The Cathedral – Third Ascent

Greg Boswell moving across the 6-metre wide roof of The Cathedral (XI,11) on The Cobbler during the second ascent. “I moved quickly between horrible wobbly hooks and torques and swung my feet out horizontally in front of me. I flustered around trying to find another hook where the last had ripped out, but all I could find was a tiny rounded sloping edge…” (Photo Adam Russell)

Greg Boswell moving across the 6-metre wide roof of The Cathedral (X,11) on The Cobbler during the third ascent. “I moved quickly between horrible wobbly hooks and torques and swung my feet out horizontally in front of me. I flustered around trying to find another hook where the last had ripped out, but all I could find was a tiny rounded sloping edge…” (Photo Adam Russell)

On Wednesday January 23, Greg Boswell (belayed by Adam Russell) notched up significant repeat when he made the third ascent of The Cathedral (X,11) on The Cobbler. The Cathedral climbs up to a tight niche at the back of the cave on the front face of the Centre Peak, and then climbs across a six metre horizontal roof crack across the middle of the cave to gain turf at the lip and easy ground above. The 30m-long line is not taken by a summer route and is an ideal winter only line as it features wet, dirty rock with lots of turf.

Greg made a ground up ascent, but was thwarted on the on sight when a chockstone ripped as he was most of the way across the roof on his first attempt. After a failed second go, he lowered off, pulled the ropes through and had a rest, before climbing the route cleanly on his next attempt.

“The route was harder than I had expected’” Greg told me. “It was definitely more sustained and physical than both the Hurting and Don’t Die of Ignorance, but better protected. I was surprised to find the route in such good condition, and it was fun to have my first route on the Cobbler be such a good one!”

Ten years ago Dave MacLeod began pushing the Scottish winter envelope with a series of difficult ascents such as his on sight repeat of the Demon Direct in the Northern Corries. During the cold snap near the end of January 2004, Dave pushed the technical limit yet further when he succeeded on The Cathedral, his long-standing roof project on the Cobbler. The Cathedral was the largest continuous roof ever climbed in Scottish winter at the time (now equalled by Dave’s own Castle in the Sky from last season), and was climbed ground up at the second attempt. Dave had tried to on sight the route in January 2003, but had failed due to lack of physical endurance. This time Dave was full of confidence having just returned from a very successful visit to Uschinen in Switzerland where he had climbed several of continental Europe’s hardest mixed routes including the M12 test piece Vertical Limit.

Dave then went on to climb The Hurting (XI,11) in 2005, Don’t Die of Ignorance (XI,11) in 2008 and Anubis (XII) in 2010 to create a remarkable quartet of difficult winter routes that appeared so far ahead of their time that it would take years for them to be repeated. Remarkably, Greg has now climbed three of these routes in the last three seasons, and remains highly enthusiastic about the physically challenging nature of Dave’s routes.

“I was super psyched to get this route ticked,” Greg wrote on his blog. “Once again, Mr MacLeod gives an energy sapping masterpiece of fun and hard climbing… keep them coming Dave!”

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2013 Skye Winter Meet

The line of the 380m-long Curtain Call (III) on the West Face of Window Buttress in Coire na Banachdaich. This cliff is easily approached from the Glen Brittle Hut and has considerable scope for more long winter routes. (Photo Brendan Croft)

The line of the 380m-long Curtain Call (III) on the West Face of Window Buttress in Coire na Banachdaich on Skye. This cliff is easily approached from the Glen Brittle Hut and has considerable scope for more long winter routes. (Photo Brendan Croft)

Skye guide and guidebook author Mike Lates organised a highly successful winter meet based at the BMC Hut in Glen Brittle from January 18-21. Conditions were close to perfect, and Mike’s highly informative blog covers the activity on the meet.

Highlights included a new ice line on the southern face of Sgurr Dearg’s West Ridge – Away from the Crowd (IV), and a mass ascent of Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, a 500m-long III,5 on the right edge of Waterpipe Gully. James Sutton and Ben Wear made the first winter ascent of Dyke Gully and Buttress (V,6) on Sgurr a’Mhadaidh’s North Face, and Steve Perry and Antoni Anderson added South End, an attractive looking IV,5 to Caisteal a’Garbh-Choire. On the final day, Mike Lates and partner visited the ‘daunting’ North face of Mhadaidh and made the first winter ascent of Vixen Groove (V,5).

A couple of new routes were added to the West Face of Window Buttress in Coire na Banachdaich, which directly faces the Glen Brittle hut – Perspex Groove (IV,4) by  Andy Moles and Iain Murray and Curtain Call (III) by Brendan Croft and Paul Cunningham.

