Scottishwinter.com

    Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts published in December, 2012

    Simon Yearsley climbing the initial ramp on the first pitch of Sentinel Buttress (V,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird during the first ascent. The route was in very icy conditions, with heavy rime and hoar on most of the buttress. In leaner conditions the route may be significantly easier... or significantly harder! (Photo Neil Silver)

    Simon Yearsley climbing the initial ramp on the first pitch of Sentinel Buttress (V,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird during the first ascent. The route was in very icy conditions, with heavy rime and hoar on most of the buttress. In leaner conditions the route may be significantly easier… or significantly harder! (Photo Neil Silver)

    Neil Silver and Simon Yearsley added a good new route on Beinn a Bhuird on December 27.

    “I’d always wanted to have a look at Dividing Buttress on this beautiful and remote mountain (no new routes had been added to this cliff for over 10 years),” Simon explained. “But making the long trek in on one of the shortest days of the year was always going to need good travel conditions. Having looked at the weather patterns over the previous few days, it seemed that cycling & walking conditions could be just about perfect for the long approach, and we were really pleased to have light snow on the cycle-able part of the track, and then beautiful iron hard neve once we’d left the bikes at the top end of Glen Slugain. The neve continued all the way to the very bottom of the buttress and even the early wind died down to virtually nothing once we were standing at the base of his complex cliff.

    We chose the prominent buttress between Sentinel Route and Sentinel Gully (both climbed on the same day back in 1970 by two ropes of strong Aberdonian climbers) which looked like it could provide a pleasant line – steepest in its lower part then easing towards the top of the buttress. The climbing in the first two long pitches was excellent, with a fun mix of icy ramps, thin slabs, a couple of very awkward ribs and a fierce pull out of the top of the crux groove. The whole buttress was liberally plastered in some of the thickest rime and plated ice that I’ve seen for a long time, and on the easier angled upper section, this became so thick you could virtually climb anywhere on first time placements.

    We reached the top with an hour or so light to spare and superb cloudscapes above the huge Beinn a’Bhuird corries. On the long walk out we chatted about the grade and the name: the technical sections were all about 6, but the route somehow didn’t seem a ‘big’ enough route for an overall VI grade… but then again the conditions made the climb difficult to protect, and you certainly wouldn’t have wanted to fall off any of the really hard sections… but overall the route wasn’t sustained with plenty of nice rests. All this made for excellent chat/debate/banter on the long walk out, and what better way to spend a few hours at the end of fantastic day! We settled on a grade of V,6, but the route may well be much harder (or possibly much easier!!) under less icy conditions, such is the fickle nature of Scottish route grades! As for the name – the route took the obvious buttress between Sentinel Route and Sentinel Gully – so the simplest and most elegant solution was ‘Sentinel Buttress’.”

    Free Tibet!

    Jonathan Preston moving through the barrier rock band on the second ascent of Potala Buttress on An Teallach. This is probably the pint where a sling for aid was used on the first ascent by Dave Broadhead and Des Rubens in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston moving through the barrier rock band on the second ascent of Potala Buttress on An Teallach. This is probably the point where a sling for aid was used on the first ascent by Dave Broadhead and Des Rubens in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston and Andy Nisbet made a repeat (and first free ascent) of Potala Buttress, in Toll an Lochain of An Teallach, on December 27.

    “It was a route that had always interested me, in that it was the only true face route on An Teallach when I offered to write the next Northern Highlands guidebooks in the late 90s,” Andy told me. “OK, there was 1978 Face route, but it was a route following obvious features on a huge face (named as a piss-take on 1959 Face Route on Creag Meagaidh, which itself was named after the 1938 route on The Eiger, although hardly in the same class). I asked Dave Broadhead, who with Des Rubens made the first ascent in 1987, if it was really old Grade IV because it looked somewhat steep and intimidating, and he said yes. I still had my doubts, since it used an aid point, and these lads didn’t resort easily to such things, but I had to take their word for it and graded it IV,5 in the guide.

