Crazy Eyes – Second Ascent

Murdoch Jamieson on the crux section of Crazy Eyes (VII,9) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. This spectacular route takes the roofed corner right of Sundance on the Far East Wall. (Photo Andy Inglis)

Murdoch Jamieson on the crux section of Crazy Eyes (VIII,9) on Beinn Eighe during the second ascent. This spectacular route takes the roofed corner right of Sundance on the Far East Wall. (Photo Andy Inglis)

A significant ascent on January 14 (one of the finest winter climbing days of the season so far) was the first repeat of Crazy Eyes (VIII,9) on the Far East Wall of Beinn Eighe by Murdoch Jamieson and Andy Inglis.

“Crazy Eyes is a line that I’ve wanted to get on ever since the BMC Winter Meet in 2014,” Andy told me. “I remember a stunning morning three years ago when myself and partner Piotr Sulowski craned our necks back to take in this wild (and what would, in years gone by, been called ‘futuristic’) line with Will Sim and Olov Isaksson. We didn’t think it had been done so it was an easy decision for Will and Olov to jump on it! As it turned out they had a great time and gave the route three stars! Will raving about it afterwards should have given me a clue as to how hard it might be…!

For Murdo and I it was a miracle we even got on the route last Saturday, after Murdo ended up hip-deep in a bog on the walk-in, with the only saving grace being a meandering track (I wonder if they were drunk?!) through the deep snow left by keener climbers than us earlier that morning! The route itself was excellent with lots of variety, turf, ice, a squeeze chimney, steep cracks and a technical roof! Murdo even made it look like he had to try at one point, and I must have imagined it when I thought he shouted down he was pumped!

A very memorable and at times goey route, and a splendid sandbag at the originally suggested grade of VII,9. Chapeau Olov and Will!”

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The Prentice Pillar

Iain Small climbing the initial pitch of The Prentice Pillar (VII,8) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe during the first ascent. Rather worryingly, this pitch was partially detached from the rock face behind so the route was named after the intricately carved pillar in Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. (Photo Helen Rennard)

Iain Small climbing the initial pitch of The Prentice Pillar (VII,8) on Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe during the first ascent. This pitch was partially detached from the rock face behind so the route was named after the intricately carved pillar in Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. (Photo Helen Rennard)

On January 14, Iain Small and Helen Rennard made an excellent addition to Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. They climbed the obvious fault on the lower front (west) face, just right of last season’s route Hoargasm (VII,8) climbed by Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn.

“It gave a good steep pitch before a ropelength of easier ground led to the headwall,” Iain told me. “A stiff corner then led to a fractured fault and finish. The main corner of the first pitch was helpfully cracked. Maybe too cracked though as daylight could be seen through the left wall, which was actually a semi-detached pillar!

I thought The Prentice Pillar would be a good name and the grade possibly VII/VIII,8. It is low in the grade although I’m feeling a bit rusty on grading given the lack of activity this season. Quite tellingly, there was more snow on the slopes below the crag a couple of summers ago when I was up doing rock routes!”

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South Trident Link-Up

Brian Pollock leading the first pitch of Spartacus on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. The link-up with the rarely climbed Devastation continues up the right-facing corner-crack directly above his head. (Photo Neil Adams)

Brian Pollock leading the first pitch of Spartacus on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. The link-up with the rarely climbed Devastation continues up the right-facing corner-crack directly above his head. (Photo Neil Adams)

Saturday January 14 was an excellent day for winter climbing in the Scottish Highlands and a number of excellent ascents were made. One of the most interesting climbs was a link up on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis.

“I had a good day on the Ben with Brian Pollock,” Neil Adams explains. “We started up the first pitch of Spartacus and belayed out right after the roof. We then traversed back left above the roof into the right-facing corner-crack directly above Spartacus pitch 1. Where the angle eases, the line trends left and meets the top of Strident Edge. It felt about VII,8 – the traverse left above the roof was the crux, but the corner above was still pretty sustained.”

Initially, Neil and Brian thought they had made a new addition, but their second pitch is common with Devastation that was climbed in winter by Ian Parnell and Andy Benson in November 2008. Devastation is graded E1 in summer and has two technically difficult pitches, but the protection was generally good, and the winter first ascensionists graded their ascent a surprisingly reasonable VII,8. Spartacus (VI,7) was first climbed by Andy Nisbet and Jonathan Preston in November 2002 during the first phase of modern winter exploration the cliff. This quickly led to the realisation that South Trident Buttress makes a fine early season venue, or in this season’s case, a location that comes quickly into condition during a tricky winter!

