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    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the he first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small making the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis. Greg Boswell and Adam Russell made the first ascent of this daunting line on Number Three Gully Buttress in November 2012. It was repeated by Andy Inglis and Will Sim in December 2014. (Photo Murdoch Jamieson)

    Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson made the third ascent of Tomahawk Crack (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis on February 3.

    “It had some pretty technical climbing which was hard work to protect as everything was a bit icy,” Iain told me. “I think the Secret only deserves VIII,8 when compared to this at VIII,9. There were quite a few teams about. Folk were on Archangel and Avenging Angel Direct. Canadians Jon Walsh and Michelle Kadatz climbed Knuckleduster, which had been our first choice, but clearly we need to get up earlier! We saw them back at the hut and Jon said was really enjoying being back on Scottish mixed even in the wild conditions that we were having. He said he had never actually had to climb routes with goggles on before!”

    Ramon Marin on the first ascent of Tangerine Dream (VII,8) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This prominent chimney-crack lies to the left of The Groove Climb and finishes on the large terrace leading into Number Four Gully. (Photo Douglas Russell)

    Douglas Russell on the first ascent of Tangerine Dream (VII,8) on South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. This prominent chimney-crack lies to the left of The Rattler and finishes on the large terrace leading into Number Four Gully. (Photo Ramon Marin)

    Douglas Russell and Ramon Marin added a challenging new single pitch climb to the left side of the Central Tier of South Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis on January 31. Russell takes up the story:

    “On Sunday, Ramon Marin and myself headed up to the Trident Buttress area on the Ben. We were planning on getting on Sidewinder or Strident Edge, but when arrived at the buttress we realized we had packed the selected guide instead of the definitive one. Looking at the buttress we noticed an obvious chimney and flake system on the left-hand side, so decided to jump on that as it looked like fun climbing and such an obvious line.

    I started up noticing that there were some loose blocks at the bottom and lots of verglas on the rock. The gear was pretty poor but good enough to persuade me upwards. At the top of the chimney I was stopped by a bulge. Looking around for gear I managed to get a wobbly Terrier in. It didn’t fill me with much confidence and I couldn’t bring myself to commit to pulling over. So I opted to lower off / down climb back to the belay.

    Knowing the top Terrier placement would take a bomber Bulldog we took the Bulldog out of the belay and replaced it with an axe. Ramon set off up armed with the spare Bulldog and was soon at my high point. He replaced the Terrier and pulled the bulge without too much difficulty and found himself at the upper flake system. We thought once we reached the flake the climbing would ease off but we were wrong. With some very thin hooks and some poor feet he made steady progress and soon found himself on the big snow bay at the top.

    We are unsure of the grade. Ramon thinks it felt harder than Sundance [on Beinn Eighe] and with worse gear. We felt it had a definite Tech 8 move in it, but with low commitment value being a single pitch. We are suggesting VII,8. We may have found it hard due to the style of the climbing, but time will tell!”

    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.

     

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    US climber Steve House on the second pitch of Darth Vader (VII,7) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. This one of three routes climbed on Ben Nevis by the strong US team of Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer in early January. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Josh Wharton concluded his trip report on the successful visit made by Steve House, Mikey Schaefer and himself in early January with some tips for the visiting North American. It’s always interesting to have an outside perspective on the Scottish winter game, so here are Josh’s tips:

    Days were very short in early January, with light from approximately 8:30 to 4:30. I’d recommend going later in the season when days are longer.

    If you want to climb regardless of weather and conditions (just make sure Nick is around!), the nastiness you will encounter cannot be understated. I’d recommend bringing two sets of clothing, and as many as eight pairs of gloves. That makes it possible to alternate between dry sets each day, and stay reasonably comfortable. Thick, fresh Gore-Tex is also key. Don’t bring any down.

    Navigation can be a real issue. Having satellite maps on your phones, with map and compass back-up was ideal.

    The Grades didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and of course are highly influenced by Nick’s mood. I found the routes we climbed to generally be in M5 to M7 range, but often quite spicy. (This was partly due to useless cams, and my inexperience with Hexes.)

