Diedre of the Sorrows – Early Repeat

Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up thin ice during the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, it was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Martin Moran)

Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Andy Inglis)

Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran added to their long list of cutting edge ascents with an ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar’s Tough-Brown Face on January 11. This much-celebrated route was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Andy Nisbet in March 1986, and has only seen two other repeats. On the second ascent in January 2000, Dave Hesleden and Andy Cave added a direct finish that they thought was harder than anything on the original route.

“I have real admiration for Dinwoodie and Nisbet doing this route way back in the mid-eighties and questing into the unknown’” Pete told me. “I’ve wanted to do Diedre of the Sorrows for over a decade now, but the Tough-Brown Face is so rarely in good condition that I’ve never had the chance.

I’ve been on that face three times now, twice on Nevermore, and once when I took a whipper off another new line, so I was keen to actually get to the top of something. Diedre of the Sorrows has a huge reputation for hard bold climbing in a sort of tradition kind of way, rather than a modern steep hard pulling style. There was some nice quality super thin ice on the route, but every time the angle eased, or you reached a ledge, you were met with sugary tool-ripping snow on top of bald slabs, which made for some nerve-wracking moves way above gear.

That’s the thing about this face compared to everywhere else I’ve climbed in Scotland – you dig out the back of grooves, and nine times out of ten you find nothing, no cracks no gear just an open groove. Martin made a smooth lead of the super thin and serious third pitch, and I got the direct pitch above, which Andy Cave and Dave Hesleden did on the second ascent. Six millimetre-thin ice with Peckers in an icy groove for pro focuses the mind somewhat! We did the last two pitches in the dark, which added to the adventure. All in all, a cracking day out which should keep me happy…until next time!”

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Twisted – Second Ascent

Two contrasting views of the first pitch of Twisted in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right photo shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “There was quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

Two contrasting views of Twisted (VII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “Quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

“Back in November Harry Holmes, Dan Tait and I went into Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe with the aim of making the second ascent of Twisted, a three-pitch three star VII,7 to the left of Chimney Route put up by Simon Yearsley and Malcolm Bass last March,” Helen Rennard writes. “However, on the day we found the bottom pitch to be bare, Chimney Route dripping and the rest of corrie disappointingly unfrozen, so we returned to the car having got up nothing.

Onto January and I was climbing with Dave Almond the weekend of January 11-12. Dave was up from Liverpool for his first trip of the winter and, as ever, was highly motivated to get out, having been training hard at White Goods since October. We were keen to avoid too much driving so opted to stay local to Fort William (where I live). I texted Simon on the Friday for his thoughts on Twisted and he replied “I’d be worried about it being black…I’d have a Plan B.” As it turned out, being too black was not an issue!

Dave did a great job leading the first pitch, remaining completely calm despite getting only three lots of gear in 30 metres. Pitch one was easily the crux, though the rest of the route maintained a high quality of (run-out!) climbing in an impressive situation. Comparing photos with Simon afterwards it was clear that Dave and I had climbed the route in contrasting conditions to the first ascent; where Simon and Malcolm had been delicately hooking on snowed-up rock, we had had usable ice for most of the route. We thought the VII,7 grade still applied for our conditions, and Dave described it as having “a tasty first pitch followed by a mellow second pitch.”

As it was, the climb was the least exciting part of the day. While we were gearing up in the foot of Twisting Gully the cornice above us collapsed. I heard a loud ‘boom’ and seconds later was being pummelled by wet heavy snow that obliterated everything around me. I was clipped into the belay, but Dave wasn’t, and I was convinced he had been swept away. After what may have been minutes, but maybe it was only seconds, the snow subsided. Then there was shouting and confusion. Below us, Adam and Dougie Russell and Steve Johnstone, who were under Chimney Route and had also been hit, were shouting up at us to check we were OK. They could see the end of one of our ropes trailing in the snow below with no one attached and thought the worst. I didn’t know what was happening and thought someone had gone, but Dave was still next to me, and Adam, Dougie and Steve were all unharmed. Cue some nervous laughter and Dave commenting that he’d have grabbed onto me as he went past if it had come to that…

And, with that, he set off up pitch one, not being a man who is easily scared. But it was certainly a lesson to be more aware of the objective dangers when winter climbing in Scotland, and I think it’s fair to say, that the five of us had a lucky escape.”

