Moon Ice Jazz – Second Ascent

Forrest Templeton on the crux pitch of Moon Ice Jazz (VI,7) in Glen Clova’s Winter Corrie. The route is adjacent to Sun Rock Blues and was first climbed by Henning Wackerhage and Robbie Miller in January 2010. (Photo Brian Duthie)

Forrest Templeton on the crux pitch of Moon Ice Jazz (VI,7) in Glen Clova’s Winter Corrie. The route is adjacent to Sun Rock Blues and was first climbed by Henning Wackerhage, Adam Henly and Robbie Miller in January 2010. (Photo Brian Duthie)

On February 21, Brian Duthie and Forrest Templeton visited Winter Corrie in Glen Clova and made the second ascent of Moon Ice Jazz (VI,7).

“The forecast for Sunday suggested frozen terrain down to 400m,” Brian explained.  “So Forrest and I decided to go into Winter Corrie and see if Moon Ice Jazz was in condition. From the corrie floor it looked like it was in decent nick so we decided to give it a go – my first winter route of the season!

I know that Henning has been keen for someone to repeat his line and confirm the grade. As he describes in his blog the crux pitch is steeper than it looks, gear hard won and difficult to place. On the day we thought it was worth VI, 6.”

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White Mamba

Roger Webb approaching Cnapan Nathraichean on Lochnagar. White Mamba (V,4) takes the narrow right-slanting groove directly above Roger ‘s head and is based on the summer line of Green Mamba that was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Adhair McIvor in June 1976. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Roger Webb approaching Cnapan Nathraichean on Lochnagar. White Mamba (V,4) takes the narrow right-slanting groove directly above Roger ‘s head and is based on the summer line of Green Mamba that was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Adhair McIvor in June 1976. (Photo Simon Richardson)

I’m terrified of snakes so Cnapan Nathraichean (the knoll of the adders) on the north side of Lochnagar has never been one of my favourite crags. One time when I was below the cliff in summer a large female slithered past me on top of the knee-deep heather, and I spent a nervous day with my eyes peeled in case I encountered another.

I was nervous too when Roger Webb and I approached the cliff on Thursday February 18. A better than average avalanche forecast had drawn us to the Southern Cairngorms, and I had a hunch that the brief thaw on Tuesday night would have consolidated snow and ice in the summer route Green Mamba. Without doubt this 110m-long smooth groove is the line of the crag, but just powder-covered rock would mean game over. Fresh snow covered the crag and we were kept guessing until we were almost at the start of the groove when tell-tale patches of grey ice became visible under the white coating.

We climbed the route in three long pitches. There was ice (albeit very thin) where it mattered, and the sequence of bulges on the second pitch were protected by cams and wires in the cracked right wall of the groove, but even so it was a spooky climb to lead. Roger observed that it was a route where the “numbers were the wrong way around” and we had no hesitation in grading it V,4. We took a more direct start to the summer line so decided to call our route White Mamba. Given the pristine wintry conditions of the day, we really didn’t have much choice!

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Major New Route on Beinn Bhan

Coire nam Fhamair on Beinn Bhan in Applecross. The lines of Nam Famhairean (VII,7) –red, Der Riesenwand (VII,6) – pink, and Divine Retribution (VII,6) – green are marked. (Photo/Topo Simon Yearsley)

The Der Riesenwand wall on Coire nam Fhamair on Beinn Bhan in Applecross. The lines of Nam Famhairean (VII,7) –red, Der Riesenwand (VII,6) – pink, and Divine Retribution (VII,6) – green are marked. (Photo/Topo Simon Yearsley)

Neil Silver, Malcolm Bass and Simon Yearsley added a major new route to Beinn Bhan on February 13 – the eight-pitch Nam Famhairean (VII,7) in Coire nam Fhamair. Neil takes up the story:

“A big route on a big cliff!  That’s what went through my mind when Malcolm, Simon and I chatted about targets for a North West trip as a plan B for our planned alpine trip, postponed due to too much snow.

The plan was clear a new line up the unclimbed ground on the right hand side of the wall of which Der Riesenwand takes the left hand side. We had identified that a thin rightward rising traverse half wall up the face would probably be the key to gaining the upper part of the wall.