    Knowing conditions were so good on An Teallach, Jonathan and I decided that they would have survived the pre-Xmas thaw and might be even better on this high route. We were wrong in fact, but instead of there being too little snow, there was too much, and the face was well plastered with fresh crusty stuff. Not that it put us off, but by then we were committed after the long approach up the lower slopes and gullies which were actually in better nick. Their description was brief and factual, forcing us to basically ignore it and find our own way, although in retrospect we probably followed the same line. It did start as for our recent route Rongbuk but soon broke off right to give a harder but similarly scary first pitch. Jonathan then led up to a barrier rock band where we presumed the aid point was used. There were several breaks in this, with things looking harder the further right you went, but all being plastered in snow so you couldn’t really tell. He decided on the furthest left, quite close to Rongbuk in fact, and it turned out to have good cracks, a real bonus after the unprotected ground below, but still the technical crux.

    With all the clearing of snow, the climbing was slow and we were still less than halfway up the route with only two hours of daylight left. Plus the description said “continue without difficulty” and the ground above was still steep. But it was clearly necessary to add some speed so the cautious approach was put to one side and we finished up a fine icy groove still in daylight. Not that it’s all over on An Teallach, since were halfway along the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles in fading light. Last time we’d reversed them and descended Constabulary Couloir; this time we decided to head to Lord Berkley’s Seat and over Sgurr Fiona. This change of plan nearly misfired when we decided that snow conditions were sufficiently good on the south side that we could traverse round Sgurr Fiona. Suddenly the mist came in and we lost touch with each other in the rush. I didn’t have a map, as I thought I knew An Teallach well enough, but was heading down towards a col when I suddenly remembered it led to an outlying top on the Shenavall side. Feeling a little fortunate, I went back up and met Jonathan. I did remember the descent gully and we got most of the way down to the sacks without torches, although a full moon did delay darkness. By the time we got back to the car, it felt a long day. As for the grade, old IVs were often hard and we thought this one deserved V,5.”

    Jonathan Preston on the first ascent of a new III,4 on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin on Christmas Eve. Conditions after the weekend thaw were excellent with good neve and freshly formed ice. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston on the first ascent of a new III,4 on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin on Christmas Eve. Conditions after the weekend thaw were excellent with good neve and freshly formed ice. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet is on a roll at the moment and has made a series of good ascents during this unsettled period of weather. Scottish winter climbing has always been about being in the right place at the right time, and Andy’s recent run of routes is a textbook example of how to play the game. Here is his latest story from December 24:

    “A thread on UKC told everyone how dangerous it might be and how awful the conditions were, but conditions were great and walking conditions brilliant, with a total cover of neve in the northern Cairngorms. The avalanche forecast said considerable, but you’d have needed dynamite to move any snow. The “monk of doom” said freezing level at 1200m, but it had been freezing on Cairn Gorm most of the previous day plus overnight and the weather pattern was to get colder. And there was no-one on the hill. Was I missing something? Or was this a dream.

    So Jonathan Preston and I ignored it all and went anyway, over to Loch Avon and Stacan Dubha, where we’d spotted a line this time last year. Between that route and The Shuttle was a big bay capped by a smooth overhanging wall. From low down we saw a potential Grade VIII but not of interest to us. But then higher up we looked across and saw a bizarre deep fault, a hidden turf-filled chimney that cut through the wall and seemed like a miracle. So that’s what we went for. Conditions were bare on the steep walls but the easier ground and especially this chimney were full of ice and the turf was well frozen. Some lower walls, which just made tech 4, led to an easy diagonal ramp, which led left to the chimney. Even when approaching, it seemed impossible that it could exist and I admit to thinking we were in the wrong place. But it was there, and Jonathan led up to uncertain ground. But it was our lucky day, so an easy groove led up towards the top. OK, the line isn’t continuous, but for a Grade III,4 it does cover some unusual ground. And we were alone on Christmas Eve in the Loch Avon Basin!”

