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    Browsing Posts tagged Andy Nisbet

    Andy Nisbet topping out on Just A Spot O’Sightseeing (IV,6) on the Mess of Pottage in the Northern Corries. This was the first recorded winter ascent of this summer Severe. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Andy Nisbet topping out on Just A Spot O’Sightseeing (IV,6) on the Mess of Pottage in the Northern Corries. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Andy Nisbet and Simon Yearsley succeeded on the first winter route of the season today (November 5). Simon takes up the story:

    “It’s been a pretty warm autumn, and although I’ve had a growing sense of excitement as I always do at this time of year, it’s been tinged with growing frustration that it just hasn’t got cold. So, it was good to see the winds turn to the north this week, and things start to get white! There was lots of fresh snow on the Ben and the higher Cairngorms from Monday, and a few rumours circulating about folk getting out, but for me, the weather didn’t really look like it was playing ball until Wednesday… and I’ll admit it, I was really tired after the drytooling competition at Ice Factor on Saturday. So, a few hurried texts with Andy on Tuesday and we had a plan – a very simple plan… head into the Norries and see what was white and climbable. Harry Holmes (far stronger than me and so not as tired after the comp) texted me saying he had the same idea, so it looked like it might be a sociable day too.

    It had snowed pretty hard overnight, and with a few squally snow showers on the way into Coire an t-Sneachda, all the cliffs in the coire were wonderfully white. We headed over to Mess of Pottage as I wanted to look at the summer route – Just A Spot O’ Sightseeing. This 90m Severe was done in 2006 by Olivarius and Hughes, and climbs Hidden Chimney Direct, before moving over easier ground, then slabs and cracks to a steeper finish in the buttress right of Hidden Chimney. This part of the Mess of Pottage is very well travelled, and local guides often take a variety of different lines in the upper section if Hidden Chimney is full of climbers… Andy thinks he’s done Hidden Chimney Direct at least 15 times! The summer route Just a Spot o’ Sightseeing takes a line well suited to early season conditions, being rockier than the easier lines to its right, which are grouped together as Jacob’s Edge. As such, it seems worth describing and naming as a winter route. Later in the season it can be as easy as Grade III, this grade depending on Hidden Chimney Direct Start banking up. Who did it first is lost in the snows of time.

    The line actually fits together really well as a winter route, especially in early season before things bank out: the first pitch is Hidden Chimney Direct which as it often is in lean verglassed conditions, felt about IV,6, then an easier section followed by some fun slabs and cracks; and the finish up the steeper buttress proving much easier than it looked, and in a great position. It’s also a bit longer than the summer 90m – the pitches were 50m, 45m and then 25m, giving 120m of nice climbing.

    Harry and his partner Rob Taylor also had a fun day with an ascent of Honeypot. We all finished just after lunchtime, and afterwards, the ever-keen Harry and Rob went down to Newtyle to put some hours getting even stronger on the drytooling route, Too Fast & Furious. Andy and I went to the cafe and ate cake…

    Also taking advantage of the short weather window were Simon Davidson and Kevin Hall.  Round the corner in Coire an Lochain, they had the corrie to themselves and climbed The Hoarmaster in, to quote Simon, ‘Good early season nick, rime and frozen blocks – always worth a punt this time of year before the cracks get choked.’

    Looks like the weather’s warming up again over the next few days, so it just goes to show, with early season stuff, you just got to grab it when you can!”

    Sandy Allan climbing through the cornice on the first ascent of Risk of Ice (V,4) in Coire na Feola on Ben Wyvis. Current mountain hazards include large cornices, avalanche-prone slopes, warmer than forecast temperatures, and huge amounts of snow. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Sandy Allan climbing through the cornice on the first ascent of Risk of Ice (V,4) in Coire na Feola on Ben Wyvis. Current mountain hazards include large cornices, avalanche-prone slopes, warmer than forecast temperatures, and huge amounts of snow. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “John Mackenzie used to talk with awe about the cornices above Coire na Feola of Ben Wyvis,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Also the great central icefall, which one day would form, and he hoped he would be there. But John Lyall saw it and climbed it in 2012. In prime conditions, this is one of Scotland’s great icy cliffs. So most of the attention had been on the ice lines and the buttress left of the central icefall was unclimbed.