“There is only one other winter line recorded on the face,” Brendan told me, “which seems incredible given its proximity to the hut. However, snow conditions low down were exceptional at the weekend so maybe we got lucky. Paul and I started at the foot of the descent route and expected to be at the top in around four pitches. However, the route just kept on going and we ended up doing it in eight rope lengths, the majority of which was grade II ground, with one steeper section on pitch three. With a short approach, acres of rock and a simple descent, the West Face seems like an ideal venue for anyone looking for long, easy-angled routes.”

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Hangover in Arrochar

Dafydd Morris contemplating the top wall/corner past the rock finger on the second pitch of Hangover (VI,6) on Creag Tharsuinn in Arrochar. (Photo Matt Buchanan)

Dafydd Morris contemplating the top wall/corner past the rock finger on the second pitch of Hangover (VI,6) on Creag Tharsuinn in Arrochar. (Photo Matt Buchanan)

“Headed out last Sunday (January 20) to Creag Tharsuinn in Arrochar with Matt Buchanan,” Dafydd Morris reports. “A great wee venue. Had a winter ascent of Hangover in mind, a summer Severe on the upper buttress. I’d been up to the crag a few weeks before and this caught my eye, a much better looking winter line than a summer one in my opinion, damp and turfy looking.

The crag was in top nick, hoared up with bomber turf. I’d envisaged the top pitch would be the crux but it turned out to be the first 15m or so, a pretty tenuous pull over a bulge, not much gear and little for the axes made for an interesting few moves, this led into a great turfy steep corner to a relaxing belay ledge. We then headed up a rocky corner to a steep wall passing a finger of rock described in the guide. Great climbing, really enjoyed it. Grade wise, VI,6. Overall a top day, not a breath of wind, and plenty of time for a couple of pints of Jock Frost in the Village Inn down in Arrochar.

On Thursday (January 24) we tackled The Sting on Beinn Dorain, with Matt again. A fantastic line, the ramp has some superbly delicate moves and the main corner pitch was great fun, steep and well protected. Discussed grades in the pub afterwards with Stuart MacFarlane and Gary Gray who had just done The Prophet. Stu had done the Sting a couple of years previously. General consensus was VI,6 for the ramp and V,7 for the corner, so overall VI,6 or VI,7? Winter grading, love the debates!”

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Striking it Lucky on Beinn Eighe

Michael Barnard climbing the first pitch of Lightning Jack (VI,6) on Sail Mhor on Beinn Eighe during the first ascent. Michael and James Duthie added two routes to the cliff and route names are both references to James’ brief but memorable encounter with an electrical storm in the Dolomites last summer. (Photo James Duthie)

Michael Barnard climbing the first pitch of Lightning Jack (VI,6) on Sail Mhor on Beinn Eighe during the first ascent. Michael and James Duthie added two routes to the cliff and the  route names are both references to James’ brief but memorable encounter with an electrical storm in the Dolomites last summer. (Photo James Duthie)

Michael Barnard and James Duthie had a productive weekend on Beinn Eighe adding two new routes to Sail Mhor. Michael takes up the story:

“On Saturday (January 19) we had no fixed objective in mind, though I was vaguely thinking about one of the easier routes on Far East Wall. However, while walking along the east side of the loch and looking across to it, I was impressed by the Sail Mhor buttresses, and saw there might be a few unclimbed lines. After walking back round the head of the loch we went up to below a chimney on the left side of the wall to the left of Achilles.

I’d convinced James to let me lead the first pitch, so I just set off up the easier lower section while he was still gearing up. Of course I’d completely misjudged the length of the route and the ropes were starting to run out as I reached the start of the interesting ground, so he took the honours on that one. Lucky Strike (85m, IV,4) gave an exercise in sustained back and footing, made more fun by the fact that I had one numb hand all the way up (one of my mitts had blown away earlier).

A quick step left took us to the foot of the obvious fault-line left of Smears for Fears, which still looked fairly imposing (from a distance the top bit has an Italian Climb cul-de-sac type appearance). Unbeknownst to us this was Cave Gully, a V,5 climbed by Pete Davies and Tim Marsh in Jan 2009. It was a worthwhile climb with an entertaining section to pass a chockstone and allowed a side-step just when things started to look a bit too full-on!

