New Glen Coe Test-Piece

Guy Robertson leads the final pitch of Lost Arrow Winter Variation (X,10) by headlamp. This major addition, one of the most difficult mixed routes ever climbed in Scotland, lies on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. (Photo Greg Boswell)

Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson added another test-piece to the collection of hard winter routes on Bidean nam Bian’s Church Door Buttress when they climbed a winter version of Lost Arrow on December 11. The route was first climbed by Gary Latter and Paul Thorburn and is rated E3,6a in summer. Greg and Guy’s five-pitch winter version is called Lost Arrow Winter Variation and weighs in at a hefty X,10. The pair attempted the route last week but darkness forced a retreat. This time, an early start and a torchlight lead by Guy of the final pitch, resulted in success.

“I’ve been wanting to do a route based around Lost Arrow for a while now,” Greg told me. “The big curving corner littered with roofs was just shouting out to be tried! The route is a variation on Lost Arrow. It takes the first pitch of that route, then climbs the wall between Lost Arrow and Kingpin before moving back left to belay on the small ledge of Lost Arrow. We then climbed the steep turfy crack to the left of the main Lost Arrow crack and continued direct to the belay, instead of going right to climb the rib as for Lost Arrow.

The next pitch was climbed direct through the very hard and technical chimney straight above the belay to eventually gain a stance below the smaller of the two roofs. The last pitch was a ‘go for glory’ into the darkness over the last roof. World class!

The route was very sustained with multiple tech 9 and 10 pitches found throughout. The crux was probably the second pitch through the first big roofed area, and then everything above was still very hard and sustained, with the final roof being crazy hard regardless of the amount of climbing already done to get there!”

Lost Arrow Winter Variation is a significant addition, and the highest graded winter new route to be climbed in Scotland since Greg’s ascents of Intravenous Fly Trap and Banana Wall in Coire an Lochain in February 2017 and 2015. Earlier in the 2015 winter, Greg and Guy had made Scottish winter climbing history with a hat trick of new Grade X routes – The Greatest Show on Earth, Range War and The Messiah – all climbed on sight and over a 15 day period.

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
This entry was posted in New Routes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to New Glen Coe Test-Piece

  1. Robin Campbell says:

    While one can only admire the fortitude displayed here – the pre-dawn start and torchlit finish on the highest crag in Glencoe, there is a conundrum quality to this and other recent mixed winter routes in which high grade summer lines are followed using portable aid. They could after all be climbed in this manner using four points of portable aid in summer, but in such a case the ascent would rightly be called disgraceful. So why is it not disgraceful to climb crags in this manner in winter? And if considered acceptable, at what stage of winter condition do ascents like these cease to be disgraceful and begin to be acceptable?

  2. Guy Robertson says:

    Hi Robin, I hope this messgae finds you well. I have to say I’d expect a bit more insight from a climber of your standing, and find your perspective a little offenive. (though I can relate, being occasionally ofensive myself!). Three points I would like to make here. Firstly, the line Greg and Iclimbed took in a lot of virgin terrain; we certainly weren’t “following” the summer or any other particular line, although knowing there’s an existing summer route thereabouts certainly helps psychologically. We were doing what we enjoy most of all – exploring uncharted bits of a great cliff. All very traditional. Secondly, our ascent was very much ‘aided’ (pun intended) by the presence of ice, and in fact the last belay below the final pitch was entirely on ice. By your apparent ethical standards, I’m not at all sure when one’s ‘portable aid ‘devices cease to be acceptable means of upward progress during the transition from rock to ice (and vice-versa)? Finally (and I’ll concede I’m drawing my own conclusios from your post here) it seems to me to be somewhat perverse to draw an arbitrary ethical line between winter ascents of easy smmer classics, like Eagle Ridge on Lochnagar, and those that fall into in the Extreme category. We are just doing what generations of Scottish climbers have done befor us – turning up at the bottom of the crag and trying to find a way to the top, hopefully leaving the crag as we found it and having a bit of fun along the way. There is surely nothing disgraceful about that?

  3. Michael Mason says:

    Most impressive, although I would prefer to hear that the two of these fellows had completed the climb with tightly adjusted arab straps or similar ball restraint.

