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    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.

     

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Ramon Marin on the second pitch of Neanderthal (VII,7) on Lost Valley Buttress. This modern classic was first climbed by Rab Anderson and Grahame Nicol in February 1987 and is one of the most sought-after winter routes in Glen Coe. (Photo Dave Almond)

    “I drove up from Liverpool and met up with Ramon Marin on January 12,” Dave Almond writes. “Ramon is a super strong M15 ice climber but had only tried his first ever Scottish winter route with Dougie Russell that weekend. For his second route I chose Neanderthal (VII,7) in Lost Valley, which was plastered as thick as it comes and offered an exciting challenge. I took the first pitch and Ramon romped up the second. The third was intimidating to look at but was very enjoyable. We topped out at 3.30pm and I thought we were going to be able to walk out in the daylight but on descending to the base of the cliff we became embroiled in a rescue of a young lady who had taken a nasty fall and was in a lot of pain so we eventually made it to the car park for about 9pm.

    I offered Ramon a rest day and used it to drive up to Beinn Eighe. We walked in and had a go at Boggle (VIII,8) but due to us walking in too slow and the first pitch taking too much time we abbed off to leave it for another day. The following day we eased down the grade and did Shang–High (VII,7) which was lots of fun. I had a great time introducing Ramon to the delights of Scottish climbing and he certainly enjoyed the locations, climbing and the views whilst I enjoyed his culinary expertise and great company!”

    Less than a week later (January 20), Ramon climbed Sundance (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe with Adam Russell. All in all, an impressive debut into the world of Scottish winter climbing!

    Dave Almond on the Northern Corries test-piece The Gathering (VIII,9). This exceptionally steep route lies on the pinnacle in the fork of Y-Gully in Coire an Lochain was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson in February 2011. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Dave Almond on the Northern Corries test-piece The Gathering (VIII,9). This exceptionally steep route lies on the pinnacle in the fork of Y-Gully in Coire an Lochain was first climbed by Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson in February 2011. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Following his ascents of Swallow Tail Pillar and Smokestack Lightnin’ Variations, Dave Almond made another couple of important repeats in the Northern Corries with Simon Frost and Helen Rennard.

    “On December 13, Simon [Frost]and I were joined by Helen Rennard and we headed in to have a look at The Gathering,” Dave explained. We were greeted by a very white, frosty cliff and as I looked up at the imposing line I gathered my thoughts. I had tried this line a couple of years ago with Dave Garry but this time I felt like I had put the work in dry tool training at Clogwyn Mannod, so I felt a lot more confident. It offers a nice gentle start with some Tech 4 climbing to warm you up before you get thrown on to the meat of the route. I found the angle, style and grade of the first pitch similar to where I have been training which made the climbing much more relaxing. Simon and Helen joined me on the belay before Simon lead off and committed to the testing moves away from the ledge making a fitting second pitch.  Congratulations to the first ascensionists on a three star route.

    Continuing in the theme of third ascents, I unknowingly seem to have made the third ascent of Babes in the Wood on December 14 with Helen Rennard. It’s graded VIII, 8 in the guidebook however I have now altered my own copy to IX,8. The route follows the gully line so it’s ground fall potential until the initial overhang and then once on the steep slab the gear is atrocious with foot and tool placements getting smaller as you get higher with a crux move at the top protected by a Terrier which could pull and then you’re back to ground fall. I found this route more challenging than The Gathering and to describe Babes as being bold would be an understatement.

    We walked in to the Lochain on Tuesday morning but backed off as my arms were feeling the effects of the previous four days of full on climbing!”

    Postscript 22 December 2015: Dave, Simon and Helen’s ascent of The Gathering was the fifth ascent. Previous repeats were made by Greg Boswell and Will Sim in January 2012, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams in December 2014, and Murdoch Jamieson and Guy Steven in January 2015.

