New Route Recording – A Conundrum

The right side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm showing the line of Torquing to Myself. 1. Torquing Heads (VII,7), 2. Western Slant (IV,5), 3. Cut Adrift (III,4), 3a. Cut Adrift RH Start, 4. Torquing To Myself (III,4). (Photo and Topo Simon Yearsley)

The right side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm showing the line of Torquing to Myself. 1. Torquing Heads (VII,7), 2. Western Slant (IV,5), 3. Cut Adrift (III,4), 3a. Cut Adrift RH Start, 4. Torquing To Myself (III,4). (Photo and Topo Simon Yearsley)

Simon Yearsley had an enjoyable day in the Northern Corries on November 25, coming away with a possible first ascent on No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. His climb raises some interesting aspects about the recording of new routes.

“I was due to climb with Helen Rennard again on Monday,” Simon explains, “but she was pretty tired after two days on the Ben – one new route and one VIII,8, so she gave her (very understandable) apologies. The forecast was excellent, so I pottered up to Coire an Lochain by myself to check out the far right hand side of the crag. It’s probably fair to say that 99.9% of the Northern Corries have been well and truly explored by several generations of keen instructors from Glenmore Lodge. However, given that there’s always the chance of finding the 0.1%, and also that I’d been giving a talk recently, extolling the virtues of new routing in Scotland and encouraging folk to look at existing venues with “New Route Eyes”… so I thought it appropriate to check out this wee area. It looked like the ground immediately right of “Cut Adrift” could hold give a short route, and at a grade I hoped I’d be able to solo.

I found it a bit nerve racking starting out to solo a route, but things quickly settled down and progressed quite quickly to a fine blocky ledge below the steep final wall. A flaky crack lead out left, but I must admit it took a couple of nervous attempts to start the crack. Once committed it was of course much easier than contemplation, and I was soon standing on the plateau. Coire an Lochain doesn’t have too many reasonable IIIs, so, whilst the route is fairly minor, it is a useful addition, especially as it makes a good early season line. I must admit to chuckling about the name – I’d stood on the blocky ledge for a good ten minutes, muttering to myself about I should start the final flake crack… seeing as the route lies close to Torquing Heads and Torquing West… ‘Torquing To Myself’ seems appropriate.”

Simon sent his account to Andy Nisbet, editor of the highly authoritative New Routes section in the SMC Journal, who was quick to respond. “It’s unlikely that Torquing to Myself hasn’t been done before,” he wrote. “Glenmore Lodge instructors including me, have taken folk up routes in that area, but it’s difficult to be precise about exactly where we went.”

I pushed Andy a little further, and asked whether Torquing to Myself would be recorded in next year’s SMCJ.

“It’s difficult to know what to do with this route,” Andy replied. “It took some persuading to include [the nearby] Cut Adrift (in the SMCJ) but I actually went and did it myself. And it was good, and not what I’d done before (but others might have). But Simon Y’s line has been climbed before, or roughly so, because it’s less steep than Cut Adrift and does bank out a lot, in fact in mid-season is Grade II. But it’s a bit like Sneachda and the routes that were regular Glenmore Lodge routes but never recorded (like the ribs between the Trident Gullies). After several attempts to claim them, Allen Fyffe did put them in the last guide, and rightly so. The area on the right side of Fiacaill Buttress is another area used by instructors. I’ve had a couple of claims, but I know the routes have been done hundreds of times and have refused; again maybe they should be in the next guide. The “twin ribs” are another instructor area that perhaps should be in the guide, as they are good fun if rather trivial to more experienced folk.

But that’s not a reason why they shouldn’t be recorded because, as Simon points out, he enjoyed the day and if he felt it worthwhile, then so will others. So I think I’ll put it in the SMCJ as a first recorded ascent. I don’t actually know what I did [in this area] – you just took your two students and soloed up ahead of them leading, pointed out runner placements and generally supervised, not thinking about where you went or recording it; there was enough to worry about. Glenmore Lodge have stopped that sort of instruction these days.”

