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    Mick James on the first ascent of Don’t Forget The Joker (IV,4) on Creag a'Chaorainn, a sub-peak of Sgurr na Lapaich in the Western Highlands. There are two existing routes on the cliff that lie further to the right. (Photo Graham Stein)

    Mick James on the first ascent of Don’t Forget The Joker (IV,4) on Creag a’Chaorainn, a sub-peak of Sgurr na Lapaich in the Western Highlands. There are two existing routes on the cliff that lie further to the right. (Photo Graham Stein)

    Graham Stein and Mick James added a good new route to the remote Loch Mullardoch hills on January 1.

    “Being rather starved of climbing opportunity recently, I was keen to make the most of the colder conditions on New Year’s Day and found willing volunteers to head in to Creag Loch Tuill Bhearnach North of Loch Mullardoch,” Graham explained. “Mick James had been for a run up Sgurr na Lapaich on Hogmanay, reported good conditions and was keen for some climbing. He is a fit puppy… Johnny Dyble was also up for curtailing Hogmanay drinking with the lure of a good day’s climbing.

    After a significant slog through deep powder punctuated by several surprise bog encounters, we reached the col opposite the crag. Jonny was looking pretty rough and had to make a retreat to the car, but his gear hauling contribution to that point was greatly appreciated by us.

    In the end, time was not on our side, so Mick and I decided to try a line on the North facing buttress of Creag a’Chaorainn, which looked to offer a number of amenable turfy options. We found a line of weakness that was a shallow gully of about 200m with several short sections of steeper climbing. It felt about Grade IV,4 in turfy conditions.

    Since Mick had the Ace Of Spades playing in his head on the walk in, as a nod to the passing of Lemmy and the useful Plan B nature of the route, we thought Don’t Forget The Joker would be a suitable name.”

    Sandy Allan pulling over an overlap on during the first ascent of Ultramontane (IV,5) route on Lurcher's Crag. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Sandy Allan pulling over an overlap on during the first ascent of Ultramontane (IV,5) route on Lurcher’s Crag. Contrary to popular belief, Lurcher’s still holds new route potential! (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Lots of snow, but where to go?” Andy Nisbet writes. “With Lurcher’s being ‘worked out’ that is. Of course there is that scrappy line I left to solo some time when I didn’t have a partner. So why am I going there with five other companions? Well, I guess we’re obsessed with new routes, even ones expected not to be any good. And we’re still stuffed with Christmas pudding and all the other sweet goodies (December  27), so an easy route to solo would suit. However much planning you do, things often don’t work out, but it isn’t half nice when the day turns out much better than you expect.

    To start with, it’s much easier trail breaking with six through the Chalamain Gap. To be honest, being sixth is particularly easy, but my role was pointing out the line. Finally we stopped and they asked, but I find Lurcher’s difficult from the north and I had to admit I’d no idea, but that we’d soon see it (he said optimistically). The hard part is that North Gully doesn’t look like much of a gully from that angle, and our route was just to its right. In the end, it was much closer than I thought, which was a relief in deep snow.

    The aim was a ridge that forms the right bank of the right branch of North Gully, but the hardest part was expected to be a lower tier that gave access to it. It was going to be crowded on the route, so Sarah Atkinson and Billy Burnside decided to go and look at Arctic Monkey, a ridge left of Central Gully. That left Sandy Allan and me with 30m of thin rope and a few nuts, plus Steve and Katie Perry with a longer rope and slightly more gear.

    I must admit it didn’t look easy soloing ground, deep snow covering lumps of unattached turf, but there was a soft landing so I started up. Very quickly I was up (momentum was crucial before anything collapsed), but as Sandy had the rope and I couldn’t get back down, there was an element of commitment as I traversed right to a slab of smooth rock covered with straggly bits of heather. Since there didn’t seem to be any belay or runners, carrying on was easier, and Sandy followed under protest. It seemed wise to stop and rope up soon, and Steve and Katie decided to rope up from the start, but it turned out to be quite a long way to the first decent belay crack.

    By now my Grade II prediction was getting embarrassing, nor was I allowed to forget it, and the ground above looked harder. I’d hoped to climb some ice, but it turned out to be smears on smooth rock, so some steeper mixed ground would have to do. A short wall, fortunately beside the belay and again fortunately with a frozen sod of turf on its top, led to a corner topped by an overhang. But this is where the slabby terrain started to change to more normal Lurcher’s helpful ground, so there was a nice flake-crack off to the left and things were looking up.

