The Last Crusade

Guy Robertson on the first ascent of Last Crusade Winter Variation (IX,9) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. The route continues up the grooves above to gain the hanging ice fang. Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) takes the prominent V-groove to the right and gains the front face of the ice. The icicle-draped overhang of The Ninety Five Theses (IX,9) can be seen high on the right. (Photo Greg Boswell)

Greg Boswell has just returned to Scotland after two months of high standard ice and mixed climbing in the Alps. He put his fitness to great effect on February 21 when he climbed a winter version of The Last Crusade on Church Door Buttress on Bidean Nam Bian with Guy Robertson. Without doubt, this new IX,9 is the route of the winter so far.

“The main attraction on Monday was the big hanging ice fang that was looming over the top of the crag,” Greg told me. “We opted for the two corner systems than ran up to the ice directly. We didn’t have a guidebook with us, but on the second pitch I was forced left slightly to eventually gain the big corner running parallel to the ice feature. I climbed this for a bit then blasted right to gain the ice. It was such a fun pitch to lead with some tricky climbing and hard-won gear, as the whole crag was glazed in a layer of bullet hard verglas. Looking at the guide when we got back, it turned out that we’d done most of The Last Crusade apart from the last corner where I moved right halfway up this to reach the beautiful ice cascade.”

The Last Crusade is rated E3 in summer and was first climbed by Rab Anderson and J.May in 1992. Iain Small was first to recognise the winter potential of the right-hand side of Church Door Buttress with first ascents of Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) and The Ninety Five Theses (IX,9). Iain had noticed that in summer there seems to be a constant spring-fed weep down that section of the cliff that forms a set of hanging icicles in winter. This ice grows quickly when the temperature rapidly fluctuates as we’ve seen recently.

Greg rated Last Crusade Winter Variation a ‘very stiff’ IX,9. “It wasn’t as hard as Lost Arrow, but the crux was nippy, and my gear fell out mid crux due to the verglassed cracks. But it might feel safer in different conditions.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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