    Blair Fyffe on the initial ramp of The Copenhagen Interpretation (VI,7) on South Trident Buttress, Ben Nevis. This route benefitted from icy conditions - The Ben has been particularly icy at mid-altitude elevations over the last couple of weeks, and the current fluctuating temperatures should continue to see the ice building over the coming days. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Blair Fyffe on the initial ramp of The Copenhagen Interpretation (VI,7) on South Trident Buttress, Ben Nevis. This route benefitted from icy conditions – The Ben has been particularly icy at mid-altitude elevations over the last couple of weeks, and the current fluctuating temperatures should continue to see the ice building over the coming days. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    On November 3, Blair Fyffe made the probable first winter ascent of Blue-Nosed Baboon on Garadh Buttress on Ben Nevis. This summer VDiff went at a winter grade of V,5 and is described on Blair’s excellent blog. Whilst climbing this route Blair noticed a prominent line starting up a ramp on the other side of Coire na Ciste on South Trident Buttress. Blair assumed this was the line of The Minge (VII,8), but later study of the guidebook revealed that The Minge took a line further left.

    Wind forward to December 18 when Blair was climbing on The Ben with Helen Rennard. They decided to take a look at South Trident Buttress and the result was The Copenhagen Interpretation, a good five-pitch route taking the initial ramp, followed by two difficult pitches up grooves and cracks leading to easier ground in the vicinity of Joyful Chimneys. The pair was assisted by consolidated snow-ice on the slabs on the second pitch that linked the two crack systems, and the crux crack above may have been made easier with a good coating of ice.

    “The Copenhagen Interpretation is an interpretation of the unusual mathematics of quantum mechanics,” Blair (a PhD Astrophysicist) told me. “The ephemeral and uncertain world of the sub-atomic particles shows similarities to the transient and uncertain world of Scottish winter climbing conditions. Both worlds, although challenging, and in some ways always alien to us, have an other worldly beauty.”

    Jonathan Preston about to enter the big V-Groove during the first ascent of World’s End (III,4). “This photo isn't as good compared to the great potential one looking down,” Andy Nisbet told me. “If only Jonathan or Dave carried a camera!” (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston about to enter the big V-Groove during the first ascent of World’s End (III,4). “This photo isn’t as good compared to the great potential one looking down,” Andy Nisbet told me. “If only Jonathan or Dave carried a camera!” (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    The wild weather, high winds and deep snow has shut down almost all winter climbing over the past few days, but yesterday the indomitable Andy Nisbet added a couple of new routes to Beinn Fhada with Jonathan Preston and Dave McGimpsey.

    “The forecast was poor with wind and rain or snow clearing from the south during the day,’ Andy explains. “Judging by UKClimbing posts saying how unfrozen the turf was in Arrochar, but our (Dave McGimpsey, Jonathan Preston and I) recent experience on An Teallach of turf being frozen at sea-level, conditions seemed better but the weather worse the further north you went. So we compromised in the middle and with a south-east wind, also went as far west as possible. Beinn Fhada was the plan and a big groove, which I’d spied a couple of years ago but chickened out of soloing in deep soft snow. We arrived in rain and wind and set off in the expectation that it would soon stop. As we got wetter higher up and the rain turned to driving sleet, it was one of those days you wonder about your sanity. But almost miraculously the wind dropped the moment we stepped into the upper corrie and suddenly the turf was frozen.

    The big groove in the leftmost buttress of the corrie needed ice, and there was certainly ice around, so suddenly our faith seemed justified. We soloed up to the first step and roped up. It all seemed steeper than expected but even this awkward step had enough ice. Then there was plenty of icy turf up the groove and a good warthog runner. I could see ice flowing out from the base of the main V-shape but there was no more rope. The groove is clean-cut with a 10m left wall and at least a 20m-high right wall. With a ribbon of perfect ice in the back, it could have been a total classic if only it were a bit longer than 20m before reaching easier turf and a final bulging exit. A final optional mixed pitch led to the top and a decision as to whether two hours was time for a second route and back to the car in daylight. Of course it was! After all, the world was due to end that day so we’d better get some more climbing in. The route was named World’s End, Grade III,4.

