Scottishwinter.com

    Scottish winter climbing news
    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl.  This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis high up on the fourth pitch of Reach For The Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl. This sensational route on the right flank of Mainreachan Buttress was first climbed by Martin Moran and Simon Jenkins in March 1989. It was a futuristic route for its day and featured one of the first ever winter topos published in the SMC Journal. (Photo Iain Small)

    Iain Small and Andy Inglis set out to make an early repeat of Snoopy (VII,7) on Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress on January 17, but they found insufficient ice on the lower section of the route. Instead they made the probable second ascent of Reach for The Sky (VII,6). Although this route was first climbed in 1989, it not known to have had a second ascent

    “We managed to traverse from the belay below Snoopy’s brown groove and gain the thin traverse ledge of Reach For The Sky that leads to the steep headwall,” Iain told me.

    “We didn’t have the description for Reach For The Sky as we had set out for Snoopy, but the brown groove was not iced and looked horribly slopey and devoid of gear. I spotted the traverse ledge and just followed my nose up the steep mixed ground above. Andy then continued up the steep ground to gain an icy fault and easier ground. I’m not sure exactly how it ties in with the original line but we both felt it was Tech 7 – maybe it gets more iced up in better conditions. It was good steep climbing, pretty airy like Shoot the Breeze and it salvaged the day after backing off Snoopy. We’ll have to wait for more ice – it was amazing how little there was around Torridon given the soaking it had during the run up to Christmas!”

    Gothic Edge

    John Crook about to start the crux section of Gothic Edge (VII,7) – a new link up on Number Three Gully Buttress. The crux section up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks involved a long run out above a Pecker, so the grade should be treated with a healthy degree of caution. (Photo Peter Graham)

    John Crook about to start the crux section of Gothic Edge (VII,7) – a new link up on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. The crux section up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks involved a long run out above a Pecker, so the grade should be treated with a healthy degree of caution. (Photo Peter Graham)

    Some late news just in -  John Crook and Peter Graham climbed a significant new pitch on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis on December 31.

    “We started up the Direct Start to Gargoyle Wall, which without much ice provided a good VI,7 pitch,” Peter explained. “We then followed Gargoyle Wall to the corner below the Gargoyle Cracks. From here, we climbed what we believe to be a new pitch up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks and finished up the Rok Finish to Hobgoblin. This provided an excellent direct route up the buttress at around VII,7 that we named Gothic Edge.”

    There have been a number of link ups of existing routes climbed on the right wall of Number Three Gully Buttress in recent years, and one or two have even been reported as new routes, but they essentially climb previously travelled ground. Gothic Edge is significant in that the pitch up the arête left of the Gargoyle Wall Cracks is completely independent and a fine addition to this popular high altitude mixed cliff.

    Adrian Crofton about to ‘bamboozled’ on the first ascent of Bamboozle Buttress (V,6) in Corrie Bonhard. The route eventually went up and left. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Adrian Crofton about to ‘bamboozled’ on the first ascent of Bamboozle Buttress (V,6) in Corrie Bonhard. The route eventually went up and left. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On January 16, Adrian Crofton and I visited Corrie Bonhard in Glen Clova and climbed Bamboozle Buttress (V,6), a direct line up the left-hand of the twin buttresses high up in the corrie. The right-hand buttress was climbed last year by two good routes – Mystery Ramp (III,4) and Cryptic Wall (V,6) – and the left-hand buttress did not disappoint with sustained mixed climbing from the first move to the very top.

    Adrian was very much ‘bamboozled’ on the second pitch, because the line was not obvious, but after two false starts he found a hidden shelf that deftly led through the headwall to easier ground.

    The low-lying south-easterly aspect of the crag means that these are very much mid-winter routes that can only be climbed after a hard freeze, heavy snowfall and when the sun is low in the sky. Added to this, Corrie Bonhard (together with several other Glen Clova cliffs such as Winter Corrie, Coire Fee, Juangorge and Craig Maud) sometimes carries a bird restriction from February 1 to July 31.

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    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Shoot the Breeze (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe. The route was first climbed in winter by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in January 2013 and immediately hailed as apotential modern classic. (Photo Iain Small)

    Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Shoot the Breeze (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. This sustained and spectacular route was first climbed in winter by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in January 2013 and is destined to become a modern classic. (Photo Iain Small)

    On January 16, Andy Inglis , Murdoch Jamieson and Iain Small made the second ascent Shoot the Breeze (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall. This sensationally positioned route rose to prominence last year last year when it was featured in the book The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland.

