Iain Young and John Higham had a superb day on January 5 making the first ascent of Geologists’ Ridge (IV,4) on the 450m-high south -west face of Conival in the Northern Highlands. Iain and John have a strong track record of seeking out big prominent lines such as Table Rib on Cul Mor and Hindmost Ridge on The Devil’s Point, and Geologists’ Ridge is a magnificent addition to their collection.
“My winter got off to a bad start,” Iain told me. “Two attempts to climb were foiled by poor choice of objective rather than there being no conditions, and other commitments kept me away from the hills in the other brief cold spells.
The New Year period didn’t look too encouraging with record warm temperatures, but then the winds turned northerly, we got snow and gales, followed by a brief ridge of high pressure for 5th January. Fortunately, John was also free, and is always keen, so we elected to go high and turfy, and also somewhere sheltered from the wind. The southwest flank of Conival had intrigued me for years – as you drive north over Knockan into Elphin on a winters morning you see that it is formed of a number of long broken spurs that catch the sun and looks positively alpine.
One of those spurs had already been climbed by John and Eve Mackenzie – Explorers’ Ridge (SMCJ 2013) – but I knew from summer visits that there was a steeper looking line to its right, so we made that our objective. The long walk into the Bealach Tralgill was eased by us taking only one 60m 7.3mm rope and a light rack, but it’s still a long way in fresh snow.
The line itself gave generally easy to moderate climbing in fine situations but with two much steeper pitches through the obvious barrier wall. We kept the rope on the whole way and ended up with eleven, mostly rope-stretching pitches with the two steep ones being much shorter. Gorgeous summit views in the late light and back to the car in the dark after another memorable day out in the far northwest.
As to the name, well the two famous geologists, Ben Peach and John Horne, used to stay at Inchnadamph (they have a memorial there) while they did their seminal mapping for the Geological Survey in the late 1800’s. Geologists’ Ridge crosses several major thrust faults associated with the Moine Thrust. John and I are both geologists by background, so it seems not only an appropriate name, but also a worthy companion to Explorers’ Ridge.”