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    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar. Unlike previous winter meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar climbed during the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet. Unlike previous Meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Weather Gods did not smile kindly on the BMC International Winter Meet that was held at Glenmore Lodge from January 24 to January 30. Over 35 guests from 30 different countries were teamed up with UK hosts and let loose on the Scottish hills. Unfortunately a major thaw preceded the event and the first two days were spent dry tooling at Newtyle or sea cliff climbing in the warm sunshine at Cummingston and Logie Head. The exception was Andy Nisbet who showed his great experience by leading a party up Fiacaill Couloir on ice that had survived the thaw. Despite the non-wintery start, there were smiles all around, and for several of the visitors, climbing by the sea was a new experience in itself.

    With lower temperatures, an overnight snowfall, and a temporary lull in the gale force winds, winter climbing final kicked off on Wednesday January 27, and teams headed off to the well-known ‘early season’ locations of the Northern Corries, Ben Nevis and Beinn Eighe. In Coire an t-Sneachda, Original Summer Route, Fingers Ridge and The Message were climbed and in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Deep Throat, Western Route, Sidewinder and Ewen Buttress all saw ascents. Full marks went to Raphael Slawinski (Canada) and Erik Eisele (US) who both made ascents of The Vicar (VII,8) as their first-ever Scottish winter routes with Dave Garry and Tom Livingstone. The Beinn Eighe teams climbed East Buttress and West Buttress, and on Ben Nevis the best conditions were found on Tower Ridge and North-East Buttress. Unfortunately it had not been cold for long enough to bring the mixed routes into condition, except for Sioux Wall (VIII,8) which was well rimed and saw an ascent by Uisdean Hawthorn and Luka Strazar, and Ian Parnell and Ian Welsted (Canada). This was ten years after Parnell’s first winter ascent of this landmark route with Olly Metherell in December 2005.

    Thursday January 28 dawned wild and windy, but it was still cold with a thaw forecast in the afternoon. Attention focused on the Northern Corries, and in Coire an t-Sneachda, The Haston Line, Houdini, The Message, Hidden Chimney Direct, Patey’s Route, Stirling Bomber and Invernookie were climbed together with Central Crack Route, Deep Throat, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Hooker’s Corner in Coire an Lochain. The highlights were ascents of The Gathering (VIII,9) by Tom Livingstone and Ian Welsted (Canada) and Never Mind (IX,9) by Dave Almond and Luka Strazar (Slovenia). Elsewhere in the Cairngorms on Lochnagar, Michael Rinn (Germany) and I climbed a new V,7 on The Stuic that was sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales. Across on Ben Nevis, Raphael Slawinski (Canada) led The Secret (VIII,9) in very stormy conditions.

    Friday was a write-off with more gales and thawing conditions, but that evening snow began to fall and everyone prepared for one last push on Saturday January 30 to finish the Meet on the high. Unfortunately for most it was not to be, as the winds and unrelenting blizzards were too strong and all parties attempting to climb in the Northern Corries were beaten back. The only climbing in the Cairngorms took place in in Stac na h-Iolaire, a small crag within walking distance of Glenmore Lodge where a number of new additions up to Grade IV were found. Enterprising visits to Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh came to nought with teams reporting black rock or avalanche conditions, but surprisingly the determined teams that ventured across to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe to climb in the teeth of the westerly storm were rewarded with ascents of Spectre (V,6), Tilt (VI,7) and Chimney Route (VI,6).

    The Meet finished that night with a disco at Glenmore Lodge that lasted well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Despite the challenging weather and conditions (almost certainly the worst ever experienced on a BMC International Winter Meet), the week was a great success. Every evening, presentations were made showing the winter climbing potential in Scotland, Canada, USA, Greece, India and Portugal. Ideas were shared, friendships made, new partnerships formed and the overseas guests returned home with a new-found respect for the Scottish mountains, the Scottish weather and for all those who climb in them.

    Thanks once again to Glenmore Lodge for hosting us and Nick Colton and Becky McGovern from the BMC who set such an upbeat tone throughout the week and worked so hard behind the scenes to make the event run so smoothly. Tom Livingstone has also written a report on the BMC website.

     

    Andy Nisbet contemplating the best line on the first pitch of Snowbird (VI,7) on Lurcher’s Crag. During the unsettled weather that has defined most of the season so far, Lurcher’s has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Nisbet-Perry team. (Photo Steve Perry)

    Andy Nisbet contemplating the best line on the first pitch of Snowbird (VI,7) on Lurcher’s Crag. During the unsettled weather that has defined most of the season so far, Lurcher’s has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Nisbet-Perry team. (Photo Steve Perry)

    “There’s loads of scope at Lurcher’s so we just had to go back (January 8),” Andy Nisbet explains. “Actually it had been snowing a lot from the east so its west facing aspect maybe wasn’t the best option, but we didn’t think crags in the west would be frozen, barring high on the Ben which is too far for a pensioner to walk. And a line on the Dotterel buttress on Lurcher’s was the most accessible line I knew.