    “We climbed as a three so we each got a good pitch,” Iain explained. “Andy had the first that was great climbing up a steep corner-crack, well protected but a stiff pull. I got the second pitch gaining the arête, which felt pretty intimidating as wasn’t really sure at what point to actually commit onto the arête. Murdo got the incredibly steep out there third pitch and was in his element, and there were none of his usual ‘ledge shuffling’ complaints! Andy then did a quick easier pitch to top out. The snow showers during the day had cleared and the new moon was shining so there were some great views and we could walk out without the head torches.”

    The route saw its third ascent in the hands of Uisdean Hawthorn and Tom Livingstone on January 19 who were both full of praise for the quality of the route.

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first pitch of Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch. This impressive icy mixed route takes a counter-diagonal line to Vertigo Wall and as first climbed by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in December 2012. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first pitch of Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch. This impressive icy mixed route takes a counter-diagonal line to Vertigo Wall and was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell in December 2012. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Tom Livingstone pulled off an important second ascent on January 16 when they repeated Vapouriser (VIII,8) on Creag an Dubh Loch in the Southern Cairngorms.

    “Tom didn’t arrive in Perth until 10:30pm,” Uisdean explained. “I had been thinking of going to the North-West but it was a bit late to be driving all that way. This was good, it gave me an excuse to tell Tom that the Dubh Loch was the only option, and I tried to say with confidence that Vapouriser would be in condition and we had other options if not. Guy [Robertson] and Adam [Russell] had been in, and made impressive, but unfortunately unsuccessful, attempt to repeat The Giant. If there was ice on that, and with all the rain on the East Coast, there would be a fair chance other things would be good.

    Despite sleeping through an alarm and not leaving Perth until 5.30, we made it to the crag by 10.30 am.  I was expecting a wade through deep snow however, it wasn’t to bad as the loch had frozen and the wind had consolidated some of the snow the day before.

    We arrived at base of Vapouriser and I was pleasantly surprised at how fat it looked, but we both did think it looked a little unconsolidated. On the first pitch I discovered it was very unconsolidated and with sections unattached to the rock, resulting in a serious two hour lead to climb 40m, with a lot of ice coming of and doing its best to hit Tom belaying below. Another cruddy ice pitch and a very spicy bit of ledge crawling on to another ice smear led us to the diving board belay with Tom leading up the slot above missing out on both the ‘wild exposure’ as it was know dark and the ‘good gear’ as it was icy. We stood on the top at 8pm with not a breath of wind and the outline of the loch far below and both felt very satisfied. It was Tom’s first route of the season and my third big route on Central Gully Wall. Only one more in the middle left to do!”

    Spooks

    Simon Yearsley on the second pitch of Spooks (VI,6) on Craig na Caillich on Meall nan Tarmachan. This cliff has a long history and was first climbed by Raeburn and Lawson in February 1898 by an indirect version of Great Gully that nowadays carries a IV,4 rating. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Simon Yearsley on the second pitch of Spooks (VI,6) on Craig na Caillich on Meall nan Tarmachan. This cliff has a long history and was first climbed by Raeburn and Lawson in February 1898 by an indirect version of Great Gully that nowadays carries a IV,4 rating. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On January 14, Simon Yearsley and I added a new route we called Spooks (VI,6) to Meall nan Tarmachan in the Southern Highlands. Simon takes up the story:

    “Simon and I have known each other, and known of each other, for many years. In fact we probably first met in Snell’s Field in Chamonix in 1983, when the ever-enthusiastic, and sadly late, Mark Miller was bemoaning the fact there were ‘Too many Simons in Chamonix!’ Despite that, we’ve never actually climbed together. Simon rang me to say he had a guidebook meeting near Stirling at 7.30pm in a couple of days time, and so did I fancy breaking the habit of the past 33 years and actually teaming up for the day. A fine idea.  With a bit of time pressure and a lot of snow high up, we opted to check out Creag na Caillich. This modest looking east-facing crag just west of the popular Munro Meall nan Tarmachan has a base around 670m so should have escaped the worst of the snowfall and was nicely close to the road.

    We had expected a bit of a ‘powder wade’ to reach the crag but were pleasantly surprised by good enough travel, with deeper snow only in the last bouldery section below the cliff. I often find crags like this hard to judge, as on first glance it looked pretty easy angled and very vegetated with few really compelling lines. Simon was more optimistic, as he’d stood underneath it in summer, and assured me it was a) steeper than it looked, and b) contained a good looking line to the right of the prominent corner of Momento Mori. He was, of course, absolutely correct.

