Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in May, 2012

    Andy Inglis making an early repeat of Minute Man (VII,7) in Core an Lochain. The route was climbed on May 16 with Guy Robertson, and the pair added a new direct start. When Brian Davison and Andy Nisbet made the first ascent in January 1997, they started up Milky Way because only the top tower was in winter nick and the lower part of the cliff was bare. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    With warmer temperatures now sweeping across the country, it looks like the 2011-2012 winter climbing season is finally coming to an end. The last six weeks have been unusually cold for the time of year, which has led to resumption of winter climbing, although unfortunately only a handful of folk appear to have taken advantage of it.

    Unusually, the best of the conditions have occurred in the Cairngorms. Normally it is late season ice on Ben Nevis that attracts attention, but the devastating late February thaw meant there was little snow-ice formation high on the Ben. Instead cold north-easterlies have kept the Cairngorm plateau white with deep snow and the high corries have provided good sport for those willing to get up early and make the long approach. During May, over a dozen new routes have been added to the high corries of Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Ben Macdui.

    The Northern Corries have been good too, and on Wednesday May 16, Guy Robertson and Andy Inglis made an early repeat of Minute Man (VII,7) adding a new direct start. “This gave two good pitches,” Guy told me. “The second main pitch up the cracked tower being we thought as good as any other VII pitch in the corrie, and worth a couple of stars for sure!”

    Great Mountain Days in Scotland has recently been published by Cicerone. This attractive hill walking guide by Dan Bailey covers terrain likely to be encountered by Scottish winter climbers looking to climb away from the well-known venues. The cover depicts An Sgurr from Seana Bhraigh’s summit. (Photo courtesy Cicerone)

    Dan Bailey first appeared on the publishing scene in 2006 with Scotland’s Mountain Ridges. This appealing and attractive guidebook (more like a medium format book), which is well illustrated with OS-style maps and good colour illustrations, brings together the finest ridge climbs and scrambles across the Highlands. Quite deservedly, the book was well received, and building on this success Dan has written The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland and now Great Mountain Days on Scotland, all based on the same format, and published by Cicerone.

    Subtitled 50 Classic Hillwalking Challenges, this book describes mountain expeditions in Scotland that offer a degree of challenge due to their length or amount of ascent and descent. All the well-known outings are here such as the Lochaber Traverse, Fisherfield Six and Cairngorm 4000ers, but there are also a number of routes that Dan has devised himself such as the The Sgurr na Ciche Range in Knoydart. Rather than tackle this ‘Rough Bounds round’ via Glen Dessary, he describes a longer itinerary via Loch Quoich. This makes it easier to include Ben Aden (described as the ‘the roughest (and best) of all Corbetts’) but it also ‘offers an aesthetic advantage, too, as the skyline to be traversed is visible for most of the approach.’

    For the most part these are lengthy expeditions that can be accomplished in a day in summer with fell running shoes, but in winter they will be demanding two-day expeditions. Dan favours this more relaxed approach even in summer, and in the Introduction he states that he considered Great Mountain Days and Wild Nights Out as an alternative title for the book. Beautifully produced, Great Mountain Days in Scotland can be considered the modern day equivalent of the Big Walks, first published by Ken Wilson and the Diadem Press in the 1908s.

    Although not immediately obvious, the content of this book has a strong cross over with Scottish winter climbing, as even the most hardened mixed climber will likely spend time walking in the Scottish hills, whether it be to check out alternative venues or get fit for the coming season.Certainly when next autumn sets in, and the rock boots are put away and the hills beckon, I’ll be turning to Dan Bailey’s latest volume for inspiration.

    Guy Robertson on the second ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) in Coire an Lochain, Northern Corries. This route, which lies between Deep Throat and Gaffer’s Groove, and was first climbed in winter by M.Walker, A.Gilmore and R.Rosedale in March 2008. Robertson has had a successful run of April routes in the Northern Corries in recent years and has become a champion of late season mixed when many folk have put their tools away for the summer. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    Cool temperatures and consistent snowfalls late last week resulted in some worthwhile late season mixed climbing conditions last weekend. Confirmed winter addict Guy Robertson tempted Andy Inglis out for some late season Northern Corries action on Sunday April 29 resulting in a probable second ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8).

    “Conditions were very challenging,” Guy told me, “as the cliff was either completely black or Patagonian white! Obviously we had to choose an area that was the latter, so we opted for Swallow Tail Pillar. This gave two good thought-provoking pitches, and I thought Andy did a particularly fine job of digging out and sending the top pitch, which was probably the crux. Overall the route was similar in difficulty to Prore so VII,7 or VII,8 about right – it’s always hard to judge these things when the rock is so deeply buried. As ever at this time of year the late start and wonderful light was as much of an attraction as the climbing itself – it was a really stunning day with full cover above 800m; almost certainly the best days skiing so far this season. It isn’t over yet either!”

    Across on Ben Nevis, Pete Flanagan and Ben Giles had a productive day with an early repeat of Spartacus (VI,7) on South Trident Buttress on Friday April 27. As to be expected on this south-east facing crag, the ascent was a race against the sun which unhelpfully emerged from behind the clouds on occasion. Late season climbing has many benefits – late starts, long evenings and often benign weather conditions but any sunshine can be an unwelcome addition!