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Church Door Angels

Donald King battling up the fierce crux section of Angels (VIII,9), a new route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian. “Going climbing with Donald means I'm going to have sore arms at the end of the day!” Mike Pescod said afterwards. (Photo Mike Pescod)

Donald King battling up the fierce crux section of Angels (VIII,9), a new route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian. “Going climbing with Donald means I’m going to have sore arms at the end of the day!” Mike Pescod said afterwards. (Photo Mike Pescod)

Donald King, Mike Pescod and Andy Nelson made the first ascent of Angels (VIII,9), an excellent new mixed route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe on January 13. Conditions were good with light winds, and the rock was well rimed up and had quite a few bits of usable ice with clean rock underneath for placing protection. Donald takes up the story:

“The first pitch follows a line of pick-width cracks straight up the front face of the massive flake on Flake Route. The first half is very positive and good for the feet, but as I started up the top half of the pitch things got a bit more exciting! There is a 10mm wide crack running up the next section, but halfway up the footholds disappeared and I had to pull up some more protection on the rope as I needed a medium Hex. I battled with the Hex trying to get it seated, but I never got it quite right, so I also placed two cams beside it. Unfortunately, they slid out of the icy crack each time I pulled them, but it was now or never to continue up, or go down.

There was a ledge ten to twelve feet above me and the next few minutes went by in a state of fear with my hands nearly letting go of my ice axes. I think there was three or four total lock offs with nothing for my feet apart from smearing into the corner. At the ledge the crack ran out, and I only just managed to get onto it without falling and testing the gear.

Mike and Andy followed up with very tight ropes. Mike led a wee link pitch to below a groove, and then Andy led us up the groove to the Arch. My arms where still pumped by the time we got back to the car. As with many of these routes its very hard to put a grade on them, but we all thought VIII,9 is about right, but who knows?”

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The Tempest On Sighted Again

Will Sim making the second on sight lead of The Tempest (X,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The Tempest was first climbed in 2001 by Neil Gresham, with pre-placed gear and graded M9. It was a deliberate attempt to raise Scottish mixed standards, but the difficult to place in-situ gear meant the style never caught on. (Photo Greg Boswell)

Will Sim making the second on sight lead of The Tempest (X,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The Tempest was first climbed in 2001 by Neil Gresham, with pre-placed gear and graded M9. It was a deliberate attempt to raise Scottish mixed standards, but the difficult to place in-situ gear meant the style never caught on. (Photo Greg Boswell)

Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Guy Robertson and Nick Bullock visited Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe on January 13. “It turned out to be a very successful day,” Greg told me. “Guy and Nick went off and did their own thing, which turned out to be a stinking new three pitch route. [Slenderhead (VIII,8) – the thin ice seam and arête left of East Face Route]. Will and I went to look at something new early on, but were foiled by lack of protection. So we turned our sights to the Tempest. Will led off first as I had been the one on lead whilst trying our new line. He put up an awesome show of style, fight and bravery. The route was pretty icy all the way. The cracks were chocked and gear was tricky to find. His last runner that would have held any weight was just above half height, and there was some heart in mouth moments on the snowy top out when he was looking at a ground fall if his axes ripped!

By the time he had finished, the light was starting to fade, but I really wanted to climb. So Will rapped the route and I put my head torch on (just in case) and proceeded to lead the route as well. It was an awesome pitch but the second half of the route was very serious and we both agreed that the last tricky four metres were absolutely a no fall zone! It was an awesome day and everyone got some brilliant climbing done. Glen Coe delivers five star activities once again!”

The Tempest was first climbed by Neil Gresham in 2001. This 30m pitch on Summit Buttress was a landmark ascent at the time, because along with Logical Progression in Arrochar, it used pre-placed nuts and pegs for protection (but no bolts). The route was repeated in this style soon after by Innes Deans, and then ground up by Andy Turner in 2010. The first on sight ascent fell to Dave MacLeod a few days after Andy’s, so Greg Will and Greg’s repeats are the second and third on sights respectively.

