Scottishwinter.com

    Scottish winter climbing news
    Craig Lamb leading the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    A leader on the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were rather confused when were climbing on Lurcher’s Crag on February 16. It was our first visit to the cliff, and the folks climbing the attractive icefall to our left had told us that they were climbing K9, yet the team we met on the top said they had just done Window Gully. We both suspected a case of mistaken identity, because the icefall crux, which involves cutting a window from behind the icefall and stepping on to the front face, reminded us of a famous John Cleare photo of Bill March making the first ascent of Window Gully in March 1972. It’s interesting that we both remember that photo, but we’re both of an age that when we started climbing front pointing was just being developed, and Bill March was one of the stars of the show.

    As if by chance, a couple of days later I received an email from John Lyall that Andy Nisbet forwarded onto me, which helped to explain our confusion:

    “I’ve been puzzled by the description of Window Gully and its position on the crag for a long time,” John wrote. “So when I was on the crag last week I took my camera to sort things out. I was climbing K9, and my photo shows the lower icefall going through the big roof, the rock features behind and the snowdrift all fitting with the first ascent photo of Window Gully.

    I think the confusion goes back to the Bill March 1973 guidebook, where only North Gully is described, but South Gully is mentioned. When Window Gully is described in the next guide (1985), it is described as being between North and South Gullies, but it should have said North and Central Gullies, as Central had now been climbed. The Window Gully icefall presently in the guide is not far enough up the crag, nor is there a position to get a photo like this.

    In 2010, the outside of this icefall was climbed by a few teams up the steepest right hand section, at V,6. Stuart Carter was one of the folk, but he had followed tracks.

    The Bill March guide also mentions summer ascents of what are now Drystane Ridge and Collies Ridge, both at Moderate in the current guidebook. He also names Southern Ridge, which is now called Deerhound Ridge, and grades it Mod. He also describes a route up the buttress to the left of North Gully, giving a grade of Mod and listing the first ascensionists. I feel a bit like Robin Campbell delving into the archives!”

    Allen Fyffe, who made the first ascent of K9 with his son Blair in March 1996, agrees with John’s assessment that the icefall is the same, but it’s not quite as simple as that because Allen and Blair linked in an impressive upper icefall during their ascent. This second icefall is up and left of the main line, so is not always climbed as a follow-on from the lower ‘window’ icefall, and for sure, it was not climbed by Bill March in 1972.

    So if this unravels the history behind K9, what about the route now known as Window Gully which lies a hundred metres further right? Andy Nisbet made an ascent in February 1984 – are there any earlier takers?

    Iain Small leading the opening pitch of Vishnu (VII,7) on Beinn Eighe’s Far East Wall during the second ascent. This prominent line, first climbed by Andy Nisbet and Andy Cunningham in February 1988, has waited over 25 years for a repeat. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small leading the opening pitch of Vishnu (VII,7) on Beinn Eighe’s Far East Wall during the second ascent. This prominent line, first climbed by Andy Nisbet and Andy Cunningham in February 1988, has waited over 25 years for a repeat. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    There are two absolutely classic-looking traditional winter lines on the stupendous Far East Wall on Beinn Eighe – Kami-kaze and Vishnu. Both routes were climbed by Andy Nisbet in the 1980s during the initial winter exploration of the crag. The steep and well-protected Kami-kaze (VI,7) is now approaching modern classic status, and has already seen several ascents this season.

    Vishnu is a different story however, and although it is 26 years since its first ascent, it had not seen a repeat. It requires icy conditions, and was discussed as a possibility during the BMC International Meet in January, but nobody took up the challenge until February 16 when an enterprising three-man team made a spirited attempt that was foiled by deteriorating conditions after the leader had climbed the crucial ice pitch in the middle of the route.

