No Country For Old Men

Jonathan Preston making the first ascent of the 300m-long Annex Gully (III,4) on Beinn Damh in Torridon. This is one of seven new routes climbed on the mountain so far this winter. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

“What do you climb if you’re old, sick and injured but still have to do new routes?” Andy Nisbet writes. “Slime Wall maybe? No, the routes are a bit short. Beinn Damh yes! Low grades an hour and a half from the road, 300m-long routes, and still back home for tea. Sounds all right, although you do have to stay sane in deep heather.

That’s seven visits now to the less steep lines right of the existing climbing, the area containing the 2013 route Fawn Gully. The first visit was in late November when Sandy Allan and I waded up from the road (snow to sea-level) and climbed the nearest line we could find. There was a lot of ice but none of it complete and plenty of water around. So we climbed an easy rib and were pleasantly surprised to find the turf relatively frozen. Lots of snow, so hard work (thanks Sandy for trail breaking) and after all the effort getting in, we named it after the Goddess of the Return Journey. Fortunately she looked after us and it became Adiona, Grade II.

A couple of weeks later and after a big thaw, Jonathan Preston and I headed back in. Epic amounts of snow everywhere, but Beinn Damh often seems to escape the worst. The aim was the parallel gully left of Fawn Gully, which looked nice and easy and was going well until Jonathan spotted a hidden right branch full of ice and insisted on going up it. It would have been rude to decline, and he was leading, and it turned out that the main branch petered out anyway, so a good decision. A steep start lead to a memorable but very short slot beside a chockstone. Plenty of ice on the outside but none inside, so your axes were out behind your head while you desperately tried to hook your legs on anything inside to take the weight off. And then it turned easy but still a nice gully leading on to upper slopes. This became Annex Gully (Grade III,4). You’ll see from the grade that Jonathan didn’t find it too hard.

The obvious line on this bit of cliff is a long shallow gully further left but there didn’t seem much point in climbing it without consolidated snow. So when on December 14, Jonathan and I reached it and it was full of mush, we crossed it and climbed the buttress to its left. This is actually the buttress right of Stalker’s Gully (which is in the current guide and looks a fine route). The first pitch was tricky but then it got progressively easier. So it became Abeona (Grade III,4), the Goddess of the Approach Journey, because she’d melted the snow on the approach to make it easier for us.

Two days later, Sandy joined us and we climbed the edge to its right of our long gully. It was a good line but we did wander around in deep snow to save putting the rope on (Grade II). The gully was still waiting (and the reason we were secretive) but it just didn’t thaw until early January, Jonathan and I reckoned it should be OK on the 7th. It was a bit worrying on the approach as the buttresses were fairly black but to our relief, the gully was still full of snow, and of reasonable quality, albeit a bit crusty. We entered the gully at the cliff base and climbed easy snow to a fork. Here the gully splits into two separate lines, but which to take? The right branch seemed the more prominent but was blocked by a step, which would have to be bypassed via the left. So having started up the left, why not just keep going up? Which we did. We expected to have to join the buttress after the gully petered out but a hidden right gully line appeared and provided a good line but with some precarious unprotected climbing fortunately not too difficult (Grade III). The name was just the left branch of the main gully below.

So the main gully was left till last when Sandy joined us on January 10. There had been a particularly hard frost so the walk-in was easy and it seemed we timed it right. There had been another thaw but the gully was hanging in and the snow was good. We bypassed the step by traversing in above it, then the main gully was mostly Grade I (another step had to be bypassed), leading up to a steep narrowing. It looked iced but we kind of knew the ice would fall off when you hit it. Maybe Sandy didn’t when he volunteered to lead it, but he probably did. And maybe he didn’t remember how badly protected Beinn Damh can be, but it wasn’t. So he chopped through most of the ice and bridged up nicely on the frozen turf, finishing by a strenuous pull on good ice over the top. Nice to second, and it wasn’t easy (Grade IV,4).

I’d already named the gully Bambi, on the deer theme after a more dramatic but similar gully at the other end of the crag (Stag Gully), but as an option for softies. Actually the hard step at the top wasn’t expected but perhaps it will bank up for softies. So some nice routes for over-sixties, but not enough slime for the young lads.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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