Technical 10 Hits the North-West!

Pete Macpherson styling up the first winter ascent of King of the Swingers (VIII,10) on the Far East Wall of Beinn Eighe. The route is graded E3 6b in summer, and the crux section traverses left under the overlap below the huge capping roof. This technical 10 pitch is the highest technical rating ever recorded in the Northern Highlands. (Photo Martin Moran)

Top team Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson made a stunning addition to Beinn Eighe on Tuesday (January 11) when they made the first winter ascent of King of the Swingers on the Far East Wall. This E3 6b, which takes the big corners left of Vishnu, was first climbed by Brian Davison, John Lyall and Andy Nisbet in June 1992. It sports a ferociously thin crux which traverses left under a huge roof, although this section can be circumvented by a pendulum which reduces the overall grade to E1.

Unfortunately Pete and Martin just missed out on the on-sight as Pete needed to take a rest point after completing the crux traverse free on his third attempt. “It was a bold lead,” Martin told me, ” because Pete elected not to go up to the high runner placement in the roof [as for the pendulum]. That would have been very awkward and would have required a three-metre downclimb of tech 8 moves. So the crux was tackled with runners way out right at waist height and the threat of a nasty swing back into the corner had he come off. Thankfully he had just got a cam clipped in the main crack when he pinged off on the first crucial attempt!”

The crack was hands-width and very strenuous to climb, with five or six moves of tech 8 one after the other.

“We reckoned VIII,10 as a proper grade because the summer 6b traverse was super-thin,” Martin explained. “The upper 50 metres were fantastic sustained VII,7!”

Congratulations to Pete and Martin for another outstanding addition and for pushing the technical envelope in the far-flung North-West.

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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7 Responses to Technical 10 Hits the North-West!

  1. Ian Parnell says:

    Simon, I know we’ve chatted about this before but I think it’s really important to sort out the terminology of ‘onsight’, ‘ground-up’ etc and so ensure keeps being the definitive winter resource that it is.

    It’s my understanding that Pete fell off on at least one of his previous attempts that day on King of the swingers, and on the third attempt reached the crack at the end of the traverse. With this fall on the traverse his ‘onsight’ ended, not as you imply when he took a rest higher up in the crack. An ‘onsight’ ascent involves starting from the bottom and climbing cleanly to the top with no falls or rests. A ground up ascent in my books to be worth its salt; can involve multiple attempts from the ground up, but when the climber has fallen or rested they should lower to the ground and start again rather than ‘dog up’. For obvious reasons of practicality this doesn’t happen, so you get what Pete and Martin did which some might call a ‘ground-up’ but really is a normal ascent with rests waiting for the free ascent.

    Just in case anyone gets confused I’m not knocking Pete or Martin in anyway, they are after all the ‘daddy’ and the ‘uncle?’ of Scottish winter climbing and like everyone I’ve done my fair share of ascents with rests.

  2. Doug says:

    Ian, I agree. A point that needs to be cleared up, however; the crux of a winter route is not always the first pitch. So, must a ground up ascent return to the base of the cliff after a fall? If this doesn’t happen, and instead the climber returns to a ledge or the belay before climbing to the top, and then returns at a later date to make a full, no falls ascent, could this ascent be considered the ‘first winter ascent’, considering it was not onsight or ground up?

  3. Tom Knowles says:

    I agree with Ian, I think from a historical viewpoint it’s important to tightly define the style of ascents. I noticed that Martin’s recent impressive ascent of The Wailing Wall was described as “onsight” too, but from his blog it looks like he took a fall low down on the route, but got it second go?

    Also, it looks like he attempted the route the year before, but bailed. Unless he downclimbed from his high point, I’d assume that this (weighting of the rope) blew the “onsight” at that point?

    Like Ian, I’d like to add that I’m in no way criticising these ascents, as the reporting has been completely honest and transparent. It’s simply a case of definition, and retaining the term “onsight” for those ascents that are entirely flawless.

  4. Erik Brunskill says:

    surely in the context of this style of climbing ground-up means no prior knowledge of moves/terrain above? if you claim rests/falls in the recording then that shows what needs to be done to improve on the FA.

    onsight is clearly climbing the route with no knowledge from the bottom with no rests or falls, testing gear being an important element

    to me prior inspection is a much bigger ‘crime’ than falling off a hard crux and trying it again, pure and simple cheating in my book.

    FWA of king of the swingers has been done for sure, well done guys, and good luck to the repeaters for the onsight

  5. Ian Parnell says:

    Agree with you Erik, first winter ascent of King Swingers is done, I guess ground up has less kudos than in rock climbing because its basically how everyone normally climbs in winter. So really my big point is that the onsight – is the holy grail, and its definition needs to be protected. Doug your right multi pitch routes obviously don’t need to return to the ground.

  6. Simon Richardson says:

    Many thanks Ian for the very useful clarification! Actually, I screwed up a little here as I misinterpreted Martin’s email describing their ascent. I thought that Pete’s fall occurred at the end of the traverse on his successful attempt and this was combined with the rest in the crack. I should have cross-checked my understanding with Martin’s blog!

    I fully agree that on sight is the holy grail. Having said that, I’m not sure that the rock climbing technique of ‘preserving the on sight’ by downclimbing from a failed attempt is really valid in a mountaineering or Scottish winter context.

    Ethical definitions aside, congratulations to Martin and Pete once again for a futuristic ascent!

  7. As you say Iain not onsight. As Martin put it ‘such are the rules that the ascent was ultimately flawed’. Fantastic route but to be honest completely ruined for me by my not onsighting it. My tool popped of a tiny edge one move from the crack, unlucky i suppose. After that my motivation wained somewhat.

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