    The long-awaited second ascent fell three days later to the crack team of Murdoch Jamieson and Iain Small on February 19. Murdoch, fresh from his success on The Root of All Evil, takes up the story:

    “On Wednesday Iain and I returned to the crag. Our first option was not a goer so we settled on doing Vishnu. I felt slightly intimidated with the grade and knowing that a team had bailed on Sunday. Iain linked the first two pitches, and I then set off up pitch three, where with a bit of digging, I uncovered some good wires. Iain did the top pitch, which certainly felt a bit more like real climbing, and was tricky. He managed to get wires on the right before stepping left onto the ice. Overall VII,7? I don’t know – that first pitch is pretty serious but not technically that hard.”

    Iain swithered about the grade too, but eventually both Murdoch and Iain settled on a grade of VII,7. (The route has been graded VII,6 up to now, but was first climbed before the two-tier grading system was in place). The fact that two such talented climbers were unsure of the grade speaks volumes – it would be safe to assume that Vishnu is at the upper end of the Grade VII category!

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkeys buttress on Lurchers Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkey buttress on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding both exciting and challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were wrong-footed by logistics, weather forecasts, blocked roads and avalanche-prone slopes throughout the previous weekend. We ended up visiting Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16, which I think was our Plan D!

    The weather was good, but neither of us had been to the cliff before, and our guidebook only listed a handful of routes. The crag had a nice friendly feel with lots of people about, the scenery was magnificent and with our plans in disarray we didn’t really care what we did, as long as we climbed something. Roger fancied The Shepherd, but there were two teams ahead of us, so we went to look at K9. When we got there, we found we were fourth in line, so we thought we’d carry our ice screws up a mixed line on the (Arctic Monkey) buttress to the right. We ended up following a logical sequence of grooves straight up the front face to arrive on the apex of the lower buttress before finishing up the left flank of the easy ridge above. We had no intention of climbing a new route and fully expected it had all been climbed before.

    When I arrived home, I saw a Facebook post from Andy Nisbet saying that he had climbed the face right of K9 with Susan Jensen two days before, and a look at the SMC Journal revealed three more of Andy’s routes on the buttress. I’ve been (inadvertently) following Andy’s footsteps quite a lot this winter, so I put this down to another dose of fate, but I emailed Andy anyway, to find out the relationship of our climb to his recent route, and the other climbs on the buttress.

    About twenty emails and six topos later, we all finally unravelled the relationship between the routes on the buttress. Remarkably they are all independent, although a couple do cross each other. Starting from the left, Andy and Susan’s line from February 14 is called Tetradecaphobia (V,5). It takes the right end of the roof system down which the icicles of K9 form, before climbing the grooves and corners to gain the crest of the upper buttress.

    The route climbed by Roger and I two days later starts about 30m to the right of Tetradecaphobia, and climbs four pitches up corners and grooves to the top of the lower buttress before continuing easier mixed ground to the left of the crest to the top. Roger made a fine lead of the crux third pitch, a bold and technical overlap leading on to smooth slabs, and given the spur of the moment route choice, he suggested we call our climb Impulse Grooves (VI,7). The remaining three routes all start a long way away at the right end of the buttress, although Overdraft takes a natural rising left traverse line, crossing Impulse Grooves on its second pitch, before climbing near Tetradecaphobia and finishing up a set of grooves to the right.

    Overall, given the unusually heavy snow conditions, Lurchers was a good choice on February 16. We saw teams on Left Icefall, Right Icefall, The Shepherd, North Gully, K9, Arctic Monkey and Dotterel.

    Murdoch Jamieson making the first winter ascent of The Route of All Evil (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe. The description of this summer E2 in the SMC Northern Highlands South guidebook makes it sound perfect modern mixed climbing territory - ‘Typical Coire Mhic Fearchair; sustained, overhanging, excellent holds and protection, but slow to dry.’ (Photo John Orr)

    Murdoch Jamieson making the first winter ascent of The Route of All Evil (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe. The description of this summer E2 in the SMC Northern Highlands South guidebook makes it sound perfect modern mixed climbing territory – ‘Typical Coire Mhic Fearchair; sustained, overhanging, excellent holds and protection, but slow to dry.’ (Photo John Orr)

    Murdoch Jamieson and John Orr pulled off a magnificent climb on February 16 when they made the first winter ascent of The Root of All Evil (IX,8) on Beinn Eighe’s Far East Wall. This summer E2 was first climbed by Andy Nisbet and J.Allott in June 1996.