    All this had taken a while but now there was easy ground leading to the ridge, which turned out to be steeper and better defined than I’d thought. I tried to miss out the steep start but Sandy told me off and ordered me back down. “It only looks about Grade II”. I think this was payback for the start, but it did work despite my foot slipping off and both of us missing a heartbeat. A large block became detached when Sandy was seconding and he managed to hold it in place temporarily. We discussed where it might go, as Steve and Katie were out of sight below. It seemed like it should bounce into North Gully so he let it go (actually this was inevitable). But it was a surprise that it had so much momentum that it ignored all the slopes and just kept going straight. We shouted loudly but were fairly sure it had missed by a distance. Still, it was a relief when there was an answer.

    Next was a short step that could be seen on my photo from a distance. It turned out to be an overlap with what one could guess as a snow-covered slab above. As Sandy moved up towards it, another large block ended up in his arms. He reckoned he could push it into the gully but the block had other ideas and headed down towards the pair below. Straight towards them, but this time it just embedded in the soft snow. Sandy committed to the move over the overlap, cleared the snow and found a fine horizontal crack across the slab. There was a big pull and a belay soon after, where Sandy discovered that the rope had almost been cut through by the block. Now we were down to 20m pitches but the route was effectively over. We even met up with Sarah and Billy for a sociable walk down.

    We did wonder about waiting for Steve and Katie but they had appeared below and all seemed well. The wind was getting up and they would be at least an hour, so rather than freezing, we assumed they had torches and left them to it. It turned out they had faith in my prediction of a quick easy route (unlike me who did have a torch) but they made it to within 200m of the car before making a wrong turn and having to walk an extra mile in the dark.

    But eventful routes are more memorable and we all decided that a 250m Grade IV,5 was better than soloing a Grade II. Steve was reading Ken Crocket’s book on the early history of Scottish climbing so the name Ultramontane came to mind, even if our route or team wasn’t quite as grand.”

    Incredible as it may seem, this 60m-high tower is not situated in Patagonia, Alaska or the Chamonix Aiguilles but in Glen Clova. The line of King Herod (VI,7) takes the left-hand right-facing corner to the midway ledge and then continues up cracks and corners on the rimed up wall on the right. Descent was by simultaneous abseil. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Incredible as it may seem, this 60m-high tower is not situated in Patagonia, Alaska or the Chamonix Aiguilles but in Glen Clova. The line of King Herod (VI,7) takes the left-hand of the two right-facing corners to the midway ledge and continues up cracks and corners on the rimed up wall on the right. Descent was by simultaneous abseil. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    After the ferocious easterly winds and blizzards on Saturday, Ben Nevis was the logical choice of venue to take advantage of the ridge of high pressure that appeared on Sunday December 27. But I had an inkling that the weather may have brought an obscure rock tower on Cairn Broadlands above Glen Clova into rare winter condition. Sophie Grace Chappell was keen for a look, so we arrived on the steep slopes below the crag just as dawn was breaking.

    The east side of Cairn Broadlands is very steep with some alarmingly unstable rock, but hidden amongst the rubble is a 60m-high pinnacle. It can be seen in profile from further up the glen beyond the stalker’s house at Moulzie, but it is impossible to determine quite how big it is. I went up to have a look one autumn, but turned back in face of impossibly steep grass and loose unstable rock. All I could determine from my high point was that there is indeed a pinnacle, and it looked very steep.

    On Sunday, SG and I made a less traumatic approach by coming in from the south and contouring along deer tracks to the bay below the base of the pinnacle. It was immediately clear that our gamble with conditions had paid off as the easterly blizzards had frozen the turf and plastered the north facing aspects of the pinnacle with rime. The obvious line, which took the central groove-line to a mid-way ledge and continued by cracks and corners on the wall above, faced north which meant it was sheltered from the sun. I suspect that this route, that has a low lying elevation of only 600m, is only possible in deep mid-winter when the sun is low in the sky.