    In February 2013 I was driving south from Ben Hope. It was very warm, 15 degrees in Inverness, but the ice had been great on Ben Hope so I just wondered if it had survived the thaw and that buttress might be iced. Wet ice is great to climb and cornices that year were small. When I got down to the corrie, the line was bare but Gael Force Grooves was fat ice top to bottom. It looked very steep for Grade IV but I had walked a long way and it was too tempting. So I scared myself and climbed what seemed on the day, one of the best Grade V’s I’d ever climbed (it gets one star).

    But the buttress was still waiting and I finally decided the walking conditions were good enough. Jonathan Preston didn’t need much persuasion and we headed in on Friday (February 28). The forecast was clear and cold so it was a bit disappointing when the mist began to form as we approached the top of An Cabar. The plateau was totally white but the mist thin and it was easy to follow the crest line. I had a picture of the map in my head so just legged it, waiting for a descent, after which we would traverse to the north and descend into the corrie. It did seem a long way, and then a cornice appeared on the right, so I knew we’d gone too far (this descent was totally in my imagination). But where actually were we?

    We backtracked a bit and then started to descend; by this time we hadn’t seen anything other than white for an hour. As it steepened we put crampons on. Jonathan was quicker and went ahead. Suddenly the ground ahead cracked open and slid off into space. I’ve never seen Jonathan run so fast back uphill. Despite us walking on neve, the vibration of his footsteps (he is a big lad) had set off a small slab avalanche that had given us warning of an imminent cornice edge. We jibbered for a bit but quickly decided to come back the following day (March 1) when it was supposed to be clear.

    Sandy Allan joined us and sure enough it was clear, but only just. This time we each had a map, and I had even printed out a very large-scale version of the plateau. The light was good enough for us to see where we were going, but not good enough to see if the convex slope suddenly dropped off. Also it had snowed overnight and the slope ahead was the worst aspect. So between Jonathan and I still being nervous about cornices, and Sandy being nervous about avalanches (working for SAIS does seem to do that to you), we dithered a lot before finding our way down the slope into a corrie filled with avalanche debris.

    It wasn’t freezing down in the corrie bottom so the walking suddenly became hard work and there were serious doubts about the turf being frozen. Which turned out to be true for the small bits, so the planned line didn’t work. Well, I was trying to pluck up courage when Jonathan walked in above me and pointed out that his way was easier. So we all walked in, and then I was trying to pluck up courage for the next bit when Sandy suggested that a ledge on the right might just lead somewhere useful. So I went that way and he was right, and the turf even began to improve.

    Jonathan led the next pitch on steeper but properly frozen turf, and then we alternated up towards the top. A huge cornice appeared at times out of the mist but we tried to ignore it and assume we’d find a solution; a part of which was me doing a ten metre pitch and sending Jonathan up. The cornice was huge but at its right end was a snow pinnacle and he just wondered if you could bridge up and reach over. Appearances are deceptive, especially to cornice pessimists like me, and a couple of things happened when he reached it. First of all the pinnacle fell off when he hit it, but more encouragingly it wasn’t as big at the right end as my imagination had thought. So he dug his way through in a few minutes and there was great relief, at least from my end.

    We agreed easily on technical 4 but the overall grade wasn’t easy. It was quite a scary route so perhaps V,4 was fair, although cover the route with neve and it would have been a doddle. Driving home, Sandy’s car came up with a warning on the dashboard, “Risk of Ice”. That will be the first we’ve seen today then, was the general thought, but it seemed an appropriate route name!”

    Craig Lamb leading the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    A leader on the crux section of K9 (IV,4) on Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16 – one of four teams to climb the route that day. Or is this route Window Gully? (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were rather confused when were climbing on Lurcher’s Crag on February 16. It was our first visit to the cliff, and the folks climbing the attractive icefall to our left had told us that they were climbing K9, yet the team we met on the top said they had just done Window Gully. We both suspected a case of mistaken identity, because the icefall crux, which involves cutting a window from behind the icefall and stepping on to the front face, reminded us of a famous John Cleare photo of Bill March making the first ascent of Window Gully in March 1972. It’s interesting that we both remember that photo, but we’re both of an age that when we started climbing front pointing was just being developed, and Bill March was one of the stars of the show.

