The 2013 Scottish Winter Meet

Tony Shepherd on the first ascent of Green Gully Groove (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. This line on the left wall of Green Gully was summed up as – ‘nice climbing, little gear, great belays!’ (Photo Rich Bentley)

Tony Shepherd on the first ascent of Green Gully Groove (VI,5) on Ben Nevis. This line on the left wall of Green Gully was summed up as – ‘nice climbing, little gear, great belays!’ (Photo Rich Bentley)

Despite being preceded by a week of stormy weather, the Scottish Winter Meet in Fort William from February 1 -3 was a great success. The winds began to die down on the Friday, but the day of the weekend was Saturday when many teams climbed a full spectrum of routes on Ben Nevis from Ledge Route to Point Five Gully to Cornucopia. Later that day, about 50 winter climbers met up for a convivial evening of food, banter and a slide show in the Achintee Inn in Glen Nevis.

Meet organiser Rich Bentley said afterwards that there was “Good feedback from the meet, and hopefully it’s something we can grow in the years to come.” Ideas being discussed are a possible link to the Scottish Dry Tooling Series and rotating the meet around different Scottish venues. There is certainly a demand for a get together of winter climbers on regular basis. The biannual BMC International winter meets have proved to be an important melting pot for UK winter climbers, as well as fulfilling their main aim of showcasing British climbing.

To finish off an excellent weekend, Rich teamed up with Tony Shepherd and Mark Davies on Sunday February 3 and added a new line which climbs out left from Green Gully a pitch and a half up. (The relationship to a Grade IV climbed by Tim Neill and Keith Ball in 2011 is uncertain, but it is thought that Tim and Keith exited from higher up Green Gully).

“We called it Green Gully Groove,” Rich explained. “It’s a cracking new wee line and goes at VI,5. It’s really just a great pitch, and then you can take any exit you fancy up the final nose of The Comb.

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No Success Like Failure

Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

When Iain Small and I climbed Rogue’s Rib on Ben Nevis in March 2011 we were struck by the unclimbed shallow groove to our left. It ran the full height of the buttress and was defended at its base by a large roof and punctuated with several more significant overhangs along its length. Continuous features with such a purity of line are rare on Ben Nevis, and it was immediately clear that this was an outstanding, albeit very difficult, winter objective.

For me the route was pretty much in fantasy territory, but not so for Iain, who attempted the groove earlier this season with Blair Fyffe. On December 27 they climbed three difficult and sustained pitches before a developing blizzard and impending darkness forced then to make a difficult traverse right to reach Rogue’s Rib and finish up that.

For most climbers, three new pitches of VIII,8 joining an existing climb near its top would constitute a significant new route, but Iain and Blair were unsure – particularly so, because it was clear that a complete ascent of the groove to its top would result in a route of extraordinary beauty and difficulty.

Wind forward to the morning of February 2, and Iain and I were discussing route possibilites low down in Coire na Ciste. We were unsure of conditions after the recent wild weather, and had decided to head up into the corrie to assess options with an open mind. After some discussion my proposed line was dismissed as being too easy, and Iain’s too hard, so almost by default we agreed to return to the groove that Iain had tried with Blair a few weeks before.

We climbed a different first pitch, but otherwise, familiarity with the line meant rapid progress, and by early afternoon Iain was halfway up the third pitch, contemplating the unclimbed crux sequence through a double roof. Below him were 20 metres of scantly protected Tech 8 climbing, but this was a mere taster for what lay ahead. As the groove reared up into the first overhang, the rock blanked out. There were no obvious cracks and Iain spent nearly an hour stood on one foot fighting to place a poor Pecker, a knifeblade and finally a small sideways wire under an overlap.

The crux sequence involved committing to an upside down dance on poor sloping placements with precision front pointing on millimetre-thick edges. Discovery of a small hidden upside down hook proved to be the key, but even so it was a virtuoso performance by Iain, and with another pitch of Tech 8 to follow, the route was from over.

Once we were safely down we discussed a name. Iain suggested we use the title of Blair’s blog post describing their previous attempt. No Success Like Failure was the perfect name, and went a little way to acknowledging Blair’s contribution to a truly magnificent winter route.

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Avenging Angel Direct

Jim Higgins starting up Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) on the left side of Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. The route follows the compelling line of impending corners trending up and left, and is one of the finest mixed lines on the mountain. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Jim Higgins starting up Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) on the left side of Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. The route follows the compelling line of impending corners trending up and left, and is one of the finest mixed lines on the mountain. (Photo Helen Rennard)

When Chris Cartwright and I started exploring the mixed potential of Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis in the late 1990s, it was clear that there was a major mixed line to be climbed up the huge recessed corner system between Darth Vader and South Sea Bubble. Angles are deceptive on this part of the cliff, but the collection of stepped corners were clearly very steep and appeared to individually overhang in two directions. With Nevis mixed climbing still developing we were a little scared of this daunting line, and ran away from it on several occasions. The first ascent of Babylon in April 2001 for example, was compensation after talking ourselves out of trying it yet again.