    The front face of pinnacle was close to vertical, and every move from the base to the very top was interesting and challenging. It reminded me of routes on Cruachan’s Noe Buttress, which although relatively short, pack a punch from very bottom to top. We descended from the tiny summit by simultaneous abseil, a useful sea stack technique that avoided setting up a complicated anchor on the loose summit blocks. SG suggested we called the route King Herod (VI,7) as December 27 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

    I’m intrigued as to who else has climbed this pinnacle. Dundee climbers have ranged far and wide all over the Angus Glens and their explorations have not always been well recorded, so please leave a comment if you know anything more about this remarkable feature.

    Ian Small making the first winter ascent of Shadhavar (VIII,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. This summer E3 6a takes the thin crack on the right wall of the Unicorn corner and was first climbed by Ian Taylor and Tess Fryer in July 2013. (Photo Iain Small Collection)

    Ian Small making the first winter ascent of Shadhavar (VIII,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. This summer E3 6a takes the thin crack on the right wall of the Unicorn corner and was first climbed by Ian Taylor and Tess Fryer in July 2013. (Photo Iain Small Collection)

    Iain Small and Uisdean Hawthorn pulled off the ascent of the season so far on December 14 with the first winter ascent of Shadhavar (VIII,9) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe.

    “After missing the good weather at the weekend I was able to get out on the Monday with Uisdean for a rather belated first route of the season,” Iain told me. “There had been a considerable dump of new snow overnight so it was a wade into SCNL with rain to start the walk-in with. Not my preferred start to the day or the season!

    Anyway, we had some weird snow conditions with a fair amount of debris from the gullies and a slide out of Twisting Gully just before we crossed over. I fancied something technical but safe to kick start the winter, so Ian Taylor and Tess Fryer’s new line from the glorious summer of 2013 was in my mind. Taking the smooth right wall of the Unicorn main corner, it takes a laser-thin crack that Ian mischievously commented on as ‘perfect pick width’.

    Uisdean had a swim to the initial flared groove of Unicorn which was a struggle under powder. The meat of the route then begins from the first belay of Unicorn. After climbing the corner for a few metres you swing out right to gain the crack and begin some wonderfully technical moves with sometimes poor footholds but reassuring protection. You eventually rejoin the corner to top out onto the big girdling ledge, avoiding loose blocks on the right. It’s essentially a long single pitch variation to Unicorn pitches 2 and 3 but gives fantastic technical wall climbing, not as bold as its neighbour Scansor but sustained. It’s probably hard VIII, 9 if you consider Unicorn as a benchmark VIII,8.”

    Dave Almond on the Northern Corries test-piece The Gathering (VIII,9). This exceptionally steep route lies on the pinnacle in the fork of Y-Gully in Coire an Lochain was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson in February 2011. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Dave Almond on the Northern Corries test-piece The Gathering (VIII,9). This exceptionally steep route lies on the pinnacle in the fork of Y-Gully in Coire an Lochain was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson in February 2011. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Following his ascents of Swallow Tail Pillar and Smokestack Lightnin’ Variations, Dave Almond made another couple of important repeats in the Northern Corries with Simon Frost and Helen Rennard.

    “On December 13, Simon [Frost]and I were joined by Helen Rennard and we headed in to have a look at The Gathering,” Dave explained. We were greeted by a very white, frosty cliff and as I looked up at the imposing line I gathered my thoughts. I had tried this line a couple of years ago with Dave Garry but this time I felt like I had put the work in dry tool training at Clogwyn Mannod, so I felt a lot more confident. It offers a nice gentle start with some Tech 4 climbing to warm you up before you get thrown on to the meat of the route. I found the angle, style and grade of the first pitch similar to where I have been training which made the climbing much more relaxing. Simon and Helen joined me on the belay before Simon lead off and committed to the testing moves away from the ledge making a fitting second pitch.  Congratulations to the first ascensionists on a three star route.

    Continuing in the theme of third ascents, I unknowingly seem to have made the third ascent of Babes in the Wood on December 14 with Helen Rennard. It’s graded VIII, 8 in the guidebook however I have now altered my own copy to IX,8. The route follows the gully line so it’s ground fall potential until the initial overhang and then once on the steep slab the gear is atrocious with foot and tool placements getting smaller as you get higher with a crux move at the top protected by a Terrier which could pull and then you’re back to ground fall. I found this route more challenging than The Gathering and to describe Babes as being bold would be an understatement.

    We walked in to the Lochain on Tuesday morning but backed off as my arms were feeling the effects of the previous four days of full on climbing!”

