Fancy Free on Lochnagar

Greg Boswell nearing the end of the main groove on the third pitch of Fancy Free (VII,9) on Lochnagar. This route joins Footloose (VII,8) and Mantichore (VII,7) as an easily accessible technical route with a choice of descents – abseil or a scramble down the easy lower section of Central Buttress. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Greg Boswell nearing the end of the main groove on the third pitch of Fancy Free (VII,9) on Lochnagar. This route forms a trio with Footloose (VII,8) and Mantichore (VII,7) as easily accessible technical routes with a choice of descents – either abseil or scramble down the easy lower section of Central Buttress. (Photo Guy Robertson)

Pete Benson, Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson succeeded on an excellent technical new route on Lochnagar yesterday before the thaw set in.

“We climbed the obvious groove line parallel to and left of Footloose on Central Buttress to give Fancy Free (VII,9),” Guy told me. “We had intended on bigger things, but the state of the snowpack was such that we couldn’t proceed past the first aid box (there was a good metre of wet slab sitting on a further two layers below!).

Pete took us up the first pitch of Mantichore, from where I led a short traverse left to climb a short and very technical corner to enter the main groove line.  Fortunately, the protection in the corner was fail-safe as the climbing was extremely precarious (we all fell off!).  Greg then took the reigns and swiftly dispatched the big groove, which provided an outstanding third pitch.

I’ve had my eye on the line for long enough, so nice to get it done.  It’s an excellent little test piece, which will be in condition with a freeze, and dusting of snow, so it should get some attention I reckon. It’s useful to have good climbing that is accessible in the most treacherous of avalanche conditions.”

 

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Raven’s Gully – Recent Ascents

Crag Jones on the spectacular fourth pitch of Raven’s Gully (V,5) on Buachaille Etive Mor. There are two finishes to the standard line – either climb the chimney on the right (awkward in lean conditions), or traverse left and finish up icy grooves as shown above. (Photo Stephen Reid)

Crag Jones on the spectacular fourth pitch of Raven’s Gully (V,6) on Buachaille Etive Mor. There are two finishes to the standard line – either climb the chimney on the right (awkward in lean conditions), or traverse left and finish up icy grooves, both gained via this traverse left from the foot of the Direct Finish. (Photo Stephen Reid)

I was intrigued last week, by a brief mention on UK Climbing that a team had made a rare ascent of Raven’s Gully with the Direct Finish in Glen Coe on February 8. It turned out it was Plas y Brenin instructors Keith Ball, Tim Neill and Dave Rudkin, who thoroughly enjoyed this classic outing with its intimidating Direct Finish (VI,6) first climbed by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins in February 1970. For many years this was the most impressive winter ascent ever achieved by a visiting overseas team, and it has had very few repeats since.

It struck me that the classic Raven’s Gully (V,6) does not see much traffic nowadays, so I was delighted to receive the following email from Stephen Reid, which may provide some impetus for some more ascents (once the weather cools down again).

“Just thought I’d let you know that myself and Crag Jones climbed Raven’s on Tuesday (February 12). It’s got to be the hardest Grade V I’ve ever done! I was spurred on by mention on UK Climbing that the Direct had been climbed the previous week – I now know from Andy Nisbet that this was by a Plas y Brenin team making a very rare ascent. Indeed we tried to climb the Direct but couldn’t work out the last pitch (the description in the winter guide is not very helpful!) and so abbed back down and finished via the right-hand version of the original way which was tremendous and required combined tactics on the final little sting in the tail chimney. We also found the route lengths out in the guide. Raven’s is over 200m long and the Direct is at least 75m – I’ve told Andy. Got back to Lagangarbh at 1am!”

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Foreign Lands

Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of Rowardennan Rib (IV,4) on Ben Lomond. Despite its proximity to Glasgow, the summit cliffs of Ben Lomond are still providing new ground for the winter explorer. (Photo Davie Crawford)

Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of Rowardennan Rib (V,5) on Ben Lomond. Despite its proximity to Glasgow, the summit cliffs of Ben Lomond are still providing new ground for the winter explorer. (Photo Davie Crawford)

Andy Nisbet made a rare visit to the Southern Highlands instead of his beloved North-West on Tuesday February 12. Here is his story:

“Things weren’t going well on my way to meet Davie Crawford in Paisley. I’d forgotten to bring his address and only by luck had his mobile number. But that wasn’t immediately useful, as I’d forgotten my phone. Also the motorway had just been closed by an accident near Stirling and I’d been sent into Bridge of Allan, and now I was lost. And I didn’t have my passport to get into Weegieland. Ben Lomond seemed far away!

