Deadly Presence

Iain Small on the crux pitch of Deadly Presence (VIII,7) on Ben Nevis. “It was pretty thin ice,” Iain said afterwards. “Gear was difficult, but the ice was mostly well attached, which gave me some confidence to push on up the wall. I reckon it’s a contender for the leanest ice pitch I've ever climbed.” (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

Iain Small on the crux pitch of Deadly Presence (VIII,7) on Ben Nevis. “It was pretty thin ice,” Iain said afterwards. “Gear was difficult, but the ice was mostly well attached, which gave me some confidence to push on up the wall. I reckon it’s a contender for the leanest ice pitch I’ve ever climbed.” (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

There were two truly magnificent routes added to Ben Nevis in February. First off was Iain Small and Doug Hawthorn who climbed the icy wall up and left of the ramp of Left Edge Route on Observatory Buttress on February 22. This route serves as a natural continuation to Appointment with Fear (which joins Left Edge Route for its third pitch), and joins the Direct Finish to Observatory Buttress at the Girdle Traverse ledge.

“I was really doubting whether the route would go when slogging up Observatory Gully,” Iain told me. “Astronomy was another option for the day, but luckily we gave the line a go and I got to do Astronomy with Fyffe junior a few days later! After a bit of anguish I gained the big girdling ledge, and then Doug tackled the next two steep walls directly with another long bold pitch. One crucial runner (of only four) on Doug’s pitch was a stubby screw hammered into an icy crack. Doug reckoned it was worth blowing the £50, but the screw emerged only slightly the worse for wear – maybe a bit like us!

After Doug’s long and serious lead up Appointment with Fear, which had us both climbing together for about 15m, we certainly savoured the easy finishing crest of Observatory Buttress. As to the grade, it’s harder and bolder than Point Blank, so VIII,7 seems fitting. Doug suggested Deadly Presence for the route name as that’s the other title that the film Appointment with Fear was released under. So the Appointment with Fear-Deadly Presence combo? One for the Film buffs!”

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A Day of Adventure

Sandy Allan approaching the large cornice on the first ascent of Adventure (V,5) in Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach. “It’s not the quality of the climbing that makes the day here - it’s the whole adventure”, said Sandy on the way down. “And we had had an adventurous day,” confirms Andy Nisbet. (Photo Sandy Allan)

Sandy Allan approaching the large cornice on the first ascent of Adventure (V,5) in Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach. “It’s not the quality of the climbing that makes the day here – it’s the whole adventure”, said Sandy on the way down. “And we had had an adventurous day,” confirms Andy Nisbet. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

Andy Nisbet, Sandy Allan and Dave McGimpsey added a new route on the far right side of Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach on March 4. “Braeriach for me is kind of a last resort, when everything else with new routes is bare, but it still needs good weather” explains Andy. “MWIS said winds southerly 15 to 20mph; the Met Office said Sgorr an Lochain Uaine would have southerly 20mph to start, then an unlikely calm by 9am, and later 20mph again, but those forecasts seemed good enough to make the trip. So it was an unpleasant surprise when the wind was at least 20mph even at the car park for the cycle up Gleann Einich and considerably more as Dave, Sandy and I arrived exhausted at the top of the glen. At least it was below freezing.

Despite the temptation not to bother, we did leave the bikes and set off into the wind cloud. The idea was a route on Corrie of the Chokestone Gully so we made the long rising traverse round the hillside in a whiteout. Sandy is good for comments – “We’d be telling clients to get the compass out and count paces, but we’re just blagging it”. He did get the compass out and count paces for a while but then we got distracted but still hit the col spot on. We almost hadn’t noticed that the wind had dropped, so one up for the Met Office. We took our sacks down to the crag and our lack of confidence that we would be returning was justified as our route was looking rather bare (and hard). So we carried on down into the Garbh Choire and headed up for Plan B, a groove line on the right edge of Garbh Choire Mor and left of a route called Jackpot which I’d climbed in January.

The name Jackpot was because of a lucky guess that the cornice would be small. This time Stephen Reid had sent me a lovely picture showing that White Nile was black (three folk in the next three days asked me if White Nile was in), and this just happened to show what I thought was a small cornice above our line (thanks Stephen!). And it was still a bit misty as we approached in blissful ignorance. It did clear as we roped up and the cornice certainly wasn’t small, but not quite the normal house-sized, and we just had enough momentum to start climbing.