    Conditions are incredibly variable. If you can source local knowledge, do it! If not, the Northern Corries and Ben Nevis are apparently the most reliable areas.

    Gear: a single set of cams to #4, a large selection of Hexes and stoppers (offset wired hexes seemed best), and a selection of 6 to 8 pins, with an emphasis on specters and beaks, seemed about right. We placed no screws on the routes we climbed.

    A pair of junky approach skis could save a lot of energy over the course of the trip.

    The CIC Hut on Ben Nevis is fantastic, and I highly recommend spending some time there. There is an excellent drying room, so you do not need to worry about drying your kit. 

    Gothic Edge

    John Crook about to start the crux section of Gothic Edge (VII,7) – a new link up on Number Three Gully Buttress. The crux section up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks involved a long run out above a Pecker, so the grade should be treated with a healthy degree of caution. (Photo Peter Graham)

    John Crook about to start the crux section of Gothic Edge (VII,7) – a new link up on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis. The crux section up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks involved a long run out above a Pecker, so the grade should be treated with a healthy degree of caution. (Photo Peter Graham)

    Some late news just in -  John Crook and Peter Graham climbed a significant new pitch on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis on December 31.

    “We started up the Direct Start to Gargoyle Wall, which without much ice provided a good VI,7 pitch,” Peter explained. “We then followed Gargoyle Wall to the corner below the Gargoyle Cracks. From here, we climbed what we believe to be a new pitch up the arête left of the Gargoyle Cracks and finished up the Rok Finish to Hobgoblin. This provided an excellent direct route up the buttress at around VII,7 that we named Gothic Edge.”

    There have been a number of link ups of existing routes climbed on the right wall of Number Three Gully Buttress in recent years, and one or two have even been reported as new routes, but they essentially climb previously travelled ground. Gothic Edge is significant in that the pitch up the arête left of the Gargoyle Wall Cracks is completely independent and a fine addition to this popular high altitude mixed cliff.

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an  Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    Visiting US climber Josh Wharton on the second pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9) in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. Over the course of eight stormy days in early January, Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer notched up one of the most impressive collections of high standard routes ever seen from an overseas team. (Photo Mikey Schaefer)

    “It’s always great to see visiting climbers enjoying the Scottish winter, and early January saw just that,” Simon Yearsley writes. “I picked up US climbers Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer from Edinburgh Airport on January 2 and spent the evening at our house pointing at maps and guidebooks and generally building the psyche. What then happened over the next eight days was pretty cool: Josh and Mikey set off in one of our campervans, soon joined by Steve House and between them they dispatched eight routes in a really smooth style over six days climbing with two rest days. There were two things which for me made the trip really stand out: the weather and conditions definitely weren’t at their best (Josh did say he nearly cried on several occasions the weather was so gnarly!) but they still managed to get out; and also they were pretty self-sufficient for the whole trip, unlike many other top-flight visiting teams who’ve tended to have lots of support and folk to go out with them on the hill. Yes, they had lots of online support from various folk including me, Ian Parnell and others, but they were really operating on their own with only Steve having been in Scotland once before, many years ago on a BMC Winter Meet.

    I asked Josh to pen a quick resume of their trip, which makes interesting reading. The only thing I’d add for context is that whilst they climbed in the Northern Corries and on Ben Nevis, they were really psyched and determined to hit the more remote locations – how frustrating for them to have the weather they had, and I really hated texting Josh so tell him that no, Giant’s Wall would not be in nick with a freezing level of 850m!

    It’s good to see that Scotland’s winter climbing has such a big impact on top flight team. All we need now is another 30+ visiting climbers here for a week… roll on the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet next week!”

    Scottish Winter Trip Report by Josh Wharton

    Scotland has a well-deserved reputation as a stronghold of traditional mixed climbing, so Mikey Schaefer, Steve House, and I arrived excited to get a taste of the winter scene. Here’s a trip report of what we got up to:

     January 3: On our first day we walked into the Northern Corries in driving rain, low visibility, and the occasional knockdown gust. A fine introduction to Scottish misery… or is it fun? At the small lochs everything went white, and the cliffs, as best we could see them, were covered in thick slush. Judging ‘Nick’ to be in full effect, we climbed Fallout Corner (VI,7). It felt like well-protected M5, climbed in a snowy blender.

