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    Jonathan Preston on the first ascent of Cheops (V,5) on Pyramid Buttress on the south side of Liathach. This was the second route of an Andy Nisbet-inspired blitz seeking out unclimbed ice. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston on the first ascent of Cheops (V,5) on Pyramid Buttress on the south side of Liathach. This was the second route of an Andy Nisbet-inspired blitz seeking out unclimbed ice. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “The weather was changing as predicted so there was no time for a rest day,” Andy Nisbet writes. “On February 5, Jonathan Preston and I were heading for the Pyramid Buttress on Liathach. Thanks to the Internet and a pretty picture of Liathach a few days before, my eyes had focussed on a tiny ice strip on the buttress. Allowing for the picture having been taken from several miles away, the ice strip should be climbable, although I hadn’t realised there had been such heavy snowfall in the interim.

    We started a bit later than normal because Pyramid Buttress was fairly accessible, and weren’t worried when the engine in Jonathan’s van kept cutting out, therefore arriving at about 9am. It did seem radically warmer than the day before and with snow down to the road, but we were in no hurry and would just do 20 minutes trail breaking alternately. And we could just see the buttress through a gap in the mist, with plenty of ice. Actually it was the last time we saw it.

    A few 20 minutes later and we were making progress, although each 20 minutes gained less height as the snow got deeper and deeper. Fortunately I’d climbed the Right Edge a few times and the Right Icefall once, so I knew the way in thick mist. It was drizzling at times with no hint of freezing, so we did get rather wet. And by the time were making the scary traverse to the foot of our line (steep soft snow on the lip of a white drop of unknown length), it was after 1pm. Traversing under the various icefalls, I was gobsmacked by how much ice there was; much more than I’d ever seen before, and I’ve been to Liathach at least 100 times in 35 years. Our line, a separate line of ice some 30m left of the Left Icefall, looked good with some very (very) steep sections. Unfortunately all the icicles were dripping and the snow was sludge.

    We soloed up the first easier pitch to below the main line, which I volunteered to start. The placements were deep, too deep really but felt solid enough, although the feet had to be kicked in hard to be sure of holding. I wasn’t confident of ice screws as runners so I went straight up to a groove on the left edge of the ice and a pleasant surprise when the groove held a deep crack, very unusual on this rock. Nuts seemed to fall out the bottom but my largest one held (it later fell out). On the assumption it was good, I went for the top of the ice, with a slushy exit when the runner was really too low. Steep snow led to the next section of ice, which was plumb vertical for at least 15m. It would have made a brilliant Grade VI on a cold day but today I was happy to belay out from the drips and leave the problem to Jonathan.

    As I looked around while he climbed, there did seem to be a hidden groove to the left and which led to another groove left of the steepest ice. Jonathan had spotted it too, and even found some good rock runners on the way up. The pitch was longer and more technical than the previous one but three steep steps led to below another vertical icefall. It was a day when leaders belayed optimistically below steep sections, and the new leader found a way round them. I traversed 10m right, climbed an icy chimney and then angled back left on turf to the original line. Now we were on easier ground and a long pitch led to the top. I dare say we’d have graded it IV,5 on a freezing day but it felt V,5 on a wet day, so we’ve left it at that. Cheops is a pyramidal name, which sounded a bit like the conditions.

    We weren’t bothered about the summit, and I knew the way down, so we traversed above the crags until the bum sliding could begin. Deep wet snow may be tedious on the way up but brilliant on the way down. A series of long safe slides interspersed with short walks got us most of the way back to the van. Four hours up, 35 minutes down!”

