Siberian Tiger

Pete Macpherson high on the crux pitch during the first ascent of Siberian Tiger in Coire an Lochain on Cairngorm. This IX,10 is based on the summer E3 Siberia, which was first climbed by Ian Taylor and Chris Forrest in the summer of 1996. This superb ascent confirms last season's promise that many cracked mountain E3s are now within the reach of the top flight of today's winter climbers. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Monday December 12 was forecast to be a good day, so fresh from his successful Ben Nevis trip, Greg Boswell texted around to ask if anyone was keen for a day out in the Cairngorms. Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson were already planning to go to the Northern Corries, so they suggested that Greg came along as well.

Their objective was to climb a winter version of Siberia, the impressive arête between The Vicar and The Demon on No. 3 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. Guy led the first pitch trending right from The Vicar to the stance on the arête. “It was a nice warm up,” Guy told me, “and was a steady pitch of about VII,8.”

Pete then tied into the lead ropes and set off up the main arête pitch. “Siberia was Pete’s idea so he had first crack at the crux,” Guy explained. Pete got as far as the crucial roof high on the pitch and then took a monster 11m-long fall coming to rest just a couple of feet above the belayers heads. “Once he got his head together, Pete tried again, ” Guy said. “He got a little bit higher, but his psyche was pretty drained by then, and he decided to lower off.”

They pulled the ropes through, Greg tied into the sharp end, climbed up to the roof and made a series of bold and strenuous moves to reach a holdless foot ledge a long, long way above his last good protection. Greg has written an inspiring and gripping account of his lead on his blog, so I won’t attempt reproduce it here except for this quote, which for me, sums up the essence of on sighting new routes in winter.

“I balanced my way across the terrifyingly technical and tenuous slab, where at points I had no hooks and both feet were on tiny rounded smears on the boldest section. It felt like the Hurting all over again, but unlike when I climbed the Hurting, we did not know if this line/route was even climbable, as no one had ever been on it (the joys of ground up/on sighting).”

Greg eventually reached better protection and easier ground, and Siberian Tiger was born. Guy was clearly impressed. “Greg led the pitch quickly and made it look very convincing,” he told me, although Guy also stressed that Pete deserved considerable credit for laying the groundwork for the pitch.

Siberian Tiger (IX,10) is one of the most difficult Scottish winter routes to receive an on sight first ascent and is comparable in difficulty to Guy Robertson and Pete Benson’s first winter ascent of Crazy Sorrow (IX,10) on Lochnagar last season. It highlights the quantum jump in winter standards we have seen over the last couple of years, and the outstanding new talent in the shape of the young Greg Boswell. We are only two weeks into the season and Greg has already notched up two hard new routes and two significant repeats. One can only guess at what the rest of the season holds!

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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5 Responses to Siberian Tiger

  1. Ian Parnell says:

    Brilliant and inspiring climb guys. Simon it’s not an onsight first ascent. Pretty sure the guy’s didn’t claim this either. We need to be very careful with these definitions otherwise they will lose all meaning. If a leader falls off its not been flashed. If its not been flashed it can’t be onsight. Also Greg had beta, cleared rock and presumably pre placed gear (at least the top bits lowered off by Pete) – its probably about as far from onsight as you could get apart from headpointing it! None of this is being critical of the ascent but of the reporting of it.

    • Guy Rob says:

      I totally disagree Ian! The nature of the pitch in question is such that as soon as you leave the belay you’re on your own out of sight. Further still, the last good protection was well below the start of the crux section. I’d therefore suggest that although it clearly WASN’T a true on-sight, contrary to being “far from on-sight” , it was in fact as near as damn it! And the 15m of grade IX climbing (a section of very poorly protected tech 8) was indeed climbed completely on-sight. I think what’s MOST important, rather than people’s individual interpretations / semantics, is that the actual style of ascent is reported and recorded accurately, which it has been in this case.

    • Simon Richardson says:

      You are correct Ian, in that it was me who labelled the ascent ‘on sight’, not Greg, Guy or Pete. I think not crediting Greg with the on sight in this case is harsh, but I respect the role you are playing as our ethical conscience!

  2. Ian Parnell says:

    Hi Guy, good to hear your views and that you don’t think it’s a true onsight. My bolshy tone and referring to it being far from onsight was unfair and wasn’t generated by your climb or Simon’s report – just a background of screaming kids. So my apologies. Simon has been gracious enough to invite me to write an opinion piece about ‘onsight’. In the mean time nice one on a superb looking route and I’m sure a great day out.

  3. Erik says:

    Ian I agree, the gear that held Pete makes all the difference to the lead by Greg (not taking ANYTHING away from that amazing brave lead). Lead was still bold of course, but awareness that there is one good piece on the pitch makes a difference to the head melt and therefore the potential difference between success and failure. The added pressure of killing your belaying mate/mates can add several grades of difficulty!

    but as guy says, its the honesty that counts, scottish winter history is full of deception unfortunately. and it is clearly one of the hardest groundup leads ever.

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