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    Scottish winter climbing news
    Steve Perry finishing up the ridge crest after the first ascent of Batman (VI,7) on the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain on Liathach. The main summit of Liathach (Spidean a’Choire Leith) is behind. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry finishing up the ridge crest after the first ascent of Batman (VI,7) on the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain on Liathach. The main summit of Liathach (Spidean a’Choire Leith) is behind. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Ice conditions have been great,” writes Andy Nisbet. “But the long mild spell in the North-West went on and on. Finally a colder day was forecast for February 13, but with rain and gales. A couple of days ago the forecast changed slightly and the low pressure was due to track further south, with the wind switching into the south-east. It took some faith and ignoring cautious mountain forecasts to realise that the north-west was actually going to have good weather. But would there be any ice left?

    Driving into Torridon with Steve Perry, you would have thought not. There were some incomplete streaks on the Pyramid [on the south side of Liathach] but otherwise just patches. What a change from snow down to the road and wading up just eight days ago. Still, we’d driven over so might as well go as high as possible and at least see if the turf was still frozen; it was a lovely day after all. It’s lucky we even took climbing gear. The first sign of hope was when we had to put crampons on at about 850m, but then we reached the ridge and looked across at the Northern Pinnacles face of Mullach nan Rathain, and wow!

    Every ledge was white with the tell-tale grey fringe of ice at its base. Every groove was filled with ice; it had obviously been the right altitude for thaw and freeze. While the rest of the corrie was bare apart from a few ice streaks, this face just looked as good as you can get. We descended into the corrie on neve and headed for the right face of a ridge called Holy Ghost. I climbed Holy Ghost with clients in 1996, but although the finish was great, I was aware that the start was avoiding the main difficulties. Now it was time to bite the bullet.

    We geared up in a big wind scoop at the base and I set off up the supposedly easy first pitch. I was soon surprised by a tricky move but there was enough momentum to keep going. It probably would have been sensible to belay on a terrace but I kept going through a big turn right and climbed a shallow chimney to a ledge above Trinity Gully Right-Hand, which looked in great nick apart from a substantial chockstone which was iced but looked about Tech 5. It must need a big build-up to be Grade III,3.

    Steve joined me below a wide crack with a smear of ice down its right wall. We didn’t have the sharpest gear (again) but I don’t mind thin ice (as long as it’s not too steep), so I kept the lead up excellent quality ice until the groove above turned very steep. With the advantage of having studied photos, I knew to move right and pull up an awkward wall to reach a very unlikely position on a ledge with overhangs above and below. The rock on this ledge looked awful, but with everything frozen hard, my three belay points felt adequate.

    It was Steve’s turn to pull over a bulge on to an inset ledge and gain a reassuring crack we could see from below. When I first arrived at the stance, the next step right looked wild. But after I’d been there for a while, I became convinced that it was all in balance. It was somewhere in between of course, but it took Steve a while to convince himself that it could work. A peg runner of middling quality did help a lot but the ice placements were all to the right and footholds all to the left (there being mid air for the feet to the right). A final commitment looked hopeful but an axe popped out of the thin ice and he tested the peg. It rotated in the crack but held (just I presume). Some more wellying of the peg and time for another go. This time it worked and he was onto better ice overlaying turf, an ideal combination. The rope speeded up the best ice he’d ever climbed (but he wasn’t on Ben Nevis in April 2002) and he reached the crest of the ridge.

    That left me a lovely pitch up the crest of the ridge, common to Holy Ghost, and the crest of the Northern Pinnacle ridge above its difficulties. We strolled up to Mullach nan Rathain for food and brilliant views. It was just one of those special days. Grading was hard, and with sharp tools VI,6 might have been right. But conditions were a bit special and less ice would have made it technically harder probably with better gear. So we settled for VI,7 and the name Batman, which I seem to remember is why the ridge was called Holy Smoke.”