    Postscript 22 December 2015: Dave, Simon and Helen’s ascent of The Gathering was the fifth ascent. Previous repeats were made by Greg Boswell and Will Sim in January 2012, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams in December 2014, and Murdoch Jamieson and Guy Steven in January 2015.

    The line of Smokestack Lightnin’ on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda with the new Direct Start marked in yellow. The red line shows Variation Pitch 3 (now freed) the purple line is the original top pitch. (Archive Photo/Topo: Andy Nisbet/Dave Almond)

    The line of Smokestack Lightnin’ on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda with the new Direct Start marked in red. The start of the purple line shows Variation Pitch 3 (now free) followed by the original top pitch. (Archive Photo/Topo: Andy Nisbet/Dave Almond)

    After making the third ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar with Ian Parnell, Dave Almond teamed up with Simon Frost on Saturday December 12 and climbed a couple of notable variations to Smokestack Lightnin’ (VI,7) on Fiacaill Buttress. This challenging route climbs the full height of the left side of the buttress and was first climbed by Allen Fyffe and Andy Cunningham in February 1990. They used a peg for aid, and the first free ascent of the route fell to Alan Mullin and Andy Nisbet in December 1997.

    “As I had been in Lochain the previous day we headed for Sneachda unsure of conditions,” Dave told me. “We had in mind Babes in the Wood as a possible option, but on arrival most climbs were looking white except Babes. We drifted over to Fiacaill Buttress and without reference to the guide, picked out what looked like an interesting line. Simon headed up as I consulted the guide. We had started on a direct start up Jailbreak, and after overcoming the first steep corner, began a link up to Smokestack Lightnin’ using the ‘mini’ Stirling Bomber style feature to gain the groove directly above the corner. This gains the line of Smokestack Lightnin’ but we moved left to follow the corner system keeping the line direct to the next ledge and then I stepped left into another groove to gain the big flat ledge on the top corner system, which is a variant finish for Smokestack Lightnin’. “

    I’m not a Northern Corries expert, so Andy Nisbet stepped in to unravel exactly where Dave and Simon’s line lies with respect to the original Smokestack Lightinin’. It turns out that the Direct Start is new (and looks to be very good) but the link pitch is in fact Variation Pitch 3, which had not been climbed free before. Dave and Simon thought this section worth VI,8 on its own and the overall expedition merited VII,8.

    “It offers a good direct line with exciting climbing,” Dave concluded.

    Steve Perry making the first ascent of Have an Ice Day (V,5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This was the first of a fine triptych of routes in the cliff. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry making the first ascent of Have an Ice Day (V,5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This was the first of a fine triptych of routes added to the cliff in recent days. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “I was accused of lying, but it just depends on your definition of what makes a route,” Andy Nisbet explained. “If you mean independent lines top to bottom, then it was worked out. But if you want to go there because it’s good early season and near the road for short days, then you can look at the pictures again and decide that good lines count after all, even if they do join established routes higher up.

    It had only been cold for a couple of days and now the forecast for the weekend was good. Steve Perry and Sandy Allan were keen, so I asked them whether they wanted to gamble on Lurcher’s being frozen, or play safe and head for something rocky in Coire an Lochain. With a risk of overcrowding in Lochain, Lurcher’s was unanimous. On Wednesday that week, my exercise had been to look for a lost rope on the path to Coire an Lochain and reported on UKC, followed by a walk over to Lurcher’s to look for lines. There was no snow and no hint of it being frozen (and the rope is still somewhere in the boulders), but I managed to glimpse the top of a ramp inset into the side of St. Bernard’s Ridge, and see that it held some turf.

    So on the Saturday [December 12] we headed straight for it, with a hope that its base could be accessed and that the turf might be frozen. Arriving underneath provided a great surprise. We knew the main grove left of the ridge was blocked by an overhanging step that we’d ruled out as impossible, but the groove was now full of ice and a streak ran down the sidewall past the overhang. It looked well climbable but we had blunt tools and crampons for mixed and no ice screws or hooks. Not enough to put off Steve, who immediately volunteered to lead.

    The ice was still a little wet, so not too brittle, and the main problem was the lack of protection, a common problem in the main grooves on Lurcher’s. The top of the groove looked steep from below but turned out to be a kitten. The route finished up the upper part of St. Bernard’s Ridge. The name is maybe a bit naff, but unexpectedly we did “Have an Ice Day” at V,5.

