The Grade IX Tick List

Iain Small on the first pitch of Brave New World (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. This four pitch winter-only line the North Wall of Carn Dearg was climbed on sight and includes a bold and spectacular final headwall pitch. There are four other winter routes on the rarely climbed North Wall of Carn Dearg - Kellett's North Wall Route (VII,7), Macphee's Route (V,6), The Cone Gatherers (VIII,8) and Days of Future Past (VIII,8). These climbs are all unrepeated except for Kellett's North Wall Route. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

A remarkable aspect of last season was the number of Grade IX routes that were on sighted.  Previously, only a handful of routes at this level had ever been climbed on sight, but last winter we saw an unprecedented eight new Grade IXs on sighted together with seven on sight repeats. The following list is adapted and updated from Tom Knowles’ post on UKC last January. Hopefully it will inspire many more routes at this level to be climbed this season!

Grade IX+ On Sight First Ascents

Defenders of the Faith IX,9 – Dave MacLeod, Fiona Murray (2006)

Mammoth IX,9 – Greg Boswell, Guy Robertson (2010)

Culloden IX,9 – Gordon Lennox, Tony Stone, Iain Small (2010)

To Those Who Wait IX,9 – Greg Boswell, Will Sim (2010)

Crazy Sorrow IX,10 – Guy Robertson, Pete Benson (2011)

Bavarinthia IX,9 – Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)

Stone Temple Pilots X,9 – Guy Robertson, Pete Macpherson (2011)

Brave New World IX,8 – Iain Small, Simon Richardson (2011)

Godzilla IX,8 – Guy Robertson, Pete Benson, Nick Bullock (2011)


Grade IX+ On Sight Repeats

Demon Direct IX,9 – Dave MacLeod, Gareth Hughes (2003); Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)

The Duel IX,9 – Es Tresidder, Blair Fyffe (2003); Greg Boswell, Steve Lynch (2011)

The Steeple IX,9 – Pete Benson, Guy Robertson (2006)

The Tempest X,9 – Dave MacLeod (2010)

Pic ‘n Mix IX,9 – Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell (2010); Pete Harrison, Simon Frost, Dave Garry (2011)

The God Delusion IX,9 – Martin Moran, Pete Macpherson (2010)

Happy Tyroleans IX,10 – Greg Boswell, Mike Tweedley (2011); Ines Papert, Charly Fritzer (2011)

To Those Who Wait IX,9 – Charly Fritzer, Ines Papert (2011)


Grade IX+ Routes Awaiting On Sight Ascents

Guerdon Grooves IX,8 – Dave Cuthbertson, Arthur Paul (1984)

Logical Progression M9 – Mark Garthwaite (1999)

Mort IX,9 – Brian Davison, Andy Nisbet, Dave McGimpsey (2000)

The Cathedral X,11 – Dave MacLeod (2004)

The Hurting XI,11 – Dave MacLeod (2005)

The Scent IX,8 – Guy Robertson, Rich Cross (2007)

Slochd Wall IX,8 – Pete Benson, Guy Robertson (2008)

Don’t Die of Ignorance XI,11 – Dave MacLeod (2008)

Sassenach IX,9 – Andy Turner, Tony Stone (2009)

Super Rat IX,9 – Pete Macpherson, Guy Robertson (2010)

Anubis XII,12 – Dave MacLeod (2010)

Satyr IX,9 – Donald King, Andy Nelson (2010)

The Wailing Wall IX,9 – Martin Moran, Murdo Jamieson (2010)

Note: The definition of On Sight in this list, is a free ascent that is made without prior knowledge gained from attempting, or inspecting the route in winter.

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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21 Responses to The Grade IX Tick List

  1. Erik says:

    Hi Simon, interesting definition of onsight. In my book if a route is inspected in summer by abseil or even as a summer climb for a winter ascent then its not onsight. Or is it just me? I know deliberate summer inspection goes on, but I have always seen this as a form of cheating.

