Left Pork on Sgurr na Muice

Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Left Pork (V,6) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The Grade is a bit irrelevant,” John Mackenzie said afterwards. “The route is no more than Grade V for overall seriousness, but is quite hard technically. I suspect, it’s a lot harder than many of the Tech 6's I've done, but conditions are everything.” (Photo John Mackenzie)

Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Left Pork (V,6) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The grade is a bit irrelevant,” John Mackenzie said afterwards. “The route is no more than Grade V for overall seriousness, but it is quite hard technically. It’s a lot harder than many of the other tech 6’s I’ve done, but then again, conditions are everything.” (Photo John Mackenzie)

On February 24, Dave Broadhead and John Mackenzie made the first ascent of the left fork of the three star classic Pearls Before Swine (IV,4) on Sgurr na Muice. They called their new addition Left Pork and graded it V,6.

“Yes, I know, but we are running out of piggy names by now…” explains John. “Last year Simon Nadin, Neil Wilson and I tried the left fork but the ice was far too thin for it to be possible despite an attempt. This year the ice was thicker – about a half inch – so we had some hope. I was recovering from a nasty virus so was firing on less than the usual enthusiasm, but to compensate we had three SMC friends, Dave Broadhead, Colin Wells and Mike Cocker. It was a glorious sunny day with no real wind and snow ice and frozen turf.

Through binoculars from below it looked possible, so we all trooped up the 200m of steep Grade 1 to the base of the cliffs on rock hard snow. The direct ice pitch which forms the usual start of Pearls Before Swine up the lower rock band was hardly there, so we took a narrow gully to the left and then some ice to reach the snow apron below the main cliffs. This in turn leads to the well-defined entrance gully to Pearls Before Swine where two narrow ice hoses give access. I had run out 60m of rope from just below the apron so had to belay on the right wall of the gully some distance below the two forks.

Dave then continued up to the left fork and I had an entertaining time, not entirely stress free, watching his progress. From what I could gather the initial section had just sufficient ice for crampons but not for axes. The configuration is such that the ice runs down a steep but smooth and crack-free slab and the retaining right wall allowed his back to shuffle up whilst the ice provided, just, purchase for front points. He reached what I hoped would be an easier bay with snow but this was an illusion as it was powder resting on the same crack-free rock slab. However he had some good torques on the right wall but nothing for his feet.

I could hear him stating that it was either good for the feet or for the axes but never for both together. His protection up to this point was at the base of the corner and though good it was still well below him and a little worrying watching when both feet shot off on a fairly regular basis. At least his torques were satisfactory and I hoped what snow that was left would be of a firmer character for me afterwards! However the corner now curved around in an overhang and the only way out was left where an extraordinary sloping ‘yardarm’ of rock jutted. A ‘God Save Us All Here’ massive nut fitted to perfection at this crucial juncture as I fully expected a flying Dave, but he cocked a left leg over the yardarm and somehow, though it sounded painful, managed to stand on his left leg long enough before it slid off to transfer weight and bridge left into a more normal climbing position where the corner closed to an ice-filled slot. Back on ice he soon moved up this to a fine rock stance a little higher.

Following was fun too. The lower slab was much steeper than it looked from my stance but a shuffle seemed to work to enter the positively sadistic powder-filled back of the corner, predictably as smooth as the slab out on the left is. Torques up in the retaining right wall and feet gently pressing down on the rubbish snow – the only powder probably on the entire mountain today – led to the ‘yardarm’ and the bomber nut. The roof gave a parallel crack for an axe but the left leg once cocked allowed a most energetic but insecure standing position, sliding off it a positive certainty unless decisive action was taken. A quick change of weight and a bridge to the only piece of turf out left relieved what was a position normally reserved for the Karma Sutra and I was soon able to congratulate Dave in person.

Meanwhile Mike and Colin down below decided on the normal route after seeing our antics and so followed the right fork, which is largely turf and ice interspersed with bulges; it looked in good condition if a little less icy than normal.  Back on the left fork, I had collected our mountain of gear and had the pleasure of a fine ice chimney with a delightfully narrow exit onto turf that was truly epicurean, a delight to pick and stick. At my stance I was overlooking the main route and able to chat to Colin as he climbed, and it seemed that they too were enjoying the situation and the splendid conditions. Our own branch followed up on the continuation of the icy chimney below to the top without further complications so we headed to the summit cairn a short hop away and had some lunch whilst waiting for the others.

The anticyclonic weather was a rare treat, hardly any wind, clear and with good conditions underfoot. I could see however that these ideal conditions were limited to the deeper groove lines on Sgurr na Muice, sheltered from the sun, and that the neighbouring crags of Sgurr na Fearstaig and even Sgurr na Lapaich opposite on the other side of Strathfarrar were pretty black. Unless more snow fell, spring was springing into action and judging by the wildlife all around, this seemed likely!”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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