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    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?

    Iain Small on the first ascent of the Year f the Horse (IX,9). This is the second Grade IX that Small has added to cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan in as many weeks. (Photo Richard Bentley)

    Iain Small climbing the wall above the double roofs on the first ascent of the Year of the Horse (IX,9). This is the second Grade IX that Iain has added to cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan in as many weeks. (Photo Richard Bentley)

    On Thursday January 30, Iain Small and Blair Fyffe made a major addition to Glen Coe. “After climbing Sundance on Beinn Eighe with Murdo [Jamieson], I headed down to The Fort that evening to get out with Blair on Thursday,” Iain told me. “We hedged our bets and headed up for Stob Coire nan Lochan and a broken trail. The amount of snow is prodigious, and as we passed Central Grooves you could reach up and touch the peg (it must be 15ft up the groove normally)!

    I had in mind a soaring V-groove capped with a double overhang and headwall that takes the imposing wall to the left of East Face Route. It gave a real winter-only treat of turf, dirty cracks and suspect blocks. A steep wall and grooves on the second pitch led to a large girdling ledge. We finished up the cracked wall to the right of East Face Direct Direct with my arms cramping up and blinding spindrift racing up the crag.

    We called it Year of The Horse (the new Chinese Year ) and it might be IX 9. It provided a nice foil to Scansor for the style of climbing. The route was a full on winter tussle entailing plenty of physicality and even knee bars through the double roof, so different to the delicate technical walls of Scansor. Even after the roofs I was unsure of whether the wall above would go, with cramping arms and choked cracks, but a ledge was in sight and even some neve to haul onto!”

    Tony Stone making the third ascent of Arthur (VIII,8) on Number Three Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis. The first winter ascent of this imposing line was made by Bruce Poll and Tony Shepherd in 2004 and was the third Grade VIII to be climbed on the mountain. (Photo Iain Small)

    Tony Stone making the third ascent of Arthur (VIII,8) on Number Three Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis. The first winter ascent of this imposing line was made by Bruce Poll and Tony Shepherd in 2004 and was the third Grade VIII to be climbed on the mountain. (Photo Iain Small)

    If last weekend’s activity is anything to go by, Ben Nevis has taken over from the Northern Corries as the venue of choice for high standard early season mixed. Harry Holmes and Dan Tait set the tone on Thursday November 21 with an ascent of the steep corner-line of Cornucopia (VII,8) on the left flank of Creag Coire na Ciste. This route has become something of a modern test-piece, but it can be even more challenging early in the season when the tricky entry pitch is not banked out by tens of metres of snow in Number Three Gully.

    The following day was forecast to be a little warmer, but Iain Small and Tony Stone decided to take a chance and head up to the Ben to take a look. “Luckily the freezing level kicked in below the Number Three Gully Buttress area,” Iain told me. “The snow pack is pretty impressive for this time of year, so no struggling up snow-covered scree! Conditions were pretty icy with some neve even on bigger ledges and the rock was getting rimed and verglassed in the damp mist. We climbed Storm Trooper (VIII,8) by the original start up the flake-crack and finished up the final chimney of Cornucopia. It was very good route, which deserves to be climbed more often. Somehow, it seems to have been overlooked compared with other surrounding lines.”

    On Saturday November 23 there were plenty of strong teams in action on the high cliffs of Coire na Ciste. Andy Inglis and Neil Adams made an ascent of The Secret (VIII,9), whilst nearby, Blair Fyffe, Richard Bentley and Robin Clothier made an early repeat of Archangel (VII,7). Across on Number Three Gully Buttress, Iain Small and Tony Stone made the third ascent of Arthur (VIII,8). This steep and rarely climbed summer HVS was first climbed in winter by Bruce Poll and Tony Shepherd in January 2004, and was repeated by Ian Parnell and North American ace Kelly Cordes during the 2005 BMC international Meet.

    The following day (November 24), Pete Macpherson and Erick Baillot visited the Archangel area and made the second ascent of Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8). Direct, steep and uncompromising, this is one of the finest mixed lines on the mountain and was only first climbed in its entirety by Neil Adams and Jim Higgins last February.