    As if by chance, a couple of days later I received an email from John Lyall that Andy Nisbet forwarded onto me, which helped to explain our confusion:

    “I’ve been puzzled by the description of Window Gully and its position on the crag for a long time,” John wrote. “So when I was on the crag last week I took my camera to sort things out. I was climbing K9, and my photo shows the lower icefall going through the big roof, the rock features behind and the snowdrift all fitting with the first ascent photo of Window Gully.

    I think the confusion goes back to the Bill March 1973 guidebook, where only North Gully is described, but South Gully is mentioned. When Window Gully is described in the next guide (1985), it is described as being between North and South Gullies, but it should have said North and Central Gullies, as Central had now been climbed. The Window Gully icefall presently in the guide is not far enough up the crag, nor is there a position to get a photo like this.

    In 2010, the outside of this icefall was climbed by a few teams up the steepest right hand section, at V,6. Stuart Carter was one of the folk, but he had followed tracks.

    The Bill March guide also mentions summer ascents of what are now Drystane Ridge and Collies Ridge, both at Moderate in the current guidebook. He also names Southern Ridge, which is now called Deerhound Ridge, and grades it Mod. He also describes a route up the buttress to the left of North Gully, giving a grade of Mod and listing the first ascensionists. I feel a bit like Robin Campbell delving into the archives!”

    Allen Fyffe, who made the first ascent of K9 with his son Blair in March 1996, agrees with John’s assessment that the icefall is the same, but it’s not quite as simple as that because Allen and Blair linked in an impressive upper icefall during their ascent. This second icefall is up and left of the main line, so is not always climbed as a follow-on from the lower ‘window’ icefall, and for sure, it was not climbed by Bill March in 1972.

    So if this unravels the history behind K9, what about the route now known as Window Gully which lies a hundred metres further right? Andy Nisbet made an ascent in February 1984 – are there any earlier takers?

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkeys buttress on Lurchers Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkey buttress on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding both exciting and challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were wrong-footed by logistics, weather forecasts, blocked roads and avalanche-prone slopes throughout the previous weekend. We ended up visiting Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16, which I think was our Plan D!

    The weather was good, but neither of us had been to the cliff before, and our guidebook only listed a handful of routes. The crag had a nice friendly feel with lots of people about, the scenery was magnificent and with our plans in disarray we didn’t really care what we did, as long as we climbed something. Roger fancied The Shepherd, but there were two teams ahead of us, so we went to look at K9. When we got there, we found we were fourth in line, so we thought we’d carry our ice screws up a mixed line on the (Arctic Monkey) buttress to the right. We ended up following a logical sequence of grooves straight up the front face to arrive on the apex of the lower buttress before finishing up the left flank of the easy ridge above. We had no intention of climbing a new route and fully expected it had all been climbed before.

    When I arrived home, I saw a Facebook post from Andy Nisbet saying that he had climbed the face right of K9 with Susan Jensen two days before, and a look at the SMC Journal revealed three more of Andy’s routes on the buttress. I’ve been (inadvertently) following Andy’s footsteps quite a lot this winter, so I put this down to another dose of fate, but I emailed Andy anyway, to find out the relationship of our climb to his recent route, and the other climbs on the buttress.

    About twenty emails and six topos later, we all finally unravelled the relationship between the routes on the buttress. Remarkably they are all independent, although a couple do cross each other. Starting from the left, Andy and Susan’s line from February 14 is called Tetradecaphobia (V,5). It takes the right end of the roof system down which the icicles of K9 form, before climbing the grooves and corners to gain the crest of the upper buttress.

    The route climbed by Roger and I two days later starts about 30m to the right of Tetradecaphobia, and climbs four pitches up corners and grooves to the top of the lower buttress before continuing easier mixed ground to the left of the crest to the top. Roger made a fine lead of the crux third pitch, a bold and technical overlap leading on to smooth slabs, and given the spur of the moment route choice, he suggested we call our climb Impulse Grooves (VI,7). The remaining three routes all start a long way away at the right end of the buttress, although Overdraft takes a natural rising left traverse line, crossing Impulse Grooves on its second pitch, before climbing near Tetradecaphobia and finishing up a set of grooves to the right.

    Overall, given the unusually heavy snow conditions, Lurchers was a good choice on February 16. We saw teams on Left Icefall, Right Icefall, The Shepherd, North Gully, K9, Arctic Monkey and Dotterel.

