New Winter Season Finally Underway

Roger Webb on the first ascent of Another Pointless Eliminate (III,4) on Creagan Cha-no. The route starts up the wide crack between Mainmast and Cutty Sark. (Photo Gary Kinsey)

It’s been an unusually slow start to the Scottish winter season. Normally by the second half of November winter climbing is in full swing, but temperatures have been higher than usual and the weather very unsettled. Winter routes were climbed on the morning of November 4 in the Northern Corries and Braeriach, and a cold day after overnight snow brought snowed-up rock routes in the Northern Corries into condition on November 19. Early season favourites such as Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Hidden Chimney, The Message and Pot of Gold were all climbed.

A thaw and cooling brought out more climbers on Sunday November 22. In the snowier West, Gargoyle Wall on Ben Nevis and Golden Oldy on Aonach Mor saw ascents, but those looking for sport in the Northern Corries were generally frustrated by the bare wind-blown crags. Several teams headed for east-facing Creagan Cha-no, which had more chance of holding onto the precious snow as Roger Webb explains.

“Frustrated by the lack of winter (but not as frustrated as those stuck in levels 3 and 4), Gary Kinsey and I went, along with numerous other hopefuls, to Cha-no on Sunday. We were hopeful that snow blown on the westerly winds may well have been deposited there. It had been, but unfortunately a lot had melted straight off. It helps if you know the crag as there are numerous little sheltered north-facing pockets that hold snow and cold better than other areas. Along with another party we headed for one such pocket, the Mainmast Area. Happily it was suitably white although it was necessary to choose rock rather than turf based options.

The others quickly got on to Mainmast while Gary and I, having already done it and Cutty Sark, opted for the central crack-line. This turned out to be an entertaining III,4. It goes straight up to the middle ledge and then in an artificial effort to keep it separate takes the left-hand exit from the wide finishing chimney of Cutty Sark which cuts out right.

The other party, Andy Harrison and Calum Agnew, having rapidly despatched Mainmast, being twice as fit, twice as brave and half our age then repeated our route (which we called Another Pointless Eliminate) in half the time with half the runners and twice the style. A fun day out!”

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Updated Mini Guidebook to Creagan Cha-no

The SMC have just updated their popular mini-guide to Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm by incorporating 40 new routes that have been climbed since the previous edition was published in 2018. The cover shows Simon Richardson climbing The Edge of Profanity (V,7). (Photo Roger Webb)

Just in time for the new winter season, the Scottish Mountaineering Club have published a new edition of their mini-guide to the easily accessible Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm. The guide is fully comprehensive and includes all winter routes climbed until the start of the current season. Over 100 climbs are described with grades ranging from II to VII and illustrated with 20 topos and a map.

The mini-guide can be downloaded as a PDF from the Scottish Mountaineering Press website.


The cost is £4.00 and all profits go to the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.

To complement its print range of guidebooks, the SMC are developing a number of digital publications. These include aMunros App for iOS and a range of packages to climbing areas, available via the Rockfax App. The SMC are also building a collection of online PDFs to download, for areas that aren’t currently published in print (such as this mini-guide to Creagan Cha-no).

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Book Review – Scottish Rock – Volume 2 North

The third edition of Gary Latter’s popular two-volume guidebook to Scottish rock climbing has recently been published by Pesda Press. The cover photo shows the author climbing Crack of Ages (E2 5b) on Seana Mheallan in Torridon. (Photo Karen Latter)

Gary Latter first published Scottish Rock – Volume 1 South in 2008. This covered popular rock climbing venues from Arran through Arrochar, Glen Coe and Ben Nevis to the Cairngorms. A year later, Volume 2 North completed the series describing rock climbs from the Isle of Skye, the Northern Highlands and the Outer Hebrides and Orkney. Superb production with many colour topos and action photographs by Pesda Press, meant that the two volume series became very popular. The series was republished in 2014, and this new publication of Volume 2 North completes the third edition.

So what’s new? Several further venues have been included such as Super Crag near Lochinver, which Gary describes as “far and away one of the best sea cliffs on mainland Scotland…” There are many easier routes included for the popular Diabaig crags together with new additions on the Skye sea cliffs of Suidhe Biorach, Neist and Staffin Slip, which are becoming recognised as providing some of the finest crag climbing in Scotland. Also included are recent additions on Lewis, Pabbay and Mingulay together with many new topos. Overall there are 2500 routes described including 300 new descriptions and 50 new topos compared to the previous edition. Gary has devoted his life to Scottish rock climbing and his knowledge and enthusiasm shines through on every page.

