Welcome to The Simulator

Spring conditions in Garbh Choire on Beinn a’Bhuird. Strong easterly winds five days before had deposited significant quantities of snow on westerly aspects. The Simulator (VII,8) starts in North-West Gully on the right side of Mitre Ridge (on far right side of photo) and climbs steep cracks between Primate and Blue Deacon to an exit up snowy shelves. (Photo Simon Richardson)

On Sunday April 22, Guy Robertson and I made a trip into Garbh Choire on Beinn a’Bhuird. This is always a special place to visit, especially so in winter, and we had a long day climbing a route on the West Wall of Mitre Ridge. Conditions were challenging with deep soft snow, and higher than forecast temperatures meant that North-West Gully – the approach to our route – regularly avalanched throughout the day. It was as though someone behind the scenes was pressing a button every 20 minutes. This led to a rather perverse line of thought about an artificially controlled climbing environment where climbers’ fitness and skill are put to the test like gladiators in a ring (with apologies to The Hunger Games)…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Simulator. Using state of the art climate control technology we can continuously adjust multiple environmental factors in our computer-controlled climbing arena to assess the skills and competence of individual climbers. Today we test performance to late season Scottish winter conditions:

Date: 22 April 2012

Climbers: Guy Robertson, Simon Richardson

Arena: Beinn a’Bhuird, Cairngorms. West Wall of Mitre Ridge

Route: Attempt at a new line between Primate and Blue Deacon


Computer-Controlled Factors

Weather: Snow showers, light wind

Freezing level: Above the summits (Forecast 750m)

Visibility: Deteriorating

Approach: Deep soft snow

Icing: None

Snow: Unconsolidated and wet

Turf: Lightly frozen. Weight-bearing if used wisely

Cracks: Dry and ice-free

Avalanches: Snow slides down approach gully

Objective Hazards: Large loose block near top of first pitch



Route: Completed. Two falls.

Time: 16 hours car to car

Judges Verdict: The team demonstrated some lateral thinking by abseiling down the approach gully to avoid the snow slides, but jamming the knot in a snow drift below the cornice was an elementary mistake. The Controllers tested fitness by rapidly increasing the depth of soft snow above the 900m-contour so the approach took six hours, and implementing the turf-rip function at the crux sections of the first two pitches ensured both climbers took leader falls. The whiteout on the plateau after finishing the route was a nice touch. Overall, an unconvincing performance, and both climbers need more practice dealing with the variety of conditions likely to be encountered in the Scottish mountains.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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