    • Simon Richardson says:

      Hi Erik, Yep fully agree that abseil inspection in summer compromises the on sight. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to disqualify the winter on sight because you’ve climbed the route before in summer. Of course, it’s much simpler to climb winter only lines, then there is no summer ascent to worry about!

  2. Peteh says:

    I agree – climbing, attempting or abbing a route in summer gives you valuable knowledge of gear, steepness and holds, more and more so as the mixed grade increases and mixed routes become, ahem.., less dependant on snow & ice and more rocky. Onsight is quite tightly defined for me – as meaning no knowledge of the route either in Summer or Winter other than that which can be gained from the ground, the guidebook and from climbing neighbouring routes (and even this can cross the line between ‘climbing/abbing off a neighbouring route’ and ‘abseil inspection’). Anything else is at best a flash. A relatively rare beast at the high end.

  3. Ruth says:

    What about Sassenach? Seems to have been missed off the list. Surely should be in the IX+ awaiting an on-sight list?

    • Simon Richardson says:

      Many Thanks, Ruth Now added to the list!

      • Peteh says:

        As should a few routes South of the border if you want to get ‘international’:
        Cracking Up IX 9
        Travesty Direct IX 10
        Are You Having it About the Woolly Mammoths? X 10

        Are any routes in the Lake District given grade IX?

  4. Ian Parnell says:

    Yes SOS XI 10 East Buttress Scafell (Dave Birkett, Mark Edwards)- I always assumed this was a typo but I believe its not. The full route looks hard and very good. Evolution IX 9 Great End (Steve Ashworth unseconded)

  5. Harry Holmes says:

    Hasn’t the secret seen a few onsights and I think that a IX aswell.

    • Simon Richardson says:

      Good point Harry. The Secret has been given a variety of grades, but it was finally written up in the SMC Journal as VIII,9. Time will tell whether it’s Grade VIII or a Grade IX.

  6. Ian Parnell says:

    VIII,9 gets my vote for the Secret. At the time I argued with Guy and Garth for low IX after an ’emotional’ lead breaking two holds and almost falling off. With a bit of hindsight and the fact that routes I thought at the time were solid VIII but are now seen to be VII Guy and Garth probably got it right.

  7. AndyT says:

    Not piped up about this before but apart from 1 other ascent, by Paddy Cave last winter, everyone else has traversed in above the crux of the second pitch – which may well be VIII, 9. When I did the full crack from the bottom, there was no gear until reaching the chockstone, which is a good 10ft of climbing – when traversing in you are already standing on this chockstone.

  8. Ian Parnell says:

    The traverse isn’t that high Andy but yes you do miss out a section of climbing (although obviously you do another section of climbing which has a boldish feel about it). Perhaps they could have 2 different grades?

  9. Mark Hockey says:

    To me, an onsight winter ascent must involve no prior knowledge of the route whatsoever – either by not having climbed Summer routes in the vicinity or on the route itself. This means the climber/s set off with only second hand info (guidebooks/tips from climbers etc) – on route finding and any crucial gear placements. Greg and Will’s ascent of stone temple pilots is more remarkable than most others as neither had even visited the crag previously – fantastic effort!

    • Guy Rob says:

      Just to clarify – Stone Temple Pilots has still not had an on-sight ascent; Pete popped off the crux pitch on our ascent, and I believe Will took a rest on the penultimate pitch on their recent ascent. Ditto the Steeple – I fell off fighting with metre deep snow on the ledge at the last hard move of the last 5b pitch! Greg very nearly suffered the same fate on STP. I think these little details are quite important, and they do tend to be forgotten in the mists of time…

      With ref to “on-sight” I think everyone knows what this means – no prior knowledge summer or winter, no rests and no falls. Simple concept! Any other style of ascent in winter is heresy IMHO 🙂

  10. Guy Rob says:

    I’d also note that The Scent was on-sight, but over two attempts – i.e. no prior knowledge summer or winter, no rests and no falls. We ran out of light and abseiled off (ok, so we were shitting our pants!)