    Simon took the honours on the first pitch with an innocuous wee groove proving much harder than it looked, then a long vertical section on blobs of turf leading to a fine exposed belay. At one point, Simon’s feet skittered off and there was a momentary yelp as he regained control. Following Simon, I was struck by how insecure and spooky the 55m-long pitch must have been to lead.

    The second pitch was somewhat easier, but very spectacular, as a short groove then an exhilarating swing right round an arête led to a turfy ramp system cutting above the steep section of the crag. The swing round the arête was great fun, the position on the ramp was excellent, and it felt like we were on a bigger and more majestic cliff. An easy pitch led to the top and we scuttled back to sacks before the light faded.

    It was great fun to finally climb together and won’t be the last time either! Oh, the guidebook meeting – Simon did get there, albeit a wee bit late, but with a hopefully good enough excuse!”

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an  Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    “It’s always great to see visiting climbers enjoying the Scottish winter, and early January saw just that,” Simon Yearsley writes. “I picked up US climbers Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer from Edinburgh Airport on January 2 and spent the evening at our house pointing at maps and guidebooks and generally building the psyche. What then happened over the next eight days was pretty cool: Josh and Mikey set off in one of our campervans, soon joined by Steve House and between them they dispatched eight routes in a really smooth style over six days climbing with two rest days. There were two things which for me made the trip really stand out: the weather and conditions definitely weren’t at their best (Josh did say he nearly cried on several occasions the weather was so gnarly!) but they still managed to get out; and also they were pretty self-sufficient for the whole trip, unlike many other top-flight visiting teams who’ve tended to have lots of support and folk to go out with them on the hill. Yes, they had lots of online support from various folk including me, Ian Parnell and others, but they were really operating on their own with only Steve having been in Scotland once before, many years ago on a BMC Winter Meet.

    I asked Josh to pen a quick resume of their trip, which makes interesting reading. The only thing I’d add for context is that whilst they climbed in the Northern Corries and on Ben Nevis, they were really psyched and determined to hit the more remote locations – how frustrating for them to have the weather they had, and I really hated texting Josh so tell him that no, Giant’s Wall would not be in nick with a freezing level of 850m!

    It’s good to see that Scotland’s winter climbing has such a big impact on top flight team. All we need now is another 30+ visiting climbers here for a week… roll on the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet next week!”

    Scottish Winter Trip Report by Josh Wharton

    Scotland has a well-deserved reputation as a stronghold of traditional mixed climbing, so Mikey Schaefer, Steve House, and I arrived excited to get a taste of the winter scene. Here’s a trip report of what we got up to:

     January 3: On our first day we walked into the Northern Corries in driving rain, low visibility, and the occasional knockdown gust. A fine introduction to Scottish misery… or is it fun? At the small lochs everything went white, and the cliffs, as best we could see them, were covered in thick slush. Judging ‘Nick’ to be in full effect, we climbed Fallout Corner (VI,7). It felt like well-protected M5, climbed in a snowy blender.

     January 4: Again, it was driving rain at the car, with horrendous winds and low visibility; a little like post-holing out to climb in a nasty Patagonian Storm. We headed for Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9). There was significant snow, and avalanches were rumbling about the corrie. As we racked up a sizable avalanche came down The Vent, inconveniently just as Mikey was changing layers. His pack and gear was shellacked with wet snow, and he received a very cold snow shower.  After a bit of fumbling around to get re-sorted and warmed up, we picked a different spot to belay. Daddy Longlegs proved quite fun. It was covered in slush, and it was difficult to look up in the deluge of snow, but at least the cams worked. Seemed like spicy M6+. We rapped the route to avoid any more avalanches.  I’d ordinarily consider seven to eight hours of walking, and 3.5 pitches in two days pretty pathetic, but in this case Mikey and I were pleased with our efforts.

     January 5: Rest Day. We collected Steve at the Edinburgh airport in the evening, and made a late night drive to Ben Nevis.

