Beast From The East

Looking down the long gully of Beast From The East (II) on Am Bathach in Glen Shiel with perfect neve all the way to the valley. Mullach Fraoch-choire in the background. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

There’s a Beast from the East forecast. Hypothermia, death and destruction are imminent. So why am I climbing in blazing sunshine wearing only a vest, not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind, neve from the valley bottom (Cluanie to Affric valley) to the summit of Am Bathach? And still sweating. Who knows how many hundreds of feet of unclimbed gully, normally with a partly formed ice pitch but today banked out to steep snow and scraping into Grade II.

Some days in Scotland are just wonderful. What to call the gully – Beast From The East of course. But the only beast from the east was me, being an east coaster!

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Sweet Spot

Andy Nisbet leading the first pitch of Sweet Spot (V,5) in Coire na Caime on Liathach, rather wishing he had taken an ice screw. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

Dave McGimpsey climbs hills nowadays. Humps, tumps, lumps and bumps all turn him on. Not that I can comment, having bagged Munros since I was 12. But the best climbing conditions since 2010 were enough to tempt him out.

Conditions may be great, and produced by a big but crucially one-day thaw, although only crags with enough snow initially are in such good nick. In general, the further east or north you went, the less snow there was, and so now the less neve and ice there is. And of course, the higher the better, although I suspect the highest snows may only be crusty.

So Coire na Caime on Liathach, highest of its corries, seemed a good bet, with the doubt being whether there was enough snow before the thaw. Pictures on the SAIS blog showed the ice having diminished in Coire Dubh Mor, and diminished a lot in the lower Coire Dubh Beag, but Coire na Caime is higher and more secluded, rarely visited and rarely photographed. But with a new line!

Friday February 23 was forecast to be a good day in the North-West, albeit a bit windy from the south, but Coire na Caime is north facing and should be sheltered. The approach up the south side of Liathach was gruelling as ever, but we started early enough to avoid the sun softening the snow. On reaching the ridge, we popped down into the descent gully to escape the biting wind.

We were heading for a ridge that bounds Vanadium Couloir on the left and with a prominent line of grooves up its centre. Now the guidebook describes a route called Valentine Buttress with a very similar description and possibly the reason why the route hadn’t been tried before. But Valentine Buttress is actually a deep gully further left, so an odd name but one which had done us a big favour (the guidebook topo is correct). After a long descent and traverse under Bell’s Buttress, we could finally see that our route was in nick. There wasn’t much in reserve, because the lower Am Fasarinen had much less ice, but here the grooves were filled with admittedly thin ice.

So we started up ice on the right, close to the original and unrepeated start to Vanadium Couloir, and followed a groove line. An ice screw runner would have been nice, but we hadn’t expected thick ice and had left them in the car. So with some finger crossing leading to perfect ice, the worry was over quickly and rock runners below chockstones helped a pull over into groove which led left into the main groove-line. We could have tried the direct start but it looked a bit hard. Actually it was a bit bare too but I admit that wasn’t the prime reason.

The ice in the grooves was thin but often on top of blobs of turf, an ideal combination. Although the turf was concrete hard, and no way could we place our warthog, the ice on top of it worked a treat. There were just enough cracks in the walls either side that the climbing wasn’t too stressful, despite the ice being a bit scratchy in places. To make up for missing the direct start, the top tier held a groove, which looked too steep and rocky in my photos, but held just enough ice for us to follow it.

So the route turned out to be a bit of a cracker, and 250m long, although probably losing a star for being escapable into Valentine Buttress below the top tier. A name of Sweet Spot seemed to fit the conditions and we decided on a grade of V,5, although it could be harder in the future. And we were up in reasonable time to admire fantastic views all round on a great winter day.

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Moonstone Repeated

Pete Davies and Ross Cowie approaching the rarely visited Coire nan Camh on Meall Garbh in the Central Highlands. Moonstone (VII,7) takes a direct line up the central and highest part of the cliff. (Photo Steve Elliott)

Pete Davies, Steve Elliott and Ross Cowie made the probable second ascent of Moonstone (VII,7) on Coire nan Camh on February 4. This remote cliff is located 10km south of Loch Laggan on the east face of Meall Garbh, the southerly top of Chno Dearg. Moonstone was first climbed by Chris Cartwright and myself in December 1999 and I’ve not heard of any other repeats.

