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    Jenny Hill climbing the chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this esily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    Jenny Hill climbing the spectacular chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this easily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    When I enquired about Bonhard Buttress in Glen Clova last month, Alex (Tam) Thomson replied to me with details about the first ascent. I was delighted to hear from Tam, as he is something of a Glen Clova pioneer and made the first ascent of Farchal Gully in February 1980 with Ian Shepherd. For nearly 30 years this was the only (recorded) route in Corrie Farchal, but the crux runs over blank slabs and is rarely iced. I’d been watching the route myself for the past ten seasons or so and finally climbed it in March 2013. Corrie Farchal has been unusually snowy this year, and Farchal Gully received another ascent in December. I doubt it has seen many other visits despite being such a prominent line.

    Tam visited Corrie Farchal on January 4 with Jenny Hill made the first ascent the steep buttress high on the right side of the cliff. Age is Only a Number (III,4) takes a ramp and chimney and finishes with a exposed traverse and a steep corner. Tam first spotted the line March 2012. “I’d just climbed Central Gully in Winter Corrie and thought I would pop over and have a look at Farchal Gully and the possibilities for new lines,” Tam told me. “Farchal was a bit thin for soloing so I followed the ramp line up right, and that’s when I spotted the corner and chimney. I skirted further right and followed the snow line up, then back left onto the flat area to look down on the line. I could see the chimney exit and the line coming up to where I stood. The wall above with its leftward lines, looked like the best way to finish the route. So a mental note was made to come back and do it. Hearing that there was activity in the corrie was nagging at me to get back and do the route, but it still took nearly three years to get there!”

    Elsewhere in the corrie, Sophie Grace Chappell, Ben Richardson and myself added Over the Hill (IV,4) on December 28. This route takes the natural line of weakness between Brains Before Brawn and Elder Crack Buttress, and is notable for an undercut slot that was considerably eased with a good coating of ice and a convenient snow cone at its base. Rarely is nature so accommodating!

    Finally, on January 3, Martin Holland Ian McIntosh added another Direct Start to Silver Threads Among The Gold. “It’s short and the difficulties are in the first few moves, but it’s much more in keeping with the climbing above,” Martin explained. “We had the usual grade debate and settled on IV,6.” Wilf and Mac then continued up Pearls Before Swine before finishing up the headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold, which they had missed the previous time when they made the fourth ascent.

    Roger Webb finishing the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the steep wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct of Creag Coire na Ciase. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb nearing the top of the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct on Creag Coire na Ciste. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Choosing where to climb this weekend was a tough call after the devastating New Year thaw. With temperatures only dropping on Friday, it was difficult to figure out how much it had snowed, and where, and whether the turf had re-frozen. In the end, Roger Webb and I opted for the failsafe option and visited Ben Nevis on Saturday January 3. We were hoping that the thaw had left sufficient snow on ledges and flat holds to bring in an icy mixed possibility in the Tinkerbell area of Creag Coire na Ciste.

    We were second into the corrie following behind the welcome footsteps of James Richardson, Andy Munro and Helen Rennard who were heading for The Comb. As the daylight broke it was clear that high up, the mountain was icy and frozen hard, and tell-tale streaks and blobs of white on our objective looked encouraging. An pleasant icy gully leading through the lower tier warmed us up for the first pitch that climbed a mixed wall before joining the upper section of the intial icy groove of Tinkerbell.

    Our line then went left onto the impressive wall to the right of Central Rib. This wall overhangs for much of its height but is cut by a tapering ramp that leads into its centre. Unfortunately the ramp disappears and the way is blocked by an undercut monolithic block. The plan was climb the ramp, hand traverse the block and then climb the vertical groove above that leads into a parallel ice line left of Tinkerbell.

    The ramp was reassuringly icy, but it was clear that hand traversing the monolithic block was going to be a non-starter (for me at least). After a lot of hesitation I hooked a high flat hold on the wall above, stepped up on a small rounded nick and precariously stood on top of the block. The wall above was overhanging and pushing me out and the only way to get back into balance was to kneel on the block. I urgently needed a placement to lower myself down but there was nothing. I contemplated falling and catching the block as I went past, but eventually I found the tiniest of hooks and lowered myself down, first one knee and then two.