    Walking conditions would be tough in deep snow but Steve Perry is strong and his wife Katie was happy to carry the rack (all of it!). No-one had been anywhere else but Sneachda that morning, so it was trail breaking all the way. Despite that, we were almost at Lurcher’s before we caught Steve up, and only because he’d stopped for a drink. Not long after that, we were at the top of the crag contemplating avalanche conditions in Central Gully for the descent.

    We played safe and headed for the rib on the far side, then hesitantly entered the gully. Actually the snow was pretty safe, despite being deep and soft; I think the temperature dropping several degrees overnight had helped but we couldn’t take any chances with a big ice pitch directly below the approach. The crag looked well plastered and our line resembled a vertical snowdrift. Sometimes I regret the loss of the big Terrordactyl adze we used to use. I hadn’t contributed much to the day so far, but now it was my turn.

    I dug my way up an easy initial groove to big overhangs where the serious climbing would start. There was slabby ground on the right but it was a high angle snow slope plastered on to a slab. Lots of digging revealed some sloping footholds and a thin move led to a left-slanting crack blocked by a big wedged block. It was definitely possible but looked a bit wild for me, so with fingers crossed, I moved into a leaning corner further right. I knew I would need some luck as all I could see was steep smooth snow.

    Initial digging revealed a foothold, quite a surprise on what looked like a smooth slab, and suddenly my mood improved. It was a precarious move getting stood on it, but now more slab could be cleared. A thin crack appeared, without any reason as to why it should be there, but enough to take an axe and a poor peg (only because I didn’t have the right size). There was no excuse for total commitment to the mantelshelf on to a sloping ledge. A groove now led to a definite line up through the overhangs, two of them in the groove to be precise. The more I moved up, the worse the rope drag became, so a belay was necessary below the first overhang. I knew I’d taken a long time and now it was nearly 2pm. The fact that the others found it hard was good for my ego but not ideal on time in early January.

    Now it was Steve’s turn and above was steep. Lurcher’s is often helpful, occasionally the opposite, and everything was buried. The move out of the V-groove above required a lot of precarious digging but he made it after a considerable effort. There wasn’t much protection but a peg encouraged him on to the second overhang. This seemed to go more easily so he was now on an apparent skyline while Katie and I shouted up to ask whether the line continued. No, he replied, but much to our surprise, he announced that straight over the overhangs to his left looked best, and he duly pulled quickly over them onto what we hoped was easier ground. I was grumpy he hadn’t stopped to belay but it turned out he hadn’t joined the line of Dotterel, and it was a full ropelength before he did.

    It was getting gloomy by the time Katie and I joined him, but now we were on known ground, although the depth of snow made it very different from last time. Still, the urgency of fading light got us up the last two pitches quickly and back to the rucksacks just as it got dark. Following our footsteps back to the car park by torchlight would be no problem.

    The route was harder and more sustained than we expected, and independent for longer, so we were pretty pleased with it. A snowy name seemed appropriate but Snow Bunting had been used in Coire an Lochain [and Braeriach], so Snowbird was chosen (VI,7), even if snowbirds try to escape the snow. Still, Katie could count as a snowbird.”

    Sandy Allan pulling over an overlap on during the first ascent of Ultramontane (IV,5) route on Lurcher's Crag. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Sandy Allan pulling over an overlap on during the first ascent of Ultramontane (IV,5) route on Lurcher’s Crag. Contrary to popular belief, Lurcher’s still holds new route potential! (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Lots of snow, but where to go?” Andy Nisbet writes. “With Lurcher’s being ‘worked out’ that is. Of course there is that scrappy line I left to solo some time when I didn’t have a partner. So why am I going there with five other companions? Well, I guess we’re obsessed with new routes, even ones expected not to be any good. And we’re still stuffed with Christmas pudding and all the other sweet goodies (December  27), so an easy route to solo would suit. However much planning you do, things often don’t work out, but it isn’t half nice when the day turns out much better than you expect.

    To start with, it’s much easier trail breaking with six through the Chalamain Gap. To be honest, being sixth is particularly easy, but my role was pointing out the line. Finally we stopped and they asked, but I find Lurcher’s difficult from the north and I had to admit I’d no idea, but that we’d soon see it (he said optimistically). The hard part is that North Gully doesn’t look like much of a gully from that angle, and our route was just to its right. In the end, it was much closer than I thought, which was a relief in deep snow.