But as is so usual for Scottish winter climbing, The Tempest was as much a head game, as a pure technical climbing exercise. “The icy conditions on the Tempest meant that it felt more bold than it was hard,” Will explained. “We thought that if we had fallen on the very top section we could maybe have bounced on the floor… just! I think a lot of the gear, and perhaps the in-situ pegs as well, were hidden under the thin ice, but overall it’s an amazing pitch!”

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Avoiding The Sting

Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary shot showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of the summer line Falkenhorst. Their VII,7 route then continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, nearing the top of a serious VII,7 route that takes the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right to the prominent ‘Y’, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary photograph showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of Defence of the Realm (VII,7). The route continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, engrossed on Hustle, a serious VII,7 that climbs the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

Some more details about the three new routes climbed on the right side of Broad Terrace Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch on January 11:

First up were Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell who started up the summer line of Falkenhorst (E1) to a good ledge below imposing overhangs. The summer route traverses right to break through these, but instead Guy and Greg stepped left to climb the imposing inverted staircase of ice smears. This outstanding looking route is called Defence of the Realm and was graded VII,7. The grade was confirmed the following day when it was repeated by Iain Small and Ross Cowie, followed by Doug and Uisdean Hawthorn together with Callum Johnson.

Iain Small, Doug Hawthorn and I were next on the scene and decided to climb the thin line of ice parallel and left of The Sting. Since Doug had made the first (and only) ascent of the Sting some 20 years before, he decided to pass on the route and take photos instead. Needless to say, our route succumbed to a typically bold Iain Small lead on ice that was sometimes only one or two centimetres thick. Fortunately it was the soft chewy variety, and Iain managed to place a short screw every ten metres or so. After negotiating a couple of tricky overlaps, the upper section followed the final pitches of Falkenhorst.

Iain and I thought our route (Hustle) was about VII,7, but in truth, it is impossible to say whether it is completely new. Doug cannot remember exactly where he climbed on the first ascent of The Sting, although he presumes he took the easiest line (which appears to be on the right). As far as I know, The Sting (VII,6) is unrepeated and it resisted a second ascent attempt on January 12.

With the two most obvious lines now occupied, Will Sim and Nick Bullock launched up genuine no-man’s land between the two. Will made a difficult and bold lead up an overhanging slot and overhanging flake that led to icicles just left of The Sting. Nick then traversed across the thin ice climbed by Iain and I, which led to a spectacular finish through overhanging slots to easier icy ground above.

“Nick and I have decided to call the route The Cure,” Will told me. “It’s probably about VIII,8, but really hard to grade, as there was a short very sharp hard part on the first pitch, and although the rest was not a path (maybe about VII), it was very different. We both thought the route was outrageously good, the kind of stuff that makes you laugh while you climb – too much fun to feel super hard, especially if you can levitate on thin ice like Nick can!”

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Take the Throne

Callum Johnson teetering up the bold second pitch on the first ascent of Take the Throne (VII,6) on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. The hanging icicle of Sword of Damocles looms above and right and the impressive overhanging wall in the background is taken by the sought-after summer route Flodden (E6). (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

Callum Johnson teetering up the bold second pitch on the first ascent of Take the Throne (VII,6) on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. The hanging icicle of Sword of Damocles looms above and right and the impressive overhanging wall in the background is taken by the sought-after summer route Flodden (E6). (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

The first new route climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall on January 11 to be named is Take the Throne by Uisdean Hawthorn and Callum Johnson. This superb looking ice line takes the rib left of Sword of Damocles and is based on the summer route Mirage Variations (E1).

The highlights were Callum’s long and lonely lead of the thinly iced second pitch and Uisdean’s powering up the final up the vertical corner just left of the impressive hanging icicle of Sword of Damocles. The line was spotted by father Doug when making the second ascent of Sword of Damocles the week before, who then gracefully gifted the climb to the two young guns.