    I could now see round the block and into the groove but the view was not good. A steep overhanging wall barred entry to the groove and there was no protection in sight. Eventually I dropped down to the left, changed feet on the tiniest of footholds, hooked a poor edge and bridged up sloping icy dimples to gain the foot of the groove. I was now a long way above my last gear, and my tools were starting to rip. There was nothing for it but make, one, two, three, four, five moves on the most tenuous of placements. One slip and I would have been off. Eventually my right tool sank into a centimetre-deep crack and vibrated. My heart sang. One final pull took me out of the groove onto easier ground.

    By the time Roger came up it was dark, but he made short work of the final icy groove and led all the way to the top. The plateau was bathed in beautiful moonlight. It felt late but was only about 6pm, and made all the more sociable by bumping into James, Andy and Helen after their fine ascent of Tower Face of the Comb.

    Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Imperturbable (IV,5) on the South-West Face of Cona Mheall in the North-West Highlands. Cona Mheall is the mild-mannered cliff facing the steep and demanding Upper Crag of Beinn Dearg on the west side of Coire Ghranda. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Imperturbable (IV,6) on the South-West Face of Cona Mheall in the North-West Highlands. This the mild-mannered cliff faces the steep and demanding Upper Crag of Beinn Dearg on the west side of Coire Ghranda. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Roger Webb, Neil Wilson and Pete Macpherson visited Cona Mheall on December 28. “It’s a good looking crag, but none of us had been there before,” Roger explained. “It was cold and overcast, so despite being south facing we thought it would probably be in condition. Neil broke trail, Pete led the hard bits and I supervised. The crag lived up to expectations, but the weather did not, being more grisly than forecast.

    We did a rather good 100m-long IV,6 that we called Imperturbable after Neil’s total lack of reaction to being avalanched on the way in. Pete and I were very perturbed watching him go but Neil simply continued the ongoing conversation some 50m or so lower down the hill. This crag is a very good place to go to see the wilds of Coire Ghranda without the grim foreboding (route name for you Guy) of the Beinn Dearg side. The existing routes (all three of them) look excellent. In particular Twisted Rib III,4 (Robertson brothers and Jason Currie 1998) should be on the list of anyone who is looking for a great but not too desperate day in a spectacular and lonely spot.”

    The line of Tried and Tested (VII,7) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. This sustained three-pitch route was described at being “at the sporty end of its grade.” (Photo Andy Nelson)

    The line of Tried and Tested (VII,7) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. This sustained three-pitch route was described at being “at the sporty end of its grade.” (Photo Andy Nelson)

    Andy Nelson, Kenny Grant and Keith Ball added an excellent mixed route to Central Buttress on Stob Coire nan Lochan on December 29. “We climbed the chimney-corner formed by the spur of Central Buttress and the wall of Satyr at VII,7,” Andy told me.

    “Steep turf led to cracks and thence a squeeze chimney. The chimney was brilliant thrutchy fare after the strenuous, technical climbing up the initial corner. The chimney will certainly present an impasse to the larger gentleman (or lady for that matter)! The second pitch worked left to gain the steep hanging groove by a tricky move across a wall. The groove was excellent and airy, with some burly pulling! The third pitch climbed a short steep wall to trend right to join Central Buttress, Ordinary Route. We think it deserves a couple of stars for the excellent and varied climbing.”

    Andy can lay claim to being something of a guru on this part of Stob Coire as he made the first winter ascent of Satyr (IX,9) with Donald King in December 2010. Four years on, this still rates as one of the most difficult winter routes in Glen Coe.

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson making the second ascent of Boggle (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. (Photo Mairi Ri Hawthorn)

    Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson making the second ascent of Boggle (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. (Photo Mairi Ri Hawthorn)

    When I saw Mairi Ri’s beautiful photo of Uisdean Hawthorn and Murdoch Jamieson repeating Boggle (VIII,8) on December 26 I wanted to put it on scottishwinter.com as soon as possible. But Uisdean has been so busy on the hill I only caught up with him today. Boggle only saw its first winter ascent in the hands of Martin Moran and Robin Thomas less than two weeks before, so this is an unusually quick repeat of a major route.

    “Boggle is a really good route, particularly the top two pitches,” Uisdean told me. “It’s steep and sustained, but positive climbing and good gear. I can see it becoming really popular. We even managed to get back to the car just before darkness. Thanks to Murdo dispatching the long hard middle pitch in under an hour!”