It is fair to say that Scottish Rock has eroded sales of the SMC’s Scottish Rock Climbs, which has a similar scope providing selected rock climbing coverage across the country, but in a single volume rather than two. Unlike a commercial publisher however, the SMC has a remit to provide comprehensive coverage across the Scotland. To date it has achieved this through definitive guidebooks, but due to their more specialist nature they have lower sales than selected guidebooks. This delicate, and often precarious, commercial equation is balanced by greater sales from the SMC’s selected guidebooks.

Competition is a good thing though. The outstanding production of Gary’s books and recent SMC publications such as Outer Hebrides set a high bar that will undoubtedly lead to even better Scottish climbing guidebooks in the future. Commercial publisher or not, writing any guidebook is a labour of love, and the cover price only represents a small fraction the time and commitment that goes into writing and producing them. I take SMC guidebooks together with Gary’s volumes whenever I go rock climbing in Scotland, and I very much appreciate the different perspectives they provide. They cost less than the fuel required to travel from the Central Belt to the Northern Highlands and can salvage a trip if weather or conditions dictate a change in plan.

We are fortunate to be in a very healthy position in Scotland with several publishers producing quality work. Let’s keep it that way by purchasing their guidebooks.

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Book Review – Tears of the Dawn

The award winning Tears of the Dawn by Jules Lines has recently been republished by the Scottish Mountaineering Trust. The cover shows author Jules Lines, widely regarded as Britain’s most accomplished free solo climber, making a rope free ascent of Burning Desire (E5 6b) at Ardmair. (Photo Cubby Images)

Tears of the Dawn was first published in 2013. It is an autobiographical account of Jules Lines’ climbing life, mainly as a solo climber. The book was originally self-published and became a hugely successful title winning the prestigious Boardman Tasker prize. Once it became out of print, second-hand copies were rumoured to sell for hundreds of pounds on ebay, so this new edition from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust is very welcome.

I try and make a point of reading Boardman Tasker winners – invariably they are well written and over the years they have captured many aspects of the climbing game. But I must admit that first time around I only made it halfway through Tears of the Dawn before I set it aside. It was not because it was a dull – far from it. It was too exciting and there was a limit to the number of heart-stopping solo epics that I could digest. I tend to enjoy the problem-solving side of climbing, and on a first reading Jules appeared to have a more impulsive approach that I found difficult to relate to.

But similar to watching a white-knuckle thriller at the cinema, you know that Jules is a survivor otherwise he could not have written the book. So second time around, I ran with the roller coaster ride of Jules’ climbing career, and this time really enjoyed it. Jules writes evocatively and has a wonderful ability to describe wild places – how they look, touch, smell and feel. For this aspect alone it is no wonder that Tears of the Dawn is a Boardman Tasker winner. I sense that being at one with the landscape is the real driver for Jules’ climbing. For sure, the solo ascents are gripping and cutting edge, but they provide the motivation for Jules to visit wonderful and diverse places, and by getting to know them so intimately he is able to make his solo ascents.

The more I read Tears of the Dawn, I realised that Jules’ ascents are not crazy carefree spontaneous affairs. There is a spiritual aspect required to achieve the zen-like state to make the sequence of moves, but similar to most noteworthy human endeavour, the climbs are carefully thought through, meticulously prepared and conceived – in fact, Jules very much adopts a problem-solving approach. There are several winter climbing escapades described in the book. Perhaps the most gripping is a solo ascent of an out of condition March Hare’s Gully on Beinn Bhan. More measured, but clearly hugely influential on Jules’ subsequent climbing career, was a schoolboy ascent with teacher John Hall of Emerald Gully on Beinn Dearg.

I am very glad I persevered with Tears of the Dawn second time around. It is a remarkable book by a remarkable climber.

The Scottish Mountaineering Trust is well known for its acclaimed educational and historical titles such as Hostile Habitats, The Cairngorms – 100 Years of Mountaineering, and Scottish Hill Names. Tears of the Dawn marks the introduction of a new series of climbing and mountaineering titles with broader scope – exciting times!