    Neil Adams and Andy Inglis made it a memorable weekend with an early repeat of Apache (VIII,9), the steep crack-line to the right of Sioux wall on Number Three Gully Buttress. Next door, Harry Holmes and Helen Rennard made a smooth ascent of the modern classic Sioux Wall (VIII,8). “It was brilliant and really enjoyable,” Helen told me. “There were some amazing hooks, and it was never that hard. We started late and finished in the dark but it was still clear with an amazing starry night.”

    Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    When Iain Small and I climbed Rogue’s Rib on Ben Nevis in March 2011 we were struck by the unclimbed shallow groove to our left. It ran the full height of the buttress and was defended at its base by a large roof and punctuated with several more significant overhangs along its length. Continuous features with such a purity of line are rare on Ben Nevis, and it was immediately clear that this was an outstanding, albeit very difficult, winter objective.

    For me the route was pretty much in fantasy territory, but not so for Iain, who attempted the groove earlier this season with Blair Fyffe. On December 27 they climbed three difficult and sustained pitches before a developing blizzard and impending darkness forced then to make a difficult traverse right to reach Rogue’s Rib and finish up that.

    For most climbers, three new pitches of VIII,8 joining an existing climb near its top would constitute a significant new route, but Iain and Blair were unsure – particularly so, because it was clear that a complete ascent of the groove to its top would result in a route of extraordinary beauty and difficulty.

    Wind forward to the morning of February 2, and Iain and I were discussing route possibilites low down in Coire na Ciste. We were unsure of conditions after the recent wild weather, and had decided to head up into the corrie to assess options with an open mind. After some discussion my proposed line was dismissed as being too easy, and Iain’s too hard, so almost by default we agreed to return to the groove that Iain had tried with Blair a few weeks before.

    We climbed a different first pitch, but otherwise, familiarity with the line meant rapid progress, and by early afternoon Iain was halfway up the third pitch, contemplating the unclimbed crux sequence through a double roof. Below him were 20 metres of scantly protected Tech 8 climbing, but this was a mere taster for what lay ahead. As the groove reared up into the first overhang, the rock blanked out. There were no obvious cracks and Iain spent nearly an hour stood on one foot fighting to place a poor Pecker, a knifeblade and finally a small sideways wire under an overlap.

    The crux sequence involved committing to an upside down dance on poor sloping placements with precision front pointing on millimetre-thick edges. Discovery of a small hidden upside down hook proved to be the key, but even so it was a virtuoso performance by Iain, and with another pitch of Tech 8 to follow, the route was from over.

    Once we were safely down we discussed a name. Iain suggested we use the title of Blair’s blog post describing their previous attempt. No Success Like Failure was the perfect name, and went a little way to acknowledging Blair’s contribution to a truly magnificent winter route.

    Adam Hughes climbing the serious and runout first pitch of Scrabble (VIII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan during the second ascent. The spike at Hughes’ feet and cam in a flared crack at knee height are circled. There is no more protection from this point until the belay marked by the circle and arrow. (Photo diagram Adam Hughes)

    Adam Hughes climbing the serious and runout first pitch of Scrabble (VIII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan during the second ascent. The spike at Hughes’ feet and cam in a flared crack at knee height are circled. There is no more protection from this point until the belay marked by the circle and arrow. (Photo diagram Adam Hughes)

    Yesterday (January 15), Adam Hughes, Matt Stygall and Blair Fyffe made the second ascent of Scrabble (VIII,7) on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. This fabled route was fist climbed by Mike ‘Twid’ Turner and Louise Thomas in February 2000. Adam led the first (crux) pitch which is technically sustained and serious once you step left from Central Grooves and into the hanging groove of Scrabble.

    “The guidebook suggests you may be rewarded with at least one good runner in the groove, but this was not the case,” Adam told me. “Once I left the spike runner by my feet at the base of the groove, it was sustained and thin Tech 7 climbing all the way to small ledge, which is gained once you move left at the top of the groove with committing moves to get stood on it. I did manage to place a bulldog near the top of the groove, but once Matt gave it a wiggle, it sort of fell out!”