The next day (January 20) we headed back up for a look at the longer line of weakness between Lucky Strike and Achilles. The first pitch featured a vertical square-cut chimney, giving some more back and footing practice with great hooks for the axes, but the next tier was clearly going to be more demanding. A steep icy corner led up to a cracked roof but I wanted to find a way rightwards into another groove, which seemed to offer the best hope for success. When I had got about halfway up the corner I looked up to see a cluster of gear hanging from under the roof – the sign of a previous retreat. This made me more determined to leave the corner. After a few attempts I managed to snag a wee bit of turf out right and Lightning Jack (140m, VI,6) was in the bag!”

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Galloway Ice Update

Stephen Reid and Colin Wells on the first ascent of Upper Gusher (IV), in the South East Corrie of Milldown in the Galloway Hills. (Photo: Jonathan Grubb/John Biggar)

Stephen Reid and Colin Wells on the first ascent of Upper Gusher (IV), in the South East Corrie of Milldown in the Galloway Hills. (Photo: Jonathan Grubb/John Biggar)

“Three teams were active on the Merrick on Sunday,” Stephen Reid writes. “With excellent conditions reported on the Black Gairy, Colin Wells and I hastened north to join the fun. We visited Craig an Eilte on Tuesday (January 22) and made the first ascent of the two-pitch Spindrift Gully (IV). On Wednesday (January 23), together with local guru John Biggar, Dave McNicol and Jonathan Grubb, we ventured into the South East Corrie of Milldown and, whilst the Biggar team climbed two new grade III icefalls, Colin and I made the first ascent of the superb Grade IV Upper Gusher (this lies above Middle Piddle and Lower Flower – both II). On the Thursday (January 24), Colin and I returned to the corrie and made the first ascent of the Greater Cleugh of Auchniebut (II), which must be the longest winter climb in the Galloway Hills, at about 700m. Mainly scrambling with the odd tricky little pitch and very spectacular and scenic!”

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Jib on Skye

Iain Small pulling out of the constricting chimney at the top of the third pitch of Jib (VIII,8) on Blaven during the first winter ascent. This summer E1 was first climbed by Messers Boysen, Alcock, Clough and MacInnes in May 1969. The imposing wall of Stairway to Heaven (E5) is in the background. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Iain Small pulling out of the constricting chimney at the top of the third pitch of Jib (VIII,8) on Blaven during the first winter ascent. This summer E1 was first climbed by Messers Boysen, Alcock, Clough and MacInnes in May 1969. The imposing wall of Stairway to Heaven (E5) is in the background. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind, and chase your dream. When Iain Small and I climbed on Blaven three years ago we were struck by the soaring corner-line of Jib on the north side of The Great Prow, and vowed to return. Severely undercut at its start, it seemed an unlikely winter prospect, but Iain reminded me of it when we decided to escape the south-easterlies and head to Skye for the weekend. I reckoned that we had a 50% chance of the route being in condition, and then a 50% chance of actually being able to climb it, so it felt as though the odds were well and truly stacked against us.

Walking up in the dark on Saturday January 19 we were surprised that the scree slope below the face was covered in good neve, rather than loose powder, and we made rapid progress to the base of the route. In the pre-dawn gloom The Great Prow looked black, steep and forbidding, but as it became light we could see that, incredibly, the Jib corner was filled with snow. Our route was on!

Rather than take the original summer start, which traverses in from the right, we started up the overhanging crack of Stairway to Heaven. This led to the infamous Jib traverse, but a helpful banking of semi-consolidated snow led into the corner. Iain then made an impressive lead up the overhanging crack and fierce offwidth above. We had brought a double set of large Camalots, but even so these were not big enough to protect the technical crux. By using a sling to retract the trigger, Iain managed to place a cam at full stretch in a tenuous placement at the back of the crack before launching up a series of desperate unprotected moves to the belay.

Above loomed a constricting overhanging chimney-slot. I fought, cursed and cried my way up this, ripping my jacket as I popped out, like cork from a bottle, below an overhanging wide crack. A steep layback move and I flopped onto snow leading up to a small shoulder and a welcome flat ledge. The summer route steps back right from here into a groove, but it was logical to continue up the right-slanting corner line above. We made the top just as it was becoming dark, but there was still time to scamper down Scuppers Gully before we needed our head torches.

To wind down next day (January 20) we visited a crag that Iain had spotted a couple of years before low on the south-east side of Beinn Sgritheall. We climbed the obvious line up its centre, a good three-pitch V,5 chockstoned gully. Our bodies were tired after the full body pump the day before, and other times we may have rushed down for a second route, but we were content to call it a day, and make a leisurely descent (in daylight for a change) to the car and the long drive home.

