An Ice Surprise

Andy Harrison on the first ascent of An Ice Surprise (IV,4/5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. The route continues up the line of steep icefalls on the left for another four pitches to the to the top of the cliff. (Photo Dave Riley)

Dave Riley and Andy Harrison had an excellent day on Lurcher’s Crag on February 25. They climbed a continuous run of ice between Central and Diamond gullies up the highest part of the crag resulting in the 365m-long An Ice Surprise (IV,4/5).

“We had a fantastic day on Lurcher’s Crag making the most of the weather window and the aspect,” Dave told me. “We traversed the bottom of the crag looking for the best line and were enticed by very icy conditions in the central depression directly below the apex of the cliff. We climbed four pitches on ice, with some nice steep sections through overlaps, before joining easier terrain in the middle of face. We moved up this to below the summit buttress and took icy grooves and a gully (previously climbed by Have an Ice Day) to the left of St Bernard’s Ridge. This led to easier ground for a long pitch to the top. For sure some of this ground has been covered before, but maybe not as a continuous direct line?

The split grade is annoying but if the line of least resistance was taken through the lower icefalls, then IV, 4 would be fine, however, on the day we climbed a few body lengths of vertical ice. In addition, I’m pretty sure we joined the groove pitch of Have An Ice Day which Andy, Sandy and Steve graded V, 5. They climbed it in mid-December when I presume it was less banked out and leaner, whereas we found it more like IV, 4 in fuller conditions.”

As Dave says, parts of this route may have been climbed before, but it is not possible to say for sure. Existing description make no mention of approaching the upper cliffs from directly below via the icefalls, so this section is likely to be new. Unfortunately, detailed knowledge about Lurcher’s was lost with Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry’s tragic accident on Ben Hope in 2019. Whether this ascent follows completely new ground or not, it certainly provides an outstanding icy adventure directly up the centre of the cliff.

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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