    Uisdean drove home to Glenelg that night, and next day he linked up with Callum Johnson and climbed Point Five Gully on the Ben. Uisdean’s father Doug was also on Ben Nevis that day, and back at the CIC Hut he showed the pair some misty photos of the Little Brenva Face that showed that the icefall of Super G (VI,6) was possibly formed. This ephemeral route has probably not had a second ascent since it was first climbed by Hannah Burrows-Smith and Dave McGimpsey in March 2002. “So on Sunday morning (December 28) we took the chance of soloing up to the bottom to see if it was in,” Uisdean explained. “When we got there we thought it looked thin but just climbable so we climbed it in two fantastic 60 metre ice pitches leaving us grinning from ear to ear at the top of North-East Buttress. We climbed Zero Gully this morning as Callum had to catch the ferry to Arran, to finish a fantastic four days climbing!”

    Jonathan Preston making the first ascent of Gonzo (IV,4) on the East Face of Aonach Mor. The route lies on the Ribbed Walls in the area of grooves between Pernille and Aquafresh. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston making the first ascent of Gonzo (IV,4) in Coire an Lochain on the East Face of Aonach Mor. The route lies on the Ribbed Walls in the area of grooves between Pernille and Aquafresh. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Coire an Lochain of Aonach Mor usually ranks with the Northern Corries as the place with most popularity and publicity,” Andy Nisbet writes. “But in recent weeks it has been ominously quiet; the assumption that it would have been swamped with powder after lots of westerlies was probably right. But then there was a big thaw, rain and floods, and a freeze again, so where else to go? A nice picture of an icy Ben on the SAIS blog confirmed my thoughts.

    The big snag about December is that the Gondola often doesn’t run, and on December 23 it was scheduled for electrical maintenance, so we were psyched up for walking from the bottom. It was a big surprise when we arrived at 8.15am and it was running. Too late, we were told, it’s about to close and won’t open until 10am, or maybe later. It didn’t help that it was raining on and off, but Jonathan (Preston) had seen a forecast that said it would stop by 10, so we set off through the forest. Just before its top, at about 9.30, the rain came on heavier so we hid under a tree until it stopped, and sure enough the hill came out of the mist at 10am.

    Then we sheltered behind the Gondola station to eat, and there was still every reason to think conditions would be good. After a while we set off up the piste and the snow gradually firmed up. First we saw footprints (that must be Simon ahead of us!) then ski tracks, which were puzzling until Jonathan saw pole marks and realised someone, had skinned up. At the top of the lift, we met Davie the liftie and were invited into the hut to warm up and chat; apparently the tow would be opening. After a while we forced ourselves to leave; there was still no reason why conditions wouldn’t be good.

    Time was getting on but there really wasn’t a rush, as we geared up behind a hut at the top. The earlier rain had put down some fresh snow so were we concerned about windslab even though the plateau was bare ice. And of course cornices, as the intended line went up to some of the biggest on the cliff. Easy Gully was slightly worrying until we downclimbed into soft snow with not a hint of anything sliding under our feet. The East Face was so different, deep snow everywhere, like the depths of winter. We waded across to our line, in the snowy area about 100m left (looking down) of Easy Gully. Looking up, there was thick ice in every groove, probably the best conditions I’ve ever seen on that section of face, but still a cornice, which did look rather big.

    Despite the wading, and the worry about falling into a bergshrund, as soon as we hit the steeper ground on the cliff, every placement was bomber. I had taken my ice gear in optimistic anticipation, even a couple of ice screws, but I maybe should have been more openly enthusiastic, as Jonathan was expecting mixed and had the bluntest crampons known to mankind. At least the grade was a comfortable one for us and a couple of pitches of icy grooves led to the cornice. Once we got the scale right, it didn’t look too big, but the 20m of near vertical snow I had climbed on the nearby route The Muppet Show (named modestly by my clients on the day, who were actually good climbers), would stay as a nightmare memory for many years. So I tried to reach it direct and backed off, then headed towards a break well to the right where Hidden Pinnacle Gully finishes, before quickly realising that the cornice wasn’t that big and the snow here was better. After a couple of failed attempts, I got a good ice screw under the cornice and with a long reach, could just get my axe in the lip. It was as expected, as solid as the snow on the plateau, so a belly flop and it was all over.

    An hour later with some mechanical help and we were at the car, still in daylight. We hadn’t seen any other climbers, or walkers, and despite Davie’s efforts getting the tow open, not a single skier either. It was great. The route got called Gonzo, although the grumpy old men were pretty happy, and maybe it just scraped a IV,4 grade.”