    Murdoch Jamieson climbing pitch 6 of The God Delusion (IX,9). “This was a marvel of route finding and a lesson in rope management. Murdoch did a sterling job of extending everything, even at the cost of losing most of his hexes to complement his dwindling supply of quickdraws.” (Photo Iain Small)

    Murdoch Jamieson leading pitch 6 of The God Delusion (IX,9) on The Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. “This was a marvel of route finding and a lesson in rope management. Murdoch did a sterling job of extending everything, even at the cost of losing most of his hexes to complement his dwindling supply of quickdraws.” (Photo Iain Small)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson visited Beinn Bhan on February 3 and made the third ascent of The God Delusion (IX,9). This legendary route was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Benson in 2008 and is considered to be one of the most challenging routes on the Northern Highlands. Iain and Murdoch travelled up to Applecross with an open mind and were contemplating attempting The Messiah, only to find that Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson had climbed it the day before. Iain takes up the story:

    “After Godzilla we were both harbouring an urge to get on the Giant’s Wall again. With the continued good conditions in the North-West this happened more quickly than we bargained for. I think we’d both spent a wee bit too long staring at photos of the Giants Wall… Did any of the features link up? …How do you read that maze of grooves and ramps? One feature that you couldn’t miss was the huge roof capped corner guarded by a perplexing barrier wall below [the line taken by The Messiah]. That could be an option?

    Late Monday evening in Kishorn and down came the weary Monday shift from the Wall. It sounded hard and the faces told us all we needed to know – time for the back-up plan. Another walk through hail and wind but with occasional moonlight brought us back into the land of giants and The God Delusion.

    The route went well and Murdoch topped out only just needing the head torch but soon the moonlight was enough to see by. There were lights over Portree, and further flung spots we couldn’t quite guess. And all around us Applecross shone bright in the moonlit snow.”

    Dave McGimpsey pulling out of the top of the chimney during the first ascent of Jinky (V,5) on the West Face of Quinag. The cliffs on the west face of Quinag are a good choice in very snowy conditions as they have a relatively short approach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey pulling out of the top of the chimney during the first ascent of Jinky (V,5) on Quinag. The cliffs on the West Face of Quinag are a good choice in very snowy conditions as they have a relatively short approach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Ice conditions were very good in many places, but it was still hard to make the best choice,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Local enquiries always talked of deep snow and tough walk-ins. Plus the weather was slowly warming up as high pressure pushed gradually into England. So the longer-term plan was to start north and low and work south and higher as warmer air pushed first into the north. So on February 4, Quinag it was.

    A couple of years ago, Jonathan Preston and I had climbed two lines on the sidewall of the biggest descent gully on the Western Cliffs. The advantage of the gully wall was that it didn’t get much sun so stayed in nick longer than the front faces, which were distinctly bare that day in 2013. But there was also a gully that we hadn’t climbed because there was no chance of it being frozen. This time it had been cold for a while and maybe it would even be iced.

    The walk-in was deep snow right from the road but I’d done that before and it wasn’t that far. That opinion had changed a couple of hours later despite having trail breaking Dave McGimpsey with us. Still, the gully looked good and white although the amount of ice was disappointing. I went first, partly because the wind was getting up and suddenly we were all cold, and soon discovered the ice wasn’t that great, so I moved out on to well frozen turf on the right wall.

    Jonathan had the next pitch, quite a chimney and which looked promisingly white. An extensive digging operation created only an overhang, and since I hadn’t taken hexes, not enough protection. Having just been to see Valley Uprising, Jonathan wedged the two largest nuts side by side and they might just have held. But the theory was never tested as the turf over the top was solid.

    Dave led the last pitch very quickly just as the mist cleared and we marvelled over the view to Suilven and Stac Pollaidh in the distance. And Rubha Hunish at the northern tip of Skye was just visible. The route was called Jinky (V,5), not after the famous footballer (although I’m sure he would have enjoyed it too) but after I said it jinked left and Dave was puzzled by that usage. Maybe he’s not a Celtic follower.”

