Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged An Teallach

    The great soaring groove of Last Orders (VII,8) cutting through the right side of Major Rib in Glas Tholl on An Teallach. This superlative line was takes one of the most compelling features in the Northern Highlands. The broad gully on the right is the Alley (II). (Photo Neil Adams)

    The great soaring groove of Last Orders (VII,8) cutting through the right side of Major Rib in Glas Tholl on An Teallach. This superlative line was takes one of the most compelling features in the Northern Highlands. The broad gully on the right is the Alley (II). (Photo Neil Adams)

    One of the real highlights of the recent BMC Winter Meet took place on the last day (February 1) when Neil Adams and Kenro Nakajima from Japan made the first ascent of Last Orders (VII,8) on An Teallach. This striking groove line slices through the right side of Major Rib, and is characterised by a remarkably steep and monolithic section that is cut by a roof at half-height. The pair approached the route by starting about 50m up The Alley at an icy corner where The Alley curves rightwards.

    “We walked in with the intention of doing Haystack,” Neil told me. “The weather was good and we spotted this obvious line that wasn’t in the guidebook. Kenro was up for an adventure, so we went for it. He put in a great lead on the crux pitch (pitch 3) to make the hard, strenuous moves up to and past the roof in fading light. He did take a short rest on gear – the first free ascent is still there for the taking – but that was at least partly due to cumulative fatigue from climbing six days in a row!”

    Greg Boswell on the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe. The route climbs through the stepped roofs before taking the soaring crack line to the left of West Central Gully. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    Greg Boswell on the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe. This stupendous route climbs through stepped roofs before taking the soaring crack line to the left of West Central Gully. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    The gales that raged throughout the BMC Winter Meet prompted many team to visit the North-West Highlands to seek some shelter from the South-East winds. This proved to be an unexpected bonus, as the Torridon Mountains were in excellent winter condition.

    Beinn Eighe, with its high north-facing cliffs was the initial venue of choice, and the classic lines of Fuselage Gully, East Buttress, West Buttress and Central Buttress soon saw ascents. On Wednesday January 29, Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz from Canada made the fourth ascent of the fabled West Central Gully (VII,8), arguably the most difficult gully climb in Scotland. Will came back raving about the climb, mightily impressed that Mick Fowler and Mike Morrison climbed this steep route way back in 1986. Also on Wednesday, Neil Adams and Nejc Marcic (Slovenia) made a possible second ascent of second ascent of  Sting (VII,7) , Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made the third ascent of Hydroconicum (VIII,8), and Dave Almond and Michal Sabovcik (Slovakia) climbed the now classic Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears (VIII,8).

    The following day (January 30), the pace stepped up another notch when Nick Bullock, Jon Walsh (Canada) and Greg Boswell made the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8), a major new line taking the soaring crack-line left of West Central Gully. Will Sim and Olov Isaksson (Sweden) also added Crazy Eyes (VII,9), another very strong line taking the left-facing corner, roof crack and offwidth corner above Hydroponicum. (The name is a tribute to Magnus Kastengren who represented Sweden at the last BMC Winter Meet and died recently after an accident when skiing on Mount Cook). Will and Olov climbed their new route so fast that they had time to nip up the classic West Buttress later that day. Andy Inglis made a return visit with Piotr Sulowski (Poland) and climbed the brilliant Sundance (VIII,8), and Simon Frost and partner made an early repeat of West Buttress Directissima (VII,8).

    The last day of the week (Saturday, February 1) saw something of a North-West showdown. Beinn Eighe continued to stay popular with more ascents of Central Buttress, Shang High, Kami-kaze and another ascent of Sundance by Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren (Sweden), but the centre of the activity transferred to Beinn Bhan where there were four teams in action in the stupendous Coire nan Fhamair. Nick Wallis and Tito Arosio (Italy) climbed Gully of the Gods (VI,6) and Adam Booth and Slovenian climbers Nejc Marcic and Martin Zumer made an early repeat of Great Overhanging Gully (VI,7). Genesis (VII,7) saw its fourth ascent in the hands of Andy Inglis and Piotr Solowski (Poland), and Will Sim and Olov Isaksson (Sweden) also made the fourth ascent of The Godfather (VIII,8).