    The line of Smokestack Lightnin’ on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda with the new Direct Start marked in yellow. The red line shows Variation Pitch 3 (now freed) the purple line is the original top pitch. (Archive Photo/Topo: Andy Nisbet/Dave Almond)

    The line of Smokestack Lightnin’ on Fiacaill Buttress in Coire an t-Sneachda with the new Direct Start marked in red. The start of the purple line shows Variation Pitch 3 (now free) followed by the original top pitch. (Archive Photo/Topo: Andy Nisbet/Dave Almond)

    After making the third ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar with Ian Parnell, Dave Almond teamed up with Simon Frost on Saturday December 12 and climbed a couple of notable variations to Smokestack Lightnin’ (VI,7) on Fiacaill Buttress. This challenging route climbs the full height of the left side of the buttress and was first climbed by Allen Fyffe and Andy Cunningham in February 1990. They used a peg for aid, and the first free ascent of the route fell to Alan Mullin and Andy Nisbet in December 1997.

    “As I had been in Lochain the previous day we headed for Sneachda unsure of conditions,” Dave told me. “We had in mind Babes in the Wood as a possible option, but on arrival most climbs were looking white except Babes. We drifted over to Fiacaill Buttress and without reference to the guide, picked out what looked like an interesting line. Simon headed up as I consulted the guide. We had started on a direct start up Jailbreak, and after overcoming the first steep corner, began a link up to Smokestack Lightnin’ using the ‘mini’ Stirling Bomber style feature to gain the groove directly above the corner. This gains the line of Smokestack Lightnin’ but we moved left to follow the corner system keeping the line direct to the next ledge and then I stepped left into another groove to gain the big flat ledge on the top corner system, which is a variant finish for Smokestack Lightnin’. “

    I’m not a Northern Corries expert, so Andy Nisbet stepped in to unravel exactly where Dave and Simon’s line lies with respect to the original Smokestack Lightinin’. It turns out that the Direct Start is new (and looks to be very good) but the link pitch is in fact Variation Pitch 3, which had not been climbed free before. Dave and Simon thought this section worth VI,8 on its own and the overall expedition merited VII,8.

    “It offers a good direct line with exciting climbing,” Dave concluded.

    Dave Almond seconding the first pitch of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) in Coire on Lochain on Cairn Gorm. This route, which lies between Deep Throat and Gaffer’s Groove, was first climbed in winter by M.Walker, A.Gilmore and R.Rosedale in March 2008. The first pitch is shared with the winter version of Gaffer’s Groove. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Dave Almond seconding the first pitch of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) in Coire on Lochain on Cairn Gorm. This route, which lies between Deep Throat and Gaffer’s Groove, was first climbed in winter by M.Walker, A.Gilmore and R.Rosedale in March 2008. The first pitch is shared with the winter version of Gaffer’s Groove. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    A succession of storms and deep thaws has contributed to a slow start to the winter season. At the end of last week, the temperatures cooled bringing a welcome snowfall. Ian Parnell and Dave Almond were quick on the scene and after a fruitless trip to the Ben on Thursday December 10, they visited the Northern Corries and made the likely third ascent of Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,8) on December 11. Despite the low temperatures and snowy weather, climbing conditions were a little disappointing as Ian explains:

    “It was extremely bare in the Corries. Whilst the snow level on Thursday and Friday was down to 500m, and the temperature was around -3 deg C at 1100m, there was almost nothing building up on steep rock itself. It was snowing and hailing with strong gusts, but it seemed that the snow had been squashed into cracks. Easier angled routes were catching snow, and as a result as one of the few slabs climbed by a harder route (Swallow Tail Pillar) was the only thing of that grade that seemed to be in condition to us. It saved the trip!

    Dave led the second crux pitch, which we both thought very delicate, thin and surprisingly bold. I noticed that Andy Inglis [who made the second ascent with Guy Robertson in April 2012] wrote on the UKC logbooks ’2nd ascent? Lead P2…. technical and sketchy… once the route was excavated from under the 12″ of hoar! Felt like VIII,8 on the day (full grade harder than Bulgy).’”