    The aim was a ridge that forms the right bank of the right branch of North Gully, but the hardest part was expected to be a lower tier that gave access to it. It was going to be crowded on the route, so Sarah Atkinson and Billy Burnside decided to go and look at Arctic Monkey, a ridge left of Central Gully. That left Sandy Allan and me with 30m of thin rope and a few nuts, plus Steve and Katie Perry with a longer rope and slightly more gear.

    I must admit it didn’t look easy soloing ground, deep snow covering lumps of unattached turf, but there was a soft landing so I started up. Very quickly I was up (momentum was crucial before anything collapsed), but as Sandy had the rope and I couldn’t get back down, there was an element of commitment as I traversed right to a slab of smooth rock covered with straggly bits of heather. Since there didn’t seem to be any belay or runners, carrying on was easier, and Sandy followed under protest. It seemed wise to stop and rope up soon, and Steve and Katie decided to rope up from the start, but it turned out to be quite a long way to the first decent belay crack.

    By now my Grade II prediction was getting embarrassing, nor was I allowed to forget it, and the ground above looked harder. I’d hoped to climb some ice, but it turned out to be smears on smooth rock, so some steeper mixed ground would have to do. A short wall, fortunately beside the belay and again fortunately with a frozen sod of turf on its top, led to a corner topped by an overhang. But this is where the slabby terrain started to change to more normal Lurcher’s helpful ground, so there was a nice flake-crack off to the left and things were looking up.

    All this had taken a while but now there was easy ground leading to the ridge, which turned out to be steeper and better defined than I’d thought. I tried to miss out the steep start but Sandy told me off and ordered me back down. “It only looks about Grade II”. I think this was payback for the start, but it did work despite my foot slipping off and both of us missing a heartbeat. A large block became detached when Sandy was seconding and he managed to hold it in place temporarily. We discussed where it might go, as Steve and Katie were out of sight below. It seemed like it should bounce into North Gully so he let it go (actually this was inevitable). But it was a surprise that it had so much momentum that it ignored all the slopes and just kept going straight. We shouted loudly but were fairly sure it had missed by a distance. Still, it was a relief when there was an answer.

    Next was a short step that could be seen on my photo from a distance. It turned out to be an overlap with what one could guess as a snow-covered slab above. As Sandy moved up towards it, another large block ended up in his arms. He reckoned he could push it into the gully but the block had other ideas and headed down towards the pair below. Straight towards them, but this time it just embedded in the soft snow. Sandy committed to the move over the overlap, cleared the snow and found a fine horizontal crack across the slab. There was a big pull and a belay soon after, where Sandy discovered that the rope had almost been cut through by the block. Now we were down to 20m pitches but the route was effectively over. We even met up with Sarah and Billy for a sociable walk down.

    We did wonder about waiting for Steve and Katie but they had appeared below and all seemed well. The wind was getting up and they would be at least an hour, so rather than freezing, we assumed they had torches and left them to it. It turned out they had faith in my prediction of a quick easy route (unlike me who did have a torch) but they made it to within 200m of the car before making a wrong turn and having to walk an extra mile in the dark.

    But eventful routes are more memorable and we all decided that a 250m Grade IV,5 was better than soloing a Grade II. Steve was reading Ken Crocket’s book on the early history of Scottish climbing so the name Ultramontane came to mind, even if our route or team wasn’t quite as grand.”

    Steve Perry making the first ascent of Have an Ice Day (V,5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This was the first of a fine triptych of routes in the cliff. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry making the first ascent of Have an Ice Day (V,5) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This was the first of a fine triptych of routes added to the cliff in recent days. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “I was accused of lying, but it just depends on your definition of what makes a route,” Andy Nisbet explained. “If you mean independent lines top to bottom, then it was worked out. But if you want to go there because it’s good early season and near the road for short days, then you can look at the pictures again and decide that good lines count after all, even if they do join established routes higher up.

    It had only been cold for a couple of days and now the forecast for the weekend was good. Steve Perry and Sandy Allan were keen, so I asked them whether they wanted to gamble on Lurcher’s being frozen, or play safe and head for something rocky in Coire an Lochain. With a risk of overcrowding in Lochain, Lurcher’s was unanimous. On Wednesday that week, my exercise had been to look for a lost rope on the path to Coire an Lochain and reported on UKC, followed by a walk over to Lurcher’s to look for lines. There was no snow and no hint of it being frozen (and the rope is still somewhere in the boulders), but I managed to glimpse the top of a ramp inset into the side of St. Bernard’s Ridge, and see that it held some turf.