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Clockwork Orange

Stuart Macfarlane on the first pitch of Clockwork Orange (V,4) on Beinn an Lochain in the Southern Highlands. Last week’s ice blast brought a good variety of routes into condition right across the country. (Photo Brian Shackleton)

Stuart McFarlane on the first pitch of Clockwork Orange (V,4) on Beinn an Lochain in the Southern Highlands. Last week’s ice blast brought a good variety of routes into condition right across the country. (Photo Brian Shackleton)

Southern Highlands aficionado Stuart McFarlane is nearing the end of his quest to climb all the Grade V routes in the Southern Highlands.

“After the strong north-westerlies had been blowing hard for a few days, I arranged to go climbing with Brian Shackleton in Arrochar on January 13,” Stuart explained. “I had an inkling that the exposed Beinn an Lochain may be frozen and icy, and perhaps Bakerloo Line, one of my few remaining Grade Vs in the Southern Highlands would be in? This was confirmed as we battled against the wind, up the North-East Ridge, finding shelter beneath Kinglas Crag. But what’s that parallel line to the right…?”

The result of Stuart and Brian’s visit to Beinn an Lochain was the first ascent of Clockwork Orange (V,4). This takes a parallel line to Bakerloo line, following a right-sloping fault, with key passages on thin ice and ever-increasing exposure. Above the route steps left beneath a roof, before committing to a thinly iced wall above.

The number of Grade Vs on Stuart’s To Do list is unchanged, but there is now another excellent mixed climbing addition to the Southern Highlands!

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Creagan Cha-no Additions

Ivor McCourt pulling out from the niche and out over the blocks at the top of Asthma Finish (III,4) to Plasma Gully on Creagan Cha-no. Despite the lean conditions there are still new additions to be found even on well-known cliffs such as Cha-no. (Photo Jon Foden)

Ivor McCourt pulling out from the niche and out over the blocks at the top of Asthma Finish (III,4) to Plasma Gully on Creagan Cha-no. Despite the lean conditions there were still new additions to be found even on well-known cliffs such as Cha-no. (Photo Jon Foden)

“We had a cracking day out on Creagan Cha-no on Thursday (January 5),” Jon (Nettle) Foden writes. “Although conditions were thin on the trade routes, by sticking to the shady side of the buttresses Ivor McCourt and I managed to find a couple of routes in good condition, one of which may have been a new line. As well as doing Captain Fairweather we headed up Plasma Gully and took a 20m finish up the left wall. Although the line was short, it was really good fun and a great option in these conditions.”

Martin (Wilf) Holland and Euan Whitaker were also climbing on Cha-no that day and climbed Big Boy Made Me (II,3), the gully immediately left of Once We Were Alpinists. “The name is Euan’s based on the fact I had to encourage him to climb it rather than an existing line,” Wilf explained. Upon returning to the valley Euan and Wilf thought the route may have been climbed before, but further research showed that it hadn’t been recorded after all. As always, its worth checking the New Routes section of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal <http://www.smc.org.uk/new-routes> if you think you have climbed new ground.

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Topsy-Turvy

Roger Webb above the awkward squeeze-slot on a new III,5 in Coire an Lochain on Braeriach. Deep thaws and limited snowfall led to verglassed cracks on the steeper routes high in the Northern Corries, so the most enjoyable climbing was possibly on the lower-angled turfy mixed lines in the higher Cairngorms corries.

Roger Webb above the awkward squeeze-slot on a new III,5 in Coire an Lochain on Braeriach. Although a short thaw followed by a sudden freeze led to verglassed cracks on the steeper routes, there was enjoyable climbing on lower-angled turfy mixed lines in the high Cairngorms corries. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The topsy-turvy season continues. A brief thaw on January 3 followed by a dry cold snap was not the best recipe for good winter climbing. The Scottish mountains are unusually dry at the moment and the freeze thaws should be consolidating snow and ice instead of merely freezing bare ground. Mixed conditions in the Cairngorms were saved by a couple of hour’s snowfall on Wednesday morning that put a layer of white on the high north facing cliffs. The price for the sudden freeze was verglassed cracks, and those venturing onto the steeper rimed routes in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries had a testing time. Nevertheless, several teams battled up modern classics such as The Migrant, Savage Slit, Deep Throat and Overseer Direct, and Murdoch Jamieson and Guy Steven made an impressive ascent of The Vicar (VII,8), noting wryly that their cams were merely being used for ballast.