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among The Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This four-pitch mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just east of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This 150m-long mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just south of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Last week’s thaw never made it as far as the North-East of Scotland. I know this only too well as I fell off my bike twice whilst cycling to work on icy roads. As a result, Glen Clova was a good choice on Saturday December 20, and the cliffs were surprisingly wintry and white with fresh snow.

    The most significant event was the first Wackerhage-free ascent of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) in Coire Farchal by Martin Holland, Ian McIntosh and Sharon Wright. Henning Wackerhage has climbed this route twice since making the first ascent in March 2013, and has established it as a good early season option. “There are plenty of chimneys, technical walls, a cave and some variation,” Henning recounted on his blog after this season’s ascent. “It is arguably the best buttress climb in the Angus Glens.” The route certainly has one of the most evocative names in the area, courtesy of fellow first ascensionist Tim Chappell.

    Martin, Ian and Sharon added an alternative start up the short corner directly below the cliff, but were unable to climb the headwall due to an unusually deep layer of crusty snow, so they sensibly traversed right and finished up the top section of Pearls Before Swine.

    The same day, I climbed a short Grade III buttress in Coire Bonhard with my son Ben. Recording of routes in this corrie has been a little haphazard over the years, but even so, I was a little surprised to find a skilfully placed knotted sling and karabiner at the top of our first pitch that looked as though it had been used for retreat. It was possibly a relic from the first ascent of Bonhard Buttress (IV,4) by S.Cameron and A.Thomson in 1992, but their description in SMCJ 2008 is rather vague. Andy Nisbet helpfully sent me the photo that accompanied the description, but I’ve had difficulty in relating it to the crag itself.

    So if anyone knows the origin of the knotted sling, or the location of Bonhard Buttress, then please get in touch.

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    With the late start to the season, high standard ascents have been quite rare so far this winter, so I was delighted to hear that Dave Almond and Graham Dawson made an ascent of The Secret (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis last week. “It’s been a long wait for the season to start,” Dave explained. “So I used the time to its maximum to pack in some extra dry tooling sessions in Wales.”

    “With a reasonably cold forecast a contingent of Scousers from Liverpool headed up with high hopes,” Dave continued. “Saturday I ended up trying to get up a route using every variation but the right one. Defeated I retreated to the valley with all the usual mind games going on in my head. Sunday the weather was disgustingly warm, windy and wet which left me ever more time to ponder. On Monday December 15, despite a nasty forecast, Simon Frost and I had the joy of breaking a new trail in the fresh deep powder up to Stob Coire nan Lochan and were rewarded with a windless, sunny day and a lovely ascent of Inclination (VII,8). I felt soothed.

    Tuesday was another warm, wet and windy day and I took the chance to rest. On Wednesday December 17 I met up with Graham Dawson who had accepted my invite to have a look at The Secret despite it being a few grades harder than his norm. Another trail breaking session ensued giving plenty of time for self-doubt. I had previously climbed the first pitch two years ago but escaped up the Cornucopia finish due to lack of daylight. The Secret looked a fair bit whiter than the last time. Could I protect it?

    There was no time to delay as the walk in had eaten up time, I cracked on and must say that first pitch is really excellent climbing. Graham followed up incredibly fast giving me a little leeway for the second pitch. From the belay, the top pitch looked like an iced up crack line that I doubted would take cams. As I made progress I realised I was correct and it was difficult to get nuts to settle in the flaring verglas. Lots of deep breathing and I made it past the first difficult section to some small ledges that I thought I could get a rest on. Maybe I let my concentration go a second, as I felt quite solid when my right axe ripped and off I went all the way to stop beneath Graham.

    The light was starting to dim and I asked Graham if he was ok for me to have a last go. ‘Yes’ was the answer and off I went with a bit more haste and a lot more speed. The second pitch is good sustained climbing and I topped out on a large block just short of the cornice. Graham followed me up in increasingly poor light and heavy spindrift and continued up over the cornice in to a nasty storm.

    I was absolutely delighted to have been able to climb this route. Thanks to Graham for his patience. Maybe the tooling sessions paid off after all!”

    Flying Saucers

    Steve Perry on the first ascent of Flying Saucer (VI,7) on Stob Ban. The route follows the line of North Ridge Route that is incorrectly marked in the SMC Ben Nevis guidebook. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry on the first ascent of Flying Saucer (VI,7) on Stob Ban. The route follows the line of North Ridge Route that is incorrectly marked in the SMC Ben Nevis guidebook. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry added an excellent new route to Stob Ban in the Mamores on December 16.