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Martin Moran (1955 – 2019)

Martin Moran in his element – on the front end during a technical winter first ascent. Omerta (VIII,9) was climbed with Pete Macpherson in November 2010 and is considered to be one of the more challenging test-pieces in the Northern Corries. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

Last year was a terrible period for Scottish mountaineering with Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry’s accident in February, and then three months later, Martin Moran was lost in the Indian Himalayas. Personally, I found it difficult to reconcile that three great climbers had been lost in such a short space of time, so as a result, this tribute to Martin is well overdue.

Martin’s achievements were so far ranging from Scotland to the Alps, and Norway to the Himalayas, that I have only summarised Martin’s Scottish contribution below. A full obituary will be published in the 2020 Alpine Journal. Many people have already paid tribute to Martin – Ian Parnell has written a detailed obituary for the Himalayan Journal and a series of tributes will appear in this year’s Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.

Martin was born in 1955 and was brought up on North Tyneside. His parents had a love for the hills and holidays were taken in the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District. Later, Martin spent his teenage years exploring the Cheviots and camping with the Scouts. He studied Geography at St Catherine’s College Cambridge and became a chartered accountant, but the hills and mountains continued to be a major draw. Martin was a fast learner. He made his first winter visit to the Scottish mountains in December 1978 and three years later he had climbed the North Face of The Eiger. His mind was made up – he would become a mountain guide. In 1982 Martin joined the British Mountain Guides training scheme having negotiated an annual three months leave of absence from his accountancy job.

During the winter of 1984/85 Martin put himself on the map with the first winter round of the Scottish Munros. Supported by his wife Joy, Martin walked over 1000 miles over 83 days and made 150,000m of ascent to complete the 277 summits. Apart from the Cuillin on Skye, the Munros do not involve technical climbing, but in winter they are a serious mountaineering proposition. To put the achievement into context, a winter Munro round has only been completed twice since.

Martin qualified as a British and IFMGA Mountain Guide in March 1985 and six months later he set up his guiding business with Joy, in Lochcarron, in the North-West Highlands. The Winter Munros had caught the public imagination and he immediately attracted clients. Guiding in the North-West Highlands was tough with longer approaches than Glen Coe or the Northern Cairngorms, but Martin was interested in attracting a more adventurous brand of client. His brochure advertised ‘visits to remote corries with potential for new routes’ and that promise was fulfilled with the first ascent of Crown Jewel (IV,5) on Beinn Alligin with Nigel Adey and Mick Guest in March 1986. Martin went on to record dozens of new routes with other course attendees.

In the mid 1980s the North-West Highlands had not been thoroughly explored as a winter climbing venue and there were countless opportunities for exploring new ground. As Martin’s business grew he took on other guides and mountaineering instructors. Not surprisingly, Andy Nisbet the most prolific Scottish winter climber of all time, took on the remit of exploring new ground to heart, and made many first ascents with clients on Martin’s courses.

I first met Martin on his local mountain Fuar Tholl one glorious Saturday afternoon in February 1994. Dave Hesleden and I had just completed a new ice climb on the South-East Cliff and bumped into Martin on the summit. Martin introduced himself and asked what we had just climbed. He knew the line, of course, but said he’d ‘forbidden’ Andy to climb the route and was going to have a go himself later in the week. For many climbers having a line plucked from their home ground would have been a considerable disappointment, but Martin acted with grace and charm and warmly congratulated us on our ascent.

Martin’s contribution to Scottish winter climbing was enormous. He climbed well over a hundred new routes, many at the highest grades. “There are many impressive winter cliffs in the Torridon Highlands”, he wrote, “but only three can be described as truly awesome – Fuar Tholl’s Mainreachan Buttress, the West Central Wall on Beinn Eighe and the Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. All are places where a significant grip factor is added to the intrinsic difficulties of the climbs.”

And it is on these three walls that Martin’s most celebrated new Scottish routes lie. In 1989 he climbed Reach For the Sky (VII,6) on Fuar Tholl, and in 1993 he succeeded on the Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe. But a new line on Beinn Bhan’s huge Giant’s Wall on the left side of Coire nan Fhamhair eluded him, until March 2002, when he breached the impressive unclimbed terrain between Gully of the Gods and Great Overhanging Gully with Paul Tattersall. Moran first spotted the great corner splitting the upper section of the cliff, thirty years before when he visited the corrie as a 17 year-old Scout on a camping trip. The Godfather (VIII,8) provided a huge struggle, especially when both headtorches failed as they were climbing into the night, but it has now seen several repeats and has become one of the most prized routes in the Northern Highlands.