    The Messiah

    Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn approaching the Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. The Messiah (X,10) rakes the big roofed corner on the left side of the face before continuing up the groove inset into the arête on the upper wall. The upper section of the route was previously climbed by Guy Robertson and Dave Macleod after starting up Gully of the Gods. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn approaching the Giant’s Wall on Beinn Bhan. The Messiah (X,10) rakes the big roofed corner on the left side of the face before continuing up the groove inset into the arête on the upper wall. The upper section of the route had been previously climbed by Guy Robertson and Dave Macleod after starting up Gully of the Gods. The clean-cut corner further right is taken by the upper pitches of The Godfather. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn pulled off a long sought after dream by making the first winter ascent of The Messiah on February 2. This legendary route was first climbed by Creag Dhu climbers George Shields and Bob Jarvie in summer 1972 after a number of attempts. It was not recorded at the time, and passed into Creag Dhu folklore, but a topo was eventually published on the Internet in 2013 on the Footless Crow website. Prior to this (following Guy Robertson and Pete Benson’s ascent of The God Delusion), Norrie Muir had sent a copy of the topo to Guy who then made it the next big objective on the wall.

    The story of the first winter ascent of The Messiah is Guy, Greg and Uisdean’s to tell, and Guy and Greg have written excellent accounts on their blogs. Needless to say the eight-pitch route fully lived up to expectation and was graded X,10 and both Greg and Guy had to pull big Tech 10 leads out of the bag.

    “The route doesn’t compare with anything I’ve done before,” Greg told me. “It is such a strong line, and the fact that it was home to some very hard and fun climbing was just the icing on the cake! It was cool to venture onto new [winter] ground not knowing which would be the hard pitches, or even if the big roof would be climbable in winter. Thankfully it was the perfect combination of difficulty there was just the right amount of weakness to forge our way through! What more could you ask for? Maybe I’d ask for it to be a little less scary, but that’s all part of the game, right?”

    For Guy and Greg, the first winter ascent of The Messiah completed a remarkable hat trick of new routes. Within the space of 15 days they have made first ascents of three new Grade X’s – The Greatest Show on Earth, Range War and The Messiah. This is an unprecedented run of high standard Scottish winter climbng, so I couldn’t resist asking Greg for his reaction.

    “We didn’t intend to go out and climb three new Grade X’s in succession,” Greg explained. “It just happened to be that we’ve been waiting for these routes to come into condition for the past few seasons, and with the stormy weather this winter, they have all come into perfect condition. So we grabbed them while they were hot. This also happened at a time when Guy and I both were at the peak of our fitness from an earlier extended period of training due to bad weather conditions. But yeah, it was more than I could have wanted; all the training and route planning paid off with three big routes, and to have them be three hard routes is the perfect scenario. Scottish winter at its best!”

    Brian Duthie on the first ascent of Ramp It Up Ye (IV,4) in Winter Corrie, Glen Clova. The route climbs the front face of The Scorrie, the broad buttress bounding the lower right side of the corrie. This feature was first climbed in summer 1931 and the recorded winter routes take lines further left. (Photo Forrest Templeton)

    Brian Duthie on the first ascent of Ramp It Up Ye (IV,4) in Winter Corrie, Glen Clova. The route climbs the front face of The Scorrie, the broad buttress bounding the lower right side of the corrie. This feature was first climbed in summer 1931 and the recorded winter routes take lines further left. (Photo Forrest Templeton)

    Forrest Templeton and Brian Duthie found a useful poor weather addition to Winter Corrie in Glen Clova on January 18. “We headed down to Glen Clova in the hope of avoiding most of the snow to the west and to seek shelter from the gales forecast for the day,” Forrest explained. “It was gusty enough at the car and a walk up to Winter Corrie in the hope of belting up something easy and quick was planned. The wind was a mental deterrent and a line was spied on the lower section of The Scorrie which looked worth trying, which resulted in the 200m-long Ramp It Up Ye (IV,4).”

    The route is approached from the Winter Corrie path by cutting off right just before the angle eases. It starts from a little niche almost directly below and slightly to the left of an obvious tree about 25 metres up, and follows a succession of grooves and corners for two pitches up the steepest section of crag. Three full pitches then lead directly up the buttress edge where the angle eases. It is possible to make a descending traverse left from here (and avoid bad weater on the plateau) and join the path coming down from Winter Corrie.