    We planned to have a mellow day on something like Kami-kazi or Rampart Wall,” Murdoch told me. “However on first sight of Far East Wall, John asked what the obvious big left-facing corner was. I told him it was The Root of All Evil, and no, it hadn’t seen a winter ascent. We took a walk along to look at Vishnu as that was another option, but after looking at that, John said he was keener to experience some steep Beinn Eighe mixed. The deal was he would do the initial pitch and I would do the 5b and 5c pitches.

    John did a good job in despatching the first pitch, which was much trickier than it looked. I set off up the 5b pitch. From the word go, it was a pretty sustained and pumpy affair. The only rest was on a small ledge before the traverse left into the main corner. The guidebook talked about belaying three metres below the roof, so I was expecting a half decent ledge. There was none, just a slight slopey foothold and a few small edges – a full-on hanging belay!

    John seconded the pitch and felt a bit overwhelmed by the steepness of the whole thing. He set up a belay just below me and I set off for the 5c roof. This looked mental and harder than I thought, but I was keen to have a look. There were only a few tiny edges for the feet but enough. The whole thing was really strenuous. Then moving back right proved much trickier than I thought, as there were just a few tiny hooks for the tools. Pulling round the arete to join Hydroponicum was pretty hard, and the belay was not the most inspiring either. There were two old pegs linked by some tired slings. So I managed to get another peg half in, a Pecker and a small stopper – great!

    Once again, John did a brilliant job seconding as he had been strapped to the hanging belay for a wee while. Having not really read the guide properly, I thought we just had the top pitch of Hydroponicum to do. I remember Andy Inglis saying it was VII 7, so I thought John could quickly nip up it. But on closer inspection at the guide what loomed above was the crux of Hydroponicum. Time was marching on, a few words were said, but I couldn’t not have a look. Anyway, this went fine, as it felt easier than the previous two pitches. I linked the top pitch to get to the top just before darkness fell. John joined me a short while later and we were both buzzing with how cool the whole thing was.”

    Murdoch was undecided about the grade, and initially settled on VIII,8, but a day later he wrote to me again.

    “There has been a mad exchange in emails and chat about the grade. I’m beginning to think IX,8. It’s just that it’s pretty sustained. It has good kit, but the belay is not ideal at the end of pitch three. I think there is a lot of tech 8 all on top of each other. I’ve only done the occasional tech 9 move so it’s hard to compare. I don’t think there is a stopper move of 9 in it… but it needs a second ascent to confirm.”

    Binnein Shuas in the Central Highlands, with the three climbs comprising the North-West Ridge Integrale marked as follows: A. Location, Location, Location (55m III, 4), B. Laggan Fantasy (30m IV,5), C. Summit North-West Buttress (40m II). (Photo Masa Sakano)

    Binnein Shuas in the Central Highlands, with the three climbs comprising the North-West Ridge Integrale marked as follows: A. Location, Location, Location (55m III, 4), B. Laggan Fantasy (30m IV,5), C. Summit North-West Buttress (40m II). (Photo Masa Sakano)

    Masa and Yuki Sakano visited Binnein Shuas on February 16, and had an excellent mountaineering day following the crest of the North-West Ridge. Their ascent linked together three short routes with walking sections imbetweeen. The foot of the lowest buttresses is at the altitude of 560m, and near the summit, there are two tiers of the Summit North-West Buttress. Although this may not be a conventional Scottish winter route, and lacks the commitment of a longer climb on a big cliff, it demonstrates a novel approach when many of the higher peaks have been out of bounds due to the recent heavy snow conditions.

    Location, Location, Location (55m III, 4) begins at the recess at the foot of the lowest buttress a few metres left of a cave, climbs a turfy and icy groove, and then follows steep grooves to the top of the buttress. Laggan Fantasy (30m IV,5) starts below the centre of the lower tier of the Summit North-West Buttress, and climbs rocky steps for a few metres, followed by the steep thinly-iced groove in the centre of the buttress. Summit North-West Buttress (40m II) climbs the most obvious zig-zag snow line at the centre of the upper tier to finish on the summit ridge about 80m West of the summit.