Chris eventually convinced me that the only way we were going to climb the route was to approach it with absolute focus with no back-up plan to fall back on. His strategy was correct of course, and in February 2005 we climbed Archangel, which took a cunning line weaving its way up the main feature, but cleverly avoided all the steep corners. The burden of expectation weighed heavily on me that day, and I found it a difficult ascent. Subsequent repeats have found it reasonably amenable and the grade is settling down in the VI,7 to VII,7 range. Whatever the difficulty, Chris and I were proud of our contribution and were happy to let others seek out the steeper and more direct alternatives.

Archangel was climbed relatively late in the initial phase of Nevis mixed development. Chris and I nearly left it too late, for with no knowledge of our route, Nick Bullock and Owen Samuels climbed the first two pitches of Archangel the following season, and then continued up the steep upper series of corners thinking it was a completely new line. Their climb was such a significant variation however, that it deserved its own name – Avenging Angel (VII,8).

The challenge of the lower corners still remained, and in February 2011, the powerful team of Iain Small and Tony Stone climbed these to join Archangel. From here they could have continued up Avenging Angel (in retrospect, Iain says that this is what they should have done), but instead they found an independent finish via a steep bulging offwidth. They called their climb Angels with Dirty Faces (on account of the muck they accumulated whilst cleaning out the cracks) and graded their route VIII,8.

Despite this activity, the true challenge, a complete ascent of the line of corners still remained. Last Saturday (February 2), Jim Higgins and Neil Adams met this head on by linking the two lower corners of Angels with Dirty Faces with the upper two corners of Avenging Angel. Although Jim and Neil covered no new ground, their climb was a significant winter ascent resulting in the three star Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8).

It has taken over 15 years, but the vision of a direct ascent of the Creag Coire na Ciste corners has finally been fulfilled.

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Stalingrad

Forrest Templeman on the steep crux pitch of Stalingrad (VI,6) in Winter Corrie in Glen Clova. The route was climbed on Saturday February 2 - a notable anniversary - Stalingrad! (Photo Brian Duthie)

Forrest Templeton on the steep crux pitch of Stalingrad (VI,6) in Winter Corrie in Glen Clova. The route was climbed on Saturday February 2 – a notable anniversary – Stalingrad! (Photo Brian Duthie)

Brian Duthie and Forrest Templeton made an excellent three-pitch addition to Winter Corrie in Glen Clova on February 2 when they climbed the left corner of the wide stepped square-cut groove right of Sun Rock Blues. (Moon Ice Jazz follows a line that approximates the right hand corner of this feature).

“I left Aberdeen at 6.30 heading to Alford to pick up Forrest with an idea of heading north, probably for something in the Northern Corries,” Brian told me. “However, it turned out that the Cockbridge-Tomintoul road was closed due to drifting. So we turned back south via Aberdeen to Clova. We decided to head up to Winter Corrie with thoughts on maybe repeating Henning Wackerhage’s route Moon Ice Jazz or doing the line to the left of it which we saw last year when we did Sun Rock Blues.”

They ended up climbing the new line. “Stalingrad has tenuous technical sections and limited protection in places,” Forrest explained. “It follows a natural line with some interesting rock architecture and is a ‘true’ mixed route.”

 

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Dairy Milk on Stob Coire nam Beith

Andy Hogarth on the first ascent of Dairy Mik (IV,5) in Stob Coire nam Beith. This corrie, which lies high on the north-east side of Bidean in Glen Coe, is normally less crowded than neighbouring venues, and there is plenty of scope for variation for those enjoying mountaineering style routes. (Photo Andy Nelson)

Andy Hogarth on the first ascent of Dairy Milk (IV,5) in Stob Coire nam Beith. This corrie, which lies high on the north-east side of Bidean in Glen Coe, is normally less crowded than neighbouring venues, and there is plenty of scope for variation for those enjoying mountaineering style routes. (Photo Andy Nelson)

On Saturday (February 2), Andy Nelson, Andy Hogarth and Dave Brown made the first ascent of Dairy Milk (IV,5), which takes a line between  No.2 Buttress” and “Left Wall in Stob Coire nam Beith.

“It was a pleasant mixed line giving around 200m of climbing in the alpine idiom,” Andy explained. “The route links snow terraces/ramps via short walls and corners on turfy rock, starting at the V-shaped slab immediately right of Arch Gully, and provided a fine journey with great scenery.