    • Peteh says:

      Whilst your ascent sounds like it was, in spirit, an onsight we need to be careful with the O/S definition or, using the same definition as above, someone could ‘onsight’ their way up a hard route on the Shelterstone by abbing off from subsequently higher belay stances each time they tried it until they’d got up the whole route. As long as they hadn’t had ‘prior knowledge’ when they started and didn’t weight the rope or use aid, they could claim an onsight. But that wouldn’t be an onsight. It would be a groundup 🙂

      Onsight is a simple concept, but I’d add the words ‘one chance only’ to your definition. Strictly speaking you only get one chance at an onsight (or one chance at a flash if you have prior knowledge but not prior practice), after that it’s a groundup, then a redpoint, then dogged. Sorry, them’s the rules 🙂

      Mark mentioned guidebook info and ‘tips from climbers’ – but even too many of the correct tips (!) from other climbers negates a real onsight and makes a route psychologically easier, especially when it’s at your limit. Sport/trad climbers and boulderers recognise this fact by defining doing something first go ‘with prior or running information’ – a Flash.

      Can you tie style of ascents in bouldering and style of ascents in trad mixed climbing together under the same system of definitions? Beats me. But if we’re going to claim things under certain styles and then want/expect peers, wider climbing public and even commercial interests to give us credit/kudos for it (as it seems to me the ‘reporting of climbing’ is at least partly about showing off with benefits, or else we’d all just wait for the next guidebook in ten years), then it makes sense for there to be clear definitions for what those names mean.

      Constabulary of Style 🙂

      • Simon Richardson says:

        Erik Bruskill wrote: Peteh, I think its great to have policing in this. we have a responsibility to make sure the next generation/s continue to uphold the same strict ethics as those that were passed down to us. Transparency is the key though, still grates me when I hear of sinister shenanigans going on from the distant past, past, near past and very near past! Any fool can cheat their way into the history books 😉

  11. Tom Knowles says:

    In broad terms, I’ve always understood “onsight” to mean no weighting of the rope i.e. no abseils, rests or falls. However, downclimbing and coming back another day, as in the case of Dave’s ascent of The Tempest, would qualify as onsight. In addition, I’d agree that any prior knowledge (summer or winter) of a route (other than from the ground) would negate the onsight, as would “crucial” (which I would define as influential to success) tips from other sources.

    Of course, definitions only work when climbers are completely transparent in their reporting. Guy mentions above that Will possibly took a rest while he and Greg repeated Stone Temple Pilots, yet there’s no mention of this in either of the climbers’ blog accounts. Furthermore, in a recent UKC news item regarding STP, Greg is quoted saying “I was personally psyched to get this monster line climbed onsight.” It would be helpful if Will could clarify this issue so that a style of ascent could be indisputably tagged to the route.

    Ascents and early repeats of routes like Stone Temple Pilots will be part of the history books of the future and are therefore always going to be subject to more scrutiny than established classics. Knowing the intricacies of a route adds interest to this history and helps in chronicling the development of Scottish winter climbing.

    Simon, you used the expression “armchair critics” in your “Lochnagar Update” piece. Many of the style opinions on here are from extremely experienced climbers who are at the forefront of the sport; armchair critics are those who give advice based on theory rather than practice. If we want an accurate portrayal of events taking place on our mountains, this is the sort of analysis and debate we need to encourage.

    • Simon Richardson says:

      Thanks Tom – I think the term ‘on sight’ means slightly different things to different people. Personally, I don’t think that the summer definition completely works in a winter context, and whilst I understand the logic, I don’t think the the ‘preserving the on sight’ technique is completely valid in a mountaineering context. We need to continue this debate and arrive at a consensus, so thank you to every one who has contributed to this post. Interestingly, first free ascents are recorded by the SMC in their guide books on a consistent basis, but not on sight ascents. (I agree the use of ‘armchair critics’ in the Lochnagar post was inappropriate – I have changed it).

  12. Tom Ripley says:

    Can we have an end of season update please?

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