A notable aspect of Martin’s new routing was his creativity. In March 1989 he soloed Das Rheingold, a girdle traverse across Beinn Bhan’s four corries. With over 2.8km of sustained climbing up to Grade V across little known terrain, it was a bold step into the unknown. Other notable successes include the first ascent of Storvegen (VI,8), a spectacular 200m-long ramp-line on the big cliff behind the Old Man of Storr on Skye, and the first winter ascent of the continuously overhanging Hung Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8) on the North Face of Am Basteir.

Martin moved with extraordinary speed in the mountains, and in June 1990 he set a new 3h 33m record for the Cuillin Ridge, beating the previous time by an astonishing 17 minutes. This fitness translated to the Alps where he climbed many Grandes Courses including a very fast 36-hour ascent of the Peuterey Integrale. Without doubt, Martin’s outstanding alpine achievement took place in the summer of 1993, when he climbed the 75 major 4000m peaks in a single journey with Simon Jenkins. They covered over 1000km on bike and foot, and made over 70,000m of ascent in 52 days.

Martin’s winter climbing showed no sign of slowing down with age. In late 2010 he had a superb run of routes resulting in two new Grade VIIIs and a Grade IX. His campaign started with the first ascent of Omerta (VIII,9) in Coire an t-Sneachda with Pete Macpherson. Soon after, the pair made the fifth ascent of The Secret on Ben Nevis (VIII,9) before making the second ascent of The God Delusion (IX,9) on Beinn Bhan, widely regarded as the hardest route in the Northern Highlands. Later that December he teamed up with Murdoch Jamieson and Francis Blunt to make the first winter ascent of Feast of The East (VIII,9), a summer E1 on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe. A few days later he was with Jamieson again to climb The Wailing Wall (IX,9) on the awe-inspiring left side of Haystack Gully on An Teallach. This was one of the first Scottish Grade IX first ascents to be climbed on-sight.

Martin wrote in a fluid and entertaining style and authored several books. His magnum opus was Scotland’s Winter Mountains, a thoroughly researched treatise on how to survive, walk, climb and ski in the Scottish mountains in winter.

Martin was still setting the pace just months before his accident, and in February 2019 he made the first ascent of Scarred for Life (VIII,9) on Beinn Eighe with Robin Thomas. This route lies on the rarely visited North Face of Sgurr Ban and was arguably the most adventurous pioneering climb of the Scottish winter season.

Martin’s achievements whether hill walking, fell running, winter climbing or as an alpinist were both ground breaking and inspirational. Nobody will ever know exactly what happened on that fateful day on P6447 in the Indian Himalayas on 26 May 2019, but it is possible that a cornice collapse triggered the massive avalanche that swept away Martin and his seven companions. One thing is for certain – Britain had lost one of its finest ever mountaineers.

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End of Season Wrap Up

Mike Lates on the first ascent of Christmas Comes but Once a Year (IV,4) on Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye. This superb-looking route was climbed back in February immediately following Storm Ciara. (Photo Lucy Spark)

With settled high pressure and cool nights, winter climbing conditions have looked superb over the last month, but with the hills close due to Coronavirus, it is all been rather academic. However. I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up on some new additions that were missed from earlier in the season, and cover the final days leading up to lockdown on March 22 when some significant new routes were climbed.

Mike Lates and Lucy Spark climbed the finest new route of the winter on Skye on February 13 when they made the first ascent of Christmas Comes but Once a Year (IV,4) on Sgurr nan Gillean. This follows a beautiful icy groove on the left side of High Crag. “As with all ice routes in the Cuillin this route needed the right sequence of storms, minor thaws and refreezes to form,” Mike told me. “Real credit goes to Lucy for following all day in microspikes.” (Mike forgot his crampons!) Mike and Lucy also climbed In Pinn Icefall Lite (III,5) on March 6, which climbs the prominent ice sheet to the right of In Pinn Fall.