    The gully bounding the buttress had looked like an easy descent but again turned out to be steeper than expected, though with continuous snow even over a couple of steeper steps. It actually made a good Grade I at least 150m long and seemed worth recording (Mayan Gully). I had climbed the next buttress to the right so we chose the next one right again. We had the ropes but the plan was to solo. Again it turned out to be steep and with me struggling on the first icy bulge, Jonathan chose to solo the gully to the left (The End is Nigh – Grade II/III). Higher up, there was an awkward move left over a bulge with only one good placement. If that one had come out, the Mayan prediction for Doomsday (Grade III,4) would have been right, but fortunately we’re not superstitious. And we nearly made it back to the car in daylight.”

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet returned to An Teallach on December 18 with Jonathan Preston and Dave McGimpsey to make a fine addition to one of Scotland’s largest cliffs. Here is Andy’s story:

    “There was so much snow on An Teallach a week ago that a good thaw could only improve conditions, and not the opposite as a rather negative thread about NW conditions on UKClimbing had concluded. Toll an Lochain is arguably the second biggest cliff in Scotland, although there are steeper contenders, and I love climbing there. There was an obvious gap on Potala Buttress, and Jonathan and I had previously looked at it, but conditions had been deeply plastered snow and it was a surprisingly intimidating face. This time we expected conditions to be icy and perhaps the smooth slabs would be climbable.

    With Dave roped in, we left the car at first light (none of this walking in the dark for us). Again the turf was frozen down to the road and we hoped it wasn’t just valley frost. But as we gained height it stayed frozen, so surely the snow would have to follow suit. Despite the nagging doubt that a temperature inversion would warm things up, it didn’t and conditions looked very promising. No big build-up and the lower buttresses had definitely thawed, but an ice fringe on every turf ledge high up.

    We geared up in the corrie bottom and made the big mistake of wearing all the clothes (well it is winter). Of course forgetting that it’s 1000ft of Grade II to reach the start, and sure enough we were roasting on a cloudless, windless day. The snow was crusty in places but very solid where water had dripped down. But we got to the toe of the buttress and its smooth slabs, so felt a bit guilty starting round to the right (later relieved to find Potala Buttress starts there also). I volunteered to go first and was even allowed to, but then I did have a fair idea how to avoid the line of Potala Buttress.

    The climbing was well turfy, even as I trended left away from the other route. I did have a warthog and a hook, but thinking I should save them for a hard move, I only placed the hook with 40m of rope out. Jonathan’s next pitch had some steeper icy moves but 8 runners. After Dave’s next pitch, it looked like the ground was easing but the route still had to offer a fine ice-filled short gully and a perfect crack just over the initial bulge when the rope had just run out. Dave and Jonathan then led simultaneously (so we led two pitches each!) to the summit ridge. What great views there were of the Beinn Dearg range.

    With a choice of descents, we decided to reverse the bad step (which isn’t bad if you know how to avoid it) and then descend the endless Constabulary Couloir. Not endless if you’re climbing up full of enthusiasm, but at the end of the day when the light is fading. The route was called Rongbuk after another Tibetan monastery nearer the mountains. We debated over the grade and agreed on IV,4. It must be at least 500m if you count the long approach.”

    Andy Inglis finding a way through the fourth pitch during the first ascent of The Rebirth of Cool (VII,7), on the Upper Cliff of Coire Ghranda on Beinn Dearg. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Andy Inglis finding a way through the fourth pitch during the first ascent of The Rebirth of Cool (VII,7), on the Upper Cliff of Coire Ghranda on Beinn Dearg. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Guy Robertson and Andy Inglis added a good new route to Coire Grandha’s Upper Cliff on Beinn Dearg on December 17. Guy has very made this rarely visited cliff very much his own with a string of impressive routes in recent years. “Unsurprisingly this is one of the places we still need to get pictures for the book [a new volume on Scottish mountain routes], and unsurprisingly we got a fantastic new route!” Guy told me.