The groove looked quite easy from below but was full of soggy moss and detached ice. Fortunately the right wall turned out to be a huge spike, which allowed me to swing up. With a nice sling runner for confidence, the ice disintegrated more slowly than I made progress upwards (just, but tough on the seconds) and I reached a good crack just as the rope ran out. Sandy led on towards the cornice, a curly affair, which seemed to increase in size as the rope ran out and the Sandy figure got smaller. By the time he belayed, he was quite small and it most certainly wasn’t.

There weren’t any volunteers for the next pitch but it had been my idea to come here. So I set off hopefully left over a rib with the idea that the cornice, which was out of sight, couldn’t be any worse than what was above. I admit I was disappointed but at least there seemed to be a chance. The snow started at 70 degrees and over ten metres reared up to vertical before the last two metres were overhanging to a considerable lip. Fortunately the sun hadn’t been on it so the snow was good enough to take your weight. By digging though about a foot I was able to get axe placements, which seemed to hold. By using the one move at a time method (like footballers, one match at a time) I ended up almost able to reach the top and with a lot of effort, chopped away the lip. I did think about digging out a slot but that would have taken at least an hour of effort I didn’t have, compared to a few seconds going for it. With the knowledge that the plateau had perfect neve, it was over in seconds but took another couple of minutes for my heart rate to slow down.

As I dug out a buried axe belay, I realised that the mist had settled down into the valleys and I now had a perfect vista of snow capped peaks rising from a sea of cloud, plus flat calm weather allowing me to chat to the others coming up. It was like a true reward for the effort. Adventure is hard to grade; it could be anything from III to V depending on conditions and more likely impossible with the bigger build-up, so we graded it V,5 on the day.”

 

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New Route on Ben Nevis

Dave Macleod setting off on the second pitch of a new VII,8 on the East Flank of Tower Ridge of Ben Nevis. “It was a really good varied route with interesting climbing, a pumpy crux pitch and great situations,” his partner Helen Rennard summarised afterwards. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Dave Macleod setting off on the second pitch of Angry Chair, a new VII,8 on the East Flank of Tower Ridge of Ben Nevis. “It was a really good varied route with interesting climbing, a pumpy crux pitch and great situations,” his partner Helen Rennard summarised afterwards. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Dave MacLeod and Helen Rennard added a good new icy mixed route on Ben Nevis on Tuesday February 26.

“We didn’t have a definite plan on Tuesday and took up a large mixed rack and ice screws so we had the option of either ice or mixed,” Helen explained. “Dave had been up on the Sunday and had seen that there were still mixed routes to be done up Observatory Gully, but as a temperature inversion was forecast we thought it might be too warm. We stopped for tea at the Hut and then decided to head up there and have a look anyway. Dave had seen some potential new lines on the wall right of Clefthanger and when we got there it looked to be in good condition.

I led the first pitch, which started up snowy steps and then went left up an open corner and series of steep ramps past a large booming flake at half height and onto snowy slabs above. The snow was cruddy and mostly unhelpful and there was lots of clearing. There was ice in the cracks too. The hooks in the corner crack were good and the flake provided a welcome rest, though I wasn’t entirely convinced how solid it was…

Dave led the second pitch, which was the crux and went up the snow-covered slabs and left into a steep icy corner. He was out of sight once he stepped round into this. There was a good bit of ice on this pitch, though not enough to front point on, which made it difficult. There were good hooks on the right wall near the top of the pitch, then a heave onto the belay ledge.

The third pitch went up past a large block on a ledge then slightly down before traversing across a five metre vertical wall to get to Grade IV ice. The protection at the start of this pitch was two Peckers and, whilst there was a decent handrail for your axes there was nothing much for your feet. I set off to lead this pitch, then promptly passed it over to Dave when I saw the traverse! Once on the ice we continued up this to easy ground, from where we traversed off to the left and into Tower Gully.

We walked back down under the stars with Iain Small, who’d just done Astronomy with Blair Fyffe and Nona Thomas. Then more tea at the Hut, kindly served to us by Rich Bentley. A good day all round!”

 

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Overstepping the Mark

This blog is a celebration of Scottish winter climbing. As per my statement of March 5, the original post was kept live for a number of days and has now been removed.