In the Northern Highlands on January 19, Roger Webb and Neil Wilson found Escape Gully (II) on Creag a’ Chaorainn on Sgurr Nan Clachan Geala. This starts 100m right of the Last Lap and is the only gully on the face. On March 4, Adrian Gaughan and Jo Polak ascended Saltire Gully Right to Left (II) on Beinn Alligin. This follows the right to left gully of the two intersecting gully lines on the South Face. A week later on March 13, Mark Robson and I had a fine adventure on End of Days (VI,6) on An Ruadh-Stac. This takes an unlikely six-pitch line taking in all three tiers to the left of North Face. On March 19, Tim Miller and Jamie Skelton made the first winter ascent of The Modern Idiot (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Eastern Ramparts. And finally on March 22, Jamie Hageman climbed Feadan Breun (II), the prominent gully cutting the north-east face of Sron na Breun, a northern outlier of Gleouraich.

There were some good additions on Ben Nevis. On Creag Coire na Ciste, Dave Almond and Jack Brooks made an early repeat of The Sorcerer (VII,8) on November 18 adding an exciting Variation Finish (VI,7). Further right on February 5, Mark Robson and I squeezed in Piccadilly Circus (V,6), the well-defined rib between Central Gully and Central Gully Right-Hand. On Secondary Tower Ridge, Will Rowland, Nathan Adam added Dry Birds (V,6) on March 11. This follows the left facing corner just left of the steep cracked wall of Watery Fowls and gives good technical mixed climbing.

In the Southern Highlands, James Seaman, Peter Nellist climbed Door Step Route (III,4) on February 28, a winter ascent based on Central Rib. Earlier in the season on November 14, Sophie Grace Chappell and I visited Coire Ban on Meall a’Choire Leith and found Ace In The Hole (III,4) and Wild Card (IV,5). Unreported from Day 5 (February 27) of the Winter Meet was the first ascent of A Very Naughty Boy (VII,8/9) by Tim Miller and Damian Granowski from Poland. The route takes a left-trending line across the steep wall to the right of False Rumour Gully finishing up The Enemy Within. The only unreported new routes from the Cairngorms are Onlooker (IV,5) and Looking Up (III) on the West Flank of Stac an Fharaidh. Both routes were climbed by Jonathan Preston and Mungo Ross on March 20.

Kevin Woods completed a winter Munro round in 97 days. This was a significant achievement given the high winds and stormy weather that characterised the season. A winter Munro round is a very rare event and had only been achieved twice before by Martin Moran in 1984-5 and Steve Perry in 2005-6.

One of the most notable events of the season took place on March 20-21 when Will Rowland completed the Greater Cuillin Traverse (starting up Pinnacle Ridge) followed by the Red Cuillin. He left Slichagan at 3am and reached Camasunary at 9pm that evening. He started at 7am next morning and reached Slichagan at 7pm. This is the first time this link up has been achieved in winter, and Will follows in his father Clive’s footsteps, who was first to complete the feat in summer conditions in 1982.

Route descriptions for all the new routes reported in this post, and others throughout the season, will be published this autumn in the 2020 Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.

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Ewan Lyons (1969 – 2020)

Ewan Lyons in Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe in May 2019 looking over to the Eastern Ramparts. On that day he climbed Boggle (E1) and made the first ascent of White Hammer (E2). Quiet and unassuming, Ewan was the most prolific Scottish winter solo climber of his generation. (Photo Michael Barnard)

On March 13 Ewan Lyons, known to some as Captain Solo, died as a result of a fall on Beinn Dearg. Dave Kerr has written the following tribute:

Ewan was one of the most prolific and accomplished Scottish winter soloists of recent times. His solo ascents were particularly impressive when compared with his lead standard. Ewan’s role model was Tom Patey who reputedly soloed at about the same grade he led. VI 6 was Ewan’s lead limit and he regularly soloed V 5.  Many of his solo ascents were at remote and rarely visited venues further adding to the commitment required. He had an impressive confidence and fluidity of movement on ice and although a list of routes can never give a full impression of a person some of his solo days were remarkable: One weekend involved Ice Maiden (V,5) on Ben Alder on the Saturday and a link-up of False Scorpion (V,5), Sideslip (III) and Red Chimney (V,5) in the Cairngorms on the Sunday. A day on Liathach featured eight routes of up to V,5.   Another Cairngorm day consisted of Cascade (V,5), Cascade RH (IV,4), Devil’s Alternative (IV,4, FWA) and The Chancer (V,6). His UKC logbook for The Chancer recorded with characteristic understatement ‘note to self: do more pull ups.’

