Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Andy Nisbet

    Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of the Direct Start (V,5) to the Wall of the Early Morning Light on Beinn Bhan. The complete outing provides nearly 400m of sustained ice climbing on one of Scotland’s finest winter cliffs. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of the Direct Start (V,5) to the Wall of the Early Morning Light on Beinn Bhan during the first ascent. The complete outing provides nearly 400m of sustained ice climbing on one of Scotland’s finest winter cliffs. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet, Dave McGimpsey and Steve Perry made an excellent three-pitch addition to Coire na Poite on Beinn Bhan in Applecross on March 5. Andy takes up the story:

    “When Dave McGimpsey, Jonathan Preston and I were climbing a new mixed line left of Silver Tear in 2013, Dave pointed out an obvious right-slanting line up the back of Coire na Poite and asked what it was. When I said it was nothing, he was most surprised. It looked a logical natural line in a popular corrie. I later realised it joined Wall of the Early Morning Light and was therefore an unclimbed direct start. We agreed to climb it together.

    It may not have been in nick in 2014 or 2015; at least the weather wasn’t cold enough to inspire me to go there. Plus Dave was mostly working away and not climbing, so the route had to wait. So it was most convenient when Dave’s contract ended just as conditions looked promising. Skye had been in great icy nick the previous weekend and Applecross was near Skye, certainly far away from the unconsolidated conditions in the higher mountains. The only worry was that no-one had logged Silver Tear on ukclimbing, and only a couple of March Hares had been logged, but all my instincts said that conditions would be good apart from perhaps the walk-in on crusty snow over heather. We agreed to climb on Saturday (February 5), and fortunately Steve Perry’s new job had been delayed, so we had three for trail breaking.

    In the end, the walking was as good as it ever is for that corrie, with little snow until the final slope into the corrie bowl was reached, and then you could often walk on top with only the occasional crusty collapse. And when we reached the corrie, we couldn’t believe how icy good the conditions were. Even the top vertical icefall of Silver Tear was fat, and our line was ice top to bottom. I guess so many places were in nick that Beinn Bhan had just gone unnoticed.

    The second pitch, where we would join the main groove line, had an obviously steep entry, but we talked about how the first pitch might be soloable, thereby saving us some time. What a joke when we got close; it was clearly steep and sustained and I volunteered to lead it. I ran out of 60m rope conveniently at a rock wall, but still well below the groove; our assessment of scale was well out too.

    Steve took over for pitch 2. By now it had started snowing and the wind had got up, despite all the forecasts saying it would be dry, so it became increasingly irritating as waves of spindrift were flowing down the cliff, although with no great volume. Steve in the lead actually didn’t notice, concentrating on climbing carefully and placing all our ice screws on this steep pitch; only he was strong enough to double up in the middle of the steepest section. The belayers were worried in case he needed ice screws for a belay, but again he just reached rock.

    Dave’s turn; a near vertical corner was hidden ahead. Dave romped up it, despite being the steepest ice he’d climbed for three years, and we reached the line of Wall of the Early Morning Light. I was wondering why they took such a wandering line in 1971 and now I knew. Steep ice at V,5 wasn’t in favour until front pointing was established. But the rest wasn’t exactly low angled, just a bit less on the arms, as I found leading a long groove pitch.

    A couple more pitches, each slightly easier than the previous, led us to the summit snow slope. It turned out to be wind blown hard snow, and there was a convenient break in the cornice. It’s always hard to judge scale but the anticipated 70m turned into 40m, and we were up in daylight in much better weather. The plateau was solid ice so the going was easy, but we still needed torches for the final descent to the car. Maybe not surprising after 370m of steep ice and snow on one of Scotland’s biggest and best cliffs in such good conditions.

    We felt we could only give it three stars when the even more sustained Silver Tear sat nearby and gets its four. But it’s still a very fine route, and another, which could make my winter. More to come I hope.”