     January 6: We left the parking lot a bit after 7am, dropped some kit and had a brew at the CIC Hut, and headed to the Number Three Gully Buttress for Knucklebuster (VIII,9). Conditions were a little kinder, and colder, so it was decidedly less miserable. Although it was still properly winter, with blowing snow and low visibility. On this day, I realized that locals actually do pay attention to the forecast. Suddenly there were lots of people out climbing. Knucklebuster (I believe we climbed the ‘Direct’ version) was the best route of the trip; enjoyable thoughtful climbing, aesthetic features, some sticky ice in the corners, and comfortable belay spots! Again, not super hard technically, perhaps easy M7, but often spicy. We almost missed the descent down the Number Three Gully, but Steve’s phone saved the day.

     January 7: After a lovely night in the hut we headed for The Secret (VIII,9). It was nasty again, although not as wet, and no one was out. Things rimed up considerably overnight. We fixed a line so Mikey could take some photos, and I led the route in one long pitch. The rime, and verglass was very thick, and it was extremely difficult to see the hooks and feet, or get any quality protection. Cams were completely useless, and with only four hexes, and a limited knowledge of how to place them, it felt especially spicy. I climbed at a crawl to make sure I didn’t fuck up. Cool climb, but a bit hard to enjoy given the conditions. Next we soloed out across ledges to the base of the chimney pitch on Darth Vader (VII,7). Steve led to top in one big pitch. Good fun.

     January 8: The weather was gorgeous and clear, so of course we decided to take a rest day. We joked that there’s no point in climbing when Nick is in such a good mood! With the clear weather it was nice to finally see the mountain and a bit of the countryside. We weren’t sure where conditions would be good, so we opted to head back to the Northern Corries.

     January 9: We started into the Corries in clear, cold weather. How nice! I hoped to try the Hurting, but could see from a distance, that it was heavily rimed. So we made a spur of the moment decision to go to the Ventricle (VII,8). It proved tricky, and covered in lots of powder snow. Steve put in a nice, epic effort; climbing to the ledge in one big pitch. Despite the grade, this pitch seemed like one of the trickiest of the trip. I’d say proper M7R. I climbed the second pitch to the right of the slot via mostly ‘hero’ hooking in heavy rime. Good times, but a surprisingly long day.

     January 10: Hopeful to go big on our last day, we set the alarm for a painful 4am; packed for the Citadel (VII,8) on The Shelter Stone. Unfortunately we had used up our mojo, and went back to sleep when the alarm sounded. We salvaged the day by climbing the Genie (V,7) and Magic Crack (VII,7). Fun, good quality routes, and there was a nice big track into the corrie for a change. I headed over to The Hurting (XI,11) at the end of the day, just to have a look. It was completely covered by 4 to 8 inches of rime. Since it was our last day, I dropped a line and tried it on Mini-Traxion anyway. I managed to climb the first half of the route by using fins of rime as handholds, unique! After that, it was too steep and fragile to climb the rime with my hands, and the rock features were buried. Another trip I guess!

    Simon Richardson about to pull into the overhanging offwidth during the first ascent of The Day After Tomorrow (VII,8). This sustained six-pitch route is the most difficult of three mixed routes added to Coire Choille-rais on the south side of Creag Meagaidh earlier this month. (Photo Roger Everett)

    Simon Richardson about to pull into the overhanging offwidth during the first ascent of The Day After Tomorrow (VII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. This sustained six-pitch outing is the most difficult of three mixed routes added to Coire Choille-rais earlier this month. (Photo Roger Everett)

    Several years ago I had a pleasant morning climbing the East Ridge of Mheall Coire Choille-rais, an excellent Grade II on the south side of Creag Meagaidh. Looking north I could see the profile of a prominent buttress in the neighbouring Coire Choille-rais, but the cornices were too big that day to get a closer look. I was sufficiently intrigued to make a visit the following summer, and sure enough, situated at the north-west end of the corrie was an attractive triangular buttress about 150m high. As I approached closer however, my heart sank, as a direct ascent was defended by an impregnable-looking vertical wall. The mica schist looked particularly unhelpful and the only hope of an ascent appeared to be on the flanks, which avoided the main challenge of the feature.

    Although Coire Choille-rais does not appear in any guidebooks, folk have climbed there for many years. Mick Tighe made a cryptic reference to several ice routes in an article in Climber magazine about 20 years ago, and the SAIS avalanche boys have climbed ice routes on the back wall of the corrie and even promoted the venue on their Creag Meagaidh blog. Guides have used the corrie for ice climbing instruction, and there is an attractive looking two-tiered icefall that has been climbed at Grade III. Nothing has ever been formally recorded however, which is why it doesn’t feature in any guidebooks. To my knowledge, the triangular buttress, which is known locally as the Aisre-Chaim, had never been climbed in winter although Doug Evans (first ascent of Quartzvein Scoop, Beinn Udlaidh) ascended it via a Moderate scramble many years ago. His route was described as mainly vegetation rather than rock, so I presume Doug climbed the right-hand edge, which is spoilt in winter by ever-easy ground to the right.