The pair initially graded the route VI,6, but after some discussion settled on a more realistic VII,6. Callum told me afterwards that it was the most difficult winter route he had climbed, and the second pitch was harder than the first pitch of The Giant which he had attempted a few days after the first ascent (but unfortunately had to descend due to a technical problem after climbing the first two pitches).

Both Uisdean and Callum are students studying in Aberdeen, and it is fantastic to see their combination of talent, enthusiasm and fitness coming to the fore. The following day (January 12) they revisited Broad Terrace Wall and nipped up the classic Bower Buttress (V,5) before repeating the Robertson-Boswell route on Broad Terrace Wall, all in an extraordinarily rapid 11-hour day car to car.

But to make the story complete, it was inevitable that Take the Throne would remain a family affair, as father Doug nipped in to make the second ascent with Iain Small today (January 13). “Absolutely brilliant” was Iain’s verdict.

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And Then There Were Eight…

First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall is without question the steepest major cliff in the Cairngorms. It rises for 120m of sheer verticality and bewildering exposure above a steep 100m-high lower tier. Normally wet during the summer, ascents of its excellent mountain rock routes are highly prized but infrequent. In winter, it is even less travelled, and until the morning of January 11 there were only four winter routes on the wall – The Last Oasis (VI,6 Nisbet-Spinks, 1980), The Sting (VII,6 Dinwoodie-Hawthorn 1993), Sword of Damocles (VIII,9 Small-Hawthorn 2010) and Culloden (IX,9 Small-Stone-Lennox 2010). Only The Last Oasis (Hawthorn-Malcolm 1993) and Sword of Damocles (Hawthorn-Hawthorn 2014) have been repeated, meaning that the wall has only been climbed six times in winter in the last 30 years.

All this changed on January 11 when the number of winter routes on the wall doubled from four to eight. Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson approached in the dark to be first in line for the plum route – an outrageous looking line based on the first pitch of the summer E1 Falkenhorst and continuing up an inverted staircase of hanging ice smears through the overhangs above. When Iain Small and I arrived, Guy was well established on the first pitch, so we climbed a likely new line up the thin icy wall to the left of The Sting. Will Sim and Nick Bullock arrived soon after (following an aborted look at the routes on Central Gully Wall) and elected to attempt a tenuous mixed line between these two routes.

Iain and Will both made rapid progress which led to an astonishing sight of three of the best of the current crop of Scottish winter climbers (Robertson, Sim and Small) climbing parallel new lines within a few metres of each other. Further left, Uisdean Hawthorn and Callum Johnson climbed a series of ice smears (approximating to Mirage Variations), a strong Aberdeen team attempted Sword of Damocles, and Robin Clothier and Richard Bentley made the probable third winter ascent of The Last Oasis. And to cap it all, Doug Hawthorn, the man who launched this current phase of Dubh Loch activity with the first winter ascent of The Giant in December, was on hand to photograph the action.

More details to follow, once names and grades of the routes have been confirmed.

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Three Breakfasts at Stac an Fharaidh

Stac an Fharaidh on Cairn Gorm. (Click on photo for larger image) with lines shown right to left. Blue – Lookout Gully (II), Red – Deja Vu (IV,3; original finish dotted), Green – Unnamed (III), Red - Apres Moi  (IV,4), Yellow – Hoity Toity. (Photo Topo Andy Nisbet)

Stac an Fharaidh on Cairn Gorm with lines shown right to left. Blue – Lookout Gully (II), Red – Deja Vu (IV,3; original finish dotted), Green – Unnamed (III), Red – Apres Moi (IV,4), Yellow – Hoity Toity. (Photo Topo Andy Nisbet)

“Susan Jensen was up for the weekend and we had climbed at Lurchers Crag on the Saturday,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Now we needed somewhere for a quick hit before the weather came in on the Sunday (January 5). OK, I admit I was all for a lie-in but Susan was keen, and thank goodness in retrospect. Sneachda and Cha-No were likely to be swamped in powder so Stac an Fharaidh was chosen.