    The line of Navigator (VI,6) on Stob a’Choire Mheadhoin. This very secluded cliff can only be seen from the West Highland Railway or from the summit ridge of Meall Garbh (another rarely visited winter venue). (Archive Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet, Steve Perry and Dan Bailey added an excellent new route to Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin in the Central Highlands on February 11. Andy takes up the story:

    “Is it cheating to climb with three axes? So Steve Perry asked in the middle of the crux section. The jury of Dan Bailey and myself on the ledge below decided it wasn’t. It could only be a question from the leashless era, as Steve had fallen some 10m when a large block pulled and he ended up with no axes. Fortunately one of them landed up beside us but the other was well up the pitch. Having lowered a loop of rope for the lower one, and then again to borrow mine, the third was retrieved and the pitch successfully climbed, sustained turfy grooves that could only be linked with a bit of guile.

    Actually we’d done well to be there at all, having rather missed the inversion weather and replacing it with whiteout. We were on Stob a’Choire Mheadhoin at a crag you can only see from the railway, hence its neglect until Mike Geddes soloed an unknown route there in an unknown year, and I heard about it posthumously. I had climbed there in 2000 and several times in 2013 but have never heard of anyone else visiting the cliff. The approach to the cliff is from above at a break in the cornice where the ridge to its summit changes direction. Fortunately I realised that we had changed direction and must have passed the break, which is about 50m long.

    Next challenge was to find the cliff, and then the route – the descent was diagonal across steep snow. Now it was completely white and we edged our way down, feeling for each step in case of losing balance; it would have been a terminal slide on hard snow. After a while, Dan thought he spotted some a dark shape ahead; was it the cliff? It turned out it was, but where on a big cliff. Again fortunately, the snow conditions were very similar to those in a photo I’d brought with me, so we soon picked out that we were at three rocks shown in my photo. And it wasn’t difficult to find the start of the route, an iced groove.

    After a suggestion to solo it was turned down by the others, I felt very happy with that decision as I led it, reaching the second pitch of my projected line. Unfortunately the small gap in the ice on my photo turned out to be a 6 foot roof but there was a good looking line to its left, albeit with a bulging start. Steve took over and despite a commentary of suggestions from the belayers as to how to climb it, managed to work out a sequence, which the seconders didn’t use. Higher up, it was much steeper than it looked (when isn’t it), but he cracked it despite the airtime.

    The third pitch turned out to be much easier and very icy (I’m good at planning these things) and left Steve with an innocent looking chimney-crack. It very much wasn’t easy but Steve led it with some precarious bridging and occasional watch me comments while I seconded it using a more old fashioned method. As on previous routes, our line felt pretty substantial and we gave it 150m VI,6, provisionally named Navigator. The return to the car even includes the Munro and the excellent walking conditions saved some torch battery life.”

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of Storm Trooper on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This was used to access the thin ice smear (above and right of Guy’s head) resulting in a new addition called (in keeping with the Star Wars theme) Han Solo (VIII,7). Storm Trooper has two starts – the one climbed by Guy and Uisdean was the start used on the first complete ascent of the route by Andy Turner and Steve Ashworth in January 2008. (Photo Uisdean Hawthorn)

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of Storm Trooper on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This was used to access the thin ice smear (above and right of Guy’s head) resulting in a new addition called (in keeping with the Star Wars theme) Han Solo (VIII,7). Storm Trooper has two starts – the one climbed by Guy and Uisdean was the route of the first complete ascent by Andy Turner and Steve Ashworth in January 2008. (Photo Uisdean Hawthorn)

    “Uisdean Hawthorn and I climbed a new route/variant on February 11 on the Ben,” Guy Robertson told me. “Very interesting conditions with a fair bit of black rock but lots of verglas and thin ice high up. We climbed an obvious ice smear that had formed directly above the first pitch of Storm Trooper. There’s a wee gully that feeds it from above so I think it’ll come in again reasonably often. I led the first pitch of Storm Trooper – mostly on thin ice, which was very cool – then Uisdean led the smear itself.

    Though the climbing was never technically particularly hard, the whole thing was pretty spicy with two pitches of VIII,7 or thereabouts. Uisdean’s lead of the smear was impressive; the ice was maybe only about three inches thick at best, and a lot thinner in places. All in all a pretty cool ‘cerebral’ experience and I’d have thought one of the harder bits of ice the Ben has to offer. Uisdean called the route Han Solo for self-explanatory reasons!”