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the ice chimney of The Promised Land (VI,6) on Creag an Socach in the Southern Highlands. This pitch is also climbed by Deliverance (VI,6) that had an early repeat in the hands of McFarlane and Dafydd Morris. (Photo Dafydd Morris)

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the ice chimney of The Promised Land (VI,6) on Creag an Socach in the Southern Highlands. This pitch is also climbed by Deliverance (VI,6) that had an early repeat in the hands of McFarlane and Dafydd Morris. (Photo Dafydd Morris)

    It’s been a busy couple of weeks on Creag an Socach above Bridge of Orchy with the rarely formed classics of The Promised Land (VI,6) and Messiah (VII,7) in good condition and seeing several ascents. They were first climbed by Graham Little in the 1980s (The Promised Land with Dave Saddler in March 1987, and Messiah with Bob Reid in January 1988) and were significant ascents during the development of Southern Highlands mixed. Both routes follow strong lines, but unfortunately they are not often in condition.

    Stuart McFarlane and Dafydd Morris had an excellent weekend making an early repeat of Deliverance (VI,6) on January 31, and then climbing the bulk of Antichrist (VI,7) with Andy Clark the following day. Deliverance was first climbed by Al Powell and S.Elworthy in January 1995 and is a direct variation to the central section of The Promised Land. “Deliverance is a superb direct line,” Stuart enthused. “We couldn’t really work out where hairline crack on Antichrist went, so we took the obvious winter line which lead onto the top and joined Second Coming.”

    The hairline crack on Antichrist is on the fourth pitch. When Roger Everett and I made the first ascent in March 1992, we were determined not to deviate from the tapering pillar defined by the fault lines of The Promised Land and Second Coming, so we climbed directly up the apex of the pillar via an impending wall cut by a hairline crack. “A series of steep moves on widely spaced tufts (not visible from below), lead to a ledge,’” the description (rather unhelpfully) reads. “Protection is in the form of a poor knife-blade peg in a crack on the right.” I remember being particularly proud of this pitch and the crucial ‘tuft’ on the crux move was the size of a postage stamp. I’m not sure if this pitch has ever been repeated, but I’m sure with a Pecker or two, it could be better protected than on our ascent. The name of course, was a playful swipe at Messiah, which Graham and Bob had climbed four years before.

    The current guidebook suggests that Deliverance and Antichrist may overlap to some extent, and Stuart has several comments on the descriptions that may be useful for the next guidebook. ”Deliverance starts at flakes below steep rock (Promised Land), moves back right, steps up, then moves left and up a turfy groove to a belay overlooking the ramp of The Sting. Turfy ground then leads diagonally up right (joining Antichrist) through a bulge into a steep groove, stepping left around a block, into snow bay beneath ice chimney of Promised Land. Antichrist starts 5m right of flakes, goes straight up the groove above (Deliverance goes up left one), then takes turfy groove going slightly leftwards to bulge (common with Deliverance), before traversing right, sensational exposure, belaying on ledge on arête. This is a fantastic pitch! Even without last 20m pitch, this would be a worthy V,6 in it’s own right!”

    Tim Oates on the first ascent of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow in Coire a’Ghrunnda (IV,4) in Skye. This is one of several new routes climbed during the Skye Winter Festival – more details to follow. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    Tim Oates on the first ascent of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (IV,4) in Coire a’Ghrunnda on Skye. This is one of several new routes climbed during the Skye Winter Festival – more details to follow. (Photo Michael Barnard)

    News is starting to trickle in from the Skye Winter Festival organised by local guide Mike Lates. Conditions have been cold and icy and a number of new routes have been found including an excellent-looking icefall in Coire a’ Ghrunnda climbed on January 24 by Michael Barnard and Tim Oates.

