California Dreamin’

James Milton on the second pitch of California (IV,4) on Sgurr nan Saighead in Kintail during the first winter ascent. Strong northerly winds, snowfall and plummeting temperatures rapidly brought climbs in the Western Highlands into condition last weekend. (Photo Robbie Hearns)

On November 27, James Milton and Robbie Hearns made the enterprising first winter ascent of California (IV,4) in Coire Druim na Staidhre on Sgurr nan Saighead in Kintail. This Severe is the only summer route in the corrie and was first climbed by J.H.Barber, C.A.Simpson May 1956 and had probably not seen a repeat.

The corries on the north-east flank of Sgurr nan Saighead, one of the Five Sisters of Kintail, are not often visited by climbers. Most of the winter climbing has been done by Edinburgh University climbers who maintain Glen Licht House, a bothy on the north side of the mountain. EUMC stalwarts such as Hamish Irvine and Ulric Jessop helped develop Coire Druim na Staidhre in the 1980s with the Edge of Reason (IV,4) and the entertaining Saighead Slot (II).

“With conditions looking likely cold all over Scotland, Robbie and I thought joining the EUMC bothy meet to Kintail was the best bet,” James told me. “It would provide a guaranteed warm night’s sleep and a cooked dinner. Three Novembers ago some friends had tried climbing California, a summer Severe above the bothy, and found it appalling. They recommended a change of grade to XS due to the wet turfy rock. So, this sounded like a good bet.

Once at the base of the route we could see that it was indeed a terrible looking summer route but coated in ice we were feeling positive. The first pitch was simple but bold, up blobs of turf and bad ice. The second pitch looked better, a 25m corner with one face having just enough ice for good feet. The left wall provided some hooks but no meaningful gear until above the crux moves at 15m. Above the climbing eased, giving pleasant Grade II turf climbing for 90m to reach the top.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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