     January 4: Again, it was driving rain at the car, with horrendous winds and low visibility; a little like post-holing out to climb in a nasty Patagonian Storm. We headed for Daddy Longlegs (VIII,9). There was significant snow, and avalanches were rumbling about the corrie. As we racked up a sizable avalanche came down The Vent, inconveniently just as Mikey was changing layers. His pack and gear was shellacked with wet snow, and he received a very cold snow shower.  After a bit of fumbling around to get re-sorted and warmed up, we picked a different spot to belay. Daddy Longlegs proved quite fun. It was covered in slush, and it was difficult to look up in the deluge of snow, but at least the cams worked. Seemed like spicy M6+. We rapped the route to avoid any more avalanches.  I’d ordinarily consider seven to eight hours of walking, and 3.5 pitches in two days pretty pathetic, but in this case Mikey and I were pleased with our efforts.

     January 5: Rest Day. We collected Steve at the Edinburgh airport in the evening, and made a late night drive to Ben Nevis.

     January 6: We left the parking lot a bit after 7am, dropped some kit and had a brew at the CIC Hut, and headed to the Number Three Gully Buttress for Knucklebuster (VIII,9). Conditions were a little kinder, and colder, so it was decidedly less miserable. Although it was still properly winter, with blowing snow and low visibility. On this day, I realized that locals actually do pay attention to the forecast. Suddenly there were lots of people out climbing. Knucklebuster (I believe we climbed the ‘Direct’ version) was the best route of the trip; enjoyable thoughtful climbing, aesthetic features, some sticky ice in the corners, and comfortable belay spots! Again, not super hard technically, perhaps easy M7, but often spicy. We almost missed the descent down the Number Three Gully, but Steve’s phone saved the day.

     January 7: After a lovely night in the hut we headed for The Secret (VIII,9). It was nasty again, although not as wet, and no one was out. Things rimed up considerably overnight. We fixed a line so Mikey could take some photos, and I led the route in one long pitch. The rime, and verglass was very thick, and it was extremely difficult to see the hooks and feet, or get any quality protection. Cams were completely useless, and with only four hexes, and a limited knowledge of how to place them, it felt especially spicy. I climbed at a crawl to make sure I didn’t fuck up. Cool climb, but a bit hard to enjoy given the conditions. Next we soloed out across ledges to the base of the chimney pitch on Darth Vader (VII,7). Steve led to top in one big pitch. Good fun.

     January 8: The weather was gorgeous and clear, so of course we decided to take a rest day. We joked that there’s no point in climbing when Nick is in such a good mood! With the clear weather it was nice to finally see the mountain and a bit of the countryside. We weren’t sure where conditions would be good, so we opted to head back to the Northern Corries.

     January 9: We started into the Corries in clear, cold weather. How nice! I hoped to try the Hurting, but could see from a distance, that it was heavily rimed. So we made a spur of the moment decision to go to the Ventricle (VII,8). It proved tricky, and covered in lots of powder snow. Steve put in a nice, epic effort; climbing to the ledge in one big pitch. Despite the grade, this pitch seemed like one of the trickiest of the trip. I’d say proper M7R. I climbed the second pitch to the right of the slot via mostly ‘hero’ hooking in heavy rime. Good times, but a surprisingly long day.

     January 10: Hopeful to go big on our last day, we set the alarm for a painful 4am; packed for the Citadel (VII,8) on The Shelter Stone. Unfortunately we had used up our mojo, and went back to sleep when the alarm sounded. We salvaged the day by climbing the Genie (V,7) and Magic Crack (VII,7). Fun, good quality routes, and there was a nice big track into the corrie for a change. I headed over to The Hurting (XI,11) at the end of the day, just to have a look. It was completely covered by 4 to 8 inches of rime. Since it was our last day, I dropped a line and tried it on Mini-Traxion anyway. I managed to climb the first half of the route by using fins of rime as handholds, unique! After that, it was too steep and fragile to climb the rime with my hands, and the rock features were buried. Another trip I guess!