    : Looking up the lower half of Double Salchow (IV,4) on the West Face of Beinn Dearg with crux ice pitch visible high up. The 350m-long route follows a continuous line of ice (and snow) which forms just right of the crest right of Silken Ladder and left of Peace Process, (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Looking up the lower half of Double Salchow (IV,4) on the West Face of Beinn Dearg with crux ice pitch visible high up. This 350m-long route follows a continuous line of ice (and snow) just right of the crest right of Silken Ladder and left of Peace Process. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey visited Beinn Dearg in the Northern Highlands on March 3 and found rather more white stuff than they anticipated. Andy takes up the story:

    “’Is it just me, or does our route look like a snow slope?’ So said Dave McGimpsey after two hours of wading through deep sludge towards the West Buttress of Beinn Dearg. And it did, so much so that we talked about abandoning it and climbing something nearer on the Glensquaib cliffs. But they looked pretty plastered too, and I only knew of a couple of poor quality new lines.

    We need to offer thanks to Mark Chadwick for a useful blog picture, intended to show the Ice Hose but also showing another line with more ice than I’d ever seen before. But on the day, the cliff showed little resemblance to the picture, plastered pure white and hard to even pick out the ice lines. After some recent thaws, we had chosen a higher option than Skye and were just beginning to regret it.

    But we decided to bash on and see what it was like. As we approached the cliff, the snow began to firm up and we were able to walk on its top on the slope below the line, which we could now pick out. Things were looking up. It had snowed a fair bit overnight but the wind must have been blowing up, as some recessed areas were packed with soft snow but most of the crag was blown clear.

    The line was a shallow gully just right of the steep edge of the famous part of the West Buttress (with Ice Hose and Silken Ladder). Above halfway was much more general snow and ice but I knew from Mark’s picture that there was a good line of ice, just it was now part buried. The route was going to be long (it’s a big cliff) and with limited protection apart from ice screws, so we’d gone light and hoped to solo up as far as possible. Initial ground was easy to the first significant ice pitch which after discussion, we soloed too. Dave seemed happy and the ice was solid, but to me it didn’t seem as predictable as the steeper ice on Skye, so above this I was keen to put the rope on for what was likely to be the crux.

    There were a couple of steep pulls above a good ice screw, then a longer groove which still kept the mind focussed, after which the ground slowly got easier to reach a halfway terrace. Above was white and extensively icy but we knew there was a line of thicker ice under the snow. Some of the ice was good, some brittle and some under deep snow. It was Grade III at most so we just kept going in three extended pitches to reach the top.

    There was so much snow that the wall at the top of the cliff was buried, only the top rocks showing through, but the snow was still largely wind blown and it was easy walking down to the descent gully between the west and Glensquaib Buttresses. Despite our steps, it was hard going walking out, partly because the day had warmed slightly. My legs were protesting but the thought of a high speed free wheel out on the bikes kept me going.

    We discussed the grade. We could have gone for III,4 but it felt a big route so I was allowed to grade it IV,4. Irish names were becoming a little boring so it’s provisionally called Double Salchow, an icy name for a route with two sections and two climbers but admittedly no leaps into the air.”

    Andy Nisbet on the crux pitch of Skyefall (IV,5) on the south-east face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on Skye. This is the first route to be climbed on this difficult to access cliff. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet on the crux pitch of Skyefall (IV,5) on the south-east face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on Skye. This is the first route to be climbed on the cliff. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    “If you look at the picture in Part 1, you might just see a thin stripe of ice leading into a gully high on the left side of the Coruisg face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh,” Andy Nisbet notes. “We certainly did, so that was the target for the next day and enough to persuade me to stay in Skye.

    I searched the Cuillin guidebook to see what routes already existed on the face, and the winter answer was none. Now it was a case of how to get there. The guide said to climb Sgurr na Banachdich, go down to the col before Sgurr Thormaid and descend easily. I was well impressed by such detail for an obscure crag previously reached from Loch Coruisg, but not at all impressed by the approach time of two hours. I’ve got a thing about guidebook authors and ridiculously fast times, and when the Munros guide has 2hrs 40mins for Banachdich alone in summer with a light pack, this really wound me up. OK, I was tired from the day before, but it took us three hours just to get up Banachdich. Actually snow conditions on the Ridge were fantastic, the scenery descending into the corrie was amazing and we were at the crag soon after.