We walked in the dark and it was just light by the time we reached point 1141. Walking conditions on the plateau were amazing so we had to put on crampons immediately and reached the top of the crag very soon after, just in time for a caramel shortbread breakfast. I had never been to the crag in winter so we nipped up the line of the summer route Shielden on straightforward snow and ice (Grade II). I had heard that the area could bank out (and Allen Fyffe later confirmed it) but it suited us. Expecting the storm to arrive, we returned to the car park by 10.30am, despite going to the top of Cairn Gorm for the view (it was misty). And some parties who started later had epics.

A couple of mild days followed, then it was supposed to be colder, so Sandy Allan and I thought we’d have breakfast at Stac an Fharaidh. But it turned out to be the warmest of the three days, so the snow was on the soft side at the crag although we still wore crampons on the plateau. Susan and I had seen lots of ice on the main crag, and it was definitely thinner, but the Grade III to IV lines were still in good nick. Deja Vu was looking too thin at the bottom but Sandy was optimistic as ever, so up I went expecting detached ice on slabs. It only took one blow to know it would be good! Thin though it was, the ice was chewy and the pitch was in great nick. Partly to be different and partly to get more ice, we finished off to the left above an iced corner we thought was Apres Moi. It was technically quite easy but with not much protection and an ice screw belay, perhaps worth IV,3.

The routes here are quite short so we had time to go exploring. We walked under the base of the crag to its left end, an area I’d never seen before, and of course looking for anything unclimbed. An icy chimney looked challenging and a higher grade than the easier route hereabouts. After a while we worked out it was on the right edge of Broad Buttress. The back and knee chimney was packed with deep collapsing snow but fortunately had some cracks for protection. Above this the fault line continued and the turf gradually became more frozen but the route was about twice the length of those further right. We decided on IV,5.

I had to go to Mr Murphy, the dentist, on Thursday so it was the best day of the week. But Friday (January 10) sounded good ahead of an approaching front, so it had to be another breakfast at Stac an Fharaidh. My partners had vanished and time would be short, so I went on my own for the last two lines. I was supposed to get up early but couldn’t sleep, so got up even earlier. It was very dark and misty at 1141m so I had to get my compass, map and glasses out. My eyesight isn’t that great for night nav these days but fortunately I came across our old prints and followed them to the crag. It was still dark, which wasn’t part of the plan; walking conditions weren’t supposed to be that good. Even after descending in torchlight to the foot of the route, the light was still gloomy, but since I haven’t had a head torch on a helmet for many years, and actually didn’t know if it would stay on, I decided to put it away. There was the thought that it wouldn’t be scary if you couldn’t see down.

The line was the one Sandy and I had thought to be Apres Moi, but which Allen Fyffe had assured us it wasn’t. The start was the same but then it went straight up when Apres Moi went left. It’s such an obvious line at Grade III that maybe it’s been done before, or maybe everyone else just assumed. So I arrived at the top of the crag for breakfast. Next line was another obvious one, a big snowy groove right of Deja Vu. It steepened up to Grade II with some icy steps near the top (Lookout Gully). This time I was back to the car park at 10am, feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t done something else.”

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Spanish Dinner in Glen Prosen

Tim Chappell approaching South Craig near the head of Glen Prosen in the Southern Cairngorms with the line of Spanish Dinner (V,6) ahead. The Angus Glens have seen something of a winter climbing renaissance in recent seasons, and this rarely visited crag on the south flank of Mayar is home to a number of the additions. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

Tim Chappell approaching South Craig near the head of Glen Prosen in the Southern Cairngorms with the line of Spanish Dinner (V,6) ahead. The Angus Glens have seen something of a winter climbing renaissance in the last few seasons, and this rarely visited crag on the south flank of Mayar is home to a number of the recent additions. (Photo Henning Wackerhage)

“Glen Prosen is not often frequented by technical climbers,” states the SMC Cairngorms guide, “but high in the glen is a steep cliff, which is known as South Craig.” On Saturday January 4, Henning Wackerhage and Tim Chappell made the long walk in to see whether any snow and ice had survived the previous Friday gales.