The forecast was good and the prep work done but would the traverse go and what would the ground be like after that? We had to get on it to find out!

The initial barrier wall is an early reminder of the steepness of the cliff and we had planned an more straight-forward approach bypassing the steep initial wall, but the thin traverse in from Gully of the Gods meant we were roped-up earlier than we expected.

Much steepness loomed above, but the planning was working as Malcolm gained a rising weakness and made good progress to the ‘hairpin’ of Der Riesenwand.

The crucial traverse out right from Der Riesenwand that we hoped would give entry to the upper right hand wall had been hard to read from the ground . From different angles it had given different impressions of its size and substance.  On arrival at its start we found the narrow gangway to show promise, but a very thin crux section visible from the belay was sure to be the key.

We paused at the belay for a momentary check around the team knowing that the next step onto the upper wall would be committing us to whatever we found round the corner and out of sight.

Malcolm took up the baton and headed off speculatively from this relative safety. The crux section was complex and time-consuming, concealing its secrets until fully committed.  Malcolm prepared patiently; gear in, gloves off, and then, ice-tool in teeth,  he disappeared from sight. A silence fell with tools largely useless on this section, but crucial for its completion. Finally the call came back – ‘It’s done. Looks good… as far as I can see!’

Malcolm brought us across the traverse and I led off upwards steeply on ice to a small bay with tempting options in the darkness to left and right. Directly up looked hard but good, and after a small questioning of myself I decided straight up was the way with a fine crack tempting me upwards and allowing me to dismiss the other unseen options.

This long pitch, and the next, gave excellent climbing on ice and frozen turf. The ground was steep and intimidating, but in the dark you lose yourself in the climb, making progress ever upwards with the prospect of success creeping into your mind. I was reminded of C.Joybell C. – ‘Remember when you think you are seeing giants, they may not be giants at all; perhaps it is you who is the dwarf.’

Almost too soon we were on easy ground with the cornice in view and a moonlit Beinn Bhan summit awaiting our celebrations.”

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Stob a’Ghlais Choire – Central Buttress

Simon Richardson climbing the central buttress of Stob a’Ghlas Choire at the eastern end of Glen Coe. The crest of this buttress led directly to the summit and provided an excellent VI,6 mixed climb. (Photo Roger Everett)

Simon Richardson entering the hidden slot on the first pitch of the central buttress of Stob a’Ghlais Choire at the eastern end of Glen Coe. The crest of the buttress then led directly to the summit and provided an excellent VI,6 mixed climb. (Photo Roger Everett)

After enjoying some excellent summer scrambling on the north face of Sron na Creise one autumn day, I set off for the round of the three Black Mount Munros. Looking back along the summit ridge of Creise I was struck by a rather shapely crag on the south-east side of Stob a’Ghlais Choire, and in particular its central buttress that looked a magnificent winter objective.

Hamish MacRobert’s 1952 Central Highlands Area Guide reveals that Dan Piggott added a rock climb finishing directly on the summit, but other than that there is no record of any climbing on the cliff. It has been lurking on my to do winter list for some time now, and it seemed the perfect option for Roger Everett and I to try on February 15.

Although the crag is visible from the Glen Coe ski area, it is rather awkward to reach. The shortest approach is from Glen Etive over Sron na Creise, but we were wary of descending steep slopes to the foot of the crag and unsure about the initial river crossing. Instead we chose to approach from the ski area, and make a long traverse around the head of Cam Ghleann to reach the corrie below the cliff. Our approach, in sometimes-awkward conditions underfoot, took three hours, but I’m sure there are faster ways.

Our toil was rewarded by a magnificent climb up the crest of the buttress. We were worried about the first tier, that looked very blank and steep, but fortunately there was a hidden slot to its right, which provided a reasonable (albeit sometimes bold) way through.

Above, a succession of steep chimneys and grooves, interspersed with comfortable belay ledges, led all the way to the summit cairn where we basked in the afternoon sunshine before heading back home over the summits of Creise and Meall a’Bhuiridh.