    Postscript 17 February 2015: No sooner had this post been published than I received an enthusiastic email from Tim Neill saying that he and Nick Bullock had made the second ascent of Han Solo earlier that day (February 16).

    “I just caught the post on your blog about Guy and Uisdean’s line on the Ciste cliff,” Tim wrote. “Good to read the details… I’d spoken to Uisdean earlier in the week and he’d described the line and randomly over the weekend I’ve been doing a neat film job for Mountain Equipment and Nick Bullock and I managed to repeat the line and get it all on film.

    Anyway, the climbing was wild… Nick got Pitch 1 and I managed to make it up the smear pitch… fairly sensational. All of Guy’s comments stand… I hope the film will showcase the great ice on the Ben as well as possible!”

    Steve Perry setting off up the crux pitch of Blood Hound (VI,6) on Lurcher’s Crag on the first ascent. The route name fits in with the canine nomenclature on the crag and Steve’s technique of leading bare-handed on difficult pitches and leaving a bloody knuckled trail. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry setting off up the crux pitch of Blood Hound (VI,6) on Lurcher’s Crag on the first ascent. The route name fits in with the canine nomenclature on the crag and Steve’s technique of leading bare-handed on difficult pitches and leaving a bloody-knuckled trail. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “With the choice between warm and cloudy in the west against too little snow in the east, Steve Perry and I went for the east to save a long drive,” Andy Nisbet writes. “It turned out there was a temperature inversion in the west and the tops were clear but we had a good day anyway (February 9). Sandy Allan had to give a talk in the evening but was delighted to join us on a shorter day. I had seen a picture of a pure white Lurcher’s Crag, so white I had to look twice at the date, so we decided to go there.

    After several dry days, there was a good track towards Lurcher’s even if everyone seemed to take a different line at the end. We were heading to the summit buttress to climb a groove line that I’d chickened out of soloing a couple of weeks ago. The bright sun had stripped the front face of the buttress during yesterday but the groove fortunately faced away from the sun and had enough ice to justify winter. The grade was IV,4 as expected, and Steve led a second long pitch to the summit cairn. It was a bit of a dash (we called it Daschund) so there was loads of time to do something else, even if it was quite hot.

    When Sandy and I had been climbing with Brian Davison a couple of weeks previously, we had looked at a smooth left-facing corner formed in the left side of Summit Ridge. I had persuaded the others that it looked too hard and we had gone for a line to its left (now 101 Dalmatians). But it was a great line and Sandy wouldn’t forget. In fact he reminded me about it every time Lurcher’s was mentioned. Today was no exception and the presence of Steve seemed a further encouragement. I was still highly doubtful but we decided to go down for a look.

    The northerly gales and snow had nicely filled the top of Central Gully so the descent was easy. Plus the initial ramp, which had previously put me off the line, was a bit shorter with the build-up. I still wouldn’t have been bold enough but Steve was keen to give the corner a go. He quickly gained the corner and got a couple of good runners in; things were looking hopeful. The main corner would give about 15m of climbing, and there were occasional blobs of turf visible, but would it have a crack for gear and holds between the blobs? Steve made good progress until the runners were distinctly below his feet. There didn’t seem to be much of a crack and soon he announced that the next move was make or break; he made it. After a while placing a peg which he said was poor (it very much was) and a few scrapes with the feet, which speeded up our heartbeats (presumably his too), he continued to edge up the corner. Another peg was apparently better (it was a lot better) and progress speeded up. There was a final thin move to reach good turf, then he ran the rope out to near the crest of Summit Ridge. The corner was very smooth with only one foothold in the 15 metres apart from the turf, but yet the feet seemed to grip quite well, at least when seconding. So what looked exceptionally hard turned out to be VI,6, although pretty bold for the grade. Steve called the route Blood Hound; he likes climbing without gloves and the resultant knuckle would have made the job easy for a searching hound.