    “Despite its prominence in the corrie this icefall is pretty reluctant to form well,” Michael told me.  “At least a couple of teams have been in for a look in the past. We called it Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (IV,4) in anticipation of the big thaw due the following day. Last Saturday it looked white again but I think most of this was powder!”

    Martin Holland standing beneath the line of Bogle Eyed (III) on Binnein Shuas. This was climbed as an alternative to Laggan Fantasy on the second ascent of the three-sectioned North-West Integrale on the mountain. (Photo Juim Bayliss)

    Martin Holland standing beneath the line of Bogle Eyed (III) on Binnein Shuas. This can be climbed as an alternative to Laggan Fantasy on the three-sectioned North-West Integrale. (Photo Jim Bayliss)

    On Saturday January 31, Martin Holland and Jim Bayliss were looking for a climb to suit the forecast of strong Northerly winds with fairly continuous snow and not too far from Aviemore, where they were staying.

    “I remembered a report on scottishwinter.com from last year of some new routes by Masa and Yuki Sakano on the North-West ridge of Binnein Shuas and we thought they might fit the bill for the day,” Martin told me. “It’s not a long walk in, but breaking trail, sometimes in thigh deep snow, took a while.

    We climbed Location, Location, Location, which I’m guessing may be the second ascent. We split the route in to two pitches, which seemed the obvious thing to do as there’s an initial steeper section with a good block belay above, followed by a short walk to a more slabby delicate section.

    We then walked up the ill-defined ridge aiming for Laggan Fantasy” However, on crossing the wide easy angled gully forming the obvious step in the ridge we spotted a short, but well formed, ice line down and right of Laggan Fantasy. It started from the lowest section of steep crag containing Laggan Fantasy and gave 20m of excellent water ice climbing followed by 10m of easy ground to a good belay at blocks.

    We called the route Bogle Eyed and graded it III. It’s a short route, but in keeping with the routes of Masa and Yuki, and was a good choice for the conditions.”

    Canine Capers

    Brian Davison on the technical crux of 101 Dalmatians (VII,7) where precarious moves above the crack lead to an easing in the angle. [And yes, this is a current photo and not a throwback to the 1970s – Brain Davison does still wear a Whillans Harness!] (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Brian Davison on the technical crux of 101 Dalmatians (VII,7) where precarious moves above the crack lead to an easing in the angle. [And yes, this is a current photo and not a throwback to the 1970s – Brain Davison does still wear a Whillans Harness!] (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “After the routes done around New Year,” Andy Nisbet writes, “I began to realise Lurcher’s Crag wasn’t worked out after all, particularly when conditions became increasingly icy as the cold spell began to bite. I didn’t have much respect for the depressions between the ridges, largely because they had hard slabby starts and much easy ground higher up, but with a need for somewhere local and deep snow around, Sandy Allan and I thought we’d try one which didn’t look too hard. So on January 8 we waded down South Gully and along the terrace to the groove between Reindeer Ridge and St. Bernard’s Ridge. It turned out not to be too difficult and gave what turned out to be the common pattern for these grooves, two harder pitches, then easy ground to a final headwall. I wasn’t sure about political names but given the date, it was hard not to call it Je Suis Charlie (Grade III).

    After a following couple of weeks of stormy and snowy westerlies, many cliffs were swamped in soft snow and with Brian Davison up for a long weekend and insisting on all three days climbing, the venue had to be west facing and accessible to my weak legs. The next groove to the right seemed like a good option but this time we descended Central Gully (the top is easy) to reach it. Brian was well ahead of Sandy and me as usual and not having seen much of him since the car park, didn’t really know where we were going. He did stop below the first groove south of Central Gully and asked if this was it, because it looked good. I had it in my head that it was very smooth but when I caught up, it looked quite reasonable and much icier than I’d seen before. We weren’t expecting the ice so had blunt gear with us; a good excuse for pointing Brian at it. It was still quite thin and with not much protection but the usual two tricky pitches led to an easier finish. Topical names seemed to be theme so Beagle has Landed even added the doggy part and became the name (Grade V,4), although Sandy thought Grade IV was high enough.