“I’m pretty relaxed about all of this, “Simon responded, “but if I had to choose, I think I’d come down on the side of recording all routes, and if this means that we document some routes as first recorded ascents, then that seems in my view to be a positive thing. I think we’ve moved on a long way from the days of ‘don’t record’.”

So the conundrum – should we record good and accessible lines in popular areas that are known to have unlisted ascents (such as the Northern Corries), or avoid any possible ambiguity by purely focusing on new routes (typically very hard) that are more certain to be breaking new ground?

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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6 Responses to New Route Recording – A Conundrum

  1. Andy Moles says:

    Record everything, but give filler-in type routes only a mention, rather than a full description, to prevent guidebooks getting too bulky.

  2. Martin McKenna says:

    I think its the route is of reasonable quality, even if known to have been climbed before, record it as First Recorded Accent. As Simon was saying, if he enjoyed his day out on the line then the chances are others will also.

  3. Tom Knowles says:

    I think this is a no brainer really. Simon’s route is a completely independent line and therefore should stand. The fact it may have been done before is immaterial because it was never recorded. That’s all guidebooks are essentially – recordings. So log it as such, perhaps with the note “probably climbed before” (as has been done for other Scottish winter routes).

    Also, by recording Simon’s new route, others will repeat it (who probably wouldn’t have ventured up an unmarked section of cliff), which lessens the queuing for neighbouring routes.

    By contrast, there are other places in Scotland where so much recording has taken place that it seems more appropriate to omit some of it eg. where existing routes have had different starts or finishes claimed that can often be inferior to the original line. They often seem out of place and claimed for the sake of claiming something. Simon’s line isn’t in this category.

  4. Simon Cox says:

    My opinion is that it is worth it for reasons stated: decent Grade III in Lochain; independent line; recorded is better than unrecorded; non-turf dependent early season line.

    However, I wonder whether it is better to chose a more prosaic name for the line to make it less personalised to the climber who claims it, recognising that it has likely been climbed in the past.

  5. George McEwan says:

    I don’t agree. As Andy points out there are a whole stack of similar lines that have been climbed by Lodge instructors. The problem is where do you draw the line – literally and metaphorically? Also depending on the build up some of these lines just disappear.

    I’ve done a heap of ‘lines’ with clients and students in the Northern Corries on climbing courses (and yes Andy just in the same way you did it – when I was at the Lodge we taught lead climbing the same way and the Lodge still does) and never thought to record them as although they provide enjoyable climbing they are just that, enjoyable climbing. I fail to see this need to record every single thing regardless of grades. You want to climb em? Just go have a look and use your own judgement.

  6. I don’t see the conundrum which Simon R is posing to be about whether we should “… record every single thing regardless of grade.” I see it as being about whether we should we record good and accessible lines in popular areas that are known to have unlisted ascents.

    For me, the important word here is “good”. I agree with George that no, we shouldn’t record every single thing. I do think though, that we should record good lines.

    I think “Torqueing To Myself” is an example of a good early season route. Yes, I know that this area banks out and this alters things a lot, but as an early season route it’s a good, short, independent line with some nice climbing. I therefore think it’s worth recording, even though it is likely to have had earlier unlisted ascents.

    Having given it a lot of thought, I can’t see a logical reason not to record good routes (as first recorded ascents), at least in the SMCJ. If someone claims a line which is really not a route, (eg the edge of a snowfield, or a teeny weeny micro-variation) then it probably shouldn’t be recorded. As current SMC New Routes Editor, I see Andy N as playing an important role here. The unenviable role of a New Routes Editor (amongst other things!), is, in my view, to take the decision (often in discussion with others) as to whether a route is a route and so decide whether it should be recorded

    Recording it in the SMCJ then of course passes the buck to the next guidebook author as to whether they feel it should be included, but as we have “definitive” rather than “selected” guidebooks, I can’t see a rationale not to include good lines which may have been done before, with explanatory/historical notes about the fact that they have been climbed before but not recorded.

    Two final wee things: I think the grade issue (referred to a lot in the UKC post on this subject… well, at least it stared vaguely on this subject, then wandered around a bit like all good UKC posts!) is a bit of a red herring. Specific to Torqueing To Myself, I take Simon Cox’s point about name… hey ho! Hope this helps, Simon

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