“It was probably the nicest day of weather I’ve climbed in for a few years,” Pete told me. “Sun, blue skies and not a breath of wind. The snow and ice on the cliff was falling apart in the sunshine for the first couple of hours but rapidly refroze once it went into the shade. I thought the route had a nice mix of climbing styles. Well-protected snowed up rock on the groove pitch up the side of the Diamond then more run out, icy mixed on the pitches through the headwall. Recommended to anyone keen to escape the crowds and hopefully have the corrie to themselves as we did.”

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Dingle First Winter Ascent

Calum Hicks at the top of the corner of Dingle (VII,8) on Buachaille Etive Mor during the first winter ascent. The route was repeated ten days later. (Photo Tim Miller)

Tim Miller is having an excellent winter. He has succeeded on a number of demanding test pieces such as The Secret, and in December he climbed a difficult new route on The Cobbler with Martin McKenna. On February 2, Tim added another notable route to his season’s haul with the first winter ascent of Dingle (a summer HVS) on Buachaille Etive Mor together with Calum Hicks.

“I’d heard that there were a few routes to the right of Engineers Crack that hadn’t been done in winter,” Tim explained. “Speaking to Neil Adams I found out that he had done Fracture Route, so Dingle seemed like the obvious choice. There’s an easy approach pitch, which Calum led, then I climbed the main corner at VII’8. It turned out to be much better than expected. Bomber hooks and tons of gear, the only catch being the very thin feet. There is good tat at the top to abseil down from, so combined with a short walk in, it makes an ideal bad weather day or consolation route. As for the grade, I was between VI,7 and VII,8 so originally settled on easy VII hard 7. Furthermore my friend Tim Oliver repeated it on February 12 and thought it to be about mid VII easy 8 and good fun climbing. So VII,8 suits it better anyway I think.”

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The Vice Squad

Andrew Fraser in the grips of the Vice during the first ascent of The vice Squad (V,5) in the Galloway Hills. The crucial offwidth can be seen above. (Photo Stephen Reid)

Stephen Reid and Andrew Fraser made an opportunistic ascent in the Galloway Hills on February 9. Stephen Reid takes up the story:

“Andrew Fraser and myself took an optimistic view of the weather last Friday (it was raining in Castle Douglas) and headed in to the rarely visited, but high crag of the Cauldron of the Dungeon on Dungeon Hill, where Fraser had previously climbed two winter routes with Ian Magill.

We climbed the obvious central groove to give The Vice Squad (V,5) named after the thrutchy chimney-flake on pitch 2, though the crux proved to be the final offwidth moves of the third (and last) pitch.”

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Silver Surfing in Corrie Farchal

Icy times on Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova. Euan Whittaker at the top of ice shield to below the right-facing corner on pitch 3 of Silver Surfers (IV,5) during the first ascent. (Photo Martin Holland)

Euan Whittaker, Paul Warnock and Martin Holland climbed a new route – Silver Surfers (IV,5) – between Coffin Dodger and Over the Hill in Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova on February 7.

“We’d gone in to climb Silver Threads Among the Gold,” Martin explained. “But the bottom buttress had caught the sun, so we climbed this icy line to the right. Hence the name, which hopefully fits the theme of the crag. It links steep ice sections with easier ground and relaxed belay stances and gave some very nice climbing. The crux pitch climbs steeply up an ice shield to gain the right-facing corner, which is left of the ‘slot’ of Over the Hill. Easier ground leads to another cave belay under a large block.

Additionally, on February 6 we climbed Sun Rock Blues in Winter Corrie. We varied the third pitch by traversing right from the small cave above the line of Stalingrad. The traverse right was easy except for one memorably, awkward and precarious step transferring from the first upwards traversing ledge to the second.”