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Mort – Second Ascent

Greg Boswell pulling through the crux roof of Mort (IX,9) on Lochnagar during the second ascent. “After some huffing and puffing and some woeful whimpering… like “I don’t know if I can do this,” and “I’m all idea-ed out”, I eventually unlocked a crazy sequence that allowed me to cross over the huge prominent fin that defines this route.” (Photo Nick Bullock)

Greg Boswell pulling through the crux roof of Mort (IX,9) on Lochnagar during the second ascent. “After some huffing and puffing and some woeful whimpering… ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ and ‘I’m all idea-ed out,’ I eventually unlocked a crazy sequence that allowed me to cross over the huge prominent fin that defines this route.” (Photo Nick Bullock)

On February 22, Greg Boswell, Guy Robertson and Nick Bullock pulled off one of Scotland’s the most prized winter repeats with the second winter ascent of Mort (IX,9) on the Tough-Brown Face of Lochnagar. The 1995 SMC guidebook to the cliff described Mort as a challenge for the next generation, but it was the old guard in the shape of Brian Davison, Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey who claimed one of the mountain’s greatest winter prizes in January 2000.

Mort, which takes a prominent line through the centre of the damp and vegetated overlapping boiler-plate walls of the Tough-Brown Face, was first climbed by Mike Forbes and Mike Rennie in 1967. They used ten points of aid, but the route was free climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Bob Smith nine years later and graded E1. Nowadays it sees no more than one or two ascents each summer and is thought to be at the upper end of its grade. As the most prominent line through the Tough-Brown Face it was an obvious, if futuristic winter challenge, and was first tried by Colin MacLean, Nisbet and Davison in January 1985. The date is significant as the only route of comparable difficult at the time was Guerdon Grooves on Buachaille Etive Mor, which had been climbed, by Arthur Paul and Dave Cuthbertson the previous winter. MacLean led the first hard pitch, using two rest points above the big roof, which is the summer crux, and reached the belay ledge after five hours. Nisbet and Davison were too cold to lead through, so MacLean continued in the lead but he reached a blank section about 15m from easy ground and retreated. Although they had failed, the attempt was an eye-opener and Nisbet and MacLean were quick to capitalise on their experience. Over the following weeks they made the first winter ascents of Unicorn in Glen Coe and Winter Needle on the Shelter Stone.

All three climbers returned to Mort during the following winters. Davison estimates that he visited Lochnagar 18 times with MacLean to try the route, but it was rarely in condition. In March 1992, Davison and Nisbet made an attempt which ended after Davison took a 20m fall over the crux roof, which he had just free climbed, landing at Nisbet’s feet. As the number of people climbing high standard mixed routes was increasing, it became clear that the route was not going to hold out forever. In December 1999, Alan Mullin made a spirited attempt with Guy Robertson. Climbing on sight in difficult powder conditions, Mullin regained almost regained MacLean’s 1985 highpoint on the third pitch, but was again stopped by the blank nature of the rock.

Just after New Year 2000, Lochnagar came into superb condition. Most importantly for an ascent of Mort, there was a thin smear of ice above the blank section, which had stopped MacLean and Mullin on their previous attempts. Early on Saturday January 15, Nisbet climbed up to the first stance and Davison led through on the critical second pitch. Onlookers were highly impressed as Davison pulled swiftly through the roof, and stepped left around a rib into a vertical groove. The only protection on this section was a warthog and a poor tied-off blade peg and Davison reached the belay ledge after two hours in the lead. On the third pitch, Nisbet took a couple of 5m falls at the blank section, before handing the lead to Davison who managed to place a poor peg and reach a small turf placement and the ice smear above. The ice was thin and almost vertical, but after 15m Davison reached the belay ledge. Nisbet and McGimpsey came up in the dark, and it was then a formality for Nisbet to lead the final pitch to easy ground.

Mort was graded IX,9 and was rated by Nisbet as the hardest route he had ever climbed, both from a technical and seriousness aspect. The ascent was met with delight through the Scottish climbing scene. It was felt to be entirely appropriate that Davison and Nisbet, who had been associated with the route for so long, should finally climb the route.

The story of the second ascent last Friday is not mine to tell, so I recommend reading Greg’s graphic first-hand account on his blog. In summary, Guy led the first pitch, with Greg taking the honours with a superb lead of the crux pitch. Unfortunately Greg took a fall when a block came out below the roof, but he completed the pitch cleanly on his second attempt. Guy then completed the route with a smooth lead of the third pitch, which although still being solid Grade VIII, turned out to be more reasonable than its reputation may have suggested.