    The buttress came to mind on January 6 when Henning Wackerhage and I were looking for somewhere to climb after the post New Year thaw. Snow was falling on unfrozen ground in both the East and West, but Creag Meagaidh was in a shadow avoiding the heaviest snow, and I reckoned that the gale force easterlies would have cooled the buttress and frozen the turf. We left the car in the rain, and there was no sign of any snow for much of the walk in, but as we rounded the corrie lip, the grass stated to glisten with frozen dew and our buttress appeared out of the mist frosted and white.

    I’d studied my summer photos long and hard before we left, and realised that there was a natural line of weakness that cut into the centre of the buttress from the left above the lower ‘impregnable’ wall, and lead to the buttress crest. The plan worked perfectly – the turf was frozen and the line wound its way through some spectacular scenery and was pleasantly sustained. Two long 50m pitches took us to the final 60m-long pitch up the summit crest. It was Henning’s Birthday so Birthday Route (IV,4) was an appropriate name. But most importantly the rock has been friendly and taken gear readily, so perhaps the ‘impregnable’ wall was possible after all?

    Three days later I was back with Roger Everett on January 9. The weather was perfect, so we had no excuses not to try a direct line up the ‘impregnable’ wall. Knowing a little more about the nature of the rock I’d spotted a cunning line that followed a narrow ramp across an impending wall into an overhanging offwidth. The moves up to the ramp were bold and unprotected, but the turf was perfect and I pushed on. Unfortunately the ramp was holdless and far steeper than it looked from below but a good hook lured me leftwards across the undercut wall below. I was now only a couple of metres away from the base of the offwidth, and two very strenuous moves later I was frantically trying to find a placement at its base.

    Unfortunately the turf was of the straggly rooted variety, and overhanging turf rarely makes for good placements anyway. After a couple of attempts my options had run out, but as I prepared myself for the inevitable fall I couldn’t bring myself to let go, so I decided to have one more go. A superman effort allowed me to reach a slightly higher turf placement in the crack and with nothing to lose I laybacked against a single crampon point hold on the impending wall and managed to gain a curious jutting out ledge of turf. One by one, my large gear slotted into the overhanging offwidth above and with some relief I pulled onto the belay ledge.

    The next pitch was steep, but had good cracks, but we nearly came to an impasse on the third pitch that barred access to a vertical corner that cut though the centre of the face. The climbing was easy enough to the base of the corner but it was defended by an undercut wall. There was no protection up to this point, which meant the price of failure was a 30m fall straight onto the belay. A flared slot in the roof to the right may have taken a cam but it was filled with ice. After innumerable sorties by both of us, I eventually plucked up the courage to make the strenuous Tech 7 moves in to the base of the corner. It was now dark, and the corner proved steeper and more sustained than it looked, but eventually it lead into the upper buttress. Two more long pitches eventually joined the upper section of the route I’d climbed with Henning three days before.

    We made it back to the car at 10pm. Prompted by the climate science disaster film, we called the route The Day After Tomorrow because as we climbed Lochan Choille-rais froze over and was transformed from rippling water, to snow-covered ice. As for the grade, the first pitch was VII,8 in its own right, but the seriousness third ‘death’ pitch would be negated by a good cam placement so we decided not to factor that into the rating.

    The line of corners cutting into the left flank of the buttress cried out to be climbed to complete the job. On January 12, Pat Ingram joined me for the first ascent of Cat Burglar, a fine V,5 with a memorable crawling section to link the two upper corners. By then a week of snowfall had covered the buttress in deep powder and the route was only really possible because I’d remembered the whereabouts of the crucial turf sections from the previous ascents.

    All in all, it had been a good week’s work.

    Kenton cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Kenton Cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Last week saw one of the standout events of the season when The Needle (VIII,8) on the Shelter Stone was ascended on consecutive days. Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool climbed the route on January 8, and the following day, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams also made an ascent.