Winter climbing does have its highs and lows. A friendly policeman directed me to Stirling Services where I went begging, and a friendly customer phoned Davie for me. I even found my way through Paisley more by luck than anything else. And next day we arrived at Ben Lomond, and all was white again (in both senses).

After a couple of good days with friend Sonya, I had become quite keen on Ben Lomond and had even been for a prospecting walk under the cliffs last summer. In fact it was Sonya’s original idea to go, as she’d been sent a photo by Davie saying there were new lines to be done (before I’d even met her in fact). This seemed unusually generous but I wasn’t going to refuse. So it seemed to complete the circle that I would climb there with Davie.

Ben Lomond is a similar altitude and aspect to An Teallach so I hoped conditions would be equally good. But walking up was a bit worrying as there was much more fresh snow, from Sunday presumably when the NW seemed the only place to escape. But Ben Lomond is so popular with walkers that there was a reasonable trail and higher up many of the slopes had been blown clear. It was a cold day and the turf was frozen down to 300m so no worries there, apart from a very chilly gearing up on top. While descending to the cliff in thin mist, it did look extremely white with all the ledges and the cliff base piled with high angle snow deposited by a fierce updraft. It had been a bit misty in the summer also and I might have been in an optimistic mood, so plan A looked sufficiently outrageous for us to carry on to the remote end of the cliff where Davie and the Postie had put up Endrick Corner in 2006.

Some 30m right of Endrick Corner is a prominent rib leading up to steep but turfy ground above; this seemed like a blank space. The corner on the right of the rib looked good but with a very steep step. So the plan was to go up left of the rib but as I climbed up towards it, the right corner was calling to me and showing me that it had more ice than we’d thought. It was still a fierce pull with not great protection into a snowdrift, which had to be cleared, but a small ledge on the top of the rib had a great crack (pretty rare on Ben Lomond). Davie got the much more sustained upper pitch with just enough turf and just enough protection to keep him happy. He was able to pull direct through a roof system into corners above, leaving me with an easy last pitch. V,5 seemed like a fair grade for Rowardennan Rib as it felt hard but without moves that took much time to work out. So we had time for a second route; I had to get another route in before my visa ran out.

There were three parallel gullies at the far end of the cliff, all short but distinct lines. We took all the gear down and roped the left one, some 60m Grade III. The middle one was easier and we were getting tired, so we soloed that one at 70m Grade II. And the 80m right one was very tiring but probably still Grade II.”

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Frozen Forest

Robbie Miller literally climbing through a ‘Frozen Forest’ of trees and vegetation in Glen Clova. This six-pitch Grade IV takes the rarely travelled ground to the right of Look C Gully, Corrie Fee. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

Robbie Miller climbing through a ‘Frozen Forest’ of trees and vegetation in Glen Clova. This six-pitch Grade IV takes the rarely travelled ground to the right of Look C Gully in Corrie Fee. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

Glen Clova is currently undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment, with a steady stream of quality winter routes being added over the past few seasons. Take Winter Corrie, for example. Long regarded as a venue for easy to middle grades with only one route graded harder than Grade IV, it now sports several excellent technical additions including Wildcat Wall, The Tiger Finish, Waterfall Buttress Direct, Moon Ice Jazz and Stalingrad.

Henning Wackerhage has been very much at the forefront of these developments, and on Sunday February 10 he visited Corrie Fee with Robbie Miller intent on finding a way through the steep mixed ground to the right of Look C Gully.

The result was Frozen Forest, a new IV,4 that breaks through the lower barrier wall via the overhung slot taken by The Wild Places. Climbing without a guidebook, Henning and Robbie enjoyed ‘six pitches of excellent adventure’ on largely new terrain.

 

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Migranya Profundia

Tony Stone running it out on the serious first pitch of Migranya Profunda (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The unusual route name (also a hard sports route at Siurana in Catalonia), reflected the circumstances of the day. (Photo Iain Small)

Tony Stone running it out on the serious first pitch of Migranya Profunda (VIII,8) on Ben Nevis. The unusual route name (also a hard sports route at Siurana in Catalonia), reflected the circumstances of the day. (Photo Iain Small)

On Sunday February 10, Tony Stone and Iain Small solved another ‘last great problem’ on Ben Nevis by climbing the three-pitch overhanging corner-line between Fat Boy Slim and Rogue’s Rib on Secondary Tower Ridge.

“In total contrast to the balmy calm of the Gorms the day before, there was a lot of snow being blown around, so we lingered in the Hut for longer than was reasonable for supposedly keen climbers, “ Iain told me. “I thought the route would be on the sheltered side but the wind just turned itself around and blew up the crag instead.