    • NEIL Donald says:

      I am surprised they can even climb with the size of balls they both have but maybe I am missing something and they are full of helium.

  4. Jonny L says:

    Winter climbing is not ‘portable aid’. Aid climbers weight their pro, sit in their harnesses and use the pro to advance up the rock with the weight always on the gear. Winter climbing is freeclimbing, the climber is always carrying their own weight on the ascent. a crampon is no more a piece of portable aid than a hiking boot or a rockshoe.

    Perhaps the only acceptable ascent in your eyes would be completely naked!!?

    Or perhaps, as a fair-weather climber, you just arrogantly assume the crags belong to you, and to your style (naturally the best, it’s ‘just obvious’) and resent those that do something different. And by the way, it’s not the headtorch approach or the early start that made this hard. It’s the X,10 climbing!

  5. Mark McGowan says:

    What is ‘portable aid’ Robin? Sorry for my ignorance.

  6. Roger Webb says:

    I would say all winter climbing involves portable aid or else we would leave the axes and crampons at home. It involves inserting pieces of metal in cracks or ice and using them for aid to make upward progress, that you remove them immediately afterwards makes no difference to the principle. We have made rules limiting how we use that aid, no static rests, but it is aid none the less.

    If that is unacceptable then it must be as unacceptable to use on an easy route as a hard one. If Tower Ridge is acceptable with axes and crampons then so is Lost Arrow Winter Variations.

    An outstanding route brilliantly done.

    Jonny, to call Robin Campbell a fair weather climber is over the top. This is a man who did numerous new routes summer and winter with Jimmy Marshall amongst others. This was of course before two axes and front points. He just has a different point of view which many of us don’t agree with but is as valid as anyone else’s.

    • Guy Robertson says:

      Well said Roger. I’ve been slightly inflamed by Robin’s remarks, but that is as much to do with what I see as his complete misunderstanding of the type of climbing what we are actually doing. He has I think also expressed his views without malice. Let’s have a debate, but let’s keep it civil. This isn’t the 50’s or 60’s after all….:-)

  7. Robin Campbell says:

    To be clear, I have always regarded the style of winter climbing adopted around 1970 as involving four points of portable aid. Jonny L’s assertion that it is not aid since not fully weighted is specious: aid is only ever fully weighted in free abseils or in freely-hanging belays, etc. The BMC’s formulation in which ice tools are counted as ‘free climbing assistance’ cuts as little ice: ice-tools provide portable aid. The traditional ice-axe was no doubt pulled on occasionally if safely embedded in hard nevé or frozen turf, but its design function was to make holds rather than to supply direct aid. On our small mountains, as a climbing method it is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, if that is what people prefer to do, then that’s up to them. And it has led to developments that we would not otherwise have seen: the climbing of frozen waterfalls and giant icicles and so forth. The conundrum we are faced with since quite a few years now is that this method has been applied to high-grade summer lines rendering them more accessible in ‘winter’ than in summer. ‘Winter’ is in danger of becoming an excuse for the application of the mis-named ‘mixed climbing’ methods to rock climbs.
    As a first step, we need transparency. Pitches on such routes should be reported with appropriate M-grades, and the type of portable aid used should be specified. There is a world of difference between the Grivel Force Carbon (or its like) and a bottom-of-the-range ice tool.

  8. Patrick Roman says:

    Routes like Lost Arrow are not more accessible in winter than in summer. Nothing graded X,10 is ever going to be more accessible than an E3. You make it sound like there are chain ascents of these routes in winter! Sassenach, that “magnificent old fashioned classic” (to quote the SMC guide) had its FWA in 2009. It’s still awaiting a second ascent. Please remember too that Guy and Greg climbed a variation of Lost Arrow, they did not follow the summer route (irrelevant anyway given the wintry conditions).

    The only legitimate reason for objecting to climbs of this type is if the ascent permanently damages the summer line. I’d find it hard to believe that either Guy or Greg left behind much, if any, of a mark – you don’t get up a X,10 by scratching your way up it.

    In objecting to an ascent like this, you run a real risk of it being grounded in bitterness. Perhaps lamenting a time that is long past. As for the comment on the tools, nobody is out there climbing hard winter routes with straight-shafted axes!

Comments are closed.