    Catherine Hendrie on the second pitch of The S Word (V,5), a new ice route on the West Face of Beinn Dearg. “We told each other to not mention the 'S' word, because it had been snowing during the morning, and every time Cat said 'spindrift' we got drenched in it!” (Photo Ian Bryant)

    Catherine Hendrie on the second pitch of The S Word (V,5), a new ice route on the West Face of Beinn Dearg. “We told each other to not mention the ‘S’ word, because it had been snowing during the morning, and every time Cat said ‘spindrift’ we got drenched in it!” (Photo Ian Bryant)

    On February 7, Ian Bryant and Catherine Hendrie added a good new route to Beinn Dearg in the Northern Highlands. “After backing off Penguin Gully as it was just horrible soft snow, we packed everything away and decided to just go for a walk towards the summit ridge, but we then spotted a good ice line,” Ian told me. “We climbed the ice in two 40m pitches (the first was about tech 5 the second about tech 4) and then continued on a meandering line to the summit ridge at around Grade III. Overall the route was about 250 metres long.”

    When Ian contacted me, I was unsure whether the line had been climbed before, so I passed on the details to Andy Nisbet, who confirmed that not only was it new, but he had had his eye on it as well.

    “We can’t believe little old us beat the legendary Andy Nisbet to a new route!” Ian exclaimed when he heard the news. Andy was quick with a tongue-in-cheek riposte – “Beating me to a new route isn’t that rare as I know them all!”

    And to prove the point (and before he knew of Ian and Catherine’s ascent), Andy added two new routes to the West Face of Beinn Dearg himself, on February 16. Climbing solo, Andy climbed Drumcree (IV,4) the steeper grooved section of buttress between Garvachy Road and White Settlers Gully, and Redskin (II), which starts as for Drumcree up an icy step, but then trends left to reach the left-hand of three grooves.

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    The BMC Winter International Meet took place between January 27 and February 1. The meet was based at Glenmore Lodge, and 44 guests from 26 countries paired up with UK hosts to experience the delights of Scottish winter climbing. Despite the challenging weather and almost continuous gale force easterly winds, the meet was an outstanding success with over a dozen new routes and a significant number of repeats. Once again, Becky McGovern and Nick Colton from the BMC did a superb job keeping everyone teamed up with appropriate partners and staying cool and calm whilst fixing innumerable logistical issues.

    The big route from the early part of the meet was the third ascent of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh by Nick Bullock with Canadian climber Jon Walsh on January 28. This long, serious and poorly protected route, which was first climbed during the 2005 Winter Meet by Bruno Sourzac and Dave Hesleden, has only been repeated once. Nick and Jon encountered difficult thin and ‘cruddy’ ice conditions. “Even Jon, who has done more hard Rockies alpine routes than most, was slowed down by the first pitch,” said Nick afterwards. In general, the snow was too heavy for good climbing on Meagaidh, although one determined team succeeded on Staghorn Gully.

    Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz from Canada took advantage of a very snowy Ben Nevis to make the fourth winter ascent of Centurion (VIII,8) on Carn Dearg Buttress. Although this route was first climbed in winter 28 years ago, it has maintained its reputation as one of the more difficult Scottish Grade VIIIs. This ascent rounded off an exceptional three days for Michelle who had already made the third ascent of Slenderhead (VIII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan and the fourth ascent of West Central Gully (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe.

    In Coire Ciste, Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner from Germany made the second ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. This challenging winter climb is graded E1 in summer and was first climbed by Rich Cross and Andy Benson in 2007. Nearby on South Trident Buttress, Fiona Murray and Siw Ornhaug from Norway repeated Gallifrey Groove (IV,5).

    Tower Ridge saw multiple ascents and was a wise choice in the conditions, but the low snow level also brought The Douglas Boulder into play. The classic South-West Ridge, Cutlass and Militant Chimney saw ascents, and on January 28, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan climbed Nutless and added the Arete Variation (VI,6). The weather was wild the following day (January 29), but Rose Pearson from New Zealand and myself followed the summer line of East Ridge (IV,5). Rather surprisingly, I can find no record of a winter ascent of this short and accessible climb, which proved to be a good route for a stormy day. I returned again on January 30 with Stefan Jacobsen from Denmark to climb Alaska Highway (IV,4), the crest of the buttress taken by Lower East Wall Route before finishing up Tower Ridge.

    Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren from Sweden braved the higher slopes of Coire na Ciste to climb Sidewinder adding the Unwound Finish (VI,6) which climbs up directly rather than traversing left into the exit gully as per the original route. The rarely climbed 1944 Route also saw an ascent by Ian Bryant and Pawel Wojdyga (Poland), and lower down on Carn Dearg Buttress Kenton Cool and Corne Brouwer from the Netherlands climbed Route One. Nearby on Am Bodach in the Mamores, Andy Nisbet and Ricardo Guerra from Portugal made the first ascent of the 350m-high South Buttress (II).

    Further South, Stob Coire nan Lochan was in superb icy condition and ascents were made of Scabbard Chimney, Sceptre, Raeburn’s Route, SC Gully, Moonshadow, Tilt, Chimney Route, Crest Route, Para Andy and Central Grooves.

    Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner and Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made early repeats of Central Buttress with the Starting Blocks Start (VII,8), and Slenderhead (VIII,8) saw second and third ascents by Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz (Canada) and Ian Parnell and Olov Isaksson (Sweden). The finest performance in the corrie came from Harry Holmes and Polish climber Piotr Sulowski who made an ascent of Unicorn (VIII,8). Not only was Harry recently back from the Ice World Cup, but Piotr’s ascent of the difficult second pitch was his first ever Scottish winter lead!

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “So said Dave McGimpsey when we got back to the car,” Andy Nisbet recounts. “Which seemed a bit mean; better than being pulverised by gales and spindrift in the East, I thought. Thanks should first go to James Roddie for blogging pictures of Coire na Caime (Liathach), showing the best conditions since 1994. Although it has to be said this was only in the high east corner of the corrie and much of the rest was bare except for the easy gullies. I immediately picked out an icefall on the buttress between Gullies 2 and 3, and not one I remembered seeing before. This corner of the corrie, lying under the summit of the mountain, is rarely visited, largely I think because it’s the hardest to reach, and clean slabby rock is not much of a temptation either. The weather has been unusual this year with snow in Torridon on a south-easterly wind when normally that direction would be dry; so it had drifted on to that face.

    Dave, Sandy Allan and I set off on Monday (January 20) to climb the icefall, although not having been to the corrie for some ten years, I forgot that the traditional approach up Coire Dubh is not the best. After three hours, I had remembered many times! But now we were there, and the icefall was looking good, if a bit wet and thin in the middle section; the freezing level was 200m higher than the monk had predicted. But the ice was soft, never brittle and actually continuous over three long pitches. The thin section seemed to justify a grade of V,4 given that the ice would rarely be thicker and the belay wasn’t the best. And being No.2 Buttress, the name of Two Faced seemed to fit.

    Conditions were so good on the buttress that, even though time was getting on, we felt we should try a gully line to the right. And it went well, again continuous snow and ice, and quite steep for a couple of steps (Strike 2; III,4). If the approach was long, so was the descent over the summit and we reached the car well after dark.

    With more routes to do, it was a case of keeping very quiet. Which is quite difficult when folk ask you for recommendations for venues in this unpredictable season. But you know that information nowadays spreads so fast. After an essential rest day, the forecast wasn’t great for Wednesday (January 22) but we knew from last time that gales in the Cairngorms and heavy rain in Lochaber meant that it might be fine in Torridon (given a southerly wind). Sandy was busy, so Dave and I returned to Coire na Caime, this time approaching over the top. We were in good form when we stood under No.1 Buttress, which has one ice route from 1994 on its right side. I had always been put off a return by slabby rock, but this time it was white of unknown quality. With no runners on Two Faced and little prospect of any on a route up the centre of this buttress, we had gone light with a 60m half rope and a small rack.

    It soon turned out that the white stuff on ledges and any grooves was in fact neve, and there was a continuous line of snow and ice leading up to a smooth barrier wall. The rope did run out, but a brief moving together gained a prefect belay of two large nuts. The barrier wall had to be passed by a line of ice on the right, leading to a second and bigger barrier wall. The existing route was moving towards us at this point, so we agreed to try a line up steeper white grooves near the left arete of the face. Dave headed along a ledge and was soon delighted that the smooth grooves were filled with neve and not powder. Another long pitch gained easy ground. First Foot was quite hard to grade; it felt a bit like a Ben Nevis open face (although not so steep) and we decided on IV,4. You could have argued for IV,3 or V,4 also.