Ewan had a seemingly uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time to climb ephemeral ice routes. In reality it was more canny than uncanny, a product of his huge experience in the Scottish mountains.  In addition to his climbing he was also a double Munroist (including Tops) and had completed rounds of Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds and Furths. If you wanted some beta on an obscure hill or crag Ewan was the man and often the main challenge climbing with him was to find a route he hadn’t done.

The week before Ewan’s accident we climbed Royal Pardon as a three. Looking back it illustrates much of what made Ewan a good climber, a great climbing partner and a good guy to spend time with.

Self-deprecating about his speed and abilities on the walk in, he dispatched the crux with style in far from ideal conditions. At the stance, whilst Andy led the top pitch we joked and traded ‘Half Man, Half Biscuit’ lyrics. Never one to worry about kit, Ewan climbed in a pair of cheap waterproofs with the arse hanging out of them. Back in the car park Ewan and Andy swapped numbers to climb again in the future. Andy knew about Ewan because, despite him not being well known, those in the know knew. Andy and I headed home to Inverness but Ewan, typically, stayed in the west hoping to solo the following day before the weather deteriorated. He was always keen for the chance to get another route in.

There was of course much more to Ewan than just climbing. Music, building projects and his job as a lecturer at University of the Highlands and Islands all helped to pass the time when he wasn’t in the hills. Spending time with his wife Karen, friends and family were all really important to Ewan and climbing partners have said he was particularly popular with their children.

Ewan’s death leaves a big hole in the lives of those who knew him but it also robs the Scottish climbing scene of one of its most committed and adventurous under-the-radar enthusiasts. Many of his regular climbing partners paid tribute to him mentioning his calm determination and easy going nature. I can think of no better tribute than a friend’s summary after climbing with Ewan for the first time: ‘Aye, he’s a proper climber.’

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Hindmost Ridge

John Higham arriving at the top of the previously unclimbed Hindmost Ridge (IV,4) on The Devil’s Point. This 400m-long route is one of the longest ridge climbs in the Cairngorms. (Photo Iain Young)

The first ascent of Hindmost Ridge on The Devil’s Point on March 4 demonstrated that there are still major unclimbed features even in well-known parts of the Highlands such as the Cairngorms. Iain Young, John Higham and Kenny Brookman’s ascent of the 400m-long ridge bounding the right side of Geusachan Gully on the south side of the mountain was a major coup and one of the finest ascents of the season. Iain takes up the story:

“I spotted this possible target on a photo back in August, did some research and couldn’t quite believe it hadn’t been climbed already by the likes of Mac Smith, Bill Brooker, Tom Patey, Greg Strange, Andy Nisbet or Simon Richardson! One possibility was that what I had seen on the picture was a bit of an optical illusion. So, I had to find out if it was real.

A reconnaissance in September confirmed two things; the ridge was there but it was also a long way from anywhere. A team of three seemed like a good idea, for what promised to be a long but straightforward route, as it meant lighter loads. John and Kenny needed little persuasion to be roped into the venture.

Of course, these south-facing routes need enough snow to be enjoyably wintry, but not so much snow overall that the approach takes away all the enjoyment. A kind of Scottish winter Goldilocks zone. On the first attempt, in November last year, things were too warm and the crag was bare, so we took an enjoyable alternative at grade II/III up a slabby rib finishing on a broad snow arete leading to the ridge just north of the summit of Carn a’Mhaim.

The next attempt had to wait till early March, after the series of icy storms that saved the winter overall. This time even lighter loads, but much more snow, resulted in a five and a half hour approach from Linn of Dee via Derry Lodge…

The route itself initially looked a bit bare, however, a hidden series of snowy and icy turfy grooves led upwards from near the bottom of Geusachan Gully in a sort of wintry spiral. First left of the initial nose, then right of the crest, before two trickier pitches took us, after 200m of climbing, to a further 200m of moving together type ground. Very, very enjoyable, sunny and kind of alpine in ambience.

All smiles on the trackless summit, despite the thought of the four hours back to the car! The route name references both the Devil (as in the Devil take the Hindmost) and the fact that the ridge sits behind the frontal face.”

