Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson pulled off a remarkable coup yesterday (January 19) when they made the first ascent The Greatest Show on Earth (X,10). This awe-inspiring route takes the huge blank wall on the right side of Coire Gorm on the north face of Cul Mor in Coigach. North-West climbers had been eyeing up this imposing wall for the last 20 years, but defended by a large overhang and plum vertical above, it was clearly a route for the next generation.
Guy led the first pitch, a steep icefall leading to a small terrace below the overhang, before handing over to Greg who then pulled out the lead of his life. Greg is no stranger to big and bold leads but this pitch stretched Greg to the max. A vertical ice pillar led to the start of the roof that was protected by a couple of inverted Bulldogs and a poor cam. After several attempts Greg pulled through the roof and set off up the impending wall above, climbing further and further above his poor protection.
“Once I was fully committed and beyond the point of no return, the big fall and dodgy gear left my thoughts completely,” Greg explained on his blog. “I got a little flustered when I couldn’t see a way above the roof and my only axe placement in a thin smear started to slip, but I was committed now, so I had to force myself to calm down. I looked around, took some deep breaths and opted for some very powerful and dynamic moves to get myself out of that situation. Unfortunately all it did was take me further away from my so-called gear and into some of the boldest and most technically difficult moves on marginal placements that I’ve done… I rocked up over the lip of the roof on the tiniest of footholds, praying that it didn’t blow off, and eventually found myself in a semi rest but very off balance position. I struggled to hammer in and clip a turf hook, which surprisingly felt like I’d just clipped a bolt, as long as I didn’t rip the turf off the wall… After composing myself again, I slowly teetered upwards and finally felt the addictive rush of joy you get when you know you’ve basically just gone all or nothing and managed to scrape through by the skin of your teeth!”
Above, a couple of easier but excellent icy mixed pitches, led to 100m of easier ground that the pair soloed to the top. The Greatest Show on Earth was graded X,10 and put to bed a well-known Northern Highlands last great problem. But more significantly, this was the first time a new Grade X had been climbed on sight. Nick Bullock’s lead of the crux pitch of Nevermore in 2013 hinted that this breakthrough was not far away, and Greg’s outstanding performance on Cul Mor has now made it a reality.
The Greatest Show on Earth is a milestone in the development of Scottish winter climbing. I suggested to Greg that his feet could have hardly left the ground since climbing the route. “You’re right there mate,” Greg replied. “Apart from feeling a little tired, I’m on Cloud Nine!”