    The weather was great and a trail was broken, plus I’d noticed that the slabby start to the hanging ramp was well iced, so we had to go back the next day [December 13]. It was my turn to lead so I was fully psyched to have a hard time. But the ice turned out to be very good quality, although quite thin, so with sharp tools, I got a flying start to a steep groove which lead to the ramp. Halfway up the groove was a decision to stop and place a peg in a strenuous position or keep going. Once I’d stopped and placed it, I knew I’d made the right decision. The ramp was trickier than expected but I was on a roll. Sandy led a short pitch to the same upper section of St. Bernard’s Ridge and we were back at the car park before three. The others gave it a topical name The Force Awakens (VI,6).

    The weather forecast had backed off from a deterioration, so it was back to Lurcher’s on Monday [December 14]; each day you spot more lines. The base of the Dotterel ridge is quite broad and featured another groove, although the undercut base had put us off. The only snag is that it had snowed 6 inches overnight in Aviemore and probably more on the hill. The ski road would be shut until they’d made it black enough for tourist cars with bald summer tyres, and with no rush until the Gondola opens at 10am, we knew to drink lots of tea, chat about the world in general and take head torches.

    Eventually the road did open and we (I should say Steve and Jonathan Preston) ploughed a route to Lurcher’s while I followed a way behind. We made it to the crag by noon and hurried down to the start. Steve soon dispatched with the boulder problem start through the undercut base, then some precarious moves on slabs under deep powder led to a short steep groove. We were quickly learning that Lurcher’s is steeper than it looks and this vertical groove was overhanging. Getting on to the first step proved very awkward, a semi-mantel on to a sloping ledge, but the groove was capped by a wedged flake which provided an excellent hold to pull out of the top. The groove now curved left and back right, deeply covered in snow on smooth rock, but as Steve dug his way up, good cracks continued to appear and after a long pitch, he reached easier ground which led on to the main Dotterel ridge.

    I’d forgotten how good the climbing was on Dotterel, and despite all the clearing, two long pitches led to the top It was all a bit of a mad rush as the light was dimming and Jonathan had a ticket to ski films in Inverness. But we made the car park without torches and haven’t heard about any domestic grief for Jonathan. We called it Electic Brae (VI,7) due to the illusion, and Lurcher’s is definitely worked out now!”

    Anvil Chorus

    Roger Webb tackling the final pitch of Anvil Chorus (IV,7) on Creagan Cha-no. The recalcitrant chockstone can be seen winking above his head. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb tackling the final pitch of Anvil Chorus (IV,7) on Creagan Cha-no. The recalcitrant chockstone can be seen winking above his head. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday December 13 was a beautiful day in the Cairngorms. I’ve been feeling lousy with a persistent cold for the past three weeks but the good weather forecast tempted me out with Roger Webb for a short day on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. By the time we arrived at the top of the crag, two teams were already in action, and throughout the day the popular routes saw multiple ascents. Johannes Felter and Ruth Love set the pace with ascents of Chimney Rib, Jenga Buttress, Anvil Gully and Fingers and Thumbs – a productive day!

    Roger and I had our sights set on the wide crack system on the left wall of Anvil Gully. Roger led up the left branch of the gully (which is often climbed as an easier start to the original route that takes the steeper right leg), and belayed below vertical twin cracks on the left wall. As the invalid I’d chosen this pitch as I thought it would be the easier option, but I soon found myself wrestling with an awkward bulging offwidth. Eventually sense prevailed, I investigated the left wall and found a couple of hidden hooks, and two steep pulls later I was in the upper slot that led over a bulge to a large platform below the steep headwall. I then made myself comfortable at the belay, quite happy with my lead of the Tech 6 pitch.

    The headwall is cut by two offwidth cracks. Sandy Simpson and I climbed the left-hand one when we made the first ascent of Flaked Out on our first ever visit to the crag. I remember Sandy bounding up the pitch in five minutes or so, which is just as well as it was getting dark. Today’s objective was the right crack, which was clearly steeper and capped by an overhang, but suitably prepared we had brought a rack of large cams. As Roger started up it was clear that the wall was even steeper than it looked and the lower section was surprisingly technical. Roger made steady progress, but unfortunately the chockstone below the roof was awkward to reach, and after an hour of fighting he surrendered the lead after finally making the crucial thread.