    So on the Saturday [December 12] we headed straight for it, with a hope that its base could be accessed and that the turf might be frozen. Arriving underneath provided a great surprise. We knew the main grove left of the ridge was blocked by an overhanging step that we’d ruled out as impossible, but the groove was now full of ice and a streak ran down the sidewall past the overhang. It looked well climbable but we had blunt tools and crampons for mixed and no ice screws or hooks. Not enough to put off Steve, who immediately volunteered to lead.

    The ice was still a little wet, so not too brittle, and the main problem was the lack of protection, a common problem in the main grooves on Lurcher’s. The top of the groove looked steep from below but turned out to be a kitten. The route finished up the upper part of St. Bernard’s Ridge. The name is maybe a bit naff, but unexpectedly we did “Have an Ice Day” at V,5.

    The weather was great and a trail was broken, plus I’d noticed that the slabby start to the hanging ramp was well iced, so we had to go back the next day [December 13]. It was my turn to lead so I was fully psyched to have a hard time. But the ice turned out to be very good quality, although quite thin, so with sharp tools, I got a flying start to a steep groove which lead to the ramp. Halfway up the groove was a decision to stop and place a peg in a strenuous position or keep going. Once I’d stopped and placed it, I knew I’d made the right decision. The ramp was trickier than expected but I was on a roll. Sandy led a short pitch to the same upper section of St. Bernard’s Ridge and we were back at the car park before three. The others gave it a topical name The Force Awakens (VI,6).

    The weather forecast had backed off from a deterioration, so it was back to Lurcher’s on Monday [December 14]; each day you spot more lines. The base of the Dotterel ridge is quite broad and featured another groove, although the undercut base had put us off. The only snag is that it had snowed 6 inches overnight in Aviemore and probably more on the hill. The ski road would be shut until they’d made it black enough for tourist cars with bald summer tyres, and with no rush until the Gondola opens at 10am, we knew to drink lots of tea, chat about the world in general and take head torches.

    Eventually the road did open and we (I should say Steve and Jonathan Preston) ploughed a route to Lurcher’s while I followed a way behind. We made it to the crag by noon and hurried down to the start. Steve soon dispatched with the boulder problem start through the undercut base, then some precarious moves on slabs under deep powder led to a short steep groove. We were quickly learning that Lurcher’s is steeper than it looks and this vertical groove was overhanging. Getting on to the first step proved very awkward, a semi-mantel on to a sloping ledge, but the groove was capped by a wedged flake which provided an excellent hold to pull out of the top. The groove now curved left and back right, deeply covered in snow on smooth rock, but as Steve dug his way up, good cracks continued to appear and after a long pitch, he reached easier ground which led on to the main Dotterel ridge.

    I’d forgotten how good the climbing was on Dotterel, and despite all the clearing, two long pitches led to the top It was all a bit of a mad rush as the light was dimming and Jonathan had a ticket to ski films in Inverness. But we made the car park without torches and haven’t heard about any domestic grief for Jonathan. We called it Electic Brae (VI,7) due to the illusion, and Lurcher’s is definitely worked out now!”

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Strictly Come Swimming (V,6) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This sustained three-pitch outing shows there are still new early season routes to be found in the well-travelled Northern Cairngorms. (Photo Steve Perry)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Strictly Come Swimming (V,6) on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. This sustained three-pitch outing shows there are still good new early season routes to be found even in the well-travelled Northern Cairngorms. (Photo Steve Perry)

    “Early season new routes are hard work,” Andy Nisbet writes. “For a start, not many places are in nick, and you did those routes last year. High in the Cairngorms is obvious, but there aren’t many new routes left. Actually I thought there were none, but sitting at home watching the snow fall outside my window made me think harder and just wonder if there was a possibility near the hopelessly smooth slabs we’d seen ice glazed from last year’s ascent of Beagle Has Landed, on Lurcher’s Crag. So out with the photos, zoom in on the computer screen, and there did seem to be a gap between the slabs and the ridge to its left (Dotterel).

    We have it easy these days. Robin Campbell mentioned on Facebook that he’d climbed a gully there with Fred Harper in the 1960s – it turned out to be the first ascent of North Gully, a classic Grade III. No doubt they cut good steps, but I doubt they dreamed of picking out new lines on a computer screen.

