Good Going on Mitre Ridge

Looking down he middle section of Mitre Ridge (V,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird. The classic Patey-Brooker line that was climbed in April 1953 works well as both an early and late season route. (Photo Andrew Stevenson)

Looking down he middle section of Mitre Ridge (V,6) on Beinn a’Bhuird. The classic Patey-Brooker line that was climbed in April 1953 works well as both an early and late season route. (Photo Andrew Stevenson)

In a season that has consistently given difficult and demanding conditions, as well as periods when winter climbing has not been possible at all, it is pleasing to have news of an enjoyable ascent of a major classic.

“Myself and my two friends – Ross MacDonald and Stu Cossar – climbed Mitre Ridge on Saturday January 28,” Andrew Stevenson told me.

“It was in excellent nick and gave us a great adventure. Cycling into the secret howff on Friday night and setting off early it was a big 15-hour day from howff – Mitre Ridge – back to car. The Cumming-Crofton looked in good nick too, although after snowing all day the walk back in on the Sunday would of been a bit arduous!”

Conditions have changed since the weekend with a thaw on Tuesday and another forecast for Thursday, but after that, cooler temperatures and snowier weather is forecast. Hopefully this will bring Mitre Ridge back into condition and open up possibilities for ascents of other significant routes.

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Snow At Last!

Simon Richardson climbing a new V,7 on the front face of The Forgotten Pinnacle on Braeriach. The price for the excellent rimed-up crack climbing was a difficult two-pitch approach up powder-covered slabs that in a normal year would be covered in climbable snow-ice. (Photo Roger Webb)

Simon Richardson climbing a new V,7 on the front face of The Forgotten Pinnacle on Braeriach. The price for the excellent rimed-up crack climbing was a difficult two-pitch approach up powder-covered slabs that in a normal year would be covered in climbable snow-ice. (Photo Roger Webb)

Saturday’s (January 28) snowfall brought many of the higher cliffs into winter condition at the weekend. Ben Nevis was busy with many of the Early Season favorites such as Gargoyle Wall, The Clanger, Cutlass and Sidewinder seeing ascents. Notable ascents include an ascent of Sioux Wall by Malcolm Bass, Neil Silver and Paul Figg and a rare ascent of Gremlins under mixed conditions by Neil and Helen Rennard. Normally this excellent route to the right of Thompson’s Route is climbed on thin ice.

It’s not early season of course, but after the very dry winter it seems that way. Unfortunately lack of ice and ‘permafrost’ to glue the cliffs together means that many of the Ben’s mixed routes are extremely loose at the moment, and a strong team had to retreat from Sake on Number Three Gully Buttress after a belay ledge collapsed.

Mixed routes in the Cairngorms appear to be a little more solid although there are still many loose blocks. Susan Jensen and Andy Munro climbed Python on Carn Etchachan and Steve Elliot and Ross Cowie enjoyed the magnificent Postern on the Shelter Stone. Deeper in the Cairngorms an ascent of Mitre Ridge was reported, and Roger Webb and I completed an obscure, but long sought after project, when we climbed the front face of The Forgotten Pinnacle in Coire nan Clach on Braeriach.

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Give and Take on Ben Nevis

Robin Clothier climbing the easier upper section of Grand Central (VI,6) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

Robin Clothier climbing the easier upper section of Grand Central (VI,6) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

We are going through a very unhelpful weather cycle at the moment where snowfalls are followed by rapid thaws and the resulting dry conditions are locked by high pressure systems for days. We desperately need significant snowfall and a rapid sequence of freeze-thaw storm cycles to bring routes into condition. In normal circumstances, snow banks ooze ice in stable weather systems, but the hills are so dry there is precious little snow to act as a source.

I met up with Robin Clothier on January 22 for a route on Ben Nevis. I’d been away ice climbing in Austria for much of the previous week and had read reports about how little snow there was on the Ben after last week’s thaw, but even these couldn’t prepare me for the shock of Observatory Gully. Normally this is full of snow many metres deep, but it was now rubble with just the tiniest sliver of snow running up the centre. Higher up it opened out into two continuous streaks but it was only once we were below Gardyloo Buttress that things began to feel wintry.

I had remembered that there was an unclimbed line of cracks in the vicinity of Tower Gully, and sure enough Robin spotted them on the right wall disappearing into the gloom up the pillar between the (unformed) lines of Upper Tower Cascade Left and Central. Temperatures had been freezing for a couple of days, and it had snowed a little the night before, so mixed climbing conditions were reasonable and the rock was white. The route followed a succession of ramps, grooves and cracks using frozen turf, old snow and new ice. Four pitches later we topped out onto the plateau feeling a little surprised that we had found something worthwhile to climb.

We were not the only optimists that day. Helen Rennard (who has probably climbed more difficult routes this season than anybody else) and Ben Silvestre cruised up Sioux Wall which had also accumulated a white coat overnight. The cracks were free of verglas making for an enjoyable ascent. Keen as mustard, Helen and Ben were in place early next morning to do another mixed route in the Number Three Gully area. The temperature was cool and there was a slight breeze, but the weather had been up to its usual tricks once again – steep mixed climbing was no longer viable as all traces of the previous day’s snowfall had vanished in the wind.

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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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