The buttress is about 100m high and we climbed it in four pitches at a grade of VI,6. Given its visibility it is difficult to believe that nobody has ventured on to this little gem before, so if you know of a prior ascent please get in touch.

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The Borrowdale Conundrum

Roger Everett on the first ascent of The Borrowdale Conundrum on Ben Starav (III,4). This is one of two new routes added to this fine mountain at the head of Loch Etive. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Roger Everett on the first ascent of The Borrowdale Conundrum (III,4) on Ben Starav. This is one of two new routes added to this fine mountain at the head of Loch Etive. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Several years ago Roger Everett suggested there might be some winter climbing on a buttress on the North Ridge of Ben Starav, and in November 2011 we went to have a look. Winter had yet to arrive that year, so after looking at the buttress from below and agreeing that we should return some day, we climbed over the summit and made a summer ascent of Hidden Ridge, the Graham Little and Dave Saddler Grade IV that is becoming something of a mini classic.

On February 14, nearly five years after our reconnaissance, Roger and I finally made it back to Starav. The approach through crusty snow over deep heather took nearly four hours, but we were rewarded with two lines up diverging grooves up the front face of the buttress – The Borrowdale Conundrum (III,4) and The Starav Enigma (V,6).

The route names need a little explanation. During the walk in Roger was reconciling the length of our approach to the likely length of climb, and recalled a comment in the introduction to a recent Borrowdale guidebook that stated that it was becoming unsustainable to record the large number of short and remote climbs that had been developed in the area.

Both our routes were barely more than 60m long and arguably could be classed as ‘Borrowdale conundrums’. But there again, the climbing was good and Ben Starav is a beautiful place, and for us, this more than compensated for any lack of stature – hence The Starav Enigma.

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Remote and Snowy

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

“Driving towards Ben Nevis on February 10, it became obvious around Loch Laggan that all the hills were very white and swamped with soft snow,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Unable to think of any sensible, or at least accessible, new routes, we turned north at Spean Bridge and headed towards Glen Shiel, where at least I knew of a relatively easy new route which we could climb in poor conditions. I admit now I’d forgotten what a long approach it was.

I had spotted an unclimbed crag above Lochan na Cralaig in 2000 when climbing a route on remote Sail Chaorainn and looking a long way across the valley. 2001 was a great year for winter climbing and I visited the crag in January with Dave McGimpsey. We climbed the longest gully and the longest ridge both at Grade III in excellent conditions. I don’t think we put the rope on, so we even bagged the Munro of A’ Chralaig in the afternoon sun. I went back the following winter with clients of Martin Moran’s, climbing the left-bounding ridge of an amphitheatre again at Grade III. There was still time to do another route, with the plan that I didn’t want to make the long approach again. A groove at the back of the amphitheatre looked fairly straightforward but I soon discovered that it had smooth rock and limited protection. Hard moves well above protection defined the grade as VI,6 although its overall feel wasn’t as hard (Kraken).

But there was still a line, and 14 years dulls the memory of the slog up the back of A’ Chralaig. I had told Steve Perry and Jonathan Preston it would be a fairly easy day, but there was a lot of snow and it was my first day out after the flu. So I arrived on the ridge a long time after the others, by which time they were rather cold. The next problem was how to descend to the crag when it was misty, snowing and the ridge had a continuous soft cornice. We decided to rope up and send Jonathan (the heaviest) to collapse the cornice. (Actually he was so cold he insisted on going first, and we weren’t going to argue). He duly collapsed it, and it wasn’t as big as we’d feared.

There hasn’t been much of a build-up this year so we didn’t try the gully descent (actually it would have been OK) and outflanked the cliff to return to the ridge right of the descent gully. Most of it looked straightforward but there was a barrier wall blocking entry to a flying groove set in an impressive prow. We soloed up to the barrier wall where unfortunately you could escape into the gully. But we weren’t going to do that, so I volunteered to traverse under the wall in the hope of returning left above it. The traverse was committing above a big drop but it all fell into place as soon as I’d made the traverse. Great runners encouraged a swing out left above the overhang and a couple of moves later, it was all over. Jonathan led up the flying groove to a final horizontal arete. We decided on a grade of III,5 and called it Poseidon, keeping the mythological theme.