    Adam belayed on this ledge, as it would have been very cramped at the belay under the prominent roof used by the first ascensionists “This did actually make a better length second pitch that even had gear, “ Adam explained. “Blair led this which felt like VII,7’ish. Matt then romped up the final pitch which was a pleasure to climb, on good hooks and in a great position, VI,6.  We shortened this pitch to 30m, which meant that it was one 60m ropelength to the top up East Face Route. Chatting about grade afterwards, Matt and I thought VIII,7 seemed right, but it is hard 7. Blair thought VIII,8, and I can sort of see it, as the climbing on Central Grooves was easier, but I think that the current grade really highlights it serious nature.”

    Incidentally, Twid and Louise shared leads on the first ascent 13 years ago. Louise’s ascent is thought to be one of the hardest Scottish winter leads by a woman, and probably not equalled until Ines Papert’s ascent of Unicorn in 2010.

    Blair Fyffe on the initial ramp of The Copenhagen Interpretation (VI,7) on South Trident Buttress, Ben Nevis. This route benefitted from icy conditions - The Ben has been particularly icy at mid-altitude elevations over the last couple of weeks, and the current fluctuating temperatures should continue to see the ice building over the coming days. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Blair Fyffe on the initial ramp of The Copenhagen Interpretation (VI,7) on South Trident Buttress, Ben Nevis. This route benefitted from icy conditions – The Ben has been particularly icy at mid-altitude elevations over the last couple of weeks, and the current fluctuating temperatures should continue to see the ice building over the coming days. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    On November 3, Blair Fyffe made the probable first winter ascent of Blue-Nosed Baboon on Garadh Buttress on Ben Nevis. This summer VDiff went at a winter grade of V,5 and is described on Blair’s excellent blog. Whilst climbing this route Blair noticed a prominent line starting up a ramp on the other side of Coire na Ciste on South Trident Buttress. Blair assumed this was the line of The Minge (VII,8), but later study of the guidebook revealed that The Minge took a line further left.

    Wind forward to December 18 when Blair was climbing on The Ben with Helen Rennard. They decided to take a look at South Trident Buttress and the result was The Copenhagen Interpretation, a good five-pitch route taking the initial ramp, followed by two difficult pitches up grooves and cracks leading to easier ground in the vicinity of Joyful Chimneys. The pair was assisted by consolidated snow-ice on the slabs on the second pitch that linked the two crack systems, and the crux crack above may have been made easier with a good coating of ice.

    “The Copenhagen Interpretation is an interpretation of the unusual mathematics of quantum mechanics,” Blair (a PhD Astrophysicist) told me. “The ephemeral and uncertain world of the sub-atomic particles shows similarities to the transient and uncertain world of Scottish winter climbing conditions. Both worlds, although challenging, and in some ways always alien to us, have an other worldly beauty.”

    Dave Almond making an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,6) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This rarely climbed two-pitch route takes the steep groove right of Crest Route and was first ascended by Dave Hollinger and Guy Willett in February 2004. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Dave Almond making an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,6) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This rarely climbed two-pitch route takes the steep groove right of Crest Route and was first ascended by Dave Hollinger and Guy Willett in February 2004. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Last week (December 10-14) was undoubtedly the week of the winter so far. Heavy snowfall was consolidated by a mini-thaw the previous weekend followed by stable cold weather with no wind and blue skies.

    Several of the major events have already been reported on scottishwinter.com – Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell’s first ascent of the Vapouriser (VIII,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch, Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson’s third ascent of Steeple (IX,9) on the Shelter Stone and Andy Nisbet and Brain Davison’s good run of new routes in Glen Coe and An Teallach.

    The Cuillin Ridge came into good conditions and four teams made the winter traverse. Both Scott Kirkhope and Ken Applegate and John Orr and Ronnie made a traditional outing with a bivouac, whilst the Fort William-based team of Guy Steven, Donald King, Kenny Grant and Duncan made a lightning-quick traverse in only 12 hours. This is very respectable time for a summer ascent and the team was aided by King’s intimate knowledge of the route. All these ascents were widely reported on various blogs and Twitter, but more impressive perhaps was a solo traverse by Barry Smyth with one bivouac. The Cuillin Ridge has been traversed in winter solo before, but to do it mid-winter with precious little daylight and long nights takes a very special resolve.