“Lower Glen Prosen looked spring-like and we were getting used to the idea of just doing a long walk with a heavy pack,” Henning told me. “However, whilst the snow and ice had been diminished by the hair blower gale the day before, the more western aspects looked in good shape. We initially thought of doing Summit Gully, the III,5 gully climb that was first climbed by Brian Findlay and Greg Strange in 2001. However, we spotted a parallel line to the left with a steep finish, so we decided to try that.

The route was steeper than expected and comprised short technical problems with snow ramps in-between. The crux is pitch three, which is a steep, right-facing but well protected corner with some good technical climbing followed by steep snow/neve to the plateau. Comparing our three-pitch climb with other routes in the Angus Glens we thought that it was a lower end V,6, with some good but short lived technical problems and with escapable snow ramps in-between.

The route took us longer than expected and a problem arose which was that I had to make it home in time for a dinner with my Spanish lass and another Spanish guest. The walk out was therefore a mad rush down the glen to make it to the ‘Spanish Dinner’ that also gave the route its name!”

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Turkish Delight

Malcolm Bass on the first winter ascent of Turkish on Ben Nevis. “We thought it was about VII,7 on the day, uncommonly amenable for a Ben Nevis HVS, enjoyable in its variety and situations and definitely worth a star!” (Photo Simon Yearsley)

Malcolm Bass on the first winter ascent of Turkish on Ben Nevis. “We thought it was about VII,7 on the day, uncommonly amenable for a Ben Nevis HVS, enjoyable in its variety and situations and definitely worth a star!” (Photo Simon Yearsley)

Malcolm Bass, Helen Rennard and Simon Yearsley had an excellent day on Ben Nevis on Saturday January 4, when they made the first winter ascent of Turkish (VII,7) on Number Five Gully Buttress.

“Since climbing Free Range with Jim Higgins back in 2011, Simon and I have been waiting for an opportunity to get back on Number Five Gully Buttress,” Malcolm explained. “We’re not really drawn to winter ascents of classic summer rock routes, but the HVS Turkish, described in the Ben guide as ‘a poor route’, was first climbed in 1967, and hasn’t experienced a noticeable surge of popularity since then. So it was deemed a legitimate target.

This area of the buttress faces south-east, and needs cold damp south-easterlies, or at least southerlies, to come into winter condition. Through last week the seemingly endless gales swung south-easterly for a few days and hopes were raised. But would there be enough of a gap in the storms to allow for an attempt? On Saturday there was, but it was forecast to be warm the preceding night before dropping colder during the day, and the cliffs were well defended by wet, fresh, slabby snow on the approaches. So, with Helen Rennard, we decided on a late start to let things cool and settle down, and packed spare head torch batteries. The bowl underneath the buttress can be nasty, so we’d planned to get in by abseiling down to the foot it from high on Ledge Route. But luckily, Number Five had already avalanched, very impressively, so we were able to climb the debris and then skirt round just under the crag.

The climbing on the route was very varied. Steep corners with exits on good ice. Consolidated snow allowing progress up compact slabs. And a delicate technical crux. We are fairly confident that we followed the summer line, but a 1967 summer route description defined by ‘loose blocks’ on pitch three isn’t the best guide to a snowy 2014 ascent. At the base of the big corner we weren’t sure where to ‘trend across the left wall’. On my first attempt I went too far up the corner and experienced a rapid downwards trend. Party conference was in favour of a more defined steer to the left, and that took us across delicate sloping slabs to the crux steps under a bulging wall, which yielded (eventually) to crimps, undercuts, and thin hooks to gain a steep corner full of stacked flakes, well bonded by ice. We think this was where the tension traverse was used to avoid loose blocks on the summer first ascent. The darkness took us on this pitch, but there was virtually no wind.

After topping out on Ledge Route we dropped down this a way, then, mindful of the lurking snow bowl, abseiled down to the sacs, and cramponed back down the avalanche chute to the CIC. The empty hut, the quiet mountain, stillness, darkness and gently falling snow – The Ben had trusted us with sight of one of its less familiar moods.”

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