    We finished up short walls and corners left of the crest of Summit Buttress but only to be different, and soon reached the summit cairn for a late lunch sitting in the sun. It was a gorgeous day and so nice to be able to walk out without hat and gloves. And Sandy was in good time for his talk.”

    Teufel Grooves

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Teufel Grooves (IX,9) on Ben Nevis during the first winter ascent. This pitch is different from the summer line (which takes the first pitch of The Crack), and provides an independent start in line with the steep groove system above. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Teufel Grooves (IX,9) on Ben Nevis during the first winter ascent. This pitch is different from the summer line (which takes the first pitch of The Crack), and provides an independent start in line with the steep groove system of the summer line above. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis and Iain Small filled a notable gap on Ben Nevis on February 7 when they made the first winter ascent of Teufel Grooves (IX,9). This steep HVS was first climbed by Dave Bathgate and John Porteus in September 1969 and takes the hanging corner on the right flank of the steep lower section of Raeburn’s Buttress that is split by the prominent line of The Crack.

    “After a quick day with Murdoch on Friday doing The Shield Direct he got a text from Andy while we were enjoying the sun descending Ledge Route. A few texts later and Andy and I had agreed to meet up for Saturday on the Ben.

    The morning walk was less frosty, but after the CIC everything firmed up and we headed under Carn Dearg on a well-trodden path – not something you ever see in this usually quiet spot on mountain. We ignored the ice of The Shroud and headed up towards Raeburn’s Buttress and some mixed fun. With the grand ice conditions at that level I reckoned there would be a devious direct entry pitch to the super-steep looking Teufel Grooves that hugs the exposed right arete of the buttress.

    This winter variation start gave a fun pitch of balancy ice climbing, gradually working up and left on sloping shelves to reach the ledge, which the summer route gains from pitch 1 of The Crack. The next pitch looked steep and intimidating, but with some resolve Andy probed one start then another and committed to the wall. It looked all but blank to me but he hung in, found a bulldog then boldly headed towards the hanging corner and a hopeful crack. The dirty, mossy crack gave up some gear but required strenuous torquing with sloping footholds that were sapping his energy. By the time Andy reached the top of the corner the crack was swallowing the whole shaft of the axes while he laybacked up. Relief came with a fist crack and big hexes for a belay hanging on the edge!

    I climbed up looking at the angle of the ropes hanging free. Yeah, it was steep! The next two pitches gave excellent technical corners but nothing as steep as the second pitch and we merged with the original line of Raeburn’s Buttress on the crest.

    Overall, after a fair bit of thinking, we decided on IX,9 but low in the grade.”

    Michael Barnard nearing the top of the Superdirect Finish to Nordwand Direct (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. The Nordwand area on the North Face of Castle Ridge has been particularly icy in recent weeks and there have been numerous ascents of the classic Nordwand (IV,3) and Nordwand Direct (IV,5). (Photo John MacLeod)

    Michael Barnard nearing the top of the Superdirect Finish to Nordwand Direct (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. The Nordwand area on the North Face of Castle Ridge has been particularly icy in recent weeks and there have been numerous ascents of the classic Nordwand (IV,3) and Nordwand Direct (IV,5). (Photo Brendan Croft)

    Michael Barnard and John MacLeod climbed an exciting new pitch high on the North Face of Castle Ridge of Ben Nevis on February 7.

    “For the most part we took a line approximating Nordwand Direct,” Michael told me. “We started up the fine icy groove just right of the initial icefall, which gave a good long pitch of IV,4/5. Although it’s not mentioned in the guidebook, this clearly sees plenty of ascents when in condition (I saw the odd pick mark). Being a more independent line, I wonder if this would be a better way to describe the Direct?

    As we continued up, we noticed an impressive icy feature in the upper headwall, so we made a beeline for that. An icefall had formed down a hanging slab, while an icicle hung ominously above. Clearly the icicle wasn’t going to go, but a right-slanting ramp looked like it might allow passage through the upper wall, so the main uncertainty was the icefall below.

