During the first Coronavirus lockdown in spring 2020 when we were only allowed to venture away from our homes on foot or bike, Mark Robson discovered an unclimbed crag on Ben Wyvis. The 100m-high Diamond Buttress is situated on Glas Leathad Beag at the north-easterly end of the mountain overlooking Loch Glass. A keen mountain runner, Mark found the cliff when out for a run with his dog from Dingwall. The mica schist cliff is shaped like a diamond and is exceptionally steep, but the plentiful vegetation made it more suitable for winter than summer.
Last season, Mark roped in Neil Wilson, who also lives nearby to take a look. They cycled up Glen Glass a couple of times last January and climbed three routes – Winter Skills (V,6), Cycle of Doom (IV,5) and Six Finger Gully (II). They are all strong lines cleverly outflanking the steepest ground threading their way through the overhangs. Mark was keen to try another line that would meet the central challenge of the cliff and persuaded me to visit the cliff on December 10. Timing was crucial – the crag had to be fully frozen with a snowline high enough to allow the cycle approach.
We started early and when the cliff came into view just after dawn my heart skipped a beat. The crag is shaped like a perfect diamond and stood out proud from the corrie. The top appeared to overhang the base for most of its length – I don’t think I’d ever seen such a steep winter cliff in Scotland.
Mark had his eye on an offwidth crack right of centre so we’d come armed with a full armoury of big gear including a Camalot 6, and a home-made Hex 13 together with two single ropes to hold the inevitable falls. When we looked up to study the potential route all the icicles appeared to be hanging outwards. I’d seen this effect before – I knew it was not because gravity operates sideways on Wyvis but because the central part of the cliff was overhanging all the way.
Winter climbing up continuously overhanging terrain is well beyond my skill set, but I knew that if we found more of a diagonal line there might be a way. We spent 20 minutes or so looking around, and as luck would have it, there was a hidden slanting fault running up and right from the lowest part of the cliff. It was impossible to judge the angles, but we decided to give it a go.
I chose the first pitch, which fortunately proved easier than it looked. An ice bulge and good turf led through a constriction to an exposed arete and a superb hidden stance around the corner. Mark’s pitch was a different matter, and he spent two hours weaving an intricate line up and right to join the exit of the offwidth crack. I couldn’t see much from my stance, but I occasionally caught sight of a cramponed boot hanging in space, or the rack dangling free from behind Mark’s back. When I kicked snow off my ledge it fell free to the cliff base landing a couple of metres out.
Mark ran it out to the top of the cliff, and then it was my turn to follow. I was very grateful to be second on the rope, but I could not afford to fall as I would pendulum and become suspended in space. Mark’s protection consisted mainly of Bulldogs and I was grateful for the extra thick ropes when I had to untie one when it jammed behind an overhang.
We called the route Princess Cut. When we discussed the grade, I suggested the route did not give much change from Grade VII, but we ended up with a more conservative VI,6. Mark is not only a superb climber but also a modest man.