The weather still wasn’t great but I was determined to finish off the crag and climb a route on steep but more broken ground right of all the existing routes. There wasn’t much time so we didn’t take any gear and traversed under all the existing routes to find an easy gully. Actually I hadn’t expected it to be as easy as Grade I but there was a lot of snow. Steve and I plodded up the gully whereas Jonathan decided on a steeper line to the right. After a while, we were tempted by an exposed ramp (The Creel – III), which led up the steep left wall of the gully on to the top of the right-hand ridge (Curled Buttress). This was easy enough although the drop under our heels kept us on our toes. Jonathan crossed the easy gully higher up and also found a turfy line to tempt him out left.

It’s nice there are still some remote crags in good scenery and which no-one goes to, even if the routes are a bit short for the long approach.”

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Gates of Paradise

Iain Small just reaching the hanging icicle on the crux pitch of Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) during the first ascent. This very steep route lies high up on the right side of Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

Iain Small just reaching the hanging icicle on the crux pitch of Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) during the first ascent. This very steep route lies high up on the right side of Church Door Buttress in Glen Coe. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

On February 10, Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson climbed one of the most spectacular new routes of the season when they made the first ascent of Gates of Paradise (VIII,8) on Church Door Buttress on Stob Core nam Beith.

“It lies further up the crag than any of the existing summer routes,” Iain explained. “In summer there seems to be a constant spring-fed weep down that section of the cliff, so in winter it forms a set of hanging icicles and a line that I guess has been eyed up a fair bit. When I was up there doing Crusade earlier this season the icicles were starting to form and I thought a return visit might be on if the freezing levels kept yo-yoing.

The line had formed up into some ice-coated lower walls and slabs from the dripping icicle fringe, then a steep mixed section to roofs and through them to gain the icicles. Murdoch did a short pitch to an obvious ledge then I tackled the main pitch, which started off rather run-out up an icy arête – a weird position! – to protected grooves and a strenuous roof with a knee-bar rest on an icy tufa like feature. I’m not sure if Murdoch used this as he treats them with disdain on sports routes. A hard pull then gained the ice and some short screws after which it was all over. With it being short but intense, we thought VIII,8 might cover it, high in the grade, but with more ice the roof section would ease a bit. It’s hard to know what average conditions would be for the ice.

Gates of Paradise is the name, after the famous Early Renaissance church doors of the Florence Baptistery.”

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Visit from Italy

Italian guide Renzo Corona climbing The Shield Direct (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. As far as I know this is the first time this modern classic has been climbed this season. (Photo Renzo Corona collection)

Italian guide Renzo Corona climbing The Shield Direct (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. The photo was taken on February 13 and as far as I know this is the first time this modern classic has been climbed this season. (Photo Renzo Corona collection)

I receive all sorts of correspondence for scottshwinter.com but the following email from February 14 made me smile…

“Hello, I apologize for my English, I’m Renzo Italian mountain guide crown have been to you for a tour with friend Martin, the time left us to climb, the first day to know a little stayed at Cairn Gorm of Aladdin the way the Flame, the second on Carn Megadich, the way Smith routes, the third day to the well-nevis Carn Deargh the way Schield direct, beautiful, today Fort Williams visits to distilleries, sure be back, we loved it… even the beer!”

I think Renzo’s account has suffered the ravages of Google Translate, but The Lamp (V,6), Smith’s Gully (VI,5) and The Shield Direct (VII,6) is a pretty good haul for a first three days in Scotland. Bravo Renzo and Martin!

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Pinnacle Arete Direct Variation – Second Ascent

Ken Applegate starting the Direct Variation (IV,6) to Pinnacle Arête on Ben Nevis. The Direct Variation continues up the prominent offwidth crack up and left, whilst the original route climbs the chimney line on the right side of the photo. (Photo Steve Holmes)

Ken Applegate starting the Direct Variation (IV,6) to Pinnacle Arête on Ben Nevis. The line continues up the prominent offwidth crack up and left, whilst the original route climbs the chimney line on the right side of the photo. (Photo Steve Holmes)

On February 8, Steve Holmes, Ken Applegate and Dot Bankowska made the possible second ascent of the Direct Variation (IV,6) to Pinnacle Arete in Coire na Ciste. This variation was first climbed by Robin Clothier and Andy Huntington in October 2010.