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Cruachan’s Century Repeated

Amy Goodill following the final pitch of Century (V,5) on Drochaid Ghlas on Ben Cruachan. The exciting perspective of this shot was achieved by using a drone. (Photo Erik Lang)

Southern Highlands aficionado Stuart MacFarlane, together with Amy Goodill made the second ascent of Century (V,5) on Ben Cruachan on February 4. This three-pitch route is situated high up on the east face of Drochaid Ghlas. Being east facing it does not come as quickly into condition as the popular north-facing routes in Coire Chat but it does benefit from a slightly shorter walk.

What sets Stuart and Amy’s ascent apart however, is that a drone flown by Erik Lang filmed their climb. The edited video of the climb can be seen on


Drone footage provides a unique perspective and conveys the atmosphere of a place as well as giving a feeling as to what climbing on a high Scottish cliff is all about. So congratulations to Erik for creating such an interesting piece of footage and for Stuart and Amy for acting as willing models.

Ben Cruachan has a special place in my heart and I have fond memories of exploring the cliffs of Drochaid Ghlas with Roger Everett and Chris Cartwright many years ago. I climbed Century with Chris in February 2000 and it was so named as it was my hundredth new winter route. I’ve done a few more since of course, and it is always a delight when someone comes along and repeats one, even when the wait is 18 years!

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Dark Angel on the Church Door

Matt Helliker leading the crux second pitch of Dark Angel (VII,8) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe during the first ascent. (Photo Nick Bullock)

The clean-cut features and deep cracks of Bidean nan Bian’s Church Door Buttress have been a happy hunting ground for Scottish mixed climbers over the last couple of seasons. Un Poco Loco (VII,7), which finds its way through the great arch on the front face of the buttress (which gives the crag its name), has become something of a classic this winter, and following Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson’s ascent of Lost Arrow Winter Variation (X,10) in December, Matt Helliker and Pete Whittaker (of Wideboyz fame) made the second ascent of the spectacular Church Door Angels (VIII,9) in January.

During this ascent, Matt and Pete noted an unclimbed crack-line to the left so they returned with Nick Bullock on February 4 to attempt the line. The result was the three-pitch Dark Angel (VII,8), with Pete, Matt and Nick leading pitches one, two and three respectively. The route was very sustained, but the highlight was the thin crack up the vertical wall just right of the church door.

Matt described it as a ‘beautiful route’ and it is easy to see why! Full details can be found on Matt’s blog.

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Lurching Towards One Hundred Routes

Kacper Tekieli on the first ascent of Wolf Whistle (VII,7) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This is one of three challenging new routes added to the amphitheatre area at the southern end of the crag in February. The groove just to the right is Jaws (VII,8), as is the short wide crack on the skyline. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

“OK, you need to count variations to make that true, but the three figures for Lurcher’s Crag has come a lot closer this week during snowy conditions when all the steep walls have been rimed,” Andy Nisbet writes.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, only the main gullies were of interest. Surprising really when climbers had done Moderate routes in summer way back. But I guess it was a remote crag until the ski road was built. Then John Lyall started exploring in the 1990s and discovered the amphitheatre at the southern end of the crag. He climbed routes at each end but failed to get up the main wall. I started exploring Lurcher’s in 2007 and climbed many of the long mountaineering style ridges. In 2009, John took me to the central gully in the amphitheatre, and finding unusually icy conditions, we managed to struggle up it (Wolfstone Gully – VI,7).

There were so many easier lines to do, and the amphitheatre had an intimidating atmosphere, so I didn’t return until this winter. With Steve Perry and Jonathan Preston in mid November, we climbed an easier line which didn’t touch the main wall but gave us a good look at the potential – Pegleg (III,4).

I’m just getting back to reasonable fitness, so Jonathan Preston and I waited until last week to try something steeper. John Lyall’s Collie’s Route (IV,5) was an old attempt on Wolfstone Gully but they had been forced to traverse away across the face on the right to find an easier way up. I was a bit surprised he hadn’t gone back to do a direct start, but I guess there was lots to do.

Steve had decided his peg leg should be rested for the winter, so Jonathan and I decided to try the direct start with the hope that we could continue up the headwall. Also there are loose blocks on the wall so we had to wait for properly cold conditions. But we did climb Collie’s Ridge, the right bounding ridge of the amphitheatre, so we could have a good look at the potential route, and we decided on a good line for the start. It looked like steep slabby ground with occasional turf.