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Mistral Second Ascent

Jim Higgins on the second pitch of Mistral (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe. This summer E1 5b on West Central Wall saw its first winter ascent by the ubiquitous partnership of Davison and Nisbet way back in 1991. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

Jim Higgins on the second pitch of Mistral (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe. This summer E1 5b on West Central Wall saw its first winter ascent by the ubiquitous partnership of Davison and Nisbet way back in 1991. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

On Saturday January 19, Jim Higgins completed a long-term personal goal when he made the long-awaited second ascent of Mistral on Beinn Eighe’s West Central Wall with Malcolm Bass. Here is Jim’s story:

“Three years ago I took my first leap of faith down into the void with Graeme Briffett, our interest having been piqued by the relatively amenable grade of VII,7 proffered by the first ascensionists [of Mistral] and that, to our knowledge it had been attempted but not repeated. We ground to a halt on the crux third pitch, unable to fit reality to the guidebook description. I’ve thought about this route on and off over the proceeding seasons. After all, there are not too many routes that are of exceptionally high quality, are often in condition, but have not seen a second ascent after more than 20 years!

Our ascent epitomized the dogged persistence often needed to secure the winter prize. A 5am start into an icy gale (it seemed fitting that Malcolm and I were heading for a wall where many of the route names pay homage to wind) and a wayward ascent of Beinn Eighe’s southern slope saw us reach the summit plateau almost opposite West Central Gully, with weary legs and with more daylight behind us than planned. Inevitably our ropes then got stuck on the first abseil down the doglegged last pitch of Blood Sweat and Fozen Tears, requiring some jiggery-pokery to set them free. At last, by late morning, we were stood beneath the initial icy groove of Mistral. Following success or failure, there would be a night shift!

An efficient couple of pitches brought us to the fabulous belay ledge beneath the crux 40m third pitch on which I had failed three years previous. This time I took a more direct line slightly further right, heading for the smaller of two capping roofs with the final V-groove clearly visible beyond. This was it! The pitch was steep, often tenuous and hard won. I have to say it was the most sustained winter pitch I have ever climbed. What a belter! Pulling into the V-groove belay was a particularly joyous moment for me. I even let out a feeble squeal in celebration, which is particularly unusual for this quiet man! As darkness enveloped us Malcolm displayed steely determination in seconding, the pitch, even climbing one of the crux sections twice after dropping, then retrieving, his head-torch. We topped out at 9pm having finished up the Wall of the Winds chimney as per the first ascent (note – the V-groove of Mistral still awaits a winter ascent).

As Malcolm said, according to the new Yorkshire winter grading system the crux pitch was “reet ‘ard” but, going with convention, we will suggest “very sustained VII 8” with the route definitely worth three stars. A memorable day!”

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Suspended Animation

Pete Macpherson ion the first ascent of Suspended Animation (VIII,9), a new four-pitch long mixed route on Suspense Wall in Coire na Feola on Beinn Bhan. (Photo Martin Moran)

Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Suspended Animation (VIII,9), a new four-pitch long mixed route on Suspense Wall in Coire na Feola on Beinn Bhan. (Photo Martin Moran)

“After a four-week layoff due to cold and chest infection,” Pete Macpherson writes, “I ventured out (on January 16) with Mr Moran in the hope of a relatively easy day. Big objectives were out of the question due to my lack of fitness and chronic cough so we headed to Suspense Wall on Beinn Bhan, which has a nice short (two hour) approach and is an easily accessible crag.

The wall is extremely steep to say the least, and we struggled to find a realistic on sightable, and for that matter survivable line to try. Sometimes you just have to get in amongst it and hope that you find a weakness, such is the nature of on sighting on primitive untouched sandstone.

Four pitches of pokey and really technical climbing with a bizzare and thought provoking crux (which the Moran machine solved), got us to the easy finishing slopes. Delighted! Beinn Bhan gives pure adventure once again. Suspended Animation. We gave it VIII,9 but as Martin said at the time ‘it’s an intense passage.’ So much for an easy day!”

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It Beggars Belief!

Simon Yearsley starting up the second pitch of Beggars Belief (VII,7) on Ben Nevis during the first ascet. The crux wall is visible diagonally above his right shoulder. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Simon Yearsley starting up the second pitch of Beggars Belief (VII,7) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. The crux wall is visible diagonally above his right shoulder. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Simon Yearsley and Helen Rennard added a testing new route to the left of Vanishing Gully on Ben Nevis on Wednesday (January 16). Simon decribes their ascent:

“Helen and I were out yesterday looking at the Secondary Tower Ridge area on Ben Nevis.  I’d often thought of this as an interesting place to visit, as there do seem to be some gaps, and there’s an awful lot of rock! In this area there’s a good combination of mixed routes (Fat Boy Slim), the classic gullies (Vanishing) and some mixed climbs which rely on good plated ice (Running Hot).