The route was pretty bold and delicate for the first two pitches, and Tony really pushed the comfort levels on the first pitch , even though he appeared consummately in control throughout. (Now I know Simon, why you sometimes just can’t watch when there’s not much gear going in). The final long pitch up the prominent groove should have provided a more relaxing finale for Tony but he was battling a migraine by that point and admitted later that he could barely think straight enough to put the belay together when he got to the top.

Back at the Hut we got some medication so Tony could face the walk down. We reckoned on VIII 7/8 for the route, never really technical, but a lot of delicate bold climbing on a pretty tough day out.”

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Three Wee Chimneys

Des Rubens climbing the steep initial pillar of Three Chimneys, Left Hand (IV,4) on Cul Beag during the first ascent. (Photo Dave Broadhead)

Des Rubens climbing the steep initial pillar of Three Chimneys, Left Hand (IV,4) on Cul Beag during the first ascent. (Photo Dave Broadhead)

“Just to let you know that the team you mentioned in your Free Tibet post is still active occasionally!” Des Rubens writes. “Dave Broadhead and I visited the North Corrie of Cul Beag on January 26. We went there to get away from the high avalanche hazard elsewhere and take advantage of the amount of ice around on the watercourses. We climbed the left-hand of three ice lines which lie about 150 metres left of Left Buttress and are really on Meall Dearg, a subsidiary peak of Cul Beag.  The other routes looked quite easy, although no doubt enjoyable.”

Tongue in cheek, Des and Dave named their new route Three Wee Chimneys, Left Hand (IV,4), after a similar name on Cul Mor.

“It is quite a low venue so not often in condition.  But having been into Beinn Udlaidh the week before, when there were eleven cars plus two small vans at the parking (on a Thursday!), it was lovely to have a lonely corrie to ourselves!”

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The Solution to Does Anyone Recognise This Route?

Michael Barnard climbing the first pitch of Clough’s Chimney (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. The downward point flake is prominent just left of the climber. (Photo Hannah Gibbs)

Michael Barnard climbing the first pitch of Clough’s Chimney (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. The downward point flake is prominent just left of the climber. (Photo Hannah Gibbs)

Mystery solved! The unknown route climbed by Jeff Lowe and Henry Barber in March 1976 is Clough’s Chimney (VI,6) on Comb Gully Buttress. Michael Barnard sent me a photo of the route from February 2010, which clearly matches the shot of Jeff Lowe climbing the same pitch in March 1976. Thanks also to Tim Neill, who also recognised the route.

“That’s definitely Clough’s Chimney,” Michael told me. “The sloping ledge below Jeff is also prominent in my picture – I remember it well as that’s what you’d soon be hitting once past the initial gear!”

The history of Clough’s Chimney is interesting, and the first ascents list of the Ben Nevis guide states:

W 1960 Jan 8    Clough’s Chimney I.S.Clough, J.M.Alexander The first ascensionists followed the line of Comb Gully Buttress and traversed right from below the bulging ice pitch and climbed the upper half of the prominent left-curving chimney. The lower half of the chimney was climbed by G.Perroux and partner in the 1990s and named Les 40 Degree Rugissants. Complete ascent as described by S.M.Richardson, R.Clothier, R.Goolden 16 Apr 2000.

Clough and Alexander originally named the route Comb Gully Buttress, but to distinguish it from the now more commonly climbed Grade IV version (by Ian Fulton and Davy Gardner in January 1971), which is based on ice, I renamed it Clough’s Chimney in the 2002 edition of the Ben Nevis guidebook. Ian Clough was clearly going very well at this time. A few days before he had made the first winter ascent of the technical Rogue’s Rib on Secondary Tower Ridge, and both routes were climbed a full month before the celebrated Smith-Marshall week that culminated in the first ascent of Orion Direct.

So the next edition of the Ben Nevis guidebook will have Jeff Lowe and Henry Barber as the first ascensionists of the complete line of Clough’s Chimney. Back in 1976, the focus on Ben Nevis was very much on climbing pure ice routes, so Jeff and Henry’s ascent was a difficult mixed route for its day, and comparable to Ian Nicolson and Rab Carrington’s ascent of the upper part of Gargoyle Wall climbed the following season.

It’s always nice to unravel a little piece of history – many thanks to everyone who helped out.

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Fast Track on An Teallach

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Fast Track (IV,4) on An Teallach. This long hidden gully leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress. (Photo Pat Ingram)

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Fast Track (IV,4) on An Teallach. This long hidden gully leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress. (Photo Pat Ingram)

Andy Nisbet has made An Teallach his own this winter with a series of superb new routes. Here is Andy’s account of his latest adventure:

“As Pat Ingram and I drove to An Teallach on Sunday (February 10), I was amazed to see not a single car in the Shenaval car park. I told Pat it was the first time, even a wet midweek, that I’d seen it empty. So obviously there was no one in the climbers’ pull-off, despite the NW having by far the best weather on a Sunday with south-easterly winds, and An Teallach being in particularly good nick. An Teallach has been particularly snowy this winter, not always an advantage but good enough to make this my sixth visit this winter, two of them being flops due to excessive snow and verglas. But a big thaw on Saturday was actually what An Teallach needed, despite the usual UKC predictions of doom and gloom.