    I climbed up to it but with the only rock protection some way below and the ice too thin for screws, discretion won! So I took some steep mixed ground to avoid the main part of the icefall (though still without gear) to where I would have to get onto its top section. Here the ice had helpfully formed over wee bulges and created a short two-stepped ramp, but these things can be awkward with the feet-off kilter with the axe placements. Still, those placements seemed good so I moved onto the first step and became committed. By now the runout had become too much of a worry and I spent a long time equalising three ice screws. As it turned out, this gear was pretty good and the next move, once attempted, was fairly straightforward but that’s hindsight for you!

    I then went behind the icicle and the ramp granted safe passage up and right. A pull over on bomber turf took us to an easier icy finishing groove. We called our new 30m pitch the Superdirect Finish to Nordwand Direct and graded it VI,5.”

    Steve Perry on the first ascent of the Right-Hand Branch (VII,7) to Bottleneck Gully on the West Dace of Aonach Beag. The crux ice umbrella above his head was protected with an upside down ice screw. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry on the first ascent of the Right-Hand Branch (VII,7) to Bottleneck Gully on the West Face of Aonach Beag. The crux ice umbrella above Steve’s head was protected with an upside down ice screw. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “February 7 was day three of seeking out unclimbed ice by moving south and higher as the warm air encroached, “ Andy Nisbet writes. “The lower west face of Aonach Beag was chosen, and in particular a line that Sandy Allan and I had spotted when we had only blunt gear and no ice screws, and for which I went back later with Jonathan Preston but the bottom had thawed away. Ice at that altitude was in great shape on the Ben (like The Curtain and Gemini), so why not here? A distant photo on the SAIS Lochaber blog didn’t show much ice, but then ice does hide away in deep grooves.

    As Steve Perry and I approached over the Bealach Cumhann, the first noticeable feature was a continuous white streak in the right branch of Bottleneck Gully. I had a feeling that it must be steep, as Simon Richardson and Roger Everett wouldn’t otherwise have missed the chance, but the ice was definitely complete up to a big chockstone at the top. Walking conditions were surprisingly good compared to the deep soft snow of previous days, so we took the regular route up the steep approach slopes, even needing to put crampons on. Despite the temporary inconvenience, this was of course a huge plus for conditions and showed the temperature was lower than expected.

    We arrived at the crag under the gully, which was our back-up plan. This is the gully I had assumed was Torquing Nonsense, but after Simon had retrieved a topo following the first ascent out of his attic, it seemed to be unclimbed. I’d told Steve it would be a short ice pitch and then easy, so it was a bit surprising to see it packed with ice both in the gully and a long continuation through the upper rocks. It was impossible to resist and gave a fine 120m Grade III, called Axiom because it wasn’t talking nonsense (and used axes).

    It was now convenient to head down the descent and see if our planned icefall was there. I don’t know how I could have doubted, as there were huge amounts of ice. This icefall is on steeper ground left of Prominent Chimney. Sandy Allan and I had previously climbed Prominent Chimney, thinking it a new route, with our Grade III being very different to the IV,6 in the guide. But chatting to Roger Webb, I found that conditions were lean on the first ascent and that the Tech 6 section was Grade I when banked out.

    We soloed up to a big spike at the base of an ice-filled chimney some 15m left of Prominent Chimney. Steve set off up the chimney and then a tight corner with ice in the back and fortunately some footholds on the right. Now he could go right to the main icefall and I was hoping he would belay. But there was no stopping him and he powered up the icefall with several ice screw runners (he had brought a lot) to an easier finish. I called it Santa (V,5) as a late Christmas present. It also fitted with an ice line well to the left on the same buttress which Sandy and I had climbed (Elf, Grade III), and a mixed line on the right edge, earlier climbed with Jonathan (Dasher, Grade III,4).

    Time was getting on but the light lasts longer now, so we headed down to the right branch of Bottleneck Gully. I got there first and my heart sank at the sight of a big ice overhang near the top, complete with its own ice umbrella. I estimated the roof at about 6ft horizontally out, but Steve saw it at a more optimistic scale and reckoned you could bridge it (so a 4ft roof). He was willing to give it a go and I was willing to hold his ropes.