    “It’s hard to know where to go at this time of year,” Andy writes. “Actually it’s easy if you have a free choice, but if you’re like me, then it has to be a new route, not too hard and suitably frozen. You could add to my requirements ‘not too long a walk’ also, so this makes it tricky compared to new Grade VIIs or VIIIs many miles from the road, of which there are many. So after a long contemplation and a lucky picture on someone’s blog, which looked like most of the soft snow had melted, I suggested Stob Ban to Steve Perry.

    We set off in the early morning gloom and it wasn’t long before I realised that unlike the Cairngorms, none of the powder high up had melted. So my bright idea turned into wading through soft snow and an expectation that the turf would be insulated. It took about three hours to get to the crag, shortened by Steve helping the old man and carrying both ropes. The best unclimbed line on the South Buttress is a big turfy trough which narrows down into a steepening groove before ending in a gently overhanging smooth wall which never seems to form solid ice. Fortunately the line is shown as being a route in the Ben Nevis guide, which maybe explains its lack of attention. Or maybe the climbing world is full of purists waiting for the magical day when the ice is complete.

    After an arduous wade (for Steve) up the approach slopes, without a hint of anything being frozen, I was really quite surprised to see lots of ice. I shouldn’t have been, since it’s been a wet autumn and cold for a few days, but I was in a pessimistic mood. That was until I dug through soft snow down to the cliff base and reached turf which seemed to take a pull on an axe, although fully frozen would have been an optimistic assessment. But the climb was on!

    The direct line was quite icy but a bit off being climbable (and a long way off being climbable by us), so we started up to the left side. This is the same start as a 2010 route called Tippy Toe, but we soon diverged and gained a turf ledge level with the top of the overhanging wall. It wasn’t a very wide ledge and piled high with soft snow that had a tendency to collapse, causing your heart to miss a beat until you landed on the turf underneath. After about 10m, rope drag and 50m out meant that it was time to belay, although the poorly cracked rock caused some anxiety until an unexpected nut relieved some of it.

    The next pitch would be the crux and really depended on the quality of the ice, which could have been anything from solid to mush. An easy traverse and a solid swing of the axe immediately indicated that this was worth a go. The ice was variable in depth, good enough to climb but it meant you wouldn’t be coming back down, other than as a flying saucer. Which does focus the mind on success. After a couple of steep moves, a step left gave a rest and search for a runner. It was the common dilemma of whether you chip away the ice hoping for a crack or leave it thicker for climbing. But just as I was getting concerned, I tried on the left and there was one. The next section looked like the crux, a balancy ramp with ice blobs followed by a small roof and white above, which could either be a blank slab or nice turf.

    I’m not actually sure what it was, but it took axes and was over quickly once you committed yourself. The continuation was a mixture of good placements and soft ones, but progress was made as long as you didn’t pull too hard, and finally the base of the trough was reached. The trough was better frozen and more enjoyable, followed by a long pitch up the summit crest and moving together to the cairn. Steve could tick this one on his third round, whereas I was in my usual hurry to carry on down ahead of imminent mist and darkness.

    South Gully gave a brilliant long bum slide back to the sacks, a bite to eat and then more sliding. The name had to be Flying Saucer and the grade felt like VI,5. It might drop a grade in better conditions, but actually the conditions were OK.”

    Iain Young making the first ascent of Boustie Buttress (III,4) in Corrie of Clova in the Angus Glens. (Photo John Higham)

    Iain Young making the first ascent of Boustie Buttress (III,4) in Corrie of Clova in the Angus Glens. The mid-December cold blast even brought relatively low-lying routes in Glen Clova into winter condition.(Photo John Higham)

    “Whilst not quite in the same league as Boggle or Culloden,” Iain Young writes, “John Higham and I enjoyed a fine (civilised, sunny and short) day out in Clova on Saturday December 13.

    With all ways west and north-west out of Aboyne apparently suffering from closed snow gates, and thinking Lochnagar or Beinn a’Bhuird would be very hard work, we decided to try Corrie Brandy. However on the way in we changed our minds and headed into the Corrie of Clova to climb one of the two attractive ribs catching the morning sun. Three short pitches, with the crux a surprisingly steep, (well frozen) turf-filled groove cutting through the final tower – Boustie Buttress (III,4).

    John of course at some stage remembered he had actually been in there 15 years before and soloed the rib to the right…  Home in time for a cold beer and an early meal. The Angus Glens are surprisingly varied.”