Pat was really after ski touring into a remote crag, but talk of an unclimbed gully full of ice was enough to tempt him, although I admit to being very relieved to find ice as we plodded up Constabulary Couloir in deep wet snow into the mist (although there was a slight crust and the temperature was just below freezing). I had seen this hidden gully, which leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress, three times this winter, as you only really see it from the buttress above Lady’s Gully. Each time I saw it there was more ice but it still looked quite steep.

As soon as I made the first ice placement and the axe pick sank solidly in to the hilt, I knew for the first time we’d made the right decision. This introductory ice pitch led into the main gully, which then curved left into steep ground. With the mist being so thick, the line of white ice in the back of the gully seemed to disappear into vertical walls and I admit to being rather intimidated by the spooky atmosphere. But Pat clearly wasn’t and ran up a 60-metre pitch with our 50m ropes and only stopped because there was a fork, each branch filled with what was proving to be the most perfect ice.

We decided on the left branch, mostly because there was a prominent chockstone, which would give us some security. We’d only taken two ice screws, my blunt ones at that (as Pat pointed out), and I had one of them, so big falls on to the belay were not recommended. I managed to thread the chockstone by tying two slings together and throwing a krab over. Not that it mattered as the ice was so good, though it looked thin from below. Now confident, another awkward chockstone was ignored as the ice led on to a comfy snow ledge which was obviously above the difficulties. I couldn’t help noticing that we were only level with the start of Lady’s Gully so there must be a long way to go. Pat’s 200m pitch soon solved that, then we soloed to the top.

Back to the car in daylight; either we were in Fast Track promotion from the Constabulary or more likely the winter season is well on. As for the grade, it reminded me of Comb Gully but with more steep bits. Perhaps more like Vanishing Gully, but my memory of that some 30 years later is that it was much steeper. So we decided on IV,4.”

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Does Anyone Recognise This Route?

Jeff Lowe on the probable first ascent of a new climb somewhere on Ben Nevis in March 1976. His partner Henry Barber is thinks that it may be in the Green Gully area, but is definitely somewhere between Point Five and Number Four Gully. (Photo Henry Barber)

Jeff Lowe on the probable first ascent of a new climb somewhere on Ben Nevis in March 1976. His partner Henry Barber is thinks that it may be in the Green Gully area, but is definitely somewhere between Point Five and Number Four Gully. (Photo Henry Barber)

Nick Bullock is ice climbing in New England at the moment, and recently spent the evening with climbing legend Henry Barber.

Henry climbed a probable new route on Ben Nevis with Jeff Lowe in March 1976, and passed on the above photo to Nick in the hope that he could identify the route. Nick wasn’t sure, so he sent it to me.

To be honest, I’m not sure either, but it does remind me a little of the undercut start to Clough’s Chimney on Comb Gully Buttress. (Ian Clough climbed the top part of the chimney in January 1960, but the first ascent of this lower section is credited to Godefroy Perroux from sometime in the 1990s).

If anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.

“It was a very cool climb on a very cool crag,” Henry remembers. “As you know Jeff isn’t doing very well so I hope to send him a pic or two and boost his spirits.”

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Grooverider

The line of Grooverider (V,6) on Ben Nevis. The route climbs just right of the great hanging icefall on North-East Buttress, which is one of the last remaining unclimbed ice features on the mountain. (Photo Pete Davies)

The line of Grooverider (V,6) on Ben Nevis. The route climbs just right of the great hanging icefall on North-East Buttress, which is one of the last remaining unclimbed ice features on the mountain. (Photo Pete Davies)

Pete Davies, Donie O’Sullivan and Ross Cowie added a little bit of new climbing to the North-East Buttress area of the Ben on Saturday, February 2.

“There was excellent snow ice on all the easier angled ground,” Pete told me. “We soloed up towards the steep rock wall between Ramsay Gray and Right Major and then roped up for a nice mixed pitch up a steep groove about five metres right of the prominent hanging icicle that forms here. This brought us out onto the big snowfield above the icicle, which we followed to join the rest of Route Major, which was again covered in snow ice all the way to the summit. The groove is only about 30m long so perhaps it’s only worth a footnote, but it’s quite an obvious feature. We called it Grooverider and it went at around V,6.”

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