It was brilliant to hear Guy confirm afterwards that Mort fully deserved both its Grade IX rating and its place as one of the landmarks in the history of Scottish winter climbing.

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Left Pork on Sgurr na Muice

Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Left Pork (V,6) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The Grade is a bit irrelevant,” John Mackenzie said afterwards. “The route is no more than Grade V for overall seriousness, but is quite hard technically. I suspect, it’s a lot harder than many of the Tech 6's I've done, but conditions are everything.” (Photo John Mackenzie)

Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Left Pork (V,6) on Sgurr na Muice in Strathfarrar. “The grade is a bit irrelevant,” John Mackenzie said afterwards. “The route is no more than Grade V for overall seriousness, but it is quite hard technically. It’s a lot harder than many of the other tech 6’s I’ve done, but then again, conditions are everything.” (Photo John Mackenzie)

On February 24, Dave Broadhead and John Mackenzie made the first ascent of the left fork of the three star classic Pearls Before Swine (IV,4) on Sgurr na Muice. They called their new addition Left Pork and graded it V,6.

“Yes, I know, but we are running out of piggy names by now…” explains John. “Last year Simon Nadin, Neil Wilson and I tried the left fork but the ice was far too thin for it to be possible despite an attempt. This year the ice was thicker – about a half inch – so we had some hope. I was recovering from a nasty virus so was firing on less than the usual enthusiasm, but to compensate we had three SMC friends, Dave Broadhead, Colin Wells and Mike Cocker. It was a glorious sunny day with no real wind and snow ice and frozen turf.

Through binoculars from below it looked possible, so we all trooped up the 200m of steep Grade 1 to the base of the cliffs on rock hard snow. The direct ice pitch which forms the usual start of Pearls Before Swine up the lower rock band was hardly there, so we took a narrow gully to the left and then some ice to reach the snow apron below the main cliffs. This in turn leads to the well-defined entrance gully to Pearls Before Swine where two narrow ice hoses give access. I had run out 60m of rope from just below the apron so had to belay on the right wall of the gully some distance below the two forks.

Dave then continued up to the left fork and I had an entertaining time, not entirely stress free, watching his progress. From what I could gather the initial section had just sufficient ice for crampons but not for axes. The configuration is such that the ice runs down a steep but smooth and crack-free slab and the retaining right wall allowed his back to shuffle up whilst the ice provided, just, purchase for front points. He reached what I hoped would be an easier bay with snow but this was an illusion as it was powder resting on the same crack-free rock slab. However he had some good torques on the right wall but nothing for his feet.

I could hear him stating that it was either good for the feet or for the axes but never for both together. His protection up to this point was at the base of the corner and though good it was still well below him and a little worrying watching when both feet shot off on a fairly regular basis. At least his torques were satisfactory and I hoped what snow that was left would be of a firmer character for me afterwards! However the corner now curved around in an overhang and the only way out was left where an extraordinary sloping ‘yardarm’ of rock jutted. A ‘God Save Us All Here’ massive nut fitted to perfection at this crucial juncture as I fully expected a flying Dave, but he cocked a left leg over the yardarm and somehow, though it sounded painful, managed to stand on his left leg long enough before it slid off to transfer weight and bridge left into a more normal climbing position where the corner closed to an ice-filled slot. Back on ice he soon moved up this to a fine rock stance a little higher.

Following was fun too. The lower slab was much steeper than it looked from my stance but a shuffle seemed to work to enter the positively sadistic powder-filled back of the corner, predictably as smooth as the slab out on the left is. Torques up in the retaining right wall and feet gently pressing down on the rubbish snow – the only powder probably on the entire mountain today – led to the ‘yardarm’ and the bomber nut. The roof gave a parallel crack for an axe but the left leg once cocked allowed a most energetic but insecure standing position, sliding off it a positive certainty unless decisive action was taken. A quick change of weight and a bridge to the only piece of turf out left relieved what was a position normally reserved for the Karma Sutra and I was soon able to congratulate Dave in person.