    Step One achieved, but was the route in nick? Friday (November 20) was an afternoon walk in to Sneachda just to see if there was any snow. Turned out everything was white and walking boots weren’t ideal footwear. I thought I must be alone on a wild day but friends were climbing The Seam out in the mist. Saturday was improving weather but was the turf frozen? We didn’t arrive in the Car Park until after 10.30am because the road had been closed for unusual ice, so there was only time for a quick Opening Break, but the turf was frozen and Steve Perry and I were really after the line on Lurcher’s.

    Sunday November 22 had a good forecast and we left home a little earlier. There had been a little snow overnight so we expected the road clearing to delay things, but it seemed to take forever and it was approaching 10am before we got to the Car Park. And there was a lot more fresh snow than we expected, so it was a great relief to find plenty of footprints leading out towards Coire an Lochain. Alas, the days when I was keen enough to walk from the bottom are gone, or maybe the earliest team just dossed up there.

    It was really a surprise just how much fresh snow there was; the forecast had said less than the previous front, and it hadn’t snowed much low down. It just proves that winter climbing rarely goes to plan. But we had the man who broke trail over all the Munros in winter, although we still didn’t reach the crag until noon (must take a map next time).

    We ploughed our way down Central Gully and traversed to the start of the line, which actually looked quite easy; I soon found out that it wasn’t. Lurcher’s is a mixture of very helpful cracked blocks and compact slabs, a bit like a turfy Hell’s Lum.

    An initial large flake proved that slabby ground is usually steeper than it looks from below, and the groove above was most certainly steep. I was glad I’d added the pegs to the rack at the last minute, as a bombproof runner let me concentrate on the moves. There wasn’t much for the feet so it was better to move quickly than hesitate and let feet slip. The placements were good except one, and turf was soon reached. A fierce pull led to an easy section and a big overlap. This seemed to have good cracks but I didn’t have enough strength to pull over the lip and in the end, a foot slipped and I was back to square one. It would have been worth a more dynamic attempt but there was another option, just dependent on whether the snow slope on the right was a smooth slab or not. Clearing with my feet revealed a wave at its top, probably just enough for feet to stick and a reach into a groove.

    This groove did have some turf, although a bit soft under the snow, and it led into another deeply buried groove. By now the runners under the overlap felt rather distant and all the visible cracks were blind. Mind you, not much was visible, so some digging was required and soon a pod with a 50:50 nut was uncovered. Enough to start me into the groove. More clearing revealed a peg, which went a third of the way in (I’d used my thinner one below). Working on the idea that any fall would be gentler on to soft snow, it was another case of concentrating only on the moves. In fact there was good turf over the top and belays were reached just as Steve’s calls from below were getting more urgent.

    Time was getting on so I was becoming anxious about daylight when he joined me. Above looked steep and smooth, so another snow slope hiding a smooth slab seemed the best option. It felt a bit like friction climbing in crampons but with some good cracks in a central groove tempting him on, he managed to ignore a long potential slide and gained the groove with its runners. Everything now steepened up but runners and turf speeded him up.

    I love through routes and there was one under a huge block in the final tier. But in the end it wasn’t worth taking off harness and helmet, so I climbed over the top and easier blocky ground led to the final ridge of Dotterel. It was a pleasant surprise to get an independent third pitch, even more so to be in daylight, and we reached the sacks in the final gloom.

    The walk back was over snow-covered boulders with lots of falling and some laughter, but eventually we reached the main Coire an Lochain path and an easy walk back with torches to the Car Park. Back at the car at 5.30pm, we’d easily make the results show for Strictly Come Dancing. This and the dog theme on the crag suggested the name Strictly Come Dogging to Steve. But being the guardian of the SMC rule for non-sexual names, I felt obliged to call it the more boring Strictly Come Swimming (V,6).”

    Tim Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Tim’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sophie Grace Chappell enjoying excellent icy conditions on the first ascent of Anzac Day (IV,4) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The route was climbed on April 25 and is one of a number of high-altitude Cairngorms new routes climbed this spring. Sophie’s retro headgear was put to good use battling the punishing spindrift! (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It’s been such a busy season that I didn’t have time in March to acknowledge the 500th post on scottishwinter.com

    The blog has been running five years and has attempted to record the majority of significant winter climbing activity in the Scottish mountains during that time. It’s been a remarkable period, and winter climbing has grown in popularity and gone from strength to strength. Standards have soared and climbers are considerably more adept at choosing venues and catching routes in condition during slender weather windows.

    Five years ago, a new Grade VIII was headline news, but now ascents of this standard are commonplace and new Grade IXs are climbed every season. And this year has seen the first on sight Grade X’s courtesy of Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson, which have opened a new chapter in the history of Scottish winter climbing.