    Nearby in Coire na Poite, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan pulled off the long-awaited second ascent of the 370m-long Realisation (VI,6). “It was a top quality route with sustained interest throughout,” Neil told me. “It’s at the top end of the grade and a harder outing than Central Buttress on Beinn Eighe.”

    The easily accessible winter cliffs on Meall Gorm proved popular. Gwilym Lynn and Felix Sattelberger (Germany) added a Direct Start (IV,4) to Cobalt Buttress, and Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz made a variation to The Blue Lamppost taking Grade VI vegetated grooves in the lower section before finishing up the final chimney to give a good VII,8. Just to the right, Rattlesnake (V,7) also saw an ascent. Elsewhere in the Torridon area, George (III,4), Poacher’s Fall (V,5) and Headless Gully (V,5) on Liathach were climbed in good icy conditions, and further south on Fuar Tholl, Right-End Buttress (III) was enjoyed by at least two parties.

    The most impressive achievement on the final day however, was the first ascent of Last Orders (VII,8) on An Teallach by Neil Adams and Kenro Nakajima (Japan). This magnificent groove-line, which cuts through the right side Major Rib, was one of the most significant routes of the week.

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Fast Track (IV,4) on An Teallach. This long hidden gully leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress. (Photo Pat Ingram)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Fast Track (IV,4) on An Teallach. This long hidden gully leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress. (Photo Pat Ingram)

    Andy Nisbet has made An Teallach his own this winter with a series of superb new routes. Here is Andy’s account of his latest adventure:

    “As Pat Ingram and I drove to An Teallach on Sunday (February 10), I was amazed to see not a single car in the Shenaval car park. I told Pat it was the first time, even a wet midweek, that I’d seen it empty. So obviously there was no one in the climbers’ pull-off, despite the NW having by far the best weather on a Sunday with south-easterly winds, and An Teallach being in particularly good nick. An Teallach has been particularly snowy this winter, not always an advantage but good enough to make this my sixth visit this winter, two of them being flops due to excessive snow and verglas. But a big thaw on Saturday was actually what An Teallach needed, despite the usual UKC predictions of doom and gloom.

    Pat was really after ski touring into a remote crag, but talk of an unclimbed gully full of ice was enough to tempt him, although I admit to being very relieved to find ice as we plodded up Constabulary Couloir in deep wet snow into the mist (although there was a slight crust and the temperature was just below freezing). I had seen this hidden gully, which leads up from Constabulary Couloir on to Corrag Bhuidhe South Buttress, three times this winter, as you only really see it from the buttress above Lady’s Gully. Each time I saw it there was more ice but it still looked quite steep.

    As soon as I made the first ice placement and the axe pick sank solidly in to the hilt, I knew for the first time we’d made the right decision. This introductory ice pitch led into the main gully, which then curved left into steep ground. With the mist being so thick, the line of white ice in the back of the gully seemed to disappear into vertical walls and I admit to being rather intimidated by the spooky atmosphere. But Pat clearly wasn’t and ran up a 60-metre pitch with our 50m ropes and only stopped because there was a fork, each branch filled with what was proving to be the most perfect ice.

    We decided on the left branch, mostly because there was a prominent chockstone, which would give us some security. We’d only taken two ice screws, my blunt ones at that (as Pat pointed out), and I had one of them, so big falls on to the belay were not recommended. I managed to thread the chockstone by tying two slings together and throwing a krab over. Not that it mattered as the ice was so good, though it looked thin from below. Now confident, another awkward chockstone was ignored as the ice led on to a comfy snow ledge which was obviously above the difficulties. I couldn’t help noticing that we were only level with the start of Lady’s Gully so there must be a long way to go. Pat’s 200m pitch soon solved that, then we soloed to the top.

    Back to the car in daylight; either we were in Fast Track promotion from the Constabulary or more likely the winter season is well on. As for the grade, it reminded me of Comb Gully but with more steep bits. Perhaps more like Vanishing Gully, but my memory of that some 30 years later is that it was much steeper. So we decided on IV,4.”

    Free Tibet!