On February 2 we were back and delighted that the wall was pure white, but not deeply buried. Jonathan volunteered to lead the start, leaving me to find a line up the headwall. The pitch was sustained after an introductory squeeze chimney, which took as much effort as the rest of the pitch. He had to work for runners but the effort produced reasonably good protection. He belayed on the big traverse ledge of Collie’s Route under a cracked groove.

There didn’t seem to be any footholds in the groove, so I nipped round the corner to a much friendlier ramp, which led up right to a pinnacle. Standing on the pinnacle was very precarious and distinctly committing but the smooth vertical wall above it had a brilliant crack, which had no right to exist. Having filled it with more runners than were really necessary, a wild move gained a ledge complete with a knob of rock, a unique feature which even took a sling runner and which allowed a swing left to the foot of a ramp. The ramp led more easily up the headwall to a chimney, which broke its capping bulge. This left Jonathan to finish up a short technical groove to reach upper Collie’s Ridge.

We were both delighted with this spectacularly exposed and improbable pitch up the headwall. Jonathan compared it to the crack on The Migrant (Coire an Lochain), so that made the decision to similarly grade it VI,7 ***. I have a feeling it might be quite a soft touch but folk don’t usually complain. It was called Rottweiler, along with the dog theme but requiring an aggressive touch (and Jonathan said he used to be nicknamed The Rottweiler).

Sandy Allan had a Polish visitor, Kacper Tekieli, staying for a few days and had suggested that we could point him at something new, which we wouldn’t try ourselves. He had turned down an invite to the Polish winter K2 expedition so he might cope with the Lurcher’s headwall. The plan was a rib at the left end of the headwall. I had sussed out a line of least resistance (i.e. one that Sandy and I would enjoy), so we pointed Kacper at a slabby corner, which formed its left side. This was rather lacking in footholds but had just enough turf and protection for Kacper to climb it steadily. The next and much easier pitch took the right side of the rib, with the final pitch again on the left side. It was nice to walk in and out from the crag in daylight, the advantage of accessible Lurcher’s. We called it Wolf Whistle, but the grade wasn’t so easy, Sandy and I not having climbed as hard as that for a while and Kacper not knowing Scottish grades. Apparently it was Tatra 7, so Scottish VII,7 seemed to fit.

I was having my necessary rest day, but the Broad Peak team was back two days later to climb a direct line up the rib. This used the same belays but climbed a fierce crack and groove on each pitch. The protection was better but the climbing harder, although in a boulder problem style, so it was graded VII,8 (Tatra 7+) and named Jaws after a couple of particularly snappy grooves. They were even back at my house in daylight to report the success. Kacper has now had to return to Poland, which is a shame as we could think of some more lines for him…”

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Church Door Angels – Second Ascent

Matt Helliker on the second ascent of Church Door Angels (VIII,9) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. This eye-catching line was first climbed by Donald King and Mike Pescod in January 2014. (Photo Pete Whittaker)

On February 2, Matt Helliker and Pete Whittaker pulled off the second ascent of the sensational Church Door Angels (VIII,9) that is situated high on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe.

“I was inspired by the line of after seeing the photo on of Donald King making the first ascent,” Matt told me. “So last Friday, Pete Whitaker (on his third ever winter route) and I decided to give it a go. Conditions were perfect, without a breath of wind. The cliff was nicely rimed, and we had Church Door Buttress to ourselves.

On the first ascent Donald climbed one long mega pitch through the difficulties, but I decide to split our climb into two pitches by belaying on a big ledge above the first wall, that’s taken direct up the front face of the tower. This seemed logical, and also allowed me to retrieve a bunch of small wires that I’d placed lower down – looking up they would become useful.

The second crux pitch had no ice in the cracks compared to the first ascent. Speaking with Donald later, we agreed that this made for better protected and technically more difficult climbing, but overall the route deserved the same grade. A five-metre section at the top of the right-hand facing corner proved to be the crux… flared crack, zero feet and no chockstones meant for three or four deep lock offs with feet smearing in the corner and leaning out on the axes, before pulling out left onto a ledge. We then followed Donald’s route description to then top of the arch. A great line…”

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