Mistral Early Repeat

Dave Almond making an early repeat of Mistral on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall. Originally graded VII,7, it is now thought to be pushing Grade VIII and a notable achievement for 1991. (Photo Dave Keogh)

On January 9, Dave Almond and Dave Keogh made an early repeat of Mistral on the West Central Wall on Beinn Eighe. First climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison it has a fearsome reputation and is certainly more testing than the VII,7 grade given by the first ascensionists. Dave Almond takes up the story:

“With all the festivities over and the weather cooling I arranged to meet Dave Keogh for some fun on Beinn Eighe. Mistral was chosen as Dave has only recently started to test his abilities on Grade VIIIs. Mistral is graded VII,7 with the caveat that recent previous teams suggest it is more like Grade VIII.

My master plan was to split my journey up from Liverpool by stopping overnight at Roybridge to ease the mileage. Thursday evening after dining at Roybridge I set off as a snowstorm was coming in, arriving at Beinn Eighe at 10pm. Relaxing after the drive I realised I’d left my boots, crampons, hard shells and axes in the accommodation in Roybridge. So I threw the master plan out of the window and spent the next 6 hours driving to Roybridge and back through a hideous snow storm.

One hour’s sleep later we walked in and managed to miss the turn to cross the river and squandered an hour. We then had the worst conditions under foot I’ve ever had with no base and knee-deep snow all the way up the south side. We eventually found and dug the abseil out and dropped down to the base of the cliff with guidebook in hand. “Climb the obvious deep V -groove”. So we did that and I realised we were on Bruised Violet VIII,8 which Dave wasn’t too thrilled about. We traversed the ledge and found Mistral but it was now 1pm so we abseiled off down West Central Gully and had the joy of a chest deep wade up Fuselage Gully. We topped out and arrived back at the car absolutely destroyed.

Two days later we were back after a leisurely drive without the snowstorm. After a good six hours sleep, we had an easy walk in, kicking steps into good névé. We abseiled in and were straight on the route for a 10am start. The first pitch was almost Euro style ice climbing followed by a pitch up an awkward chimney with a potential nasty fall. The crux pitch starts with a bulging wall followed by a substantial overhang onto another bulging wall followed by some tenuous steep climbing – a 30m-long series of sustained cruxes on marginal hooks.

The finale is a traditional deep, Grade VI Scottish chimney which we climbed in the dark emerging to the surreal cloudless, windless, moon and starlit vista of the snow-capped mountains of Beinn Eighe.

Beinn Eighe is my favourite cliff and despite the epic fail on our previous outing, it only seemed to amplify the joy of our successful ascent. Scottish winter climbing at its best even if hard won. And as a footnote, I think Andy Nisbet and Brian Davidson slightly under graded their efforts in 1991!”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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