    Jonathan Preston moving through the barrier rock band on the second ascent of Potala Buttress on An Teallach. This is probably the pint where a sling for aid was used on the first ascent by Dave Broadhead and Des Rubens in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston moving through the barrier rock band on the second ascent of Potala Buttress on An Teallach. This is probably the point where a sling for aid was used on the first ascent by Dave Broadhead and Des Rubens in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Jonathan Preston and Andy Nisbet made a repeat (and first free ascent) of Potala Buttress, in Toll an Lochain of An Teallach, on December 27.

    “It was a route that had always interested me, in that it was the only true face route on An Teallach when I offered to write the next Northern Highlands guidebooks in the late 90s,” Andy told me. “OK, there was 1978 Face route, but it was a route following obvious features on a huge face (named as a piss-take on 1959 Face Route on Creag Meagaidh, which itself was named after the 1938 route on The Eiger, although hardly in the same class). I asked Dave Broadhead, who with Des Rubens made the first ascent in 1987, if it was really old Grade IV because it looked somewhat steep and intimidating, and he said yes. I still had my doubts, since it used an aid point, and these lads didn’t resort easily to such things, but I had to take their word for it and graded it IV,5 in the guide.

    Knowing conditions were so good on An Teallach, Jonathan and I decided that they would have survived the pre-Xmas thaw and might be even better on this high route. We were wrong in fact, but instead of there being too little snow, there was too much, and the face was well plastered with fresh crusty stuff. Not that it put us off, but by then we were committed after the long approach up the lower slopes and gullies which were actually in better nick. Their description was brief and factual, forcing us to basically ignore it and find our own way, although in retrospect we probably followed the same line. It did start as for our recent route Rongbuk but soon broke off right to give a harder but similarly scary first pitch. Jonathan then led up to a barrier rock band where we presumed the aid point was used. There were several breaks in this, with things looking harder the further right you went, but all being plastered in snow so you couldn’t really tell. He decided on the furthest left, quite close to Rongbuk in fact, and it turned out to have good cracks, a real bonus after the unprotected ground below, but still the technical crux.

    With all the clearing of snow, the climbing was slow and we were still less than halfway up the route with only two hours of daylight left. Plus the description said “continue without difficulty” and the ground above was still steep. But it was clearly necessary to add some speed so the cautious approach was put to one side and we finished up a fine icy groove still in daylight. Not that it’s all over on An Teallach, since were halfway along the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles in fading light. Last time we’d reversed them and descended Constabulary Couloir; this time we decided to head to Lord Berkley’s Seat and over Sgurr Fiona. This change of plan nearly misfired when we decided that snow conditions were sufficiently good on the south side that we could traverse round Sgurr Fiona. Suddenly the mist came in and we lost touch with each other in the rush. I didn’t have a map, as I thought I knew An Teallach well enough, but was heading down towards a col when I suddenly remembered it led to an outlying top on the Shenavall side. Feeling a little fortunate, I went back up and met Jonathan. I did remember the descent gully and we got most of the way down to the sacks without torches, although a full moon did delay darkness. By the time we got back to the car, it felt a long day. As for the grade, old IVs were often hard and we thought this one deserved V,5.”

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet returned to An Teallach on December 18 with Jonathan Preston and Dave McGimpsey to make a fine addition to one of Scotland’s largest cliffs. Here is Andy’s story:

    “There was so much snow on An Teallach a week ago that a good thaw could only improve conditions, and not the opposite as a rather negative thread about NW conditions on UKClimbing had concluded. Toll an Lochain is arguably the second biggest cliff in Scotland, although there are steeper contenders, and I love climbing there. There was an obvious gap on Potala Buttress, and Jonathan and I had previously looked at it, but conditions had been deeply plastered snow and it was a surprisingly intimidating face. This time we expected conditions to be icy and perhaps the smooth slabs would be climbable.

    With Dave roped in, we left the car at first light (none of this walking in the dark for us). Again the turf was frozen down to the road and we hoped it wasn’t just valley frost. But as we gained height it stayed frozen, so surely the snow would have to follow suit. Despite the nagging doubt that a temperature inversion would warm things up, it didn’t and conditions looked very promising. No big build-up and the lower buttresses had definitely thawed, but an ice fringe on every turf ledge high up.