Meanwhile Mike and Colin down below decided on the normal route after seeing our antics and so followed the right fork, which is largely turf and ice interspersed with bulges; it looked in good condition if a little less icy than normal.  Back on the left fork, I had collected our mountain of gear and had the pleasure of a fine ice chimney with a delightfully narrow exit onto turf that was truly epicurean, a delight to pick and stick. At my stance I was overlooking the main route and able to chat to Colin as he climbed, and it seemed that they too were enjoying the situation and the splendid conditions. Our own branch followed up on the continuation of the icy chimney below to the top without further complications so we headed to the summit cairn a short hop away and had some lunch whilst waiting for the others.

The anticyclonic weather was a rare treat, hardly any wind, clear and with good conditions underfoot. I could see however that these ideal conditions were limited to the deeper groove lines on Sgurr na Muice, sheltered from the sun, and that the neighbouring crags of Sgurr na Fearstaig and even Sgurr na Lapaich opposite on the other side of Strathfarrar were pretty black. Unless more snow fell, spring was springing into action and judging by the wildlife all around, this seemed likely!”

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Begging for More

Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Begging for More (III,4) on the West Face of Aonach Beag. Although rarely visited, this cliff has some of the most reliable high altitude ice climbs in the country. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Begging for More (III,4) on the West Face of Aonach Beag. Although rarely visited, this cliff has some of the most reliable high altitude ice climbs in the country. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

“When the big thaw was ending, and after my Ben Wyvis day when the ice was shrinking fast, a high safe choice seemed best,” explains Andy Nisbet. “The Central West Face of Aonach Beag has some of the most reliable ice in the country but is rarely visited so plenty of choice for exploration. Maybe folk think it’s a long walk but only an hour and a half from uplift in the current good walking conditions. The face doesn’t look very impressive from the Aonach Mor-Aonach Beag col but actually it’s much further away and therefore bigger than appearances suggest. And many of the ice lines are in grooves so while the face looks like snow ledges from a distance, the snow ledges are 50-degree snow and continuing up the icy grooves feels natural. But as a word of warning, in current conditions this is probably the most serious approach in all Scotland, close on a kilometre of Grade I hard snow to the far end, up, down and traversing where one trip would be terminal.

When Sandy Allan and I arrived at the col on Tuesday (February 19), the face was obviously icy enough but we had expected some mixed climbing up our objective, which was a small smear in an old April picture. But as we started the long traverse approach, we didn’t even get near before spotting another line of ice and setting off up that. This was to the right of a big corner we’d climbed before (Cryogenic Corner) and another ice line to its right (Glycerol Gully). We soloed a bit and then roped up for a long pitch. I stopped when I ran out of rope and Sandy set off, not for long. “There’s a big gap here”, he said. “We’ll have to abseil”. Even from 10 metres away, I couldn’t believe him, but he was right. The route was split by a deep snow gully crossing it diagonally, and now I remembered it. There was a much thicker icefall directly opposite and from below it had looked continuous. So Sandy made a snow bollard and abseiled tentatively into the gully. The ice pitch out of the gully was quite steep, the next pitch easier and the third went over an awkward ice bulge on to icy mixed ground to finish. For a minute, we wondered if this was two shorter routes or one longer one, but it became the longer Glacies Interruptus (220m IV,5).

The diagonal gully became a descent route but still pretty steep so by the time we had descended and traversed to our original objective, our legs were feeling the strain. But we were inspired by the fantastic conditions and what we had expected to be icy mixed was two long pitches of fat ice on the buttress left of Poached Egg. Preferring our icy theme to eggs which don’t seem to freeze well, we called it Facets (IV,4), after the unusual layer of crystals in the snow pack in the northern Cairngorms. Not that there was any chance of the snow around here avalanching.

A couple of days later (February 21) I was back with Dave McGimpsey. Conditions were so good that there must be more to do. Sandy and I had spotted an iced groove to the right of Sublimation and left of the older route Beyond the Call of Duty, which is the only Grade III I know with two vertical ice pitches (upgrade suggested!). It looked a bit steeper so we’d taken an extra ice screw. The doubt was a vertical wall, which blocked the groove, and below it was an arete, which split the ice into two thinner falls. The left fall up another groove was tempting but gaining the arete might just be a smear. However there was a green tinge to the ice right at the back, which suggested something thicker and made it worth a go. Sure enough, the green ice was thick enough for a tied off ice screw and good placements for the axes, but one foot was on the smear. The monopoint seemed to hold even though it was too thin for axe placements and only a couple of moves to gain the arete where careful footwork was needed for a 90 degree change in foot angle. Once on the arete you could just stay in balance to place a better ice screw in the thicker ice above and a couple of moves gained the upper groove. We gave Glacial Groove V,5 but with such a short crux, maybe it should be IV,5.