    I managed to find a belay out of the firing line (there would be a lot of ice coming down from the umbrella) and he set off. It was clearly very steep as progress was slow and a lot of ice screw runners were placed; Steve’s stamina was impressive. The light was getting a little gloomy as he made the roof. I thought he’d be able to rest in the cave below it but it was too steep. A nut between two icicles and an ice placement in the back allowed him to lean out and start dismantling the umbrella. After a few whacks and a lot of debris, it was time for a go. With considerable contortion, an ice screw was placed in the roof and gave enough confidence to lean out. The first swing of the axe brought down a large chunk of ice and a painful shoulder. After a few retreats (I’ve never trusted to an ice screw placed vertically upwards in an ice roof either), he finally committed with a comment that there would be no coming back. Fortunately there was a foothold on the right wall but very little on the left, but a semi-chimneying position allowed him to lock off and reach for higher placements and a piece of turf on the right. A wild move gained a flake but no rest as a huge chockstone above pushed him out. After a moment’s contemplation about going up, he swung back on the turf and made a long move for turf on the other side of the gully. The upside-down runner was quite distant now so there was extra power for a final pull on to easier ground.

    I didn’t notice the glorious red sky as I climbed as fast as possible, pulling hard on everything and trusting on the rope above. I didn’t even contemplate how overhanging the top section was and fortunately everything held. An easy last pitch was led at high speed to complete Steve’s first ever Grade VII,7 lead. I hope the buzz will last for a while.”

    Ken Applegate belaying below the line of Cartouche (IV,4) on Stob Coire nam Beith in Glen Coe. This new 40m pitch makes an excellent finish to classic Grade IV’s such as Central Gully and Deep-Cut Chimney on the north face of the mountain. (Photo Nick Stone)

    Ken Applegate belaying below the line of Cartouche (IV,4) on Stob Coire nam Beith in Glen Coe. This new 40m pitch makes an excellent finish to classic Grade IV’s such as Central Gully and Deep-Cut Chimney on the north face of the mountain. (Photo Nick Stone)

    Ken Applegate and Nick Stone had an unexpected find on Stob Coire nam Beith on February 5. They climbed an excellent and sustained 40m Grade IV ice pitch that starts towards the top of North-West Gully. The pitch takes a direct line up the obvious ice-filled groove and finishes on the upper slopes of the mountain, where the angle eases.

    “I was guiding Nick on the Cold Climbs route Deep-Cut Chimney,” Ken explained. “The route was in great condition, with the crucial slabs on the left after the chimney well iced. After a further mixed pitch, we made our way up Central Gully to the point where Central Gully, and No.4 Buttress converge. Just down, and to our right, starting in North-West Gully was a very inviting and continuous pitch of ice, which neither of us could resist. It was a very fitting finish to a fantastic day!”

    Will Sim on the third pitch of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. When the route was first climbed five years ago, Robin Thomas’s lead of this Tech 9 pitch was one of the finest on sight leads ever achieved at the time. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    Will Sim on the third pitch of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on the Eastern Ramparts on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. Robin Thomas’s ascent of this pitch in 2010 was one of the earliest on sight Tech 9 leads. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    On February 5, Andy Inglis and Will Sim made the second winter ascent of Pale Rider (VIII,9) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. Martin Moran and Robin Thomas first climbed this tough sounding route in February 2010.

    “With all the good weather and pictures of North-West routes in amazing condition we were both desperate to get out,” Andy told me. “Especially with Will off to Norway at the weekend for work (ice climbing in Norway, is that really ‘work’?)

    As it turned out, the day dawned with drizzle, sleet and low cloud and the crux of the day might have been leaving the car. Nearly three hours of slogging through wet snow up Beinn Eighe had us on top, with the freezing level hovering somewhere around the top. Hopes were not high! Dropping into the corrie and moist cloud had us wading about looking for something appropriate after initial hopes of a Far East wall route were dashed, so traversing round to the Eastern Ramparts was the obvious next option.