    I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site. Without you, scottishwinter.com could not exist, and I have been struck by everyone’s generosity in sharing their Scottish winter experiences. Andy Nisbet’s insatiable appetite for exploring new ground makes him my most regular correspondent, but the success of scottishwinter.com is due the enthusiasm and commitment of the hundreds of people who have sent me photos and first hand accounts.

    I try to use all the material that is sent to me, and endeavour to follow up significant ascents, but I’m aware that sometimes events do pass me by. I prefer to communicate directly with the climbers involved, rather than report events second hand, so please continue to get in touch with your latest adventures.

    April was a good month for late season winter climbing with ice hanging in on the Ben and high north-facing corries in the Cairngorms. Despite a cold start to May, the 2015 winter is finally drawing to a close, and the new season will be with us in six months’ time!

    Steve Perry climbing the second pitch of Eclipse (IV,5) on Clach Leathad. Given the cliff’s proximity to Glen Coe it is likely that winter climbers have visited the crag befote, but no details have been recorded. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry climbing the second pitch of Eclipse (IV,5) on Clach Leathad. Given the cliff’s proximity to Glen Coe it is likely that winter climbers have visited the crag before, but no details have been recorded. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Such a neglected hill; Clach Leathad in proper Gaelic. My Dad used to talk about about it affectionately as one of his favourites (also easily reached when no-one had cars), but then it was demoted as a Munro. And there are strong rumours of folk ice climbing on it but no-one has recorded anything. So despite being at the top of Glen Coe, it has remained as a backwater for climbers. But pictures frequently appear in the Glen Coe avalanche blog, with such a great view from the top of Meall a’ Bhuiridh.

    Come the second half of March, Steve Perry and I were looking for somewhere high and icy, since the buttresses were now too bare and Ben Nevis was too long a walk. I’ve been meaning to go there for years, but never quite got round to it, and the pictures showed grooves with narrow white stripes that could be ice.

    We caught the chairlift. £10 for a few hundred feet seemed a lot, but then we did pay so market forces say it’s justified. It was a gorgeous day (March 22) and the snow was rock hard out of the sun. But most of the walk up Meall a’ Bhuiridh was in the sun, with long johns and warm trousers feeling very inappropriate. By the time we got to the summit, I was already feeling dehydrated and realised that Clachlet was still a long way off. We spent a few minutes taking photos and then pushed on.

    The choice was a long traverse on steep snow or going up on to Creise and then descending. The latter allowed us to leave rucksacks so we chose it. The disadvantage turned out to be that the descent was some of the steepest snow I’ve ever descended, and with only one rope, abseiling wasn’t really an option. So we scared ourselves perched at the top of 1000ft of concrete hard neve but eventually made it down to the cliff.

    The most obvious line was a thin white stripe up a big corner system on the left, so we headed for that and were delighted when it turned out to be ice, although much steeper than I’d thought. Including the descent, this turned out to be the theme for the day. I was keen to get going so set off with plans where to place our only ice screw. The ice narrowed to a foot wide in a slot but being forced into the slot from above had caused it to bulge slightly. The freeze had only been overnight so some water was still dripping down the slot and the ice was softer than ideal. A couple of finger crossing moves gained perfect ice above the slot and easier ice to a big block out of the firing line on the right, and with a great view of the next pitch.

    This was Steve’s, a longer section of steep ice but without the bulge. I had the perfect viewpoint as he made steady progress, even with nuts in a crack on the right. The ice was thin in places, even with axes touching the rock, but every placement was first time and he seemed in his element. Then he ran out the rope on the upper slopes and called for me to climb. It was a brilliant pitch; we reckoned the route was at least as good as The Curtain, similar length, slightly harder but still IV,5, and in a lovely place. I ran out the rope in an extended pitch to the top and more photography from the summit cairn. The view was just staggering; white peaks in every direction; Ben Cruachan, Beinn Lui, Ben More and Stobinian, Schihallion, Ben Nevis, and an unidentified solitary peak a long way north.

    There was time for another route and we were just about psyched for the descent again. It didn’t seem quite as bad this time although the consequences were the same. We chose an easier line of icy turf which soon fitted the theme of being much steeper than it looked but keeping with perfect first time placements. So again the ice screw didn’t get placed and my enthusiasm kept me going for at least 60m with our 50m rope. Above there was an ice filled groove in an isolated buttress, then Steve kept going for another 60m pitch.

    All that neve was quite tiring on the legs and the return was either back over Meall a’ Bhuiridh or by traversing round it. We tried the latter but I doubt it was easier and we’d certainly missed the chairlift. But a brilliant day nevertheless. We gave the first one a topical name Eclipse, and the second Holme Moss (IV,4), being steeper moss than it looked. Of course, if anyone else wishes to record them, we’ll back down.