Further afield, Andy Nisbet found a new Grade II on Mullach Fraoch-choire in Kintail and the following day (January 5) Roger Webb and I visited Braeriach where we climbed a new III,5 in Coire an Lochain. It’s now back to thawing temperatures for the weekend but there are hints of colder weather towards the end of the month. The good news is that the ground is frozen in the high mountains, and snowed up rock and turfy mixed routes will be quick to come into condition once the cold weather returns. Fingers crossed!

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Cat and Mouse

Roger Webb pulling the ropes through on the easy upper section of Shark (V,7) on Braeriach. High north facing aspects in the Cairngorms were well rimed on 2 January as a result of snowfall on New Years Day and strong north-westerly winds (Photo Simon Richardson)

Roger Webb on the easy upper section of Shark (V,7) on Braeriach. High north facing aspects in the Cairngorms were frozen and well rimed on 2 January as a result of snowfall on New Years Day and strong north-westerly winds. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The cat and mouse game of finding good winter climbing conditions continues. The forecast icy blast on New Years Day promised much for January 2, but the snowfall was significantly less than predicted and mainly limited to the Cairngorms and the North-West. Following the previous days high temperatures, it really limited choice to mixed climbs in the Northern Cairngorms or easier classics high up on Ben Nevis.

In the Northern Corries, the more exposed Coire an Lochain proved the best option with ascents of The Hoarmaster, Deep Throat, Sidewinder, The Migrant, Hooker’s Corner and The Overseer Direct. Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell made an early repeat of Open Heart (VIII,9), a very strenuous route linking the first pitch of Ventricle with Ventriloquist on No. 1 Buttress. The turf was reported as ‘a bitty soggy’ on Mess of Pottage in the neighbouring Coire an t-Sneachda, although Droidless was climbed, and across on Creagan Cha-no, Anvil Corner and Anvil Gully also saw ascents.

On Ben Nevis, Tower, Number Two and Number Three gullies provided good sport in the exceptionally lean conditions and there was at least one ascent of Tower Ridge. The ever-reliable left flanking wall of Number Three Gully Buttress accumulated hoar frost and there were ascents of the classic line of Number Three Gully Buttress itself, as well as Hobgoblin and El Nino.

On the new route front, Andy Nisbet soloed a new Grade II on Lurcher’s Crag and Roger Webb and I made the long haul into Braeriach where we climbed Shark (V,7) and the delightful Stickleback Rib (II). Temperatures rose above the tops today (January 3), and the forecast of a brief colder spell followed by another thaw later in the week will keep us all guessing for a little while yet.

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Blink And You Miss It

The great North-East Corrie of Lochnagar on the morning of December 28. The eastern edge of the Cairngorms held on to cold air a little longer than the bulk of the Cairngorms before warm south-westerlies swept in later in the day. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The great North-East Corrie of Lochnagar on the morning of December 28. The eastern edge of the Cairngorms held on to cold air a little longer than the bulk of the Highlands before warm south-westerlies swept in later in the day. (Photo Simon Richardson)

“Blink and You Miss It!” Mark Chadwick exclaimed on Facebook after making a well timed ascent of an attractively rimed Auricle (VI,7) in Coire an Lochain with Duncan Hodgson. Following the Christmas Day thaw and Boxing Day storm, winter conditions made a welcome return on December 27 and several teams visited the Northern Corries climbing The Message, The Seam and The Migrant. Nearby, Andy Nisbet, Sandy Allan and Susan Jensen soloed a couple of new routes on Lurcher’s Crag, and further west ascents of Number Two Gully Buttress and Wedigo were reported on The Ben.

Unfortunately this was a very short weather window as warm weather rolled in to the Western Highlands that night and temperatures were soon above the tops. Lochnagar held onto the cold for a few more precious hours, and Ben Richardson and I nipped in early the following morning to climb the buttress between Resolution Gully and Lunar Eclipse on Perseverance Wall. A succession of turfy grooves provided a good little IV,4 before the temperatures rose in the afternoon. The weather gods have kept us guessing so far this season, but fingers crossed the icy blast forecast just after New Year results in some good winter climbing.