Conditions in the corrie were a little tricky, with unconsolidated snow on buttresses, but the turf margins were frozen with ice forming quite readily. The going was very slow for teams on Diamond Buttress due to loose snow, but Sunday’s thaw should settle things down somewhat.”

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Engineer’s Crack – First Winter Ascent

Donald King on the first winter ascent of Engineer’s Crack (VIII,9) on Buauchaille Etive Mor. This steep two-pitch route on the North side of Crowberry Ridge is rarely in winter condition, but it fell to a well-timed and determined ascent just before the late January high pressure weather system broke. (Photo Mike Pescod)

Donald King on the first winter ascent of Engineer’s Crack (VIII,9) on Buachaille Etive Mor. This steep two-pitch route on the North side of Crowberry Ridge is rarely in winter condition, but it fell to a well-timed and determined ascent just before the late January high pressure weather system broke. (Photo Mike Pescod)

On Friday January 25, Donald King and Mike Pescod notched up a significant first winter ascent in Glen Coe by climbing Engineer’s Crack on Buachaille Etive Mor. Engineer’s Crack lies on the north-east side of Crowberry ridge (to the right of Rannoch Wall) and was first climbed with some aid by Hamish MacInnes, Charlie Vigano and R.Hope in September 1951.  Nowadays it is climbed free and graded E1 5b.  Donald had waited over ten years to climb the route; the cold easterly winds blowing on to the Buachaille through the previous week finally brought the route into winter condition, and the wall was white with rime.

“Donald fell once and was very disappointed not to get the on sight,” Mike told me. ‘However, he got back on and climbed it second go. The protection is quite good and the second pitch is much easier. The route is quite steep, much of it is on dinky footholds and a few flat hooks. The step right near the top of the wall is the crux but it’s really quite sustained and the climb is not over once above the crux. We’re not very good at grading things but Donald’s first stab was VIII,9. I managed to climb it all however, so it can’t be so hard!”

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Immortal Memory

Jason Currie on the first ascent of Immortal Memory (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe. “To climb a completely new winter-only line up the middle of Far East Wall - for me this was hitherto the stuff of fantasy,” Guy Robertson wrote later. (Photo Guy Robertson).

Jason Currie on the first ascent of Immortal Memory (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe. “To climb a completely new winter-only line up the middle of Far East Wall – for me this was hitherto the stuff of fantasy,” Guy Robertson wrote later. (Photo Guy Robertson)

I’m beginning to lose count of the number of difficult new Guy Robertson routes this season, as they are becoming an almost weekly occurrence! As if to prove my point, Guy snatched another outstanding new route on Beinn Eighe with Jason Currie on January 26 – Immortal Memory (IX,9), a winter-only line on the Far East Wall.

“We had originally planned to go somewhere a bit different,” Guy told me, “but the bad weather forecasted for later in the day was enough to put us off. I was pretty sure that Beinn Eighe would be in as good if not better condition that on my previous visit (for Shoot the Breeze) and the Far East Wall area seemed as likely as anywhere to be sheltered from strong westerly winds.  This proved an accurate assessment, and we arrived at dawn to find the Far East Wall pretty much plastered from top to bottom, and no wind at the base of the routes. The route in question takes the very prominent line between Colgarra and King of the Swingers, and was named Immortal Memory, in part as that is exactly what its given us, but also as a nod to the Bard himself (it was Burn’s Night the night before our ascent).

When we were stood below the line I actually didn’t think it was going to be that hard, which is why I suggested trying it (bearing in mind Jas doesn’t get out much these days).  I could hardly have been more wrong – two of the three pitches were long, sustained and technically quite hard – very strenuous around the various overhangs – although the protection was generally fail-safe.  I think a grade of IX,9 would apply in this case, though it’s always hard to tell when questing into the unknown.  Most importantly, the climbing was amongst the very best of the best on Beinn Eighe, being as steep and intimidating as any of the routes, but very dirty and vegetated in places so a proper natural winter line.  It was definitely up there with the best adventures I’ve ever had in Scotland – really pushed to the physical limit and hanging in the balance right to the end!”

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Advice from a Caterpillar

The line of Advice from a Caterpillar (III,4) in Coire na Poite on Beinn Bhan. This buttress is the right twin of Teapot Buttress and ends on the A' Cioch Upper Ridge below its main difficulties. (Photo Dave Riley)

The line of Advice from a Caterpillar (III,4) in Coire na Poite on Beinn Bhan. The 180m-long route lies right of Teapot Buttress and ends on the A’ Cioch Upper Ridge below its main difficulties. (Photo Dave Riley)

Dave Riley, Rob Reglinski and Rick Hines added a new route to the impressive Coire na Poite on Beinn Bhan on January 26.

