairngorms. West Wall of Mitre Ridge

    Route: Attempt at a new line between Primate and Blue Deacon


    Computer-Controlled Factors

    Weather: Snow showers, light wind

    Freezing level: Above the summits (Forecast 750m)

    Visibility: Deteriorating

    Approach: Deep soft snow

    Icing: None

    Snow: Unconsolidated and wet

    Turf: Lightly frozen. Weight-bearing if used wisely

    Cracks: Dry and ice-free

    Avalanches: Snow slides down approach gully

    Objective Hazards: Large loose block near top of first pitch



    Route: Completed. Two falls.

    Time: 16 hours car to car

    Judges Verdict: The team demonstrated some lateral thinking by abseiling down the approach gully to avoid the snow slides, but jamming the knot in a snow drift below the cornice was an elementary mistake. The Controllers tested fitness by rapidly increasing the depth of soft snow above the 900m-contour so the approach took six hours, and implementing the turf-rip function at the crux sections of the first two pitches ensured both climbers took leader falls. The whiteout on the plateau after finishing the route was a nice touch. Overall, an unconvincing performance, and both climbers need more practice dealing with the variety of conditions likely to be encountered in the Scottish mountains.”

    Looking down the Rok Finish to Hobgoblin on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. This steep pitch was climbed as a finish to a three-pitch VI,7 link-up of Babylon, Gargoyle Wall and the Rok Finish by Peter Flanagan and Ben Giles. (Photo Peter Flanagan)

    Winter has returned with a vengeance to the Scottish hills and there have been a variety of routes climbed in the Cairngorns and on Ben Nevis. In the Northern Corries, Fallout Corner, The Message, Fingers Ridge and Sidewinder have all seen ascents, although conditions have not always been good, with some teams reporting poorly frozen turf.

    Across on Ben Nevis, Tower Ridge and Northeast Buttress have been climbed together with high up ice routes such as Gardyloo Gully, Good Friday Climb and Tower Scoop.

    The most innovative climb fell to Peter Flanagan and Ben Giles on April 20 who started up Babylon before trending left to join Hobgoblin and Gargoyle Wall. Above the Gargoyle Cracks, the pair took the Rok Finish to Hobgoblin, which was first climbed by Es Tressider and Rok Zalokar from Slovenia during the BMC Winter Meet in February 2007. This steep pitch is rarely climbed, and the route that Pete and Ben followed provides a very direct line up the cliff.

    Guy Robertson making the first winter ascent of Sniffer Buttress (VIII,8) on Beinn a’Bhuird. The twin cracks crux looms ominously above. This is Robertson’s fourth winter addition to the imposing Bloodhound Buttress area in Coire an Dubh Lochain. Previous successes include The Scent (IX,8), The Whip (VII,8) and Bloodsport (VI,7). (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Almost without fail there is a cold snap at the end of every winter season. This year, the length and severity of it has come as a bit of a shock, especially after the warm weather at the end of March, but there is no question that we are back in winter mode again, with blizzards and sub zero temperatures on the mountains.

    Like many folk, I’d put away my winter gear for the season but Guy Robertson persuaded me to dig it out again for a route in the Cairngorms. Piotr Wisthal (aka ‘Polish Pete’) joined us too, and after running through various options we decided to visit Beinn a’Bhuird on Sunday April 15. At this time of year it is important to select a cliff that is north-facing, because the sun rises high in the sky and quickly strips other aspects. We had plans in Garbh Choire, but walking in we quickly realised that the strong dry northerlies would have blown the fresh snow away from this exposed cliff, so after passing under a bare-looking Coire na Ciche we changed venue to Coire an Dubh Lochain.

    Here our efforts were rewarded. The deep semi-circular corrie bowl cuts deep into the plateau and had retained sizeable quantities of old snow as well as collecting fresh windblown powder. As we made our way up Main Rake, Bloodhound Buttress looked attractively wintry and we settled on trying a winter ascent of Sniffer Buttress, which was first climbed at HVS 5b by Andy Nisbet and Neil Spink in June 1978. It is a fine feature, but I doubt it has ever been repeated in summer as the guidebook dismisses it as a poor climb

    Guy made a powerful lead of the guarding entry wall but was unable to find a belay below the next section – a pair of twin cracks. With no other option, he carried on only to find that the cracks were rounded seams, with few positive holds and limited protection. Guy placed a couple of runners, launched up the left-hand crack and made a bold mantelshelf onto a sloping edge. Fully committed, he was hoping for better cracks above, but the rounded seam continued. In an a remarkable display of composure and determination, Guy eventually found a Pecker placement in the right hand crack which gave him the confidence to make another thin sequence of moves to reach Thank God turf and a good ledge.

    An overhanging offwidth hung above us. It didn’t look too difficult from afar, but as I climbed into it I quickly realised that I was too broad to squeeze into it and was completely flummoxed how to proceed. Slithering back down the crack I realised that a long reach to a patch of turf would allow me to swing up the wall to its left. It was a short lead but it opened the way to a turfy slab leading up into the exit gully. As I emerged on the plateau, the sun broke through the clouds lighting up the Cairngorms massif stretched out in front. Looking down the cliff from this point on the plateau in the past I’d always wondered about the origin of this exit gully so prominently positioned between Main Rake and Tantalus Gully. Now I knew that it stemmed from a hairline crack in a rounded seam a third of the way up the buttress.

    Guy and Pete came up, we shook hands and slapped backs (it was Pete’s second only winter route), before starting the long return over A’Chioch, down Glen Quoich and into the Fairy Glen. We finally reached the cars nearly 15 hours after leaving them earlier in the morning. It had been a long and satisfying day.

    Joel Paterson on the crux tower of Ghost Dance (V,6), on The Cathedral, Lochnagar. This route has enjoyed a fair degree of popularity recently, and together with Quick Dash Crack (IV,5) and Magic Pillar (IV,5), it is one of the most climbed mixed routes in the Southern Sector. (Photo Craig Lamb)

    On Wednesday April 4, Craig Lamb and Joel Paterson took advantage of the recent icy blast with a well-timed visit to the Southern Sector on Lochnagar. After the recent warm temperatures (the week before folk were rock climbing on Dubh Loch) conditions were highly uncertain, but as always in Scottish winter climbing it always pays to go and have a look.

    “It was slow going into the corrie with deep drifts to contend with,” Craig told me. “It took four hours from the car to start of climb, but we arrived at the Meikle Pap, thankful at the sight of well plastered cliffs. We elected for a shot at your route Ghost Dance, after speaking to you in Cotswold Aberdeen about the route being easier than it looked. The crux tower up top didn’t disappoint; good steep climbing, good situation and the promised good hooks with a fitting finish on top of the pinnacle. Perseverance was the name of the game on Wednesday, as the clouds which lingered all day eventually broke around 7pm, leaving us with a fantastic moonlight walk back down to Glen Muick.”