    After 230m of climbing, time was again getting on, but the last gully line on No. 2 Buttress was too hard to resist. We decided just to dump the gear and solo it. Again the ice was good and we knew it was less steep than the others, so we climbed it without any heart fluttering and actually made it back to the car without torches. The gully is joined at the very top by the easier option of No.3 (Pinnacle) Gully, so the name of Strike 3 does at least for now (Grade III). I should say before anyone rushes up there, that Coire Dubh Beag was pretty black, and even Coire Dubh Mor was poor with Poachers Fall probably not quite doable. And the steeper icefalls on Am Fasarinen were also too thin.”

    Scary Monsters

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Scarebear (VI,5) on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin. This prominent line on the left side of the crag was one of the last unclimbed gullies in the Cairngorms. (Photo Heike Puchan)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Scarebear (VI,5) on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin. This prominent line on the left side of the crag was one of the last unclimbed gullies in the Cairngorms. (Photo Heike Puchan)

    “Looking across to Stacan Dubha from Stac an Fharaidh a few days ago,” Andy Nisbet writes, “I couldn’t help noticing this snowy gully. I thought I knew the crag well and that all the main lines had been done, but here was an apparently easy gully. Heike Puchan was after a climbing partner for Sunday (January 12) so I was trying to think of somewhere suitable. ‘The gully might be a bit easy, but it’s a nice remote place and conditions are good,’ I said.

    That meant Saturday resting, so I tried hard to imagine how windy it was on Saturday and that the forecast for Sunday was better. But as we battled in to Sneachda against a gale and spindrift, I wasn’t convinced and had to tell myself and Heike that a southerly wind was a bad direction for Sneachda and that it would be better on as soon as we reached the plateau. It did at least improve when we descended out of Coire Domhain but even at Loch Avon it wasn’t calm. Walking conditions were great though.

    The lower slopes were banked out so we soloed up to the base of the gully. Well, it clearly wasn’t Grade II as I had thought, and in fact there was considerable doubt as to whether it would go at all. That did at least explain why I hadn’t noticed it. I’m sure I had, but without ice it probably looked impossible so the memory was deleted. I started by convincing myself that the ice might be good and that you could always abb off. I soon found that the ice on the slabby walls wasn’t good, in fact you hit rock with every blow and the only technique was to pull the axe down until it jammed on something, then keep pulling down and never out, then step up and hope nothing slipped. The good point is that I could see an unexpected crack above and the second good point was that as soon as the angle eased, even if it was only a hold, then the ice was hugely better.

    After an easy bit there was a longer slabby section, and the thinnest ice coming round the side of an overhang. I couldn’t get the axe to jam on anything and it was looking hopeless, but then I spotted that the angle had eased up on the right. If I climbed up under the overhang and reached a long way right, there might just be something. It was a bit committing leaning so far but at least the axe held on something, now would the feet hold on very little. Obviously they did and really there was only one precarious move followed by a lot of holding your nerve.

    Another easy section led to a final groove and bulge of crusty snow. It wasn’t obviously possible and the last gear was at least 10m down. Whether I was going up or down, I had to find something. Despite digging, the only thing I could find was a frozen block out on the left wall, and that was some 2 metres away. The moves to reach it were thin, but at least it wasn’t further up. It took a cam, at least something, and then I could reach some turf above it, and placed a warthog, which you could pull out with your hand. But I discovered you could move up on the turf and step back into the groove. I dug away a foot of snow (ominously easily) down to the back of the groove and it was smooth. I was getting a bit desperate but the top was only a move away; a bit of commitment was required. Moving up on a tiny foothold, I found my leg wedged behind the crusty snow in the cleared groove. This was just enough to keep me in balance to reach up for the top, and even though I was an inch short, a hopeful udge gained better placements and it was all over.

    Of course I ran out of rope, but that was less stressful than the climbing, and Heike had the faith to move up a few feet quickly until I reached a belay. There was even less ice for seconding, and certainly the groove collapsed as Heike pulled over. The final pitch was easier to finish on a windless plateau where we could sit for something to eat, except I couldn’t really swallow anything. With the nearby route being Goldilocks, the name Scarebear seemed appropriate. As for the grade, it could be anything from IV to impossible. So we settled for what it probably was on the day, VI,5.