    We pulled the ropes through and I tied on to the sharp end. It hadn’t been my plan to do any difficult leading, but the shadows were starting to lengthen, and if we were going to get up the route it was now or never. Fortunately Roger had done all the hard work, and when I reached the chockstone I still had sufficient power in my arms to pull over the roof and make a long reach for a hook. Roger followed quickly and we joined a group of climbers who had just finished Chimney Rib and Anvil Gully and had been following our progress with interest.  After such a public display, Anvil Chorus seemed a suitable name, and we settled on a grade of IV,7 (Roger was in a devilish mood and wanted to rate it III,7), and we’ll leave it to the next party to make a smoother ascent.

    Andy Inglis styling up the third ascent of Pfugga-lule (VIII,9) on the impressive Happy Tyroleans wall on No. 3 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. This superb shot was taken by Dave Riley during an ascent of Savage Slit. (Photo Dave Riley).

    Andy Inglis styling up the third ascent of Pfugga-lule (VIII,9) on the impressive Happy Tyroleans wall on No. 3 Buttress in Coire an Lochain. This superb shot was taken by Dave Riley during an ascent of Savage Slit. (Photo Dave Riley).

    On Saturday December 12, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams made the third ascent of one of the Northern Corries modern test–pieces when they climbed Pfugga-lule (VIII,9) in Coire an Lochain.

    “It’s a route that has interested Neil and I for a few years,” Andy told me.  “Having seen the questionable first ascent and climbed a fair bit in the corrie and we knew the route climbs a very steep wall (overhanging), which equally inspired us and filled us with apprehension. This part of No.3 Buttress is somewhat less reliably in condition than other parts of the corrie, so it was something of a surprise to find it in hoared up nick on Saturday. Unfortunately our attempt at the first non-wad (after Charly/Matthias and Greg Boswell) ascent was flawed with me taking a fall onto my leash a move before sanctuary due to a combination of pump and creating a complex mess of leash/rope/gear tangle… early season blues! The route is generally well-protected, technical, pretty physical and well worth doing (in better style than us!).”

    Andy refers to a ‘questionable first ascent’ because Austrians Charly Fritzer and Matthias Wurzer’s first climbed Pfugga-lule on almost dry snowless rock in January 2012. When they heard feedback that these conditions were not acceptable, they returned and reclimbed the route in bona fide winter conditions after it had snowed a few days later. Charly then led the route several times for the camera, but I was unable to secure a photo for www.scottishwinter.com at the time. Copyright for these images rested with his sponsor, and it proved too difficult to obtain one.

    Dave Almond seconding the first pitch of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) in Coire on Lochain on Cairn Gorm. This route, which lies between Deep Throat and Gaffer’s Groove, was first climbed in winter by M.Walker, A.Gilmore and R.Rosedale in March 2008. The first pitch is shared with the winter version of Gaffer’s Groove. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Dave Almond seconding the first pitch of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) in Coire on Lochain on Cairn Gorm. This route, which lies between Deep Throat and Gaffer’s Groove, was first climbed in winter by M.Walker, A.Gilmore and R.Rosedale in March 2008. The first pitch is shared with the winter version of Gaffer’s Groove. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    A succession of storms and deep thaws has contributed to a slow start to the winter season. At the end of last week, the temperatures cooled bringing a welcome snowfall. Ian Parnell and Dave Almond were quick on the scene and after a fruitless trip to the Ben on Thursday December 10, they visited the Northern Corries and made the likely third ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) on December 11. Despite the low temperatures and snowy weather, climbing conditions were a little disappointing as Ian explains:

    “It was extremely bare in the Corries. Whilst the snow level on Thursday and Friday was down to 500m, and the temperature was around -3 deg C at 1100m, there was almost nothing building up on steep rock itself. It was snowing and hailing with strong gusts, but it seemed that the snow had been squashed into cracks. Easier angled routes were catching snow, and as a result as one of the few slabs climbed by a harder route (Swallow Tail Pillar) was the only thing of that grade that seemed to be in condition to us. It saved the trip!

    Dave led the second crux pitch, which we both thought very delicate, thin and surprisingly bold. I noticed that Andy Inglis [who made the second ascent with Guy Robertson in April 2012] wrote on the UKC logbooks ’2nd ascent? Lead P2…. technical and sketchy… once the route was excavated from under the 12″ of hoar! Felt like VIII,8 on the day (full grade harder than Bulgy).’”