“Throughout the Autumn I had been searching around for alternative routes at amenable grades and came across a direct pitch to Pinnacle Arête on Ben Nevis,” Steve told me. “Both Ken and I were keen to explore this area for potential guiding routes, so with reports of iced cracks higher up and unfrozen turf lower down, mid height on the mountain seemed a good idea. The initial ‘normal’ pitch gave some good but unsecure climbing after which we broke out left to climb ledges and cracks towards a wide crack splitting a vertical wall. Ken set out on the second pitch before taking a belay at the bottom of the offwidth crack, leaving me with the entertaining but stiff proposition of leading us through and over the top. This crux section has superb hooks behind large chock stones but felt awkward and reachy for my short stature! Its a good more challenging alternative to the normal two star route, and on the day we felt it deserved V,6.”

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Corrie Farchal Three Pack

Henning Wackerhage on the improbable undercut prow of The Seven Ages of Man (V,5) in Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova. The route takes the prominent buttress on the left side of the cliff between the gullies of Age Before Beauty and The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Henning Wackerhage on the improbable undercut prow of The Seven Ages of Man (V,5) in Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova. The route takes the prominent buttress on the left side of the cliff between the gullies of Age Before Beauty and The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Sunday February 7 was not a particularly nice day but time was running out for Henning Wackerhage and I. After 19 years in the UK, Henning is set to return to his native Germany in a couple of weeks time to take up a professorship in Munich, and there were still some outstanding lines in Corrie Farchal to do.

It was snowing hard and it took us a time to find our objective, the buttress to the left of the gully of The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. This is defended by steep bands low down and at mid-height, but in typical Farchal style the rock was surprisingly helpful and some steep moves up undercut twin cracks led through the first crux. Henning then confidently threaded his way through the improbable undercut prow of the second band that led to a third pitch of simple snow slopes and the top. We debated the grade a little, but to me The Seven Ages of Man felt like a V,5 experience overall even though the crux sections were steep and technical.

Four days later on February 11 we back in better weather. This time we had our sights set on a long sought after goal – the overhanging front face of the buttress above Farchal Ramp. This is arguably the finest feature in the corrie and was first climbed by Alex Thomson and Jenny Hill in January 2015 with Age is Only a Number (III,4), a brilliantly devious line taking hidden chimneys and ramps on its right side. But the front face is the real challenge, and tantalisingly it is cut by a diagonal crack. The problem is that it is difficult to judge the angle from below as the buttress is covered with overhangs and impending corners all leaning the wrong way and festooned with hanging icicles. Looking up it is like an impossible Escher drawing and any route through seemed highly improbable, but diagonal lines can sometimes cut through remarkably steep ground and the only way to find out was to give it a try.

We soloed up easy ground to Farchal Ramp and then Henning led a slanting chimney-slot, stepped over the chimney of Age is Only a Number and continued up the ramp above to a narrow ledge with the headwall bulging above. From directly below we could see the crack cleverly threaded its way through the steepest overhanging terrain but it was still the wrong side of vertical. Unfortunately it blanked out for the first three metres or so, which meant there were some delicate moves on thin ice on the left wall to get established. Once in the crack itself, it provided one of those unrelentingly strenuous pitches where every move is Tech 7, and just hanging on to place the gear feels as hard as the climbing itself. Finally a good hand jam at the top allowed a swing left to a good ledge. Henning led a short vertical icefall to finish and The Age of Enlightenment (VI,7) was finally in the bag.

We had time for one more route, the discontinuous gully line left of Farchal Gully, which provided three excellent sections on steep ice and a chance for Henning to use the route name he’d been saving for his final new route – The Last Hurrah (IV,4). There was just time to sprint back to the car and drive back for Henning’s farewell climbing dinner in Aberdeen.

Henning has spearheaded the development of winter climbing in the Angus Glens in recent seasons and has been a prominent figure on the North-East climbing scene for the last ten years. His boundless enthusiasm, superb photography skills and awesome fitness on the hill will be missed.

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