    “It was my second route of the season after the short one I did with Dave Almond in the Corries,” Ian explained. “It was also Kenton’s first of the season and it told in terms of mental fitness once night descended at the Needle Crack, where I ended up aiding a quarter of the pitch. Having said that I gave it all I had and it was a fantastic day in so many ways, but perhaps most because I’d almost dismissed the idea of the harder routes on Shelter Stone being proper winter routes. For some reason, perhaps influenced by the chat in the 90s that it was almost impossible to get the cliff fully in condition, I’d avoided that part of the cliff.

    I’d been in contact all week with visiting Americans Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer and so had a good idea that close up conditions were a lot more wintery than some reports were suggesting. With mine and Kenton’s day fixed as Friday to fit round our family commitments we were super lucky to have Thursday completing the conditions set up with all day snow and 80mph winds followed by the blue sky calm on Friday. We left the car at 4.45am and after breaking trail started climbing at 8.15am, we diagonalled in from Clach Dhian Chimney area, climbed the Steeple layback rather than the Crack for Thin Fingers mainly as we got a bit lost as the snow was making the footless ramp pitch look very different from the photos I had. We reached the bottom of the Needle Crack at twilight at which point the verglas, my lack of wide gear, and mental exhaustion (lots of excuses!) meant I ended up aiding the middle section of the pitch eventually climbing the 3-4 inch crack in the left wall to a ledge from where I could free climb up the arête. We then lost even more time trying to thread the eye of the needle which after Kenton had dug out the through tunnel he failed to get his chest through – Kenton goes to the gym a lot but he’s a lot slimmer than I am. My guess is we topped out about 9.30pm and were back at the car just after midnight. Despite my failure on the Needle Crack it was one of my most enjoyable days out and the hardest day I’ve had for a while. Guy [Robertson] reckons the route should be IX,8 as the crux is at the top and I agree. In the fully hoared up conditions we had I think the route is one of the best in Scotland!”

    The strong Scottish based team of Andy Inglis and Neil Adams had a similarly fulfilling eperience. “Neil and I had been eyeing up the forecast for most of the week, swithering on whether the crag would be absolutely buried,” Andy told me. “A prospect I could quite believe judging by the monsoon last week which for a while made escaping Aberdeenshire on the Friday night rather ‘challenging’! Our guesswork paid off, the forecast played ball with a stunning morning on Saturday, and some decent blokes had even stuck in a trail down Pinnacle Gully for us. As it happened, they seemed to also have also put in tracks up the route too, which was a bit of surprise and we spent much of the day guessing who it might have been! As for the route…. long, very sustained and high quality with the crux right at the top, which Neil dispatched in style (I assume, as it was dark by then unsurprisingly!) Its incredibly fulfilling to eventually climb a route that you spend years dreaming about, training for, watching the forecast and conditions for… and it all coming together… in many ways it was the essence of Scottish winter climbing.”

    Regarding Ian’s comment on the grade, Andy commented: “Neil led the crux so he is probably better placed to say, but I think The Needle is so sustained and situated in a serious a place to climb, that suggesting it has the same overall grade as stuff like Sioux Wall, The Gathering and The Secret (just for instance) is Bonkers. For me it was like doing a long mid grade VIII,8 into the 1st pitch of Unicorn, so I can understand Guy’s logic for his suggested grade of IX,8. Without question it’s a four star route though!”

    Looking down to top part of Anvil Gully on Creagan Cha-no with the Right-Hand Finish (IV,5) cutting through the right wall. “The fun was in gaining a right foot standing position on the block directly above Gregor's head and then leaving that to gain the groove.” (Photo Martin Holland)

    Looking down to top part of Anvil Gully on Creagan Cha-no with the Right-Hand Finish (IV,5) cutting through the right wall. “The fun was in gaining a right foot standing position on the block directly above Gregor’s head and then leaving that to gain the groove.” (Photo Martin Holland)

    “I was out on Creagan Cha-no yesterday [January 10] with Tony Credland and Gregor Ewing,” Martin Holland writes. “After climbing Anvil Gully we were looking for something quick to do and abbed back down to a belay just below the top corner of Anvil Gully (thread on the right).

    We then did a short right-hand variation finish to Anvil Gully, which climbed the initially steep corner-groove finishing at the narrow neck directly behind the Anvil Block. It’s a short variation and I’d be surprised if it had not been done before, but gave some excellent moves on good hooks and might be worth a mention. It probably went at IV,5 on the day.”

    As Martin explains, it is unlikely that such an obvious finish to the very popular Anvil Gully has not been climbed before, so if you know of a previous ascent please get in touch or leave a comment.