    “As you know, Binnein Shuas is a very eye-catching hill from A86,” Masa told me. “I’m jolly glad we made it, but conditions must be now gone, at least for the lowest part, as it has warmed up since. Yuki is my sister, who lives in Japan, but is now visiting me for a couple of weeks. We’re going to Patagonia in a few days time, so this year’s stormy Scottish weather has turned out to be ideal training…”

    Catherine Hendrie on the second pitch of The S Word (V,5), a new ice route on the West Face of Beinn Dearg. “We told each other to not mention the 'S' word, because it had been snowing during the morning, and every time Cat said 'spindrift' we got drenched in it!” (Photo Ian Bryant)

    Catherine Hendrie on the second pitch of The S Word (V,5), a new ice route on the West Face of Beinn Dearg. “We told each other to not mention the ‘S’ word, because it had been snowing during the morning, and every time Cat said ‘spindrift’ we got drenched in it!” (Photo Ian Bryant)

    On February 7, Ian Bryant and Catherine Hendrie added a good new route to Beinn Dearg in the Northern Highlands. “After backing off Penguin Gully as it was just horrible soft snow, we packed everything away and decided to just go for a walk towards the summit ridge, but we then spotted a good ice line,” Ian told me. “We climbed the ice in two 40m pitches (the first was about tech 5 the second about tech 4) and then continued on a meandering line to the summit ridge at around Grade III. Overall the route was about 250 metres long.”

    When Ian contacted me, I was unsure whether the line had been climbed before, so I passed on the details to Andy Nisbet, who confirmed that not only was it new, but he had had his eye on it as well.

    “We can’t believe little old us beat the legendary Andy Nisbet to a new route!” Ian exclaimed when he heard the news. Andy was quick with a tongue-in-cheek riposte – “Beating me to a new route isn’t that rare as I know them all!”

    And to prove the point (and before he knew of Ian and Catherine’s ascent), Andy added two new routes to the West Face of Beinn Dearg himself, on February 16. Climbing solo, Andy climbed Drumcree (IV,4) the steeper grooved section of buttress between Garvachy Road and White Settlers Gully, and Redskin (II), which starts as for Drumcree up an icy step, but then trends left to reach the left-hand of three grooves.

    Neil Wilson on the first attempt of Hogwarts Express (IV,4) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The groove looks so easy but it ain’t... we gave it a lowly grade of IV,4 as it was in relatively easy condition due to extreme cunning and the crux was only 20 to 25m long.

    Neil Wilson on the first attempt of Hogwarts Express (IV,4) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The groove looks so easy but it ain’t… we gave it a lowly grade of IV,4 as it was in relatively easy condition due to extreme cunning and the crux was only 20 to 25m long.’ (Photo John Mackenzie)

    “Since everyone else seems to be reporting new routes I suppose I ought to as well,” John Mackenzie told me. “Even more so, since you told me off for not doing so at the SMC dinner! So the ‘nose’ of Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar seemed a good choice after prolonged South-East winds that would have stripped the looser snow. January 12 was wildish with pretty little puffy clouds hanging around the surrounding peaks but otherwise good visibility. Unfortunately, and rather obviously, the pretty little clouds that had been tinged pink at sunrise were wind-driven spindrift that we were fully exposed to – a proper January experience. The route we hoped to do went between Porker on the left and Piglet on the right and would follow a rising ramp that ended in a groove.

    We, that is, were Dave Broadhead, Neil Wilson and me. Though the lower ramp went just fine, the steep groove above that looks such a doddle in the photo, was indeed very steep and consisted of nothing so much as mush with an ice cream topping. Somewhat foreshortened from where I was, I was sure Neil would whip up it, but his whipping was mainly directed at him via the groove, and somewhat disconsolate he manage to backtrack and descend a side wall to the left which brought us, eventually, onto the delightful neve of Porker and the top. Sgurr na Muice – 1, Climbers – 0.