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Winter on The Sentinel

The view looking across the Southern Sector of Lochnagar from The Sentinel. There was a surprising amount of snow on the mountain on December 22. (Photo Simon Richardson)

The view looking across the Southern Sector of Lochnagar towards Cental Buttress from The Sentinel. There was a surprising amount of snow on the mountain on December 22. (Photo Simon Richardson)

This winter continues to be a frustrating one. A cold snap before Christmas saw Sophie Grace Chapell and I heading for the Southern Sector of Lochnagar. The buttresses on the left side corrie have a westerly aspect, which makes them a good choice early in the season when cooling winds are coming from the west. Given the popularity of mixed climbing, late December can hardly be considered early season nowadays, but after the warm dry December, the mountains were in autumn condition, and we needed something that would freeze fast.

The wind had blowing for two days and there was a healthy fall of snow the night before so Lochnagar was looking encouragingly white. Another team pushed on to climb Never Say Die (III,4) on the left side of Perseverance Wall, but the shapely buttress of The Sentinel (home of the popular Jacob’s Slabs) was looking in surprisingly good shape. This is the most accessible cliff on Lochnagar, but it can be awkward to find it in good condition. Cold dry North-West winds tend to strip it bare, whilst it can become swamped with snow following a stormy easterly. Thursday was just right with the turf frozen, snow on ledges and ramps, and the steeper rocks rimed.

We made the first winter ascent of Paladin (V,6), a summer Severe I climbed with Chris Hill several years ago. We started up a long ropelength of easy ground to gain the upper two pitches, which provided good technical climbing. The ‘steep slab with small holds’ provided more than enough interest in the gale force winds and we had to wait for the 80mph gusts to subside before making the next move. You pay your money and take your choice in situations like this – we deliberately selected a route exposed to the wind so it would be frozen, but of course we paid the price in terms of having to bear the brunt of the wind.

A large amount of snow fell during the climb and on the way down to the Meikle Col we were up to our waists in snow, and there were deep drifts all the way down the track back to the forest.

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Lean Times in Raeburn’s Gully

Gavin Mackenzie tip-toeing up thin ice on the first pitch of Raeburn’s Gully on Lochnagar in early December. (Photo Adam Archibald)

Gavin Mackenzie tip-toeing up thin ice on the first pitch of Raeburn’s Gully on Lochnagar in early December. (Photo Adam Archibald)

Before the high pressure properly set in at the beginning of December there were some fine days with cool nights. Winter climbing looked pretty hopeless, but the deep gullies high in the Cairngorms kept a little snow and ice. Several enterprising ascents were made during this period, and Adam Archibald sent me an account of an ascent of Raeburn’s Gully on Lochnagar with Gavin Mackenzie. It just shows that all is not lost, even when the hills appear completely stripped of snow and ice.

“We had a cracking day on Lochnagar yesterday (December 4). In general terms, the turf was frozen and there was more than I’d expected in the way of a cosmetic dusting of snow on some of the buttresses, especially the Tough Brown Face. The Cathedral, Sinister Buttress etc were as black as can be. Higher up and as the temperatures plummeted towards the end of the day there was some riming going on.

In terms of the route, it was great sport, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the beautifully scenic Grade II solo romp on neve and ice which I had in it two years ago – the wonder of winter routes! It kept us guessing right to the top, and there were signs of recent retreat at one or two points. We soloed up to the main ice pitch, mostly on decent ice plus some veg where the stream had washed things away. The ice on said pitch was thin but eminently climbable.

Above, it was mostly good ice underfoot plus some neve, excepting two further chockstone steps, the first of which was only partially iced – awkward – and the second – an almost holdless slab – not at all, giving a perplexing finish within 50m of the top. Gav, belaying directly below, was very glad that I found a solution that didn’t involve a crampon-led slump back to the belay nor the combined tactics which had initially looked necessary.

Topping out to the remains of the sunset above an inversion was utterly magical, perhaps all the sweeter for knowing that we’d managed to climb on a day when the rest of the populace was muddying their boots at Newtyle or freezing their hands on the sea cliffs!”

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