Guerdon Grooves – Second Ascent

Nick Bullock on the crucial second pitch of Guerdon Grooves on Buachaille Etive Mor’s Slime Wall. After 28 years, this iconic route was finally repeated yesterday. “I felt a greater weight on my shoulders from the history rather than my climbing rack,” Nick explained afterwards. (Photo Nick Bullock Collection)

I’m just back from the International Winter Meet at Glenmore Lodge. This superb biennial event consists of 40 guests from 20 different countries climbing with 40 Scottish-savvy British climbers all under the watchful eye of Becky McGovern and Nick Colton from the BMC. The weather was kind, which meant winter routes were climbed every day but one, and a superb selection of outings were completed from straightforward hill walks to new Grade IXs. It will take several posts to describe the highlights, but without doubt the outstanding ascent of the meet took place on Saturday January 28 when Nick Bullock, Guy Roberson and visiting US climber Bayard Russell made the second ascent of the legendary Guerdon Grooves on Slime Wall of Buachaille Etive Mor.

Guerdon Grooves, which takes the daunting wall left of Raven’s Gully, was first climbed as a summer route in 1948 by John Cunningham and Bill Smith. Graded HVS 5a, it has a reputation for poor protection, and its first winter ascent by Arthur Paul and Dave Cuthbertson in January 1984 was a clear step forward in Scottish winter climbing. Originally graded VI, it was the earliest route to be given Grade VIII (pre-dating Unicorn by a full year) when the grading system was made open-ended in the early 1990s, and the current guidebook grades it IX,8. Any attempt at a rating was pure speculation however, as the route had repulsed all repeat attempts and built up a huge reputation.

“The crux of the route was actually starting it,” Nick explained. “But when I started leading the second pitch there was some really useful ice in the cracks. It was a brilliant pitch, the most stunning of the route.”

The full story of their nine-hour ascent is for Nick, Guy and Bayard to tell, but when I asked Nick about the grade he just grinned and said it may be best if it was kept an enigma. Undeterred, I asked Bayard who had just completed a whirlwind six days climbing several hard routes including a new Grade IX in the Northern Corries. “You know Simon,’ he drawled in his soft East Coast accent, “I don’t know much about this Scottish climbing game, but the route that really stands out for me this week was Trail of Tears on Lochnagar.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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4 Responses to Guerdon Grooves – Second Ascent

  1. Valerie Partington says:

    Nick you’re a star. What a fantastic effort.

  2. Nick Bullock says:

    Thanks Valerie, appreciated,

    but it took three to tango on this one and as ever Robbo’s amazing knowledge of where to go when the time is right. I’m still unbelievably happy to have climbed this amazing route, and i will remember always the massive smiles as we topped out.


  3. Mark Hockey says:

    Congratulations on finally repeating this route. When I moved to Glencoe in 1995 I owned the 1992 Glencoe rock and ice climbs guide book and the description of Guerdon Grooves in Winter was I think the only grade 7 in the book and some of the descriptions of the pitches were so off-putting they made for ‘funny’ reading – pitch 2 “is technical and serious”, pitches 3 and especially 4 – “This whole section is both difficult and serious” ! There’s nothing in the guidebook quite like it! Great effort, kind regards, Mark

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