    The summer routes are mostly on a lower tier, which was below the snow line, but we were able to gain a halfway terrace easily on good snow. The short night, early start and long approach were catching up with us, plus time was getting on, so when we looked up at the steep and possibly thin ice line, neither of us fancied leading it. Not helped by the option of an easier line, still on ice, heading off left to gain the main ridge lower down.

    We chose this and zigzagged around on banked up snow ledges and up a big groove to a cul-de-sac where we got the rope out. The right wall was iced, thick enough for an ice screw, and gave a short steep pitch into a huge enclosed amphitheatre. Ice leading out of its top was tempting but I was on ‘survival mode’ so we carried on left to the main ridge. The route was called Griffin (200m III,4), for no particular reason other than it was a nice name.

    Now the question was how to get down. I knew from summer that neither left nor right was simple, and unable to make up my mind, Sandy said, ‘why don’t we just go straight down?’ I protested that guidebooks warned of all kind of trouble doing that, but I wasn’t thinking about good conditions in winter and we didn’t have any great trouble descending a gully which I later discovered was Diagonal Gully (Grade II). Further down, we came across a fine looking gully on a nearby crag, wondered if it had been done before and when we could come back up to do it. It turned out to be White Wedding and in unusually good nick, it had already been done twice that week. It shows how little we knew about the Cuillin. Despite my worries about time, I was back in Inverness before it got dark.

    Of course the steeper ice line was still there, and with a good forecast for a few days, a line on the north face of Ghreadaidh wasn’t going anywhere. Sandy was working so I roped in Steve Perry for a Skye trip on Sunday (February 28), the last good day before the weather broke. On the Friday, Dave McGimpsey phoned to say he was back from working down south and was there any climbing on the go? I told him the venue and he was definitely interested, not having winter climbed in Skye before. Later he phoned again and asked how we saw the north face of Ghreadaidh from the In Pinn, and was it perhaps the south face, and might the sun not cause us some problem. Actually it was the south-east face, which was even worse.

    So plans rapidly changed and we drove to Skye that evening, reluctantly deciding to get up at 3am and walk in the dark. Just as well we did, although some early morning mist made the approach very atmospheric and dulled the effect of the sun. Steve led the first pitch, 50m of ice with a couple of steepish sections. We had loads of ice screws but he found a rock belay off to the left of the stripe of ice. I claimed the lead on this, and my apprehension immediately disappeared when I hit my axe in first time; the ice was thick and chewy despite the sun getting stronger and chunks of ice starting to fall down. An easing allowed the placement of a couple of ice screws before the steepest section but the ice was so good that after it, I just kept going to the top. There were still some icy steps before the angle really eased, so I kept going until the 60m ropes ran out.

    The sun was hot now but the others climbed quickly as bigger lumps started to fall. The upper gully was part hidden from the sun and turned out to be only steep snow. They set off on a single rope each, leading together and ready to stop at any difficulty. But conditions were so good that they didn’t stop until the top. The descent was the same and we even discussed a quick ascent of White Wedding before common sense kicked in. The name Skyefall was suggested as highly appropriate, if it hadn’t been used before, and we were delighted when it hadn’t. I decided on a grade of IV,5 and although I know it’s high in the grade, there was only one section of 5 and Grade Vs on the Ben had more. I thought it was similar in climbing to Pumpkin (Meagaidh) and most folk think that is more like Grade IV.

    It was one of those special days, which justifies all the scrabbling around in bad weather, and one which would make you content even if the winter ended tomorrow. Which it won’t. Now what’s the forecast?”

    Andy Nisbet leading the straightforward first pitch of Akita (VI,7) on Lurcher’s Crag. The crux overlaps lie above. (Photo Steve Perry)

    Andy Nisbet leading the straightforward first pitch of Akita (VI,7) on Lurcher’s Crag. The crux overlaps lie above. (Photo Steve Perry)

    “The Akita is an independent and dominant breed (of dog), commonly aloof with strangers, so it’s ideal for a route name on Lurchers’ Crag where Steve and I don’t encourage strangers,” Andy Nisbet explained with tongue firmly in cheek. “Except for Central Gully, which has been in brilliant nick the past week, and everyone is encouraged to enjoy it. On February 22, we of course had another line in mind.