    Uisdean Hawthorn climbing Clefthanger (VII,7) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge with Indicator Wall in the background. The line of Call Me Ishmael (VIII,9) is marked in red. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn climbing Clefthanger (VII,7) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge with Indicator Wall in the background. The line of Call Me Ishmael (VIII,9) is marked in red. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn had a remarkable run of routes on Ben Nevis last week. The first three days were a prelude for the main event – a new route on Indicator Wall. But even so, Boomer’s Requiem, Le Panthere Rose, Astral Highway, Riders on the Storm, Clefthanger and Kellett’s Route were a pretty good haul. Riders on the Storm and Clefthanger were particularly noteworthy, as Uisdean’s father, Doug, had made the first ascents 30 years before. Clefthanger has seen very few repeats and is now thought to be VII,7 rather than the originally given grade of V (and VI,6 in the Ben Nevis guidebook).

    On day four (March 16), Uisdean teamed up with Iain Small for a new route on Indicator Wall. This takes a tenuous line between Stormy Petrel and Psychedelic Wall and was the brainchild of Iain who had been on the first pitch twice before and found less than perfect ice on both occasions. “It’s one of those fantasy lines you’ve spied out as a possibility, but in reality you doubt the chances of ever actually finding it in condition,” Iain told me.

    “Iain had pointed out the line the day before while climbing Clefthanger and Kellett’s,” Uisdean wrote on his blog. “I felt fairly confident about it until Blair [Fyffe] mentioned that Iain had fallen of it when he tried it last time. ‘Hmm,’ I thought. ‘I don’t think I have ever seen Iain fall of anything, even in summer. Come to think of it even at Ratho I have spent entire sessions with him where he climbs the hardest routes with out falling off! God, what have I let myself in for?’”

    After three days of bright blue skies, the day dawned murky and cloudy, but this the ice this time was better.  Soon Ian had led the serious upward traverse of the first pitch. Uisdean then set off on the next lead. “Eventually with a Peanut, small wire and half a peg I committed to the move through the overlap and onto the thin ice wall,” Uisdean wrote. “From below this just looked like another slab however once on the wall with the prospect of hitting the slab below I realised it was very close to vertical and felt steep especially on thin and slightly aerated ice. No gear for the next ten meters (the ice was too thin for screws) a definite no fall zone. I eyed a small stance with a bulge of ice above good enough for a screw and aimed for that. I made the stance clipped the screw and RELAXED!”

    When Iain arrived at the belay grinning all over, he told Uisdean that he had always thought about climbing that wall but was never quite sure if it would be possible. “Uisdean did a brilliant job on the second pitch breaching the central overlap and barrier wall,” Iain explained. “From the first belay nothing could be seen (especially in the mist) and I was only able to give him a vague verbal sketch of the line that might go. He would have to go on dead reckoning. Uisdean departed from the stance and quickly navigated the central slabs then started to work hard for gear, very hard. Out of sight I could only wait and agonize over what he would find on the steep wall above the overlap. What harsh task had I sent him out on? Suddenly the ropes moved, steadily paying out until fully shot. I started to dismantle the belay, preparing to move together and hoping he had reached the good ledge traversed by Flight of the Condor. Still clipped into one wire the cry ‘safe’ came, Uisdean had cracked the pitch, one that had always seemed the most crucial and the least likely to be climbable.”

    This left Iain with the last pitch through the steep, jutting headwall. “It was an almost violent transition from the delicate balance on thin ice to physicality and brute force,” Iain recounted afterwards. The first two pitches were bold thin ice but the final mixed pitch was a complete contrast at Tech 9.

    “The whole experience brought to mind epic sea tales, reinforced by the surrounding classic route names (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Albatross and Stormy Petrel),” Iain explained. “What name could capture our voyage? A memory of a whole chapter in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick dedicated to whiteness made me smile. It was apt and I had to admit, I had been chasing this white beast of a route for a few years now – Call Me Ishmael had to be the name.”