    As it turned out Will lost patience looking for the start of Boggle and headed straight up into the corner line of Pale Rider. Belaying Will on this first pitch may have been the grimmest period of this winter for me… drizzle rolling past, soaking clothing, and my desire for coffee and warm clothes going through the roof. Fortunately the climbing was superb, engrossing and technical, with three great well-protected pitches! The added unexpected bonus was the third pitch that Martin had written so engagingly of on his excellent blog turned out to be straightforward (in daylight, maybe that was cheating?). The wall was encased in thick rime the like of which neither of us had seen on this wall before, and there was even hero ice up the final chimney of Pale Diedre! Pale Rider is certainly a high quality addition to the wall and definitely three stars!”

    Neil Silver starting the second pitch during the first ascent of Cousinade (VII,8). This difficult mixed route was inspired by the summer line of Cousin’s Buttress Direct, but takes a different line in the steep lower section. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Neil Silver starting the second pitch of Cousinade (VII,8) on Ben Nevis. This difficult new mixed route was inspired by the summer line of Cousin’s Buttress Direct, but takes a different line in the steep lower section. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Malcolm Bass, Simon Yearsley and Neil Silver added a new route to Cousins’ Buttress on Ben Nevis on February 4. This had been a long-standing objective for Malcolm and Simon, having made two previous attempts on the buttress. The first was on the 2012 BMC International Winter Meet when Simon and Magnus Kestengren attempted to follow the summer line of the summer Severe route, Cousins Buttress Direct but struggled to find a way through the steep wall on the right-hand side of the buttress. In 2013, on the weekend of the Scottish Winter Climbing Meet organised by Richard Bentley, Malcolm and Simon returned and made a further attempt with Malcolm taking a nasty fall and hurting his ankle while probing the same area.

    “It was on the second attempt that Malcolm peered round the corner into the steep open corner on the left hand side of the buttress,” Neil explained. “This corner system is a very obvious feature from the approach path to the CIC, but given its aspect and steepness it’s not often in good winter condition. Having seen it at close quarters, Malcolm thought it looked climbable but hard and hence this became the target for attempt number three – all we needed were good conditions!

    The Ben was not first option on our list with the Applecross mountains in such great condition but we had work commitments so couldn’t make the longer drive north. However, having seen lots of pictures of the Carn Dearg area looking really white and icy, we were hopeful that the Cousins’ Buttress corner would be in condition. It was! We all agreed on the day that the this part of the Ben can feel like a different mountain more akin to a North-West cliff with great atmosphere provided by the ice of the Shroud and the steep North Wall of Carn Dearg framing Cousins’ Buttress.

    Simon led a difficult approach pitch that finished with an exposed traverse relying on some crucial undercuts to set us up on a belay underneath the main corner.

    I set off with very thin moves off the belay to gain some small icicles just below a flake and the tension of the hard moves was broken as the first swing into the top of the icicles caused a small waterfall. Keen not to be completely soaked on this cold day I was nearly off avoiding the outflow but managed to stay on and the ice lower down took a good screw and gave some safety. The ground above looked steep but good with some initial chockstones leading up and right via a jamming crack to the bottom of the main steep corner. The corner gave good gear but increasing steepness and after some procrastination I had to make a final push for the top and the promise of a good ledge. Exiting the steepness a final hard move to the left was required to gain the ledge, which was indeed good as promised!

    Simon had hurt his shoulder seconding and struggled up on the top rope with increasing difficulty and pain to the belay where we re-organised. Malcolm led the next pitch through a steep off width and steep wall to take us to the saddle on top of the lower buttress.

    The saddle brought the darkness and a decision of how to attack the top buttress. I led a short link pitch across the saddle and onto the side of the upper buttress where we took a belay below the upper icefall of Harrison’s. With Simon’s shoulder giving continued pain Malcolm headed on into the darkness up a gangway leading into a groove all with excellent easier climbing but sparse protection. Theses final two pitches were quickly dispatched and we arrived in the magnificent upper corrie. Joining Ledge Route we descended under the stars and finished with a fine glissade down Number Five!

    Overall, we thought the grade was VII,8 with the top section of the main corner particularly technical and tenuous. For the route name, my wife Estelle is from France and her family celebrate an annual gathering of various cousins – Cousinade. It seemed to fit perfectly!”