There was some mist around so the diagonal gully would have been hard to find from the convex upper slopes. Also there seemed to be plenty of time before the Gondola finished so we returned to the sacks for food and made the long approach again. Actually it was less tiring the long way round. My photo had two ice smears at the right end and Sandy and I had only climbed the left one (or so we thought). But when we got there, it was obvious that we’d actually climbed the right one. So there was a quick change of plan and we headed up left to where there was a choice of ice lines. To play safe, I suggested we continue left but as I belayed I convinced myself that Dave had gone into West Central Route. So once he’d finished the pitch and was at the top of the cliff, I untied and went up the right-hand way. It did seem a bit mad but I guess we’d covered both options. Of course when I got home and looked at the photo, we were a long way from West Central Route and both finishes were valid. West Central Route is a Grade II but assuming the guidebook diagram marks its position correctly, it must be a lot easier without its big icefall or else there was a huge build-up of snow in 1987. Although we were Begging for More (III,4) on Aonach Beag, we needed to avoid the walk of shame back down to the car.”

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Explorations in Arrochar

Jake Thackrey struggling to place a hex on the crux of Silence of the Rams (V,6) on The Cobbler. The route was climbed on December 30 when storm force winds were raging across the country. (Photo Andy Bain)

Jake Thackrey struggling to place a hex on the crux of Silence of the Rams (V,6) on The Cobbler. The route was climbed on December 30 when storm force winds were raging across the country. (Photo Andy Bain)

Some late news, but when Roger Webb and I were battling it out on Cairn Gorm on December 30, Dougie Beck, Andy Bain and Jake Thackrey added a good new route to The Cobbler.

“We took the chance and ventured up The Cobbler to a wee line that we have been eyeing up for a while,” Jake told me. “The snow was not too bad, but the gusts were pretty brutal until we got into the gully proper and we were sheltered from the worst of the weather. We climbed up the open chimney with Ramshead Ridge on the left to a huge chockstone and burrowed rightwards through to a terrace and small cave above. We belayed on the terrace and traversed left to blank wall with a crack on the right and moved up to alcove. We climbed over this and continued up blocks to finish on a large terrace under Punster’s Crack. We called the 40m-long route Silence of the Rams and graded it V,6.

More recently, Jake and Andy have been exploring the winter climbing potential on the nearby Beinn Narnain. “We were climbing on Cruach nam Miseag on January 23 in poor weather and could only find a easy route,” Jake explained. “We called it The Lepidopterist (III,4), but we returned on February 3 and climbed the excellent 235m-long Hellenistic (IV,5) – a great route with superb ice and turf pitches.”

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Hopefall on Ben Hope

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Hopefall (III) on Ben Hope, which lies between Brown’s Ridge and Bell’s Ridge. Nisbet’s partners on the ascent, Steve Perry and Katie Long, had made a rare ascent of Bell’s Ridge six days earlier. (Photo Kate Long)

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Hopefall (III), which lies between Brown’s Ridge and Bell’s Ridge, on Ben Hope. Nisbet’s partners on the ascent, Steve Perry and Katie Long, had made a rare ascent of Bell’s Ridge (III) six days earlier. (Photo Katie Long)

“After doing a new route on the most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond, at the beginning of the week, it seemed a good idea to do one on the most northerly, Ben Hope, at the end of the week (February 15),” Andy Nisbet writes. “Then when local climber Steve Perry sent me a photograph of an icefall he’d spotted from Bell’s Ridge, which he and partner Katie had climbed on the same day as my Ben Lomond trip, the plan was fixed. It was a bit of a rush as a big thaw had arrived and the icefall’s days were numbered; Steve, Katie and I could but Hope.

From the road, it looked like there was a break and there was certainly less snow than earlier in the week, but the long drive adds a certain commitment. The icefall lay near the top of the wide gully between Brown’s Ridge and Bell’s Ridge. It would have been nice to approach up the stream in the lower section but it was most definitely water. Steve had seen it frozen in the past though, and it looked potentially Grade III. But we started up some unusually steep turf, which forms the base of Bell’s Ridge, before traversing in to the wide gully. By now the turf was well frozen although there was no snow, and the icefall was obviously complete.