    Earlier in the winter four of us climbed a line called Ultramontane (IV,5), barely frozen low down. We did look at a steeper line to the right but thank goodness we didn’t try it and waited for proper cold weather to freeze the turf. We approached as usual from the ski car park via South Gully and at the crag base met teams who had come through the Chalamain Gap. The times we’d taken seemed to be roughly equal but who knows. We could direct them to Central Gully, the gullies not showing up well from below, as we’d just walked past its base.

    Our line had an icy start, which looked fairly easy, so I was happy to lead it and leave the overlaps above for Steve. Conned as usual by the Lurchers’ illusion and seeing plenty of turf, he was happy. I led the first pitch quickly and the second pitch still didn’t look hard. But what we hadn’t realised is that most of the apparent turf was straggly heather on top of smooth rock. Even when Steve slowed down at the very first groove and struggled up it with feet slipping, I was wondering if he wasn’t on good form. Until I got on it myself that is. It was very thin with only one good turf placement and a direct fall on to the belay (which was good enough). He managed to place a hook in a blind crack and this was enough to persuade him up to what was quickly looking like an unlikely overlap. The hook wasn’t going to hold a fall from there but he dug around and found a horizontal crack and good peg where the slab joined the overlap (Thank Goodness!)

    The only turf which would take an axe above the overlap was too far right, and there was nothing for the feet over there, so it was a case of keeping the body in an out of balance position while gaining height. This got increasingly strenuous until he had to commit to the axe and pull through. This worked but it was far from over, as the next piece of usable turf was a long reach and hidden under snow and detached heather. Again there needed to be commitment to a single piece of turf of unknown attachment to the rock, and further standing around on one leg searching for something solid. The next ten feet were pretty committing until he finally got a runner. The pitch slowly eased in angle and he kindly stopped shortly before easier ground.

    I led a pitch with only a short tricky start and then we decided to solo for a while and gain some time. We wanted a line between the existing routes either side, but not needing a rope, and were happy that a natural one followed, only joining Ultramontane for its final slab. Steve took a direct line up this and got his foot stuck in a wide crack. After a long struggle, which would have been amusing if we hadn’t been several hundred feet up without a rope, he had to step out of his crampon and finish the pitch with only one.

    The weather was nice on top so it was a leisurely walk back to the car park. We graded it VI,7 without being sure whether it was Tech 6 or 7. Certainly the turf being at its best was essential. Anyone trying it unfrozen will soon fall off and the route might become impossible.”

    Sandy Alan on the first ascent of The Inaccessible Icefall (IV,4) situated on the north-east flank of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye. This is one of a number of good ice routes added to the Cuillin in recent days. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of The Inaccessible Icefall (IV,4) situated on the north-east flank of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye. This is one of a number of good ice routes added to the Cuillin in recent days. (Photo Sandy Allan)

    “For many years in the 1990s whilst taking clients up the Inaccessible Pinnacle, I always wondered what was down the Coruisg side,” Andy Nisbet writes. “The Brittle side has hoards wandering up and down, but no one goes to the Coruisg side where a convex scree slope leads down to unseen crag. Over the subsequent years, I tried hard to see what was down there but the curve of the Cuillin ridge was always wrong for getting even a peek.

    Last week, Sandy Allan was free for a couple of days with the limitation that he was giving a talk in Portree on the Wednesday evening (February 24). So realistically we would have to climb in Skye. Mike Lates always lobbies hard to bring Skye to everyone’s attention, and as his reports reached a crescendo of enthusiasm, a normally sceptical Andy decided there might be some truth in them. So I took Sandy up on his offer and we arrived in Skye with two cars so we could sleep in them and get an early start, needing to be down shortly after lunch for Sandy to set up his talk. There was a distant picture in the new Skye guidebook which indicated the face was not unreasonably steep, so we ought to be down in time.

    The guidebook indicated you could approach either by scrambling down under An Stac or from Bealach Coire na Banachdich. I assumed the former might need some abseiling so we took the longer but safer second option. Also, I had been that way before for O’Brian and Julian’s Route, so I knew it worked. And we would be using Sandy’s new twin 6.8mm(!) ropes, so sacks would be light. Not that they felt it. As we descended from the col under the face, it became obvious that Mike had been telling the truth and there really was a lot of ice.