“We had intended to climb March Hare’s last Saturday,” Dave explained, “but heavy wet overnight snow had resulted in the gully avalanching sometime on Friday night. We decided to play it safe and work our way around to Teapot Buttress and head up to the ridge via that; however on checking the guidebook we noticed the buttress to the right wasn’t listed. As time was getting on we decided to climb that instead, reasoning from the slopes below that it couldn’t possibly be more than about Grade II.

The climbing was mostly straightforward up turfy grooves and ledges but with a noticeable lack of good protection and belays. Some sections were deceptively steep, and the second pitch provided the most interest culminating in a short, sharp Tech 4 corner leading to easier ground above. Our decision to stick to a buttress was justified as the freezing level seemed to rise during the day and when the sun hit the cornices above Silver Tear they collapsed one by one and sent good size avalanches down the face – quite the spectacle from our viewpoint! The line we climbed approximates to the one in the attached picture and is about 180m-long, Grade III,4.

In keeping with the Alice in Wonderland theme we decided to call the route Advice from a Caterpillar. The reason being that you would have to have eaten the mushrooms before deciding to climb it…”

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A Long Day’s Night

The impressive Flake Buttress on Beinn Dearg Mor. The winter line weaves its way up the front face of the buttress at VI,6 via a series of hidden grooves and chimneys. Above is a long connecting ridge with a final two pitches up the buttress in the top left of the photo. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The impressive Flake Buttress on Beinn Dearg Mor. The winter line weaves its way up the front face of the buttress at VI,6 via a series of hidden grooves and chimneys. Above is a long connecting ridge with a final two pitches up the buttress in the top left of the photo. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Roger Webb and I were keen to make best use of last week’s high pressure, so arranged a visit to Beinn Dearg Mor on Thursday January 24. This remote Corbett hidden behind An Teallach has an attractive north-facing corrie, but the long approach has deterred the majority of visitors. Apart from Roger that is. Inveterate North-West explorer, Roger already had two new winter routes to his name on the mountain.

The plan was to make a winter ascent of Flake Buttress, a summer Severe first climbed by A.Parker, J.Derris and I.Richards in 1952. Roger has been intrigued by Parker’s exploits in the Northern Highlands for a number of years, and with routes like the improbable Main Buttress on Slioch (climbed solo), they deserve greater recognition. Parker himself stands out as one of the great Scottish mountain explorers of his era.

For my part, I had wanted to visit the corrie ever since my great friend Chris Cartwright made a the first winter ascent of the impressive Central Buttress (V,5) with Iain Stevens in February 1995.

As advertised the approach was long, and even though it felt we had made rapid progress, it took five hours before we were standing underneath Flake Buttress. Rearing up like a skyscraper, it was without doubt the finest feature in the corrie. The problem was that we couldn’t see how to climb it, and knowing the pedigree of Parker, his Severe could be anything up to HVS. With pressure mounting we spent an hour of precious daylight climbing the gullies either side of the buttress to scout out a line.

Roger was confident that once we started it would slot into place, and of course he was right. We used an overhung turfy fault to gain the buttress from the right, and then followed cracks and grooves, more or less up the font face of the buttress, to where the angle eased. Our line had coincided with the guidebook description in part, but we were in for a shock when an unsdescribed narrow ridge led across a neck and onto a big upper buttress.

Eventually at 6pm we arrived on the summit ridge with nine pitches and nearly 300m of new winter ground below us. Lean conditions in the side gullies meant that our descent option now led over the summit. We were six hours from the car and ten hours from home, and both had work commitments next morning. It was going to be a long day’s night!

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Slanting Gully – Complete Ascent

Doug Hawthorn pulling through the final steep crack of Slanting Gully on the North Face of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh on Skye. (Photo Iain Small)

Doug Hawthorn pulling through the final steep crack of Slanting Gully (VI,7) on the North Face of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh on Skye. (Photo Iain Small)

On January 24, Iain Small visited Skye with Doug Hawthorn and made the first complete winter ascent of Slanting Gully on Sgurr a’Mhadaidh’s North Face. The route passes over Foxes Rake at half height and had previously been climbed to this point by Mike Lates and T.Hanly in December 2004.

“We crossed the Rake and finished up the top half in three long pitches,” Iain told me. “It gave a good mixed, and even icy fault, with a steep crack for Doug on the final pitch. The summer description has the line weaving around the fault line but we tackled it direct – a better option in winter! On the day it seemed about VI,7 with some helpful consolidated snow. We were surprised to see plenty of footprints around the Coire, but what a great choice. Everyone must have felt charmed finding those conditions; it’s a wholly different experience to find such great conditions on Skye compared with the more established areas. Twice in one week [for me] was a privilege!”

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