The others allowed me to lead as a reward for my long drive. The ice was wet and chewy but took ice screws well, so despite a couple of steep steps it was soon over as a 50m pitch. It was a bit shorter than we’d hoped but still good climbing. Grade I snow for 120m then led to the final crest of Brown’s Ridge. We had been Hopefall on the walk up but now it was a Grade III.

The others headed back down to the car but I still fancied bagging the Munro. There was a huge amount of low angled ice on the north face but I took a line quite near the snow gully, which makes for an easy approach from the north ridge. On the drive back south on Saturday, I stopped at Ben Wyvis and optimistically went to the sometimes very icy Coire na Feola. Other cliffs at that altitude had been very good, and my hope that some ice would have survived the thaw, proved correct. Many lines had gone but Gael Force Grooves was still remarkably thick, and despite the ice being soft and friendly, the grade of IV,4 didn’t feel soft and friendly, but the quality was much higher than the one star in the guide. In case anyone rushes up, the first pitch will have gone now.”

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Early Repeat of The Good Groove and Much More…

Donald King approaching the crux section of The Good Groove (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This may be the only second time this route has been repeated since the route was first climbed in March 1993. On the first ascent (in similar icy conditions), Roger Everett belayed from the spike with the sling at the bottom of the photo. (Photo Tim Neill)

Donald King approaching the crux section of The Good Groove (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This may be the only second time this route has been repeated since the route was first climbed in March 1993. On the first ascent (in similar icy conditions), Roger Everett belayed from the spike with the sling at the bottom of the photo. (Photo Tim Neill)

Every season I receive an exciting email or two from Tim Neill recounting his latest adventures in the Scottish Highlands. It’s always a long list of impressive new routes and repeats, which is very fitting, because Tim’s enthusiasm for winter climbing is legendary. It’s no surprise to learn that he’s only had one rest day in the last month!

“Just read the post about Raven’s Gully… beautiful photo!” Tim writes. “We had an amazing day on the climb, and capped it off with Hamish autographing my Coe guidebook in the cafe next morning. We put a little album up on our staff facebook page. It’s got to be one of the most memorable classic outings we’ve all done!

On a more recent note, yesterday (February 15) Keith Ball, Donald King and I did your Good Groove on The Comb… mega! What did you belay on at the foot of the crux groove? This threw Keith as he couldn’t find anything nearly good enough, (and made us think it needed more ice). He ran the two pitches together to the platform and luckily a couple of decent runners appeared in the crux section. Perhaps you might describe it as a 50m pitch in the next guidebook? Each of our three pitches seemed to just have one or two runners and plenty of airy climbing. Wanted to do this one for years.

Matt Stygall and Keith also did The Secret last weekend in ‘turbo rime’ conditions. Matt did the original version climbing the full length of the crack like Andy [Turner] did. This was because it was too white to see where you could traverse in. Alas he took a whipper high up… he was gutted, but totally made up all the same.

I read your post about Tony and Rich’s line out of Green Gully. I never got back to you with a line on the photo you sent… I think I failed with the IT skills needed. Anyway, our line starts about 15m higher than theirs. It’s really obvious in the picture of Green Gully in Cold Climbs. It’s the first line of ice after the narrows in the middle of Green, heading out left to belay below the centre of the triangular headwall. The last pitch climbs right of the obvious dark wall on the crest of the comb, linking the snow patches first a little to the right then leftwards up a hidden gully to the big boulder on the crest of the comb. We called it Uranus (between Mercury and Venus) and graded it IV,4.

Keith and Dave Rudkin also had a great few days up in the North-West. As well as West Buttress Directissma on Ben Eighe and Genesis on Beinn Bhan they climbed a few routes on Meall Gorm, including straightening out Rattlesnake.

It’s not all been too crazy though. When I messaged you about Clough’s Chimney, I let my clients have a sandwich below the narrows in Comb Gully while I nipped out left to check… just wanted to make sure!

Getting out climbing most days (one day off in the last month… after Raven’s Direct), but all local to Coe, Bridge of Orchy and the Ben, so got a good idea on conditions. Did Pigott’s on the Comb today…. obviously a bit gloopy, but awesome ice!”

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