Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Colin Wells

    Stephen Reid and Colin Wells on the first ascent of Upper Gusher (IV), in the South East Corrie of Milldown in the Galloway Hills. (Photo: Jonathan Grubb/John Biggar)

    Stephen Reid and Colin Wells on the first ascent of Upper Gusher (IV), in the South East Corrie of Milldown in the Galloway Hills. (Photo: Jonathan Grubb/John Biggar)

    “Three teams were active on the Merrick on Sunday,” Stephen Reid writes. “With excellent conditions reported on the Black Gairy, Colin Wells and I hastened north to join the fun. We visited Craig an Eilte on Tuesday (January 22) and made the first ascent of the two-pitch Spindrift Gully (IV). On Wednesday (January 23), together with local guru John Biggar, Dave McNicol and Jonathan Grubb, we ventured into the South East Corrie of Milldown and, whilst the Biggar team climbed two new grade III icefalls, Colin and I made the first ascent of the superb Grade IV Upper Gusher (this lies above Middle Piddle and Lower Flower – both II). On the Thursday (January 24), Colin and I returned to the corrie and made the first ascent of the Greater Cleugh of Auchniebut (II), which must be the longest winter climb in the Galloway Hills, at about 700m. Mainly scrambling with the odd tricky little pitch and very spectacular and scenic!”

    Roger Webb on a new VI,6 in Coire an Lochain on Braeriach. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Catching upon some late news: It was a ‘busy’ morning in the tiny Glen Einich car park last Sunday morning (November 4) with four teams gearing up at 6am for the cycle into Braeriach. Colin Wells and Penny Clay were headed for Sphinx Ridge in Garbh Choire Mor but they were stymied by the large amounts of snow on the plateau. “We stomped over the shoulder to the corrie, totally gobsmacked by the volume of snow and having to make diversions avoiding the incipient windslab that had already built up, “Colin told me afterwards.

    “In the gloop we neared the corrie rim and realised that quite large cornices had formed already, so we headed for the spur and shelf on the Angel’s Peak side. Because of having to navigate blind and avoid slab, it had been more time-consuming than usual and was now probably too late in the day anyway to make an enjoyable ascent mostly in daylight. However, just as we grabbed a quick bite to eat before plunging down, the mist rose briefly to reveal – Sphinx Ridge completely buried in a Mr Whippy-style fondant covering from tip to toe, topped by unhelpful cornice. In fact, just about every route was pretty much artexed. It was clear that any climbing was going to involve massive amounts of energetic digging and not be very secure at all, so we decided to cut our losses and bail out…”

    Roger Webb and I had more luck in Coire an Lochain. This coire is disappointing from a technical winter climbing point of view, however there is one steep section of rock, which provided a sustained four-pitch VI,6 outing.

    I’m not sure where on Braeriach the next two teams were bound, although ascents of West Wall Route and Campion Gully in Coire Bhrochain were reported on UKC, although it is more normal to approach this coire from the Lairig Ghru side.

    Jonathan Preston on the first winter ascent of Flake City (V,7), on the Far West Wall of Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe. This season, Andy Nisbet has added five new routes to the Far West Wall, which makes a fine companion to the nearby Fuselage Wall, for high quality mixed routes. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Throughout the winter, Andy Nisbet has been quietly developing the mixed climbing potential of the Far West Wall on Beinn Eighe. Andy takes up the story:

    “I couldn’t help noticing this wall from Fuselage Wall, but I used to think it a bit scrappy and Fuselage Wall had more lines to do. But of course they began to run out so I took a wander underneath. You can only see the first 30m, then the angle eases, but I was quite impressed by soaring corner and crack-lines. Actually too impressed as they looked smooth and hard, but when James Edwards climbed a route on the right edge of the buttress (Chocks Away – V,6) in late 2009, it was time to have a look. Under the wall on my own in September, my intention was to solo James’s line, but I hadn’t realised it started lower down and couldn’t fit the description. So I picked a line on the right, one which looked good climbing and which I might just be able to solo. And I got a bit scared but Flake City (Hard Severe) was born. It seemed like it should go in winter and had no vegetation, so a good early season choice.

    Sure enough, I was back in November with James Edwards and Colin Wells but good winter plans are flexible. Teams of three are sociable and less to carry, but actually they both e-mailed within an hour and said they might be free. The approach, abseiling from the propeller, means you traverse under the whole crag and of course we were distracted by something in the centre of the crag and which looked reasonable. I wasn’t really sure where the original winter line (Far West Buttress – V,6, 1991) went, but this line didn’t have any left traverses. It had a harder section than expected but the climbing was good – Chock-a-Block (V,6). James thought IV,6 as it was very safe but I found hanging on and placing gear was a bit much for IV.

    The following day with a different team, John Lyall and Jonathan Preston, we didn’t even get as far along the cliff as my tired legs spotted an easier line. We ran up this (Westlife IV,5) and the others wanted to do a second route. So Jonathan suggested a steep crack-line nearby (Chalice V,6). I thought it would sort out his enthusiasm but it turned out to be brilliantly helpful and gave a great pitch. John also pointed out where the original Far West Buttress (V,6), climbed by himself and Steve Aisthorpe in 1991, actually went.

    It was now obvious that the big but unlikely corner line to its right might go. So I was back ten days later with Jonathan and Sandy Allan. This turned out to be distinctly fierce high up and I was forced right round a corner to below an overhanging leaning corner. Jonathan dealt with this with runners above his head all the way, leading to an easier finish (Crackhead V,6).

    So Flake City was left, and left because there was too much snow on the walk-in, until early February. Jonathan and I tackled what turned out to be the hardest (just) of the lines. The initial corner was sustained but fine until the angle reared out beyond the vertical. Some wild moves, but helpful and safe as ever, led out to the arete and the world’s best thread runner. Now thin moves up a crack leading nowhere turned into a big flake and it was suddenly all over. An easier pitch led to the top crack with a bizarre jutting flake. But the crack was undercut and off-width and rejected climbers. But Jonathan outwitted it by sneaking in from the right in the way only Beinn Eighe rock would let you. Jonathan was so careful with the flake, not even touching it to start but then standing on it. I just made a big leap and hung on it. Flake City – V,7.

    I’ve no idea about stars. I was very cautious with small Fuselage Wall but folk seemed to like it. This wall is less continuous but the main pitch of each is great climbing up a well-defined feature. We’ll just have to see if anyone else goes, and then if they like it.”