    We geared up in the corrie bottom and made the big mistake of wearing all the clothes (well it is winter). Of course forgetting that it’s 1000ft of Grade II to reach the start, and sure enough we were roasting on a cloudless, windless day. The snow was crusty in places but very solid where water had dripped down. But we got to the toe of the buttress and its smooth slabs, so felt a bit guilty starting round to the right (later relieved to find Potala Buttress starts there also). I volunteered to go first and was even allowed to, but then I did have a fair idea how to avoid the line of Potala Buttress.

    The climbing was well turfy, even as I trended left away from the other route. I did have a warthog and a hook, but thinking I should save them for a hard move, I only placed the hook with 40m of rope out. Jonathan’s next pitch had some steeper icy moves but 8 runners. After Dave’s next pitch, it looked like the ground was easing but the route still had to offer a fine ice-filled short gully and a perfect crack just over the initial bulge when the rope had just run out. Dave and Jonathan then led simultaneously (so we led two pitches each!) to the summit ridge. What great views there were of the Beinn Dearg range.

    With a choice of descents, we decided to reverse the bad step (which isn’t bad if you know how to avoid it) and then descend the endless Constabulary Couloir. Not endless if you’re climbing up full of enthusiasm, but at the end of the day when the light is fading. The route was called Rongbuk after another Tibetan monastery nearer the mountains. We debated over the grade and agreed on IV,4. It must be at least 500m if you count the long approach.”

    Brian Davison moving through the thickly iced overlap on the first ascent of Tweener (V,6), a new route on Gobhlach Buttress in Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Following their successes in Glen Coe with the first ascent of The Pash and Incision, Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison added a new route to An Teallach on December 13. Andy takes up the story:

    “Pat Ingram and I walked into An Teallach a week ago in rain, then sleet and finally sticky snow. It was a miserable day but we headed up into Central Gully to go to the gully face of Goblach Buttress and a line that I’d spotted with Jonathan Preston when climbing the buttress on the other side last year (Narrow Buttress, Grade II). There wasn’t much enthusiasm when some sticky spindrift (quite a lot actually) came down Gobhlach Buttress, enough to even put off Pat. Now with two people to forgive me, the large amount of snow seemed to offer Brian and I a good option after the thaw (despite Glen Coe at that altitude being rather bare).

    As we drove over in surprisingly good light for so early (a good moon), we could see An Teallach was nice and white. The ground was frozen hard down to the road so the walk-in was easy despite large areas of ice. Once we hit the snow level near the loch, the snow turned to neve and it seemed like we’d hit miracle conditions. OK, it was more crusty on the cliff but still surprisingly good. The idea was to climb Central Gully until we could traverse left on to the route, but when we were gearing up, I could see an independent line of chimneys parallel to the gully had some ice. I’d never seen them frozen before and it wasn’t in the plan, but we couldn’t miss the chance.

    Brian soloed up the first short chimney with enough energetic bridging for me to accept a rope. The second longer chimney was easier but the third was tricky enough for Brian to lead roped. Now after three pitches we were at the planned starting point and conditions were obviously very good. A blind corner had thin ice which gave a scary pitch, then a potentially tricky overlap was thickly iced and finally a very steep tier was breached by a vertical chimney with an amazing crack up its left side. Some really fine moves, especially up its bulging middle section, gave way to gradually easier terrain and two long pitches to the top of the buttress. Tweener (350m, V,6) is the route.

    We were finished in good time but it had started to snow and all the ice on the walk-in was thinly covered. I don’t think I can remember such treacherous conditions, and my nerves weren’t helped by Simon Yearsley having backed out of the trip because of a bruised elbow after falling on an icy path. After bruising my own elbow, and various other parts, we had to abandon the path and walk down through deep heather just to survive. “Three falls and a submission” said Brian as we were relived to reach the car in one piece. But great conditions; pity it’s going to thaw.”