    And at a grade of VIII,9 Call Me Ishmael is now the most difficult route on Indicator Wall.

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of Nevis Queen (V,6) on Goodeve's Buttress. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of a new V,6 on Goodeve’s Buttress on Ben Nevis. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday March 15 was a glorious day on Ben Nevis. The sun shone and the air was crystal clear. After last week’s thaw the snow had re-frozen into hard neve, and the high-level ice routes were in superb condition. The mountain was busy of course, with many teams visiting Observatory Gully intent on the thin face routes on Indicator Wall and Gardyloo Buttress. In Coire na Ciste the pace was less frantic and high up on Raeburn’s wall Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry were climbing the steep icefall of Le Panthere Rose for the camera.

    Given the ideal conditions and almost carnival atmosphere in the corrie, I couldn’t believe that I’d chosen the worst ice on the entire mountain to climb. Helen Rennard and I were attempting a new line to the left of The Alpine Princess on Goodeve’s Buttress, and I had ground to a halt on the opening moves. The initial gully of 70 degree ice looked to be in perfect condition, but when hit with an axe it dissolved into a series of brick-shaped lumps exposing bare rock beneath. The lack of purchase was bad enough, but with every move, so much material fell off that it threatened to push me off balance. Slowly and carefully I down climbed back to the belay and we reconsidered our options.

    I thought I knew this part of the mountain well, so I was surprised to find a hidden V-groove up and right that I hadn’t noticed before. Steep mixed moves on good holds led into the groove, which had a ribbon of ice less than 10cm wide at its back. This time the quality of the ice was good and the V-groove led rather neatly to the top of the gully. We were on our line again and back in business!

    Helen took the lead up an awkward left-leaning ramp that led to a superb narrow hanging groove in the arête between two of the variation finishes to The White Line. It was a spectacular pitch – never too hard and a delight to climb on such a clear day. Another long pitch took us to the plateau on the rope stretch and the welcome rays of the warm afternoon sun.

    Iain Small on the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge. The nearby Clefthanger, first climbed in winter by Arthur Paul and Doug Hawthorn in 1985, has seen a couple of repeats recently and is thought to weigh in at VII,7 rather than the guidebook grade of VI,6. (Photo Blair Fyffe)

    Iain Small on the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9) on the East Flank of Tower Ridge. The mixed routes in this area of the mountain are rarely visited, but the nearby Clefthanger, first climbed in winter by Arthur Paul and Doug Hawthorn in 1985, has seen a couple of repeats recently. It is thought to weigh in at VII,7 rather than the guidebook grade of VI,6. (Photo Blair Fyffe)

    Iain Small and Blair Fyffe added another technical test-piece to Ben Nevis on March 10 when they made the first ascent of The Piece Maker (VIII,9).

    “After all the ice climbing recently I was pretty keen to get back on some mixed,” Iain told me. “After the wild weekend conditions it was difficult to know what might be in so I headed up the Ben for a wander around Observatory Gully. It was blowing a Hoolie with a lot of spindrift and even an avalanche from above Tower Scoop but at least that flank of Tower Ridge was gathering snow on the faces. I retreated to the CIC and had an impromptu night there. Blair was free on Tuesday so I arranged to meet him at the hut the next morning, with the additional request to bring some pieces up for me as I was out of food.

    The delivery was made and we headed up to the crags with an improving day forecast. Plenty of folk were heading up for the ice routes, which left us with no queues for mixed options. The area of steep rock to the right of Tower Scoop and Clefthanger had always looked like a contender for some steep mixed so we went for a look. It’s actually overhanging but at the left margin was a steep corner rising from the left end of a long ledge, after a quick discussion we decided to try that and if it was unfriendly we could always join a queue for an ice route.