    Far North

    Steve Perry below the Tower during the first winter ascent of the 470m-long Tower Ridge (V,6) on the North-West Face of Ben Hope. The face was first explored by Jim Bell in 1933. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry below the Tower during the first winter ascent of the 470m-long Tower Ridge (V,6) on the North-West Face of Ben Hope. The face was first explored by Jim Bell in 1933. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “All the options were too snowy, and I’m too old and wise for wading,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Steve Perry and I had a couple of scores to settle from earlier in the winter but neither looked promising. So the old adage is that if the snow is too deep, drive to the opposite end of the country to find less. So on March 4, Ben Hope it was. Steve used to live up there and knew the mountain so he was keen.

    Grass growing in the middle of the road; I love it; it means you’re somewhere properly remote. It’s a childhood memory; we used to go camping in the Highlands, and not many families had cars in the 1950s. So I used to watch out for grass in the middle of the road, and then you had arrived, as had we at Ben Hope.

    The target was Tower Ridge, the upper part of which Steve had climbed with wife Katie in 2014, but conditions hadn’t been full winter and there was a lot more climbing on the lower part. Plus Steve was keen on climbing the Tower itself, something he’d tried on the day but there wasn’t enough snow.

    Conditions did look good, with the west side white but blown clear of the deep snow deposited on the east side. The ridge starts low down, so it was a nice short walk and soon we were trying to decide where to start. The route would be long so we were hoping to solo up quite a way. Despite this, we fortunately resisted some easier heathery ground to the left and headed for the harder looking true crest. But it turned out to be OK and we zigzagged through a couple of tiers to a steep section and the need for the rope.

    It’s unusual to regret putting on the rope, and this was no exception, as a turfy corner was steep enough to need some serious arm power. Next tier was Steve’s lead and a corner looked hard, although well enough protected. As he got stuck in, it was obvious that the slabby right wall was totally smooth whereas the left with the crack was slightly bulging. This forced a foot on to the right wall but only for balance and not to take any weight off his arms. A helpful chockstone meant he made good progress except we had no big cams and so the chockstone needed to be threaded. The gloves were off and after a tiring age, it was threaded and clipped. A reach up and a quick placement of the axes brought immediate movement and a pull on to a ledge which seemed more comfy than it looked, as his head disappeared into a hole leaving only his legs sticking out. But once he threaded another chockstone, he moved quickly up to a bigger ledge left of the top of the corner. Above was a groove hidden to me, but he soon told me it was an unprotected wide crack. But an unexpected  ledge led left to an easier but very exposed grassy fault and soon a belay ledge.

    ‘We must be up to the halfway rake,’ Steve suggested, but actually it was two more pitches until we could reach the upper section with the Tower itself. Making a decision to get my opinion in first, I pointed out that the Tower looked like The Hurting, and by implication I didn’t want to go there. This comparison seemed to work, possibly helped by recent pictures on Ines Papert on the route, and Steve set off up a corner on the right and formed by the Tower. We were moving together but a difficult move off an undercut ledge slowed him down enough to belay, fortunately above it. I then regained the crest and kept going with the assumption that Steve was climbing too, until I ran out of steam. A final extended pitch led to the top, with the upper section somewhere around III,5. Overall we graded it V,6 but the crux was no soft touch.

    The top was high on the north ridge of the mountain. I rather regret not bagging the Munro, but it saved two miles of road walking if we descended the north ridge, and this was sealed by meeting two local guys who were coming up and had marked the trail with nice footsteps in the deep snow. The length of the descent showed just how long the route had been; we estimated it as 470m. And the big thaw forecast for the evening hadn’t arrived, although the grass in the middle of the road was much more visible.”

    Steve Perry on the crux of Waive Wall (V,7) in Coire Garbhlach. This secluded corrie on the south-west side of the Cairngorms massif is seldom visited by winter climbers. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Steve Perry on the crux of Waive Wall (V,7) in Coire Garbhlach. This secluded corrie on the south-west side of the Cairngorms massif is seldom visited by winter climbers. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Coire Garbhlach is a useful place when the Cairngorm ski road is shut, although it does mean I’ve usually climbed there in bad weather,” Andy Nisbet writes. But on March 2, the weather didn’t seem too bad, although there was obviously a lot of snow high up. The corrie has never really caught on for climbers, and I always wonder why until I have to approach through deep heather and then struggle up the rough and bouldery valley base. The rough part (garbh) refers to the water, and any sections of path were washed away during a thunderstorm in the 1990s. But if you can put up with two and a half hours of approach to the upper corrie, then you’ll get seclusion and for Steve Perry and me, that means a new route.