    However on the February 7 after some pretty awful weather up here and no end of snow, there was a good day forecast with light winds, so Andrew James and I staggered back up with overweight sacks to The Start, again. This time the helpful snow has been thinned to compacted soft slab that provided no purchase, but on the plus side the turf was frozen. The initial long pitch now was not so easy, and a hunt of ‘find the turf dod’ up the otherwise rocky ramp meant not so much front pointing as diddly little side steps, which took us to a very good belay.

    The groove above looked as if it had a solid coating of ice or neve, but once at its foot this carapace simply fell away in plates revealing a classic joke of a 70 degree V-shaped groove with not a shred of turf, but a one-inch wide parallel crack leading to a fine turfy top. By stealth and cunning gained by extreme age, the carapace was cleared but instead of falling onto Andrew below I caught some of it between my feet and pressed it into the groove. Chiding it to be good, and stepping gently I could just stand on it without it subsiding with me.

    The crack allowed one nut runner at that point, and somewhat forced into place and a little height was gained. Another repeat of the snow-stacking followed and this precarious ladder allowed another smaller nut runner to be placed, both of which are still there, such was the persuasion needed to seat them. Once a little step left was done (the first solid move), the capping turf was found to be well-frozen and allowed a dainty little ledge in the middle of nowhere to be reached. A short but steep wall on the right separated me from much easier ground but this had a wonderful, if hidden hook, and a couple of strenuous and very exposed moves led to more absolutely solid rock belays.

    Of course, Andrew followed far too easily as I was expecting the snow ladder to collapse but it didn’t. He then led another long pitch on rather worrying snow but at least there was one runner in 55m, much the same as on the initial pitch, and that was a magnificent spike. The top was reached as daylight was ebbing and the spindrift beginning, but we still managed to the car without torches.

    The reason for such a late start was the minor problem of discovering no crampons once at the head of the Glen. This meant going all the way back to Dingwall and then back up the long Glen, arriving at 11.20am, but it was a boon in disguise as the sun came out just as we arrived whereas the morning had been low cloud. Despite quite a few routes on the crag, Sgurr na Muice seems to have the almost uncanny ability to produce more, and unlike the neighbouring peaks, it is rarely drowned in snow.”

    1944 Route

    Pawel Wojdyga leading the crucial third pitch of 1944 Route (VII,7) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This may have been the first complete ascent of the summer line. (Photo Ian Bryant)

    Pawel Wojdyga leading the crucial third pitch of 1944 Route (VII,7) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This may have been the first complete ascent of the summer line. (Photo Ian Bryant)

    During the BMC Winter Meet on January 28, Ian Bryant and Pawel Wojdyga from Poland made a rare winter ascent of 1944 Route on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. Given the importance of the summer route (Brian Kellett made the first ascent in July 1944 during his unprecedented soloing spree of eight new routes, and the route has now become an established summer classic), it is rather surprising that the route has not seen more winter attention.

    “On the second day of the Winter Meet we looked up at South Trident Buttress and wondered about a prominent groove high up on 1944 Route,” Ian told me. “Greg [Boswell] had a guidebook and could find no mention of it being climbed in winter, so we decided to give it a go. Pawel lead the groove which was thinly iced and bold – it felt like VII,7 on the day.”

    It turns out that the first two pitches of 1944 Route were first climbed in winter by Graeme Livingston and Mark Charlton in 1987 during the first ascent of Eastern Block (VI,7). They did not climb the final groove and finished to the left. This groove was subsequently climbed by Dave MacLeod and Mike Tweedley as a finish to Under Fire (VII,7), which takes the wall to the right. I’ve not heard of any other ascents of the climb, so although it is unlikely that Pawel and Ian travelled any new winter terrain, their climb may be the first winter ascent of the complete summer line.

    Please leave a comment if you know of any other ascents.