    The initial short corners to the long ledge were helpful and the big corner sported a crack, so game on. It was a steep pitch but with gear once the ice and frozen dirt were hacked out, it felt great to be doing some pumpy technical moves again. Moving out left from the corner to a semi hanging belay the next pitch followed a stepped corner ramp to a small perch below a vertical corner with ice drooling down and fringing the twin overlaps with icicles. This gave a bold fantastic bit of climbing that lead to easy snow and a belay below the final pitch. Icy steps and a steep ice pillar led to the Eastern Traverse and with clear blue skies we opted to finish up Tower Ridge and catch some superb evening sun at the top.

    The line felt like VIII 9 and we called it The Piece Maker due to Blair’s lunch-making duties earlier. Plus it placates Dave’s nearby route Angry Chair!”

    Pete Harrison powering up the Right Pillar of The Shroud (VI,6) on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis. This steep continental-looking ice route has been in the best condition in living memory and has seen several dozen ascents this season. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Pete Harrison powering up the Right Pillar of The Shroud (VI,6) on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis. This steep continental-looking ice route has been in the best condition in living memory and has seen several dozen ascents this season. (Photo Tom Livingstone)

    Following his successful Scottish hit in January, Tom Livingstone had another superb run of routes in February. Tom takes up the story:

    “Pete Harrison and I were keen for two weeks of hard mixed climbing, ideally in the North West Highlands: Beinn Eighe, Beinn Bhan etc. But Scotland always seems to have other ideas! The ice was in fantastic condition but the mixed wasn’t, or plastered in cruddy ice. We had to face reality, so racked the ice screws.

    We enjoyed the classic ice routes (or rather, Pete did and I behaved like a spoilt child and complained about the lack of mixed. Thankfully I got a kicking and even started to enjoy the ice!). Over a couple of days we did Minus Two Gully (after an attempt at Minus One), Mega Route X (after an attempt at Sioux Wall), soloed The Curtain and climbed both Left and Right pillars of The Shroud.

    Apparently, these routes were all in ‘once-in-a-decade’ condition, which has made me appreciate the experiences a lot more. We kept saying, ‘this isn’t Scotland!’ when lowering off a brilliant two-pitch ice route, or sinking another ice screw to the hilt. The left, free-hanging ice pillar of The Shroud was particularly exciting.

    At last, we managed to get our fix with the mixed. Heidbanger (VIII,8) came into condition and we got stuck in, eager for some steepness at last. Pete led the first pitch – an overhanging and technical corner into an offwidth. I had delicate and technical face climbing for pitch two. It was cool to swing into a hanging ice smear at the top of the face with a small but tasty run-out below! We rapped down Mega Route X just before darkness, appetites sated after a thoroughly enjoyable route. I think this was the third ascent, interestingly. There’s a cool video of Greg Boswell climbing it on the BMC TV site.

    Pete returned to Wales and Simon Frost came up the following day – perfect timing. We found ourselves beneath Babylon (VII,8) on Ben Nevis, and Si kindly let me have the crux pitch.

    The next day, we waded through deep snow to Coire na Ciste. The crag was plastered and we had pretty stormy conditions, but The Secret (VIII,9) was white and I was on a mission. Simon led the first pitch – a tricky pitch in its own right – which got me thoroughly warmed up. We had some issues wondering where to belay, but eventually I set off… only to be stopped two metres up the wall by the crux. After several up-down-up-downs, testing a cam and drowning in waves of spindrift, I considered sacking the whole thing off. It was heavily iced and the wind was really buffeting me – not ideal on technical, tenuous moves!

    I got back on, however, and scraped through the lower moves using small hooks and deep lock-offs. Before I knew it, I was committed and gunning for the ‘two-thirds’ ledge. It probably took me a while to make each move but it felt like the route flew by, skipping my feet up the wall on matchbox edges.

    The final headwall cracks were really cool to climb but I was very conscious of completing the route. To fail right near the top, ‘Cracking Up’ style (a grade IX,9 by Nick Bullock, on Clogwyn Du, North Wales where I recently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory), would have made me really pissed! So, with Ueli in mind I carefully pulled onto the snow slope above and whooped with relief.

    Thanks to Pete and Simon for a great few weeks.”