    Dave Almond had a good run of routes with Helen Rennard. They started off with The Secret/Cornucopia Combination (VII,8) on Ben Nevis, followed by Tyrannosaur (VI,7) on Lost Valley Buttress in Glen Coe. On their third day they climbed Sidewinder (VII,8) on the Ben and finished off their four-day spell with an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,7) on Stob Coire an Lochan. Dave then teamed up with Guy Steven and Blair Fyffe to climb Sticil Face (V,6) on the Shelter Stone with the Direct Finish.

    Winter Climbs in the Cairngorms, authored by Allen and Blair Fyffe, was published last month by Cicerone. The cover photo shows Neil Johnson on the top pitch of Swan Song (V,6) on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda.

    I have a battered copy of the second edition of this popular guidebook on my bookshelf. It is over 30 years old (the staples are rusting) and was written by one of the world’s greatest ice climbing pioneers – John Cunningham. I have certain fondness for this little paperback guide for not only was it my first Scottish guidebook, but it also conjures up memories of woollen breeches, straight shafted ice axes and bendy Salewa crampons in an age when Grade V really meant something.

    The new fifth edition, written by the father and son team of Allen and Blair Fyfe includes Creag Meagaidh as well as the Cairngorms, and reflects the change in emphasis of Scottish winter climbing from ice to mixed over the past three decades. It is a very attractive book, bright and clear and well laid out. It is illustrated with excellent crag topos (some such as Perseverance Wall and The Cathedral on Lochnagar have never been published before), and a series of superb action photos by Henning Wackerhage. Henning is the only climber I know who carries a full size DSLR with him on every route, and his resulting images are both beautiful and evocative, and just make you want to get out and go climbing.

    Unlike its sister Cicerone volume (Ben Nevis and Glen Coe) that sets out to be comprehensive, Cairngorms and Creag Meagaidh is a selected guide. I feel this is wholly appropriate, because unlike the SMC definitive guidebooks that have to be fully comprehensive by definition, a selected guidebook can be more creative and point newcomers to the better cliffs and corries, and highlight not just the finest, but also the most do-able routes.

    In this regard, Allen and Blair have done a superb job, especially in the Northern Cairngorms. The route choice is imaginative, and includes several recently developed cliffs such as Lurcher’s Crag and Sron na Lairige. Allen is also author of the Northern Cairngorms section of the SMC guide, knows his subject well and writes with authority. If I had to make a single criticism, it would be that the route selection in the Southern Cairngorms is a little predictable. Sure, you have to include the great Lochnagar classics, but in the main, the selection appears to be fairly conservative. For example, including a selection of routes on The Stuic, which contains some of the most enjoyable short middle grade routes in the Cairngorms, would have been a useful addition.

    Overall this is a great little guidebook and a natural complement to the SMC title. A newcomer to the area may well be attracted to this new Cicerone guide, but the aficionado will probably always be drawn the SMC fully comprehensive volume (I would say this of course, because I am one of the authors). However, I suspect that even the most hardened Cairngorm climber will also appreciate the Cicerone book for its different perspective and excellent diagrams and illustrations.

    The legendary Brian Kellett at the crux of Route B on the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis during the first ascent in August 1943. Iain Small and Blair Fyffe climbed this difficult pitch on their new Grade VIII 'The Past is Close Behind'. (Photo J.H.B.Bell)

    Yesterday (February 18) Iain Small continued his magnificent run of new routes on Ben Nevis with the first ascent of The Past is Close Behind (VIII,8). This takes the very steep wall between Kellett’s North Wall Route and The Shroud. Partnered by Blair Fyffe, the six-pitch route proved to be a demanding mixed climbing adventure up walls and cracks with the last two pitches climbed in the dark. The route was named after hearing Jimmy Marshall talk about his famous Ben Nevis routes climbed 50 years ago at the Fort William Film Festival a few days before.

    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 davemacleod.blogspot.com