    Update – January 14: Masa Sakano is a Japanese astronomer living in Laggan. Which is a clever move, as jobs in his field are limited there, and he has plenty of time to climb. So I persuaded him to go to Stacan Dubha for an iced groove left of Scarebear. It looked totally smooth in a summer picture so the rack was cut down, and the rack proved of limited use in the end. An independent approach to Scarebear was made and the groove looked well iced, just a pity that it was extensive rather than deep ice. After a hopeful ice screw in crust at the start, the rest was just searching around for placements that hit the rock and stuck rather than just hitting the rock and bouncing. Some 40m further on, the rope ran out but I was in an easier angled upper groove by then, and tied on to a hook, two tied- off ice screws in crust, both my axes and as big a stance as I could make (plus a waist belay); a real Ben Nevis belay in fact. Masa climbed very carefully, then led on very carefully to the top. Googling for scary names suggested the spear-wielding Slogra (V,4).

    Stac an Fharaidh on Cairn Gorm. (Click on photo for larger image) with lines shown right to left. Blue – Lookout Gully (II), Red – Deja Vu (IV,3; original finish dotted), Green – Unnamed (III), Red - Apres Moi  (IV,4), Yellow – Hoity Toity. (Photo Topo Andy Nisbet)

    Stac an Fharaidh on Cairn Gorm with lines shown right to left. Blue – Lookout Gully (II), Red – Deja Vu (IV,3; original finish dotted), Green – Unnamed (III), Red – Apres Moi (IV,4), Yellow – Hoity Toity. (Photo Topo Andy Nisbet)

    “Susan Jensen was up for the weekend and we had climbed at Lurchers Crag on the Saturday,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Now we needed somewhere for a quick hit before the weather came in on the Sunday (January 5). OK, I admit I was all for a lie-in but Susan was keen, and thank goodness in retrospect. Sneachda and Cha-No were likely to be swamped in powder so Stac an Fharaidh was chosen.

    We walked in the dark and it was just light by the time we reached point 1141. Walking conditions on the plateau were amazing so we had to put on crampons immediately and reached the top of the crag very soon after, just in time for a caramel shortbread breakfast. I had never been to the crag in winter so we nipped up the line of the summer route Shielden on straightforward snow and ice (Grade II). I had heard that the area could bank out (and Allen Fyffe later confirmed it) but it suited us. Expecting the storm to arrive, we returned to the car park by 10.30am, despite going to the top of Cairn Gorm for the view (it was misty). And some parties who started later had epics.

    A couple of mild days followed, then it was supposed to be colder, so Sandy Allan and I thought we’d have breakfast at Stac an Fharaidh. But it turned out to be the warmest of the three days, so the snow was on the soft side at the crag although we still wore crampons on the plateau. Susan and I had seen lots of ice on the main crag, and it was definitely thinner, but the Grade III to IV lines were still in good nick. Deja Vu was looking too thin at the bottom but Sandy was optimistic as ever, so up I went expecting detached ice on slabs. It only took one blow to know it would be good! Thin though it was, the ice was chewy and the pitch was in great nick. Partly to be different and partly to get more ice, we finished off to the left above an iced corner we thought was Apres Moi. It was technically quite easy but with not much protection and an ice screw belay, perhaps worth IV,3.

    The routes here are quite short so we had time to go exploring. We walked under the base of the crag to its left end, an area I’d never seen before, and of course looking for anything unclimbed. An icy chimney looked challenging and a higher grade than the easier route hereabouts. After a while we worked out it was on the right edge of Broad Buttress. The back and knee chimney was packed with deep collapsing snow but fortunately had some cracks for protection. Above this the fault line continued and the turf gradually became more frozen but the route was about twice the length of those further right. We decided on IV,5.