    The Beat

    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone following Un Poco Loco (VII,7) on Bidean nan Bian in Glen Coe. Together with Dave Almond, Tom climbed three excellent routes in a period of very windy and stormy weather in the middle of January. (Photo Dave Almond)

    Tom Livingstone and Dave Almond had a very successful four days climbing in Glen Coe and on the Ben earlier in January. The weather was particularly wild that week, but even so, they succeeded on Un Poco Loco (VII,7 – January 13), Strident Edge (VI,7 – January 14) and Centurion (VIII,8 – January 16). Tom has written a full version of their trip on his blog, and a concise version follows below:

     

    The Beat

    Dave looked up, scoping out the climbing above. He tilted his head and, without warning, his orange helmet rolled backwards, falling straight off. It bounced onto the steep slab and then tumbled out of sight. We were both speechless – how had that just happened? His head torch was still attached and we were on the fifth pitch of Centurion, a classic VIII,8 on the Ben. It would be dark in 90 minutes and we still had over 100 metres of climbing left. ‘This just got interesting!’ I thought.

    ***

    We walked up to Church Door Buttress on Tuesday, seeking refuge from a fresh storm ploughing off the Atlantic. Dave’s new toys were put to good use: his new 19 million lumen headtorch is capable of lighting up the entire mountain, and the GPS watch performed well. We left a breadcrumb trail as we zigzagged up; ‘Water,’ ‘Camp 1,’ ‘Meadow.’

    Un Poco Loco is a fantastic four-pitch route taking an improbable line up the centre of the buttress. A giant, shattered arch hung overhead as I scrabbled around, trying to find my feet. Dave hunkered on the belay below, his feet going stamp, stamp, stamp, trying to ward off the cold. I found tenuous hooks and laybacked off parallel cracks. Howling winds, waves of spindrift, verglas: this certainly was fun. Pulling onto the belay ledge brought relief and the internal chatter began to quieten.

    ***

    The following morning we walked into the Ben with Centurion in mind. Within 50 metres of the CIC hut my boot sank through a snowdrift and plunged into a stream, soaking my foot. The only consolation was that Carn Dearg Buttress looked black, and we wouldn’t be going anywhere near Centurion. We scratched around for an alternative objective. Coire nan Ciste was too avalanche-prone, the lower buttresses were black, a storm was due to slam into Scotland at 6pm that evening and it was already 10.30am… how many lemons does it take for an epic?

    We settled for Strident Edge on the Trident Buttress with Dave Keogh coming along for the ride (an Irishman staying at the CIC). We avoided triggering any slides on the wade up and I started climbing the main pitch around 1pm. The climbing flowed by, and I pulled into the belay groove some time later.

    We topped out in darkness with worsening weather. By the time we were down-climbing back into the Ciste the winds were horrific – blowing us about like puppets, making us hunch over ice axes. The straightforward descent turned into a bit of a Weston-Super-Mare. Irish Dave dropped his head torch but we found it 100 metres lower – lucky man. After a long walk back to the hut (why isn’t there an outside light that comes on at night?) we finally re-packed and headed down to Fort William. I don’t think Irish Dave knew what he was letting himself in for, but hats off for rolling with it and staying strong when the storm hit!

    ***

    Friday morning and we were stood beneath Centurion again, this time lucky enough to have it in decent winter conditions. Dave climbed the first pitch by headtorch, dispatching the tricky and technical moves in style. He was obviously on some weight-loss mission as a Scotch egg and Twix bar flew past my head when he got to the belay I launched into the second pitch – an impressive overhanging corner system with nearly 40 metres of climbing. As it says in the guidebook, the holds just keep coming and the gear keeps on giving. It felt amazing to be stemming wide with loads of air beneath my feet, the belay in sight and the beat of Centurion pulsing through my arms.

    I belayed Dave using a large hex for a belay plate, since he’d forgotten his. I had a smile on my face and we cruised, mellow, floating on the high. I barely needed to swing my arms to keep warm, and we flowed through the route until pitch five When Dave’s helmet fell off his head, I definitely skipped a beat. It’s certainly one of the least expected things to happen to your partner as they climb. He had loosened the straps to make it more comfortable, but perhaps a bit too much.

    Thankfully, Dave’s head is pretty hard and he led the pitch fine, sans helmet and headtorch. When I reached his belay, at the junction with Route II, I figured it would be dark in an hour, we still had 100m of climbing to go and we didn’t know how hard it was. However, Dave wanted to continue, so I obliged and we sprinted for the top.

    We pulled it off just in time, topping out in near-darkness and descending Ledge Route in a giddy, schoolboy ‘just-got-away-with-it’ haze.