    Tim Chappell on the first ascent of Freebird (V,6) on South Craig at the head of Glen Prosen. This rarely-formed ice gully is one of the most aesthetic new routes climbed in the Angus Glens in recent seasons. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    Tim Chappell on the first ascent of Freebird (V,6) on South Craig at the head of Glen Prosen. This rarely-formed ice gully is one of the most aesthetic new routes climbed in the Angus Glens in recent seasons. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    I was delighted when I heard that Henning Wackerhage and Tim Chappell had succeeded on their long sought-after ice gully in Glen Prosen last weekend. It’s always immensely satisfying to get the conditions right on a route that needs ice to make it climbable. Henning takes up the story:

    “Several years ago during one of many walks up Mayar I noted a cliff in Glen Prosen. It was South Craig and it only had one recorded route on it, Summit Gully (III), first climbed by Brian Findlay and Greg Strange in 2001. Some time afterwards I walked in with Robbie Miller and Andrew Melvin in thaw conditions and we climbed the large ledge under the overhangs and finished up the last section of Summit Gully.

    More visits resulted in three more routes (a Grade III and a IV on the right-hand side of the crag and a Grade V just to the left of Summit Gully. However, our main objective, the icy corner was never in icy enough condition. On Saturday February 8, Tim Chappell and I walked in with a different plan, but this time the corner was very icy, and in addition, the South-Easterly gales had whitened the whole crag. Unfortunately we only carried two blunt ebay ice screws, which we could not screw into the ice, even whilst standing at the bottom, so we climbed the route with an ice hook as our only ice gear.

    The climb itself was a neve ramp to a blade of rock in an open-book corner. At the end of the blade there was a tree trunk-sized ice column and with some back-and-footing, I managed to stand on top of the blade. Above were icicles blocking better ice behind, so I removed the icicles to uncover some good placements. This short vertical section is similar to the steep ice section on Sticil Face and was followed by easy climbing to a cave. We avoided the cave on the right and then climbed to the plateau on good neve. We named the route Freebird and graded it V,6 – good climbing in an impressive scenery but unfortunately it was over all too soon!”

    The line of Best of a Bad Bunch (VI,7) on West Buttress on Beinn an Dothaidh. This possible new route is a direct version of Strombringer (III) and its Direct Start (V,6). (Topo Willis Morris)

    The line of Best of a Bad Bunch (VI,7) on the West Buttress on Beinn an Dothaidh. This possible new route appears to be a direct version of Stormbringer (III) and its Direct Start (V,6). (Topo Willis Morris)

    Willis Morris and Euan Ryan visited the North-East Coire of Beinn an Dothaidh on January 21 with the intention of climbing the classic line of Ménage a Trois. On the approach they were deflected on to a possible new line near Stormbringer on West Buttress. They believe they climbed a harder variation start to Stormbringer Direct Start, by starting to the left, and joining it at the top of the first pitch for the overhung crux. On the second pitch, where Stormbringer continues up the ice gully, they continued up the right-hand side buttress up a groove with thin ice cover. For the third pitch they climbed five metres of the ice gully to the left, and instead of continuing up the gully-line, they went straight up and over a roof on the left wall of the gully (crux), before a fourth and final pitch up a mixed crack system led the top just left of where Stormbringer finishes.

    “We’re both instructors at the Glasgow Climbing Centre,” Willis explained. “We wanted a day out after several failed attempts the previous week due to bad weather. We originally planned to travel to Glen Coe to try Central Grooves, but when this failed we decided to head for Menage a Trois. But even this failed thanks to our route finding skills. If the route is new, we’d like to call it Best of a Bad Bunch’, which seems an appropriate name in the circumstances! We realise that the route is not sustained and neither does it lie far from an existing route, but when our pitches are linked together they produce some awesome mixed climbing. We decided to grade it VI,7.”

    It’s a long time since Chris Cartwright and I made the first ascent of the Direct Start of Stormbringer (November 1996), and even longer ago when Ken Crocket and Ian Fulton made the first ascent of Stormbinger itself (January 1977). I can’t remember exactly where we went, but it is likely that Willis and Euan climbed new ground. If anyone has climbed the Stormbringer recently, please feel free to comment.