    “The Rebirth of Cool (VII,7) takes the easiest line up the steep and complex area of overhanging grooves and bulges immediately right of Tickled Rib, another of my own routes from ages back.  The climbing was typical of the crag – never that steep, but never easy, and a superb mix of thin ice, turf and rock.  For a while I thought that – unusually for this cliff – the whole route was going to be well-protected, but a sustained section sketchiness a good few metres out from a tied off peg on the third pitch soon put paid to that.  As ever, it was great to get a rare opportunity on a day that many folk seemed to have written off as too warm.”

    Roger Webb moving up to the base of the cave pitch on the first ascent of Insurgent (VI,7) on Sinister Buttress, Lochnagar. This steep buttress is the least climbed feature in the Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb moving up to the base of the cave pitch on the first ascent of Insurgent (VI,7) on Sinister Buttress, Lochnagar. This steep buttress is the least climbed feature in the Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Lochnagar is my local crag, and over the years I have climbed almost all of its features, often by multiple routes. But there was one buttress that had eluded me – Sinister Buttress in the Southern Sector. Greg Strange wrote in his 1978 guidebook that it is “named for its associations and its rock which is lichenous and vegetated.” The term ‘associations’ refers to a bad accident in 1949 when Cairngorm pioneer Kenny Winram fell whilst attempting the first ascent of the buttress. The route was finally climbed in summer by the crack team of Bill Brooker and Tom Patey in 1955. Sinister Buttress is deceptively steep, and twenty years later, mixed master Norman Keir and D.Marden made a futuristic winter ascent approximating to their line.

    With a high freezing level forecast for Sunday December 16, Roger Webb was keen to visit Lochnagar and give Sinister Buttress a go. The result was Insurgent (VI,7), a new and exciting four-pitch line with an intricate second pitch that tested both leader and second alike. We started early, but even so we it was night time by the time we finished on the plateau, well satisfied after finding away up the least known of all Lochnagar’s buttresses.

    Dafydd Morris on the crux traverse of Gallows Groove (VI,7) on Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm. The prominent gully of Fingers and Thumbs with its steep headwall can be seen just to the right. (Photo Matt Buchanan)

    Dafydd Morris on the crux traverse of Gallows Groove (VI,7) on Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm. The prominent gully of Fingers and Thumbs with its steep headwall can be seen just to the right. (Photo Matt Buchanan)

    Dafydd Morris and Matt Buchanan made an excellent addition to Creagan Cha-no on December 16. “I managed to drag myself out of my sick bed to head back to Creagan Cha-no with Matt Buchanan on Sunday,” Dafydd told me. “I couldn’t face a long walk in, and having seen how good the climbing was when I did Anvil Corner a few weeks ago this seemed like a good option. We decided on a route on Arch Wall. We took the initial narrow chimney of the route Arch Wall to a ledge, and then followed the lower of two grooves rightwards across the steep slab (crux) on thin moves aiming for a turfy blocky chimney, and continued up this to the top.

    There was very little gear on the crux across the slab, only really turf stuff was available. The cracks were surprisingly blank, with not much for the feet, and didn’t have the hoped for bomber hooks I love so much. It took a lot of clearing too, and felt harder than Anvil Corner on the day. The route name derives from the fact I took a slight tumble on the lead and Matt thought I looked like I’d been sent to the gallows with my falling position!”

    Easy Icefall

    Brian Davison on the first ascent of Ossian Fall (III), a new 100m-long icefall situated on the north-facing hillside overlooking Loch Ghuilbinn in Strath Ossian. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Brian Davison on the first ascent of Ossian Fall (III), a new 100m-long icefall situated on the north-facing hillside overlooking Loch Ghuilbinn in Strath Ossian. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    In the same way there are new easy gullies in Scotland, there are also new easy icefalls if you travel far enough. Eight miles from the road in fact, although with a little inside knowledge you don’t have to walk it all. In fact Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison finished by 10am and were home at noon.

    With short steep steps and easy angled sections in between, it just made an easy Grade III. Where is it? Ossian Fall (100m III) is the stream which is marked as flowing through the crag Creag na Cosaig at NN 423 743 on the 1:50000 map and was climbed on December 15.