    Thanks for a great week Dave, and for choosing ‘up.’

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    Dave Almond climbing the first pitch of The Secret (VIII,9) on Creag Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis. Most photos of The Secret show the spectacular crack cutting through the headwall, but the first pitch provides excellent climbing in its own right. (Photo Graham Dawson)

    With the late start to the season, high standard ascents have been quite rare so far this winter, so I was delighted to hear that Dave Almond and Graham Dawson made an ascent of The Secret (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis last week. “It’s been a long wait for the season to start,” Dave explained. “So I used the time to its maximum to pack in some extra dry tooling sessions in Wales.”

    “With a reasonably cold forecast a contingent of Scousers from Liverpool headed up with high hopes,” Dave continued. “Saturday I ended up trying to get up a route using every variation but the right one. Defeated I retreated to the valley with all the usual mind games going on in my head. Sunday the weather was disgustingly warm, windy and wet which left me ever more time to ponder. On Monday December 15, despite a nasty forecast, Simon Frost and I had the joy of breaking a new trail in the fresh deep powder up to Stob Coire nan Lochan and were rewarded with a windless, sunny day and a lovely ascent of Inclination (VII,8). I felt soothed.

    Tuesday was another warm, wet and windy day and I took the chance to rest. On Wednesday December 17 I met up with Graham Dawson who had accepted my invite to have a look at The Secret despite it being a few grades harder than his norm. Another trail breaking session ensued giving plenty of time for self-doubt. I had previously climbed the first pitch two years ago but escaped up the Cornucopia finish due to lack of daylight. The Secret looked a fair bit whiter than the last time. Could I protect it?

    There was no time to delay as the walk in had eaten up time, I cracked on and must say that first pitch is really excellent climbing. Graham followed up incredibly fast giving me a little leeway for the second pitch. From the belay, the top pitch looked like an iced up crack line that I doubted would take cams. As I made progress I realised I was correct and it was difficult to get nuts to settle in the flaring verglas. Lots of deep breathing and I made it past the first difficult section to some small ledges that I thought I could get a rest on. Maybe I let my concentration go a second, as I felt quite solid when my right axe ripped and off I went all the way to stop beneath Graham.

    The light was starting to dim and I asked Graham if he was ok for me to have a last go. ‘Yes’ was the answer and off I went with a bit more haste and a lot more speed. The second pitch is good sustained climbing and I topped out on a large block just short of the cornice. Graham followed me up in increasingly poor light and heavy spindrift and continued up over the cornice in to a nasty storm.

    I was absolutely delighted to have been able to climb this route. Thanks to Graham for his patience. Maybe the tooling sessions paid off after all!”

    Greg Boswell on the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe. The route climbs through the stepped roofs before taking the soaring crack line to the left of West Central Gully. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    Greg Boswell on the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe. This stupendous route climbs through stepped roofs before taking the soaring crack line to the left of West Central Gully. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    The gales that raged throughout the BMC Winter Meet prompted many team to visit the North-West Highlands to seek some shelter from the South-East winds. This proved to be an unexpected bonus, as the Torridon Mountains were in excellent winter condition.

    Beinn Eighe, with its high north-facing cliffs was the initial venue of choice, and the classic lines of Fuselage Gully, East Buttress, West Buttress and Central Buttress soon saw ascents. On Wednesday January 29, Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz from Canada made the fourth ascent of the fabled West Central Gully (VII,8), arguably the most difficult gully climb in Scotland. Will came back raving about the climb, mightily impressed that Mick Fowler and Mike Morrison climbed this steep route way back in 1986. Also on Wednesday, Neil Adams and Nejc Marcic (Slovenia) made a possible second ascent of second ascent of  Sting (VII,7) , Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made the third ascent of Hydroconicum (VIII,8), and Dave Almond and Michal Sabovcik (Slovakia) climbed the now classic Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears (VIII,8).