    Andy Nisbet making the crucial traverse on blobs of turf during the first ascent of Haggis Raclette (IV,3) on An Tealleach. “Sandy must have been hungry as he had already planned a haggis raclette for the evening,” Andy explained. “Although he never did make it, the idea survived in the route name!” (Photo Sandy Allan)

    “The warmer weather had arrived, though not as warm as at present,” Andy Nisbet writes. “I was trying to think of somewhere to go when a post appeared on UKC asking about conditions on An Teallach. Sure enough, someone posted a picture taken the previous day and I couldn’t help noticing ice on a line on Gobhlach Buttress, which I’d tried to solo in 2010. Then I’d backed off when the ice thinned and I reached the point of no return. In fact, I escaped into and climbed Gobhlach Ramp instead. But the new line was still iced despite the thaw and a couple of partners should tip the scales.

    When Sandy Allan, John Lyall and I arrived at what is one of An Teallach’s lowest buttresses on February 6, the snow level had risen above its base but we didn’t think there would be complaints when the route was on ice. An icy ramp led up to the base of the crucial ice pitch. Again the ice thinned, but I think this is normal because the water source drips on to the slab rather than flowing from its top. This time, however, I could risk a traverse right on to some blobs of turf. One of these provided a hopeful bulldog (hopeless would be more accurate) but other than that, the ice was too thin for screws but fine for climbing on a slab. Beyond this Sandy and John led a turfy pitch each before we soloed easily up to the top to give the 300m-long Haggis Raclette (IV,3).

    Descending the nearby Central Gully, the buttress between it and our route looked attractive and about Grade III, although no one had the energy to try it. A couple of week’s later Jonathan Preston and I were about to start a week’s work on Monday. The forecast was great for the Sunday (February 19) but awful after that. So we persuaded ourselves that we wouldn’t be too tired if we did an easy route, and the buttress came to mind. Driving past the Fannaichs, everything was very white and we were worried about deep snow on the walk-in and on the descent. Despite snow down to sea level, it was never deep and even on the crag it looked good. A wade up to the start in knee deep graupel was slightly worrying but once on the buttress, all went well and the steepest tier even had a turfy chimney which made the route only Grade II. It would have been nice if it had been slightly harder to justify carrying in a rope and rack, but it was a lovely day.”

    The awe-inspiring Hayfork Wall of An Teallach. Haystack (VI,7) climbs the chimney in the centre and breaks left to finish. The Wailing Wall (IX,9) runs up the left side of the smooth wall to its right. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Martin Moran and Murdo Jamieson climbed an exceptional new route on An Teallach on December 23 . Martin told me afterwards that this route “is definitely one of the best I’ve done.”

    The Wailing Wall (IX,9) takes the left-hand side of the upper Hayfork wall which presents a superb fissured face 70 metres high on the left side of the classic Hayfork Gully in A’Ghlas Thuill. “The Hayfork wall is potentially one of the finest mixed climbing venues in the country,” Martin explained. “With a high altitude (900-970m) the wall gathers snow readily and is often in condition.” The 90m-long route climbs the slim corner-crack right of the modern classic Haystack (VI,7 and first climbed by Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey in  January 2000), before taking an unlikely line up the wall above.

    Climbed on-sight, The Wailing Wall stands as one of the most challenging winter routes in the country. “The grade is a bit tentative  because the route is quite short,” Martin told me.  “But it certainly felt ‘a step beyond’ on the on-sight lead and is quite a bit harder than The Secret.”

    Martin Moraon on the bold first pitch of Silver Fox (VII,8), An Teallach. This sustained 90m-long route takes a line up the left side of Hayfork Gully. (Photo Pete MacPherson)

    An Teallach has seen some great new additions recently. On January 21 Martin Moran and Pete MacPherson climbed The Silver Fox (VII,8), which takes the slabby wall on the left side of Hayfork Gully starting from just below the gully splits. The route sports bold and technical climbing on the first pitch and was named in memory of the well known Inverness climber Will Wilkinson who tragically lost his life in an avalanche on Ben Nevis earlier in the season.

    This week in Toll an Lochain, Dave McGimpsey, John Mackenzie, Andy Nisbet and Roger Webb found Tulach Ard (V,6), a left-facing corner high on the Constabulary Couloir wall of Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress, and further right Nisbet and McGimpsey climbed a 400m-long V,5 up an icefall and series of icy grooves.