I was intrigued as to why the summer VDiff line of Beggar’s Groove hadn’t been done in winter.  Neither of us had climbed in this area before, so we weren’t too sure what the characteristics of the rock would be like (often a critical factor with mixed routes on the Ben), but I did remember Iain Small’s quote when he and Simon Richardson had climbed the nearby Rogue’s Rib back in March 2011 ‘The cracks are good and it’s turfy’, and ‘It’s slabby without much gear’. Two intriguing quotes… the only way to find out what Beggar’s Groove was like was to give it a try!

Helen led the first pitch, the obvious chimney mid way between 1934 Route and Vanishing Gully which proved fun, and belayed below a steeper area.  From here we took a long time trying to figure out where the Beggar’s Groove went, but simply couldn’t follow the summer description. So we headed up the natural winter line – a nice open groove, a short traverse left and then a steep wall. This gave the first crux of the route, with hard but good climbing… and no, the cracks weren’t great and what turf there was, was very pebbly and very thin indeed! It was very time-consuming to lead the pitch, as route finding wasn’t straightforward, the placements difficult to unearth, and the spaced protection not easy to find. The light was fading as we tackled another couple of (still interesting) pitches, and then headed into steeper ground above as the night closed in.

By now we were down to one decent headtorch and one pretty dim headtorch, and Helen’s lead of the final pitch was a superb piece of climbing. This was the second crux and gave 50m of absorbing technical climbing including a steep technical crack, and a very precarious mantelshelf onto a turf blob which had her only protection for 8m embedded in it – a bulldog which of course came out a wee bit too easily.  The pitch finished with a superb diagonal rightwards traverse across steep slabs with just enough dabs of thin turf to climb, but certainly not to protect easily. What was it that Iain had said? Oh yes – ‘…slabby without much gear’.  His description was spot on. I definitely thought it was an excellent pitch to second!

Overall grade of VII,7 is probably about right, but it’s definitely high in the grade, with a pretty serious feel to the two crux pitches. Worth at least one star.

The route finished on Tower Ridge, which we descended, wondering to ourselves what folk in the valley would be thinking as they saw lights descending Tower Ridge late at night… ‘There goes another party over-extended on Tower Ridge and bailing’. Over-extended… nearly. Bailing, definitely not. We called the route, ‘Beggars Belief’, partly because it was close to Beggar’s Groove, and partly because it did beggar belief as to how long it can take to climb new mixed line on Ben Nevis!”

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Abyss Variation on The Brack

The north face of The Brack with the Lower Tier centre left. The Abyss takes the prominent left-facing groove (emerging into sunlight at its top) and was first climbed by Ken Crocket and Alastair Walker in February 1986. (Photo Martin Holland)

The north face of The Brack with the Lower Tier centre left. The Abyss takes the corner-groove, which joins the large snow ledge at mid-height just left of centre, and was first climbed by Ken Crocket and Alastair Walker in February 1986. (Photo Martin Holland)

Martin Holland and B.Hauffe added a new variation to The Abyss on the Lower Tier of The Brack in Arrochar on January 15. Martin takes up the story:

“We gambled on The Brack turf being frozen as it often seems to freeze up better than I’d expect. I’d hoped to do a new line left of The Abyss. The gamble only partially paid off as the turf was good in places, but although cold was dry in others. We did a new pitch up a left facing corner 15m left of The Abyss at about Tech 4. I’d hoped to go direct up the left hand side of the slab above this corner, but the turf/moss blobs and ledges on the slab were dry and the ice wasn’t thick enough – when in condition the slab looks like it would go at about II/III. I decided the slab needed to be left for better conditions and we traversed easily right to the belay at the flake right of the corner of the second pitch of The Abyss. In order to have a look at some new ground and not damage the moss in the corner of The Abyss we took an easy ramp line up left and back right through corners at about II. Above this we joined The Abyss to the top [resulting in a grade of IV,4 for the complete route].

The lower tier is an odd sort of crag. There are good pitches, but a lot of rambling easier ground. It might be worth trying to link the better pitches of several routes together such as Pitch 1 of our Abyss variation start followed by the bottom corner (second pitch) of The Abyss, then up that route or Four Minutes Past Hell, followed by the middle section of Hell’s Teeth followed by the top pitch of Chockstone Alley.”

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