    The following day (January 30), the pace stepped up another notch when Nick Bullock, Jon Walsh (Canada) and Greg Boswell made the first ascent of Making the Cut (VIII,8), a major new line taking the soaring crack-line left of West Central Gully. Will Sim and Olov Isaksson (Sweden) also added Crazy Eyes (VII,9), another very strong line taking the left-facing corner, roof crack and offwidth corner above Hydroponicum. (The name is a tribute to Magnus Kastengren who represented Sweden at the last BMC Winter Meet and died recently after an accident when skiing on Mount Cook). Will and Olov climbed their new route so fast that they had time to nip up the classic West Buttress later that day. Andy Inglis made a return visit with Piotr Sulowski (Poland) and climbed the brilliant Sundance (VIII,8), and Simon Frost and partner made an early repeat of West Buttress Directissima (VII,8).

    The last day of the week (Saturday, February 1) saw something of a North-West showdown. Beinn Eighe continued to stay popular with more ascents of Central Buttress, Shang High, Kami-kaze and another ascent of Sundance by Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren (Sweden), but the centre of the activity transferred to Beinn Bhan where there were four teams in action in the stupendous Coire nan Fhamair. Nick Wallis and Tito Arosio (Italy) climbed Gully of the Gods (VI,6) and Adam Booth and Slovenian climbers Nejc Marcic and Martin Zumer made an early repeat of Great Overhanging Gully (VI,7). Genesis (VII,7) saw its fourth ascent in the hands of Andy Inglis and Piotr Solowski (Poland), and Will Sim and Olov Isaksson (Sweden) also made the fourth ascent of The Godfather (VIII,8).

    Nearby in Coire na Poite, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan pulled off the long-awaited second ascent of the 370m-long Realisation (VI,6). “It was a top quality route with sustained interest throughout,” Neil told me. “It’s at the top end of the grade and a harder outing than Central Buttress on Beinn Eighe.”

    The easily accessible winter cliffs on Meall Gorm proved popular. Gwilym Lynn and Felix Sattelberger (Germany) added a Direct Start (IV,4) to Cobalt Buttress, and Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz made a variation to The Blue Lamppost taking Grade VI vegetated grooves in the lower section before finishing up the final chimney to give a good VII,8. Just to the right, Rattlesnake (V,7) also saw an ascent. Elsewhere in the Torridon area, George (III,4), Poacher’s Fall (V,5) and Headless Gully (V,5) on Liathach were climbed in good icy conditions, and further south on Fuar Tholl, Right-End Buttress (III) was enjoyed by at least two parties.

    The most impressive achievement on the final day however, was the first ascent of Last Orders (VII,8) on An Teallach by Neil Adams and Kenro Nakajima (Japan). This magnificent groove-line, which cuts through the right side Major Rib, was one of the most significant routes of the week.

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    The BMC Winter International Meet took place between January 27 and February 1. The meet was based at Glenmore Lodge, and 44 guests from 26 countries paired up with UK hosts to experience the delights of Scottish winter climbing. Despite the challenging weather and almost continuous gale force easterly winds, the meet was an outstanding success with over a dozen new routes and a significant number of repeats. Once again, Becky McGovern and Nick Colton from the BMC did a superb job keeping everyone teamed up with appropriate partners and staying cool and calm whilst fixing innumerable logistical issues.

    The big route from the early part of the meet was the third ascent of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh by Nick Bullock with Canadian climber Jon Walsh on January 28. This long, serious and poorly protected route, which was first climbed during the 2005 Winter Meet by Bruno Sourzac and Dave Hesleden, has only been repeated once. Nick and Jon encountered difficult thin and ‘cruddy’ ice conditions. “Even Jon, who has done more hard Rockies alpine routes than most, was slowed down by the first pitch,” said Nick afterwards. In general, the snow was too heavy for good climbing on Meagaidh, although one determined team succeeded on Staghorn Gully.

    Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz from Canada took advantage of a very snowy Ben Nevis to make the fourth winter ascent of Centurion (VIII,8) on Carn Dearg Buttress. Although this route was first climbed in winter 28 years ago, it has maintained its reputation as one of the more difficult Scottish Grade VIIIs. This ascent rounded off an exceptional three days for Michelle who had already made the third ascent of Slenderhead (VIII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan and the fourth ascent of West Central Gully (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe.

    In Coire Ciste, Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner from Germany made the second ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. This challenging winter climb is graded E1 in summer and was first climbed by Rich Cross