    As we traversed under the main face, our line suddenly appeared as a wide swathe of thick ice. There are days when you know you’ve struck lucky. It even looked straightforward and we set off soloing. But of course ice is usually steeper than it looks so soon the ropes came out; it would have been a shame not to try out the new thin ropes. I led out a full rope length of ice with the top quite steep. It felt like 60m but apparently the ropes were only 50s. After a snow terrace, another full rope length of ice led to upper slopes of solid neve and we soloed up to the sunshine beside the In Pinn.

    The Inaccessible Icefall just scraped into IV,4 and despite the urgency to get down, we sat in the sun, had an early lunch and took photos of tomorrow’s objective. I had half planned to head home that evening but no way now. Part 2 needed to follow.”

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

    Andy Nisbet on the first ascent of Poseidon (III,5) on the east side of A’Chralaig in the Western Highlands. This rarely visited cliff lies above Lochan na Cralaig to the north of Loch Cluanie. (Photo Steve Perry)

    “Driving towards Ben Nevis on February 10, it became obvious around Loch Laggan that all the hills were very white and swamped with soft snow,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Unable to think of any sensible, or at least accessible, new routes, we turned north at Spean Bridge and headed towards Glen Shiel, where at least I knew of a relatively easy new route which we could climb in poor conditions. I admit now I’d forgotten what a long approach it was.

    I had spotted an unclimbed crag above Lochan na Cralaig in 2000 when climbing a route on remote Sail Chaorainn and looking a long way across the valley. 2001 was a great year for winter climbing and I visited the crag in January with Dave McGimpsey. We climbed the longest gully and the longest ridge both at Grade III in excellent conditions. I don’t think we put the rope on, so we even bagged the Munro of A’ Chralaig in the afternoon sun. I went back the following winter with clients of Martin Moran’s, climbing the left-bounding ridge of an amphitheatre again at Grade III. There was still time to do another route, with the plan that I didn’t want to make the long approach again. A groove at the back of the amphitheatre looked fairly straightforward but I soon discovered that it had smooth rock and limited protection. Hard moves well above protection defined the grade as VI,6 although its overall feel wasn’t as hard (Kraken).

    But there was still a line, and 14 years dulls the memory of the slog up the back of A’ Chralaig. I had told Steve Perry and Jonathan Preston it would be a fairly easy day, but there was a lot of snow and it was my first day out after the flu. So I arrived on the ridge a long time after the others, by which time they were rather cold. The next problem was how to descend to the crag when it was misty, snowing and the ridge had a continuous soft cornice. We decided to rope up and send Jonathan (the heaviest) to collapse the cornice. (Actually he was so cold he insisted on going first, and we weren’t going to argue). He duly collapsed it, and it wasn’t as big as we’d feared.

    There hasn’t been much of a build-up this year so we didn’t try the gully descent (actually it would have been OK) and outflanked the cliff to return to the ridge right of the descent gully. Most of it looked straightforward but there was a barrier wall blocking entry to a flying groove set in an impressive prow. We soloed up to the barrier wall where unfortunately you could escape into the gully. But we weren’t going to do that, so I volunteered to traverse under the wall in the hope of returning left above it. The traverse was committing above a big drop but it all fell into place as soon as I’d made the traverse. Great runners encouraged a swing out left above the overhang and a couple of moves later, it was all over. Jonathan led up the flying groove to a final horizontal arete. We decided on a grade of III,5 and called it Poseidon, keeping the mythological theme.

    The weather still wasn’t great but I was determined to finish off the crag and climb a route on steep but more broken ground right of all the existing routes. There wasn’t much time so we didn’t take any gear and traversed under all the existing routes to find an easy gully. Actually I hadn’t expected it to be as easy as Grade I but there was a lot of snow. Steve and I plodded up the gully whereas Jonathan decided on a steeper line to the right. After a while, we were tempted by an exposed ramp (The Creel – III), which led up the steep left wall of the gully on to the top of the right-hand ridge (Curled Buttress). This was easy enough although the drop under our heels kept us on our toes. Jonathan crossed the easy gully higher up and also found a turfy line to tempt him out left.

    It’s nice there are still some remote crags in good scenery and which no-one goes to, even if the routes are a bit short for the long approach.”

    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!”