    I had to go to Mr Murphy, the dentist, on Thursday so it was the best day of the week. But Friday (January 10) sounded good ahead of an approaching front, so it had to be another breakfast at Stac an Fharaidh. My partners had vanished and time would be short, so I went on my own for the last two lines. I was supposed to get up early but couldn’t sleep, so got up even earlier. It was very dark and misty at 1141m so I had to get my compass, map and glasses out. My eyesight isn’t that great for night nav these days but fortunately I came across our old prints and followed them to the crag. It was still dark, which wasn’t part of the plan; walking conditions weren’t supposed to be that good. Even after descending in torchlight to the foot of the route, the light was still gloomy, but since I haven’t had a head torch on a helmet for many years, and actually didn’t know if it would stay on, I decided to put it away. There was the thought that it wouldn’t be scary if you couldn’t see down.

    The line was the one Sandy and I had thought to be Apres Moi, but which Allen Fyffe had assured us it wasn’t. The start was the same but then it went straight up when Apres Moi went left. It’s such an obvious line at Grade III that maybe it’s been done before, or maybe everyone else just assumed. So I arrived at the top of the crag for breakfast. Next line was another obvious one, a big snowy groove right of Deja Vu. It steepened up to Grade II with some icy steps near the top (Lookout Gully). This time I was back to the car park at 10am, feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t done something else.”

    Susan Jensen leading the steep groove up towards the ice column through the roof on the new Direct Start (V,5) to K9 on Lurcher’s Crag. This increasingly popular crag, situated in the Cairn Gorm side of the The Lairig Ghru, has been a good choice in the prevailing weather systems of strong westerly winds. ((Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Susan Jensen leading the steep groove up towards the ice column through the roof on the new Direct Start (V,5) to K9 on Lurcher’s Crag. This increasingly popular crag, situated in the Cairn Gorm side of the The Lairig Ghru, has been a good choice in the prevailing weather systems of strong westerly winds. ((Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “When it’s been raining cats and dogs, where else to go but Lurchers Crag,” Andy Nisbet suggests. “In fact the idea was born when Matt Griffin sent me a photo of the K9 area in order to ask if a line he and Adrian Dye had done by accident was in fact new. And it was, a line up the ribbed area left of the depression of K9 and now called Far from the Madding Crowd, was III,4.

    While happy to help him, I was more interested in various icefalls around where I thought K9 went, wrongly as it later turned out. Jonathan Preston and I went in on a horrible New Year’s Day, with the wind and spindrift howling down the Lairig Ghru. It was another day where both of us wanted to turn back at various points, but never simultaneously, and the weaker one always conceded. In fact the wind was east of south, and when we reached the base of an ice column left of the main K9 fault, it was relatively sheltered and both of us were happy to be there.

    I hadn’t climbed ice this season and my picks were blunt, so I was happy when Jonathan volunteered to lead. I found the vertical ice very strenuous but found the icy ramp above much more enjoyable, although the booming, obviously detached, crusty ice was clearly better when seconding. But I had recovered enough to lead a bigger but less steep icefall leading out left from the upper depression. The route was IV,5.

    A thaw delayed a return and Jonathan was working, but a forecast of freezing brought Susan Jensen into the fray on January 4; the icicle through the roof above K9 was the obvious temptation. Of course forecasts aren’t always right, and it did seem very warm when we left the car. The lightest of crusts on the snow tempted us on but even when we arrived below the route, the crust was still on the thin side. Susan was keen to lead the steep bit so I teetered up the mushy snow fortunately to a good belay below a steepening groove. This gave Susan a precarious lead with fortunately a more solid exit. Her suggestion that a fall would only have led to a slide down the snow, wouldn’t have given me much comfort if I’d been up there. But the ice improved a lot above the groove and good ice screw runners led up to a short column through the left end of the roof system. From there we finished straight up the main depression on lower angled ice with the occasional bulge to reach the now icy hillside above. V,5 seemed the right grade.

    I was about to write the route descriptions when Allen Fyffe (who did the first ascent of K9) got in touch about a rockfall in George, the classic Grade III in Coire Dubh Mor of Liathach. It now has an extra pitch and is a bit harder (see UKC), but I happened to mention about a direct on K9, which puzzled Allen. The original description mentioned a mixed traverse so I put two and two together and assumed it traversed back. But Allen soon confirmed that in fact it went left and climbed the icefall which Jonathan and I had finished up. So now I’ve two half routes to write up, and little idea what to say. Conditions were surprisingly good, not that it helps the route description, but the popular North and Central Gullies looked quite poor – too much water and not enough cold I assume.”