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The Irony and Scotophobia

Dave Almond on the first ascent of The Irony (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe. This steep and sustained mixed route on the Eastern Ramparts is a more direct version of the summer E1 Claustrophobic Corner. (Photo Jamie Skelton)

Dave Almond had an outstanding trip up to Scotland last week and came away with two new routes on Beinn Eighe. Dave takes up the story:

“I drove up on the March 7 and started my week with a very soggy ascent of Slav Route (VI,5) on Ben Nevis with Owen Samuels followed by a slightly more amenable weather day on Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) with Jamie Skelton. This had been on my list for a few years but it rarely looks white enough as it follows an overhanging corner system that shelters it from most weather. This time it was looking good with ice and frozen turf plastered over the left-hand aspects. It was originally climbed in four pitches but Jamie decided to keep climbing after pitch one running the first two pitches together. I followed up and ran the next two together, which made for a really entertaining climb that builds slowly to the overhang climax on the top wall. Every pitch was excellent and it certainly deserves its three star rating.

After a much appreciated rest day Jamie and myself headed up to the summit of Beinn Eighe and after a front pointing crawl on hands and knees up the ridge we geared up in the 80mph wind and ran for the shelter of the Eastern Ramparts. Jamie suggested we looked at the summer line of Claustrophobic Corner. Despite its unappealing name we set to but ended up taking a more direct line through the overhangs right of the summer line, sticking with the cracks, which gave some fine technical moves followed by powerful moves through the to the belay. We called our route The Irony and after some careful pondering graded it IX,9.

The following day with a better weather forecast we again headed up feeling a bit heavy-legged. This time we picked the summer E1 Fear of the Dark on the Eastern Ramparts. Initially it climbs the right hand side of a big chimney which follows a drainage line offering good ice then swings right around the huge block on the Upper Girdle to climb a very icy corner going right past an overhang and up a steep corner to a belay. We then deviated from the summer line and took an obvious chimney direct to a platform and a choice of easy exits.

The Irony is worthy of three stars as we were buzzing after doing it, whilst with  Scotophobia VII,8 we were tempted to abseil off as we were tired and got soaked down to our underpants on route with the heavy snowfall and rising temperatures. But we dug deep and made it to the top with a sigh of relief.”

Dave says he loves the name Scotophopia – “when fear of the dark reaches a degree that is severe enough to be considered pathological, it is sometimes called scotophobia”. The route lies between the Iain Small and Pete Macpherson’s Fear of the Cold and Dark (VIII,8) and the summer line Fear of the Dark.

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Israelite First Winter Ascent

Greg Boswell powering up the first pitch of The Israelite (VIII,8) during the first winter ascent. This highly prized objective on the awe inspiring Central Gully Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch was climbed on the fourth attempt. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell pulled off a long sought after new route on March 4 when they made the first winter ascent of The Israelite (VIII,8) on Creag an Dubh Loch. This summer E4 provides superlative rock climbing but it is often wet, so under the right conditions, it was a logical target for a winter ascent.

With the Eastern Cairngorms swamped in snow, I suggested to Guy, who is renowned for being one of the finest tacticians in the game, that this was an inspired route choice. Guy was having none of it:

“Fourth time in to try the route. Wettest February on record. Two weeks of cold but not too cold. Everywhere above 900m totally swamped. Pretty obvious choice of venue, I thought!”

Well maybe, but impressive all the same as this was the first route Guy and Greg have climbed together this year. A new winter route on Creag an Dubh Loch is as good as it gets.

“The venue seemed a pretty obvious choice in the end,” Guy continued. “We followed the summer line all the way – to be honest this is where the ice took us, pretty much direct into the top corner. Gaining the ice at the start required some faith – kind of like the Etive Slabs, but without touching rock!

Greg belayed below the Goliath Icicle, which was in pretty good shape. Above this, a beautiful weep formed on the slab just right of the thin crack, which led to the big upper corner. This sported a few ice streaks, but unfortunately these were of the eggshell variety, so little use – this pitch was probably the crux, giving sustained teetering on reasonable hooks but very poor feet.

The final pitch up to the plateau was a romp up thick Grade IV ice. As expected it was a ‘top drawer’ experience, just like any other route on this wall. I’ve been lucky enough to do a handful now, and they are all of exceptional quality. Their ephemeral nature just makes them all the more special, and I’m looking forward to the next one already!”


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