    This was the last of the lines I knew (isn’t it always!), on the left side of the lowest buttress, left of the Grade I called Curving Gully. But as seems to happen there, it turned out to be steeper and therefore better than I’d expected. The only snag was that the approach up the valley must have been sheltered because the route most certainly wasn’t and even gearing up took ages.

    But conditions were great, with the turf well frozen and even some ice at the base. We soloed up towards a steep band with the hope that there was a way through it, and despite going one step beyond Steve’s comfort zone (he had the rope), I belayed below an overhanging flake-crack. It looked well beyond my comfort zone, but despite various suggestions for possible alternative lines, he was happy to give it a go.

    Steve’s ability to progress cautiously and place gear on very steep ground is impressive, and was true here too. Clearing snow in the back of the crack produced several wedged blocks with brilliant placements (assuming they stayed in) and some commitment gained a final capping chockstone. I think he was about to pull over happily when I suggested he threaded it, but he did so and kept the belayer happy. Round about this time, someone appeared on the plateau above and watched us for a short while. I presumed it was just chance he had spotted us, but later we found footsteps which seemed to have come up Curving Gully (no one else ever comes here!), and I guess he’d heard us.

    I persuaded Steve to stop, largely so he could hear if I needed a tight rope, plus we were climbing on a half rope with plenty of potential stretch. But in the end I managed it OK, and even got a fine final crest to the top. The weather wasn’t too bad on top and the descent is easy down the track which leads up to the Munro Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. There was even a team coming up rather late in the day. The route was called Waive Wall, Grade V,7.”

    Andy Nisbet below the chockstone on the first pitch of Barbie, a new V,6 on Beinn Liath Mhor in the Northern Highlands. This south-facing cliff has proved to be a good venue for middle grade mixed routes this season. (Photo Sandy Allan)

    Andy Nisbet below the chockstone on the first pitch of Barbie, a new V,6 on Beinn Liath Mhor in the Northern Highlands. This south-facing cliff has proved to be a good venue for middle grade mixed routes this season. (Photo Sandy Allan)

    “Beinn Liath Mhor has been a happy hunting ground for Sandy Allan and I this year,” Andy Nisbet writes. “We were joined by Steve Perry this time (February 25). It is a good accessible place when snow is deep but cold enough for the south-facing cliff to be frozen. So with similar conditions anticipated, where else is there to go?

    The best remaining line was going to be harder than the previous ones but now later in the season, we ought to be climbing well. Looking at my picture of the crag, I could see the summer route Doll Restoration, a slabby V Diff up a rib. It was too clean to be a good winter line, but it had a chimney to its right and leading into a turfy crack-line. This led to overhangs but assuming we could traverse left across the rib, there looked to be white corners (it was a winter picture), and this was always a better sign than bare rock.

    The walking conditions weren’t as bad as last time, although we still lost the path, but at least we knew where we were trying to go and the photo kept us right. The initial chimney looked easy on the photo and capped by a chockstone, but I did wonder why we’d walked past it last time and not noted it as a possibility. But I didn’t think it looked too bad when we got there, although the others were happy with my offer to lead it. I think they were more concerned with the chockstone being loose, which would have been bad news, whereas I was happy that it was big enough to be solid. Although I did have slight worries when the pitch turned out to be only partially frozen, quite steep and runners hard to find. Digging out a peg placement helped the latter and a thin move meant total commitment to the chockstone. Getting on top of it meant a lot of struggling, partly not wanting to pull too much on it but mostly due to the usual tangle with leashes. Once on top, I felt it move but then I realised that there was a small loose block sitting on top of it and the main chockstone was solid. The others both went through the same worry when seconding.

    Crossing the rib turned out to be easy and I belayed on it. Sandy then led up into the white corner on the left, announcing that it was full of turf but again turning out to be quite steep and a little insecure. The route was turning out to be much more sustained than expected, as Steve led a pitch up the crest to below a steep tier. He suggested I tried a well-defined corner on the left, and it turned out to be fully frozen with helpful cracks and we agreed, the best pitch on the route. But still it wasn’t over, leaving Sandy with a steep crack-line to finish, short but perhaps the technical crux.

    That left a lot of increasingly easy ground, turning into walking up to the summit crest. The weather was deteriorating as predicted but the descent was easy on now damp snow and we were down in the corrie before the rain started. The summer route by Steve Kennedy and Cynthia Grindley was called Doll Restoration, but I don’t know whether this was some sinister Voodoo name or that Cynthia hadn’t climbed for a while. We called our route Barbie, not a reference to Cynthia, and grade V,6.”