    The next day we made a fruitless trip to Beinn Bhan in deep snow and bad spindrift so the following day need to be a short(ish) walk-in again. So it was back to Lurcher’s to the groove, which was the intention for the day before. This of course turned out to be the one with the smooth start but again it was iced, albeit steeper and thinner than the Beagle Has Landed. The ice didn’t reach the base but a steep crack in a smooth V-groove almost reached it. The crack was clearly going to be hard and looked like it might end in snow which might cover either smooth rock (to the pessimist) or continue to the ice. Brian was happy to give it a go and take what came, which turned out to be increasingly precarious moves as the angle eased. The next pitch appeared to be well iced but the ice was very thin and there was a difficult bulge again with a strenuous move with gear leading to a precarious one above it. After that was a heavily snowed slab with a decreasing thickness of ice interspersed with increasing blobs of turf. A lot of digging and faith was required but Brian came up with both, so the three of us reached easy ground. This time there was a chimney in a headwall and being forced to lead something, I did some dithering before commitment solved it quickly. The world news that day was dull so it was back to dog names. I called it 101 Dalmations, which the others reluctantly accepted, and we graded it (VII,7).

    As a postscript, the final two depressions have also been climbed recently. I climbed the one between Dog Day Afternoon and Summit Ridge on a wild day when stopping to belay would have been purgatory (Wallydraigle, III). And on January 27, Sandy and I climbed the depression between Ptarmigan Ridge and Sweep, finishing up its headwall to join Ptarmigan Ridge – conditions were slushy at best.”

    Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Gift Horse (IV,5) on Meall Bhuidhe in Strathconon. Loch Beannacharain is just off picture to the left and the head of Strathconon is in the background. (Photo John Mackenzie)

    Dave Broadhead on the first ascent of Gift Horse (IV,5) on Meall Bhuidhe in Strathconon. Loch Beannacharain is just off picture to the left and Strathconon is in the background. (Photo John Mackenzie)

    “Dave Broadhead and I managed to wade up, and wade out, of an icefall up near the head of Strathconon, above Loch Beannacharain,” John Mackenzie writes.”It’s a place that probably no-ones heard of apart from James Edwards who ‘gifted’ me this route after having to retreat from it a few years back.

    There is a massive depth of snow on north and north-east faces and this icefall naturally lies on the north side of a most modest hill called Meall Buidhe. It had a rather convoluted approach from Inverchoran and after another outing with Andrew James to another icefall that turned out to be a waterfall on January 19 (insulated by snow higher up) I noted that James’ line was in fact frozen.

    Dave was curious so on January 22 we snow-ploughed up to the base of the thing where all of a sudden it became a lot bigger than it looked from below. Two vertical screens of ice and a final icefall up a wide runnel all looked very promising and all went well until the big screen was reached which turned out to be a hanging fragile carapace. Fortunately just to its right steep ice led to what seemed like easy ground on this third pitch but in fact this is where the difficulties began. Snow covered rock slabs which were smooth had to be crossed to a corner where a poor icicle runner then led to improving gear (a tied-off peg that could be placed and removed by hand) and a good, fortunately, belay a little higher. An ungradable pitch!

    Dave then had the ‘cream’ where the upper icefall gave a lovely pitch of 35m, quite steep and with a window on the upper bulge where you could see torrents of water running behind. Unfortunately all this joy exited onto a depth of snow, saved by a tiny sapling but worse followed.

    The only way off was up to the crest of the ridge and the only way up was to spread weight by lying, kneeling or burrowing. We all know that climbing is supposed to be playtime but with the wind getting up and the afternoon progressing and progress tardy, the play aspect was a little stretched. We eventually made the crest and followed it eastwards and down to the glen above Inverchoran. Small hills can bite sometimes!”