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    Easy Icefall

    Brian Davison on the first ascent of Ossian Fall (III), a new 100m-long icefall situated on the north-facing hillside overlooking Loch Ghuilbinn in Strath Ossian. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Brian Davison on the first ascent of Ossian Fall (III), a new 100m-long icefall situated on the north-facing hillside overlooking Loch Ghuilbinn in Strath Ossian. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    In the same way there are new easy gullies in Scotland, there are also new easy icefalls if you travel far enough. Eight miles from the road in fact, although with a little inside knowledge you don’t have to walk it all. In fact Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison finished by 10am and were home at noon.

    With short steep steps and easy angled sections in between, it just made an easy Grade III. Where is it? Ossian Fall (100m III) is the stream which is marked as flowing through the crag Creag na Cosaig at NN 423 743 on the 1:50000 map and was climbed on December 15.

    Brian Davison moving through the thickly iced overlap on the first ascent of Tweener (V,6), a new route on Gobhlach Buttress in Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Following their successes in Glen Coe with the first ascent of The Pash and Incision, Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison added a new route to An Teallach on December 13. Andy takes up the story:

    “Pat Ingram and I walked into An Teallach a week ago in rain, then sleet and finally sticky snow. It was a miserable day but we headed up into Central Gully to go to the gully face of Goblach Buttress and a line that I’d spotted with Jonathan Preston when climbing the buttress on the other side last year (Narrow Buttress, Grade II). There wasn’t much enthusiasm when some sticky spindrift (quite a lot actually) came down Gobhlach Buttress, enough to even put off Pat. Now with two people to forgive me, the large amount of snow seemed to offer Brian and I a good option after the thaw (despite Glen Coe at that altitude being rather bare).

    As we drove over in surprisingly good light for so early (a good moon), we could see An Teallach was nice and white. The ground was frozen hard down to the road so the walk-in was easy despite large areas of ice. Once we hit the snow level near the loch, the snow turned to neve and it seemed like we’d hit miracle conditions. OK, it was more crusty on the cliff but still surprisingly good. The idea was to climb Central Gully until we could traverse left on to the route, but when we were gearing up, I could see an independent line of chimneys parallel to the gully had some ice. I’d never seen them frozen before and it wasn’t in the plan, but we couldn’t miss the chance.

    Brian soloed up the first short chimney with enough energetic bridging for me to accept a rope. The second longer chimney was easier but the third was tricky enough for Brian to lead roped. Now after three pitches we were at the planned starting point and conditions were obviously very good. A blind corner had thin ice which gave a scary pitch, then a potentially tricky overlap was thickly iced and finally a very steep tier was breached by a vertical chimney with an amazing crack up its left side. Some really fine moves, especially up its bulging middle section, gave way to gradually easier terrain and two long pitches to the top of the buttress. Tweener (350m, V,6) is the route.

    We were finished in good time but it had started to snow and all the ice on the walk-in was thinly covered. I don’t think I can remember such treacherous conditions, and my nerves weren’t helped by Simon Yearsley having backed out of the trip because of a bruised elbow after falling on an icy path. After bruising my own elbow, and various other parts, we had to abandon the path and walk down through deep heather just to survive. “Three falls and a submission” said Brian as we were relived to reach the car in one piece. But great conditions; pity it’s going to thaw.”

    High on Bidean

    Brian Davison on the first ascent of The Pash (VI,6) – a new route on the West Top of Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe climbed with Andy Nisbet. The same pair also added Incision (VI,7) to the crag the same day. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “In 2001, Brian Davison made the first ascent of St. Peter’s Well on the West Top of Bidean nam Bian with Steve Kennedy and Dave Wilkinson.’” Andy Nisbet writes. “He did say there was more scope, but I didn’t remember until the preparation of the Scottish Winter Climbs guidebook when Steve sent me a picture of the crag. A steep unclimbed rib right of the chimney called The Gash caught my eye, although I didn’t realise how steep it was. A few summers ago, Brian was up [in Scotland] to rock climb but it had been raining for a few days and mountain routes would be wet, so we went for a walk up Bidean and just happened to look at the crag. In November 2010 the freezing level was high, and high new routes are rare, so I hoped Brian would forgive me going up there with John Lyall and Jonathan Preston. Despite the plan to look at the rib, it was very steep and deeply plastered, and we had a hard enough time climbing an easier line to the right (Stramash IV,4).

    So time to call back Brian. There had been a thaw, actually a much bigger one than expected. “Where’s all the snow” said Brian when he arrived at Lagangarbh, admittedly in the dark. “There’s plenty up high”, said I optimistically, but at least we were going to the highest cliff in Glen Coe. It was a bit worrying when the steep walls on Church Door Buttress were black, but we were going even higher, and sure enough it was fine.

    [On December 12] we soloed up to the base of The Gash’s chimney and thought we ought to try the wall on its left. It was distinctly less steep than the rib, so I volunteered, Brian conceded that he would lead the rib and I set off. Ten metres up and with only one poor runner, I wasn’t sure my deal was working out. There was a wide shallow verglassed crack below what was obviously the crux. So I put in a Friend runner and went up to look at the crux. I didn’t like it so came back down and put in another dubious runner. This procedure went on for about an hour until there were four dubious runners and I still didn’t like it. But I knew deep down I’d just have to get on with it. A strenuous pull over a bulge followed by a struggle to stay in balance with placements too low, did finally work. Then it was easier but still not enough protection to reach a big flake, which I knew, would be the end of the difficulties. I called it The Pash (VI,6) although there was more fear than love involved.

    Now it was Brian’s turn. It was obviously steep and the crack went through two clearly overhanging sections, but at least it was a crack and we’d taken an excessively large rack. Brian’s claim it was very early season was ignored by me since he’d just been involved with Paddy Cave and a route with a high grade called 1984 [a new IX,9 on Flat Crags in Langdale]. I think Brian took less time on the whole route than I had on one move on The Pash, but it was still pretty strenuous so speed probably helped. Brian was using old axes with leashes and had the last laugh when my curly modern ones had the wrong curve to reach a chockstone deep in the crack; with failing strength I pulled on a runner. The route Incision has been graded VI,7 and despite my protests, I couldn’t think of another grade which worked. Technical 7 was just about right, by that I mean it wasn’t really 8, and it was too short and well protected for anything else. At least no-one will ever say it’s a soft touch.”

    Skye The Cuillin, authored by Mike Lates, has just been published by the Scottish Mountaineering Club. The cover photo shows Captain Planet (E4) on the Basteir Tooth. This prominent summit, and the neighbouring Am Basteir, come into winter condition quickly and are home to several modern test-pieces such as Hung, Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8) and Shadbolt’s Chimney (VI,7). (Reproduced with permission of the Scottish Mountaineering Club)

    I’ll start off by stating that I’m not particularly qualified to review this new guidebook. An infrequent visitor to Skye, I’ve only climbed a handful of routes in the Cuillin, and I only finally got around to traversing the Ridge in September last year. In winter my record is even more sparse, and I’ve only succeeded on a single route. My unfamiliarity is partly because I’ve always found the Cuillin rather confusing – the myriad of corries with access from different points requires a deep knowledge of the area, especially if winter climbing is in the agenda – so I was intrigued to see if this new guide to the Cuillin would improve my knowledge of the geography of the range.

    Authored by local mountain guide and enthusiastic Skye aficionado Mike Lates, the new SMC guidebook to the Cuillin is a complete re-write of the previous volume (published in 1996). Mike has done an outstanding job demystifying the Cuillin massif through the use of clear route descriptions, and close to a hundred detailed crag and (all-revealing) crag location photodiagrams. The book has been edited by Brian Davison, and has been beautifully laid out by Susan Jensen, all under the watchful eye of SMC production supremo Tom Prentice. At 320 pages, the book is slimmer and more compact than the last edition and fits comfortably in a rucksack or jacket pocket.

    Mike’s route descriptions are clear, and he goes out of his way to help the reader. For example, his description of the Cuillin Ridge Traverse is both helpful and informative, and unlike some other guidebooks, it does not make you feel inadequate if you’re unable to match Shadbolt and MacLaren’s first ascent time and complete the route under 12 hours. Mike makes a sensible analysis of what constitutes a successful traverse, recommends a multi-corrie reconnaissance campaign and suggests a more realistic time of 12 to 16 hours for the final attempt. He sets out a winter traverse strategy too, which is essential reading for those planning to attempt the ultimate mountaineering expedition in the British Isles.

    I was surprised at the number of winter routes included in the book. Alongside the well-publicised ascents by Mick Fowler, there have been 70 winter additions in recent years, mainly by Dave Ritchie and Mike Lates himself, who both clearly understand the interplay of winter conditions on these mountains. The number of deep clefts and gullies slicing through the Cuillin make it ideal mixed winter terrain when north-westerlies have filled these prominent features with snow or rimed the exposed crests with hoar.

    So after a couple of weeks of study, no longer do the Cuillin feel quite so terra incognita. I’ve heard enthusiastic and positive feedback from other climbers too, so I’m sure that this excellent guidebook will inspire countless summer and winter adventures for many years to come.

    Brian Davison (circled) crossing the upper part of the Orion Face and nearing the finish of the Girdle Traverse (V,4) of Ben Nevis. The route was climbed right to left (see footsteps across the snow slope lower right), and at 4000m long it is the longest winter route in the British Isles after the Cuillin Ridge Traverse. (The other major Scottish winter girdles – Tom Patey’s Crab Crawl (IV,4) on Creag Meagaidh, and Martin Moran’s Das Rheingold (V,4) on Beinn Bhan, are 2400m and 2800m in length respectively). The Girdle Traverse of Ben Nevis was the second of Davison’s girdle traverses that make up the Trilogy Traverse of Scafell, Ben Nevis and Snowdon. (Photo Jason Wood)

    The first snows arriving on the Scottish hills last week reminded me of a recent conversation I had with Brian Davison. Brian is probably best known for the first winter ascent of Mort on Lochnagar. When he climbed it with Andy Nisbet in 2000, it was one of the first Grade IXs to be climbed in Scotland, and it is still unrepeated. But not only is Brian an exceptional winter mountaineer, he is also an outstanding all-round climber and endurance athlete, although many of Brian’s achievements go unnoticed by the majority of climbers.

    Brian was recently back from a trip to Jebel Misht in Oman where he had climbed a new 3000m E4. (Yes, I do mean a three thousand metre-long route!) The pillar was first climbed by a French party over a number of weeks with helicopter support, but Brian and his partner climbed their new route in a single day. Whilst my mind was boggling over this, Brian then talked about climbing all the Lakes Classic Rock routes, unsupported and on foot, in a day. I can’t recall the exact the details, but sixteen routes and approximately 42 miles running, is a big day out by anyone’s standards.

    These feats reminded me of an email Brian sent to Steve Ashworth and I in February 2010 about the completion of the Trilogy Traverse. This is another of Brian’s achievements that has slipped under the radar screen, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight it on Scottishwinter.com

    “As my partners on the girdle traverses of Ben Nevis and Scafell I thought I’d let you know that yesterday I did a girdle traverse the Trinity Buttress on Snowdon. After completing the traverse of the Ben I realised there was only Snowdon to do and I had completed the set.

    As far as I can tell from the guide and other Welsh climbing info it hasn’t had a winter ascent either. That could be due to the fact there isn’t a great natural line and traverses are never high on climbers tick lists.

    The route wasn’t as good as the other two and seemed to involve a lot of climbing in and out of gullies as well as up and down to try and find the right way. With 6 inches of unconsolidated powered snow on the ledges conditions weren’t as friendly as they could have been but at least the turf was frozen. I’d give it IV and say you have to be confident at climbing up and down at grade III, but to be honest at that grade you could climb anywhere on the entire cliff.”

    Any takers out there for a single season Trilogy Traverse?

    Steve Ashworth on the first ascent of Raptor (VI,7) on the Far West Buttress of Beinn Eighe. The picture shows Ashworth on the initial bulge which is shared with Crackhead. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet has continued his excellent run of routes on the Far West Buttress of Beinn Eighe with another new addition on Saturday March 12. The appropriately named Raptor (VI,7), is his seventh new addition to the crag this season, and was climbed with Steve Ashworth and Brian Davison.

    Andy takes up the story:

    “Brian Davison and Steve Ashworth were committed to coming up north when the weather forecast changed as a low pressure deepened. But it was still approaching from the south so the north-west seemed the best bet. It had been snowing much of the week up there, but I still had doubts whether the turf would be frozen. A short route on Beinn Eighe’s Far West Buttress was a safe option, then we could consider the weather for the Sunday.

    There was no sign of the predicted sunshine when we arrived and I think we all knew the snow was arriving early. We had a trail-breaking Steve out in front and a party of three to split the load carrying, so we made the crag in good time despite the snow. My plan was to climb the improbable line the previous route Crackhead had escaped from, although I had seen that it was possible from No Fly Zone [a new V,6 climbed with Chris Pasteur and Duncan Tunstall] a couple of weeks ago.

    I was happy to let the others do the leading, so Steve set off up the groove of Crackhead with reassurances that its key chockstone was solid. He was using prototypes of next season’s Grivel axes, with no hammerheads or adzes, so we wondered how he’d manage in the wide cracks. But the occasional can-opener move didn’t slow him down until he’d reached a roof in the main groove, well after the point where Crackhead leaves. Passing the roof on the left proved tricky but there was a fine rest in an eyrie below another roof and above some larger roofs. This also had to be passed on the left and proved tricky.

    By now it was snowing and Brian had to choose where to go next. The logical line was the fault climbed by No Fly Zone, but I persuaded Brian to try the rib on its left. A roofed corner seemed like it might be different to Far West Buttress, so Brian started up this. The roof looked substantial so he made a huge step (by my standards) to a ledge on the right and then made some steep moves up the rib. Unfortunately he was forced into the top of No Fly Zone but by now the weather was deteriorating and the seconds weren’t complaining. As always on Beinn Eighe, there were some great moves, exciting exposure and good protection. The eyrie suggested the name Raptor and there was no flying, though we did cross its route. It seemed the hardest route so far on the crag, so VI,7 was agreed. The descent was quite a wade but the snow seemed safe enough!”