Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Aonach Dubh

    James Roddie making the solo first ascent of The Hermit’s Hole (III,4) on Aonach Dubh. If (like me) you wonder how James takes photos of himself when climbing alone, he does it by setting his camera to video record and then taking screen grabs afterwards. (Photo James Roddie)

    On Friday November 2, James Roddie made the first ascent of The Hermit’s Hole, a new single pitch III,4 on the Upper Tier of the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe. It was a line James had scoped out earlier in the summer – here is his story:

    “Two days ago the snow arrived in the Glen, and the storm and cold westerly winds of Thursday night made for a very snowy west face when I woke up this morning – so I decided to go and take a look.

    It hasn’t been cold for very long in Glencoe yet so as I suspected there wasn’t much frozen turf, so this route was a logical choice as it is mainly on snowed-up rock. Coire nam Beith was very snowy on the approach so I was hopeful, and I was pleased to find that the route was plastered in snow and looked very promising.

    A steep and awkward diagonal groove at the start was the crux, with no left footholds that I could find, but a firm pull-up on my arms got me to firmer ground and delivered me underneath what makes it an interesting route – a large balanced block forming a tunnel underneath.

    Climbing through the tunnel was memorable and certainly a great place to be on my first route of the winter season. The initial groove felt about technical grade 4 but is probably a bit easier in better conditions and the route as a whole weighs in as a Grade III. As a recluse by nature, and a soloist enjoying total solitude on the west face, I decided to call the route The Hermit’s Hole”.

    Jonathan Preston on the first ascent of The Wonderful Wizard (V,6) in Glen Coe. The steep No.2 Gully Buttress on the West Face of Aonach Dubh has seen three new winter routes so far this season and is proving to be an excellent mixed climbing venue when the freezing levels are low. (Photo John Lyall)

    Three days before making the first winter ascents of Rose Late and Oz with Andy Nisbet (see,  John Lyall and Jonathan Preston visited No.2 Gully Buttress on Aonach Dubh on December 4 and made the first ascent of The Wonderful Wizard (V,6). This lies at the right end of the crag and follows a series cracks, chimneys and grooves.

    No. 2 Gully Buttress lies between Dinner-time Buttress and B Buttress on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. “Despite No.2 Gully Buttress being given an altitude of 520m in the Glen Coe guide, it is much higher than this and quite recessed so collects snow when temperatures are low enough,” Andy Nisbet explained to me. “It has a number of big steep vegetated grooves which give good winter lines. They don’t seem to ice up so only cold [and a little snow] is needed. The two most obvious lines are situated either side of the clean rock pillar of Rose Innominate (HVS). On the left is The God Daughter (VI,7) and on the right is Oz (VII,7), although the guidebook gets them the wrong way round!”

    Winter wizard, Andy Nisbet, just above the tricky crux bulge on the first winter ascent of Oz (VII,7) on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. “It's hard for first ascensionists to give stars but it felt pretty good to me," Andy said afterwards. (Photo Sandy Allan)

    Last week, Sandy Allan, John Lyall, Andy Nisbet had a couple of productive days climbing on No.2 Buttress on the West Face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe.

    On December 7 they added a new climb approximating to the summer line of Rose Late (IV,6). “This was a nice easier route,” Andy told me. “The wide crack [of the summer route] looks fierce but was shorter than it looked. Also a perfect crack on the wall to the left appeared out of nowhere under the snow when we cleared it (the wide crack was too wide for gear).”

    The following day (8 December) the trio returned to make the first winter ascent of Oz (VII,7). This turned out to be a far sterner affair, with Andy, the grand wizard of Scottish winter climbing, leading the crucial first pitch. “The technical crux was probably a bulge starting up the main groove after the step right,” Andy explained. “Here were two poor pegs and a big cam in an icy crack – just enough to allow me to commit. A corner near the top of the route looked very smooth, but under the snow were wee nicks for the feet and good torques that seemed too far apart – but by then you’re giving it a go, and it works!”

    Dave MacLeod on the first ascent of Jane's Weep on Aonach Dubh, Glen Coe. At VIII,8 this is the highest graded ice route ever climbed in Scotland. (Photo Dave MacLeod Collection)

    Dave MacLeod has had a productive week in Glen Coe coming away with five difficult new ice climbs. On January 8 he visited the crag right of Chancellor Gully low down on the south side of the Aonach Eagach and climbed the left-hand of vertical thin icefalls with Donald King to give Liquidation (VI,6). The route went fairly quickly, so the pair nipped up to the Lady Jane Wall on Aonach Dubh and made a rare repeat of Willie Todd’s 1986 icefall Exellerator (V,5). Dave returned to Chancellor Gully two days later with Sam Wood to climb Frozen Assets (VII,7), the rather steeper and thinner series of dribbles, pencils and hanging fangs to the right.

    Whilst he was climbing Exellerator, Dave had spotted several steep ice smears forming down the Lady Jane Wall, so he returned on January 13 to investigate them with Blair Fyffe. Blair kicked off their campaign on the right side of the wall with a difficult VI,7 taking the steep crack and ice pillar just right of the summer E1 Blast Off. Dave then led the plum line, taking the thin dribble of ice running down the classic E2 Lady Jane. Difficult mixed moves and thin intermittent ice lead to the more continuous upper smear resulting in a bold VIII,8. On his blog Dave describes Jane’s Weep as a climber’s dream – “ice smears a few millimetres thick and occasional blobs running boldly up a wall, eventually gaining thicker ice to finish on an overhanging pillar.” Fully fired up the duo returned the following day to climb the overhanging groove left of Jane’s Weep. This looked the hardest route of the three, but good ice and hidden footholds, meant that Dangerous Curves merely weighed in at a tough VII,8.

    Jane’s Weep is almost certainly the most difficult ice pitch climbed in Scotland. There are very few Grade VIII Scottish ice routes of that grade, and Dave Hesleden and Chris Cartwright’s Foobarbundee (VIII,7) on Liathach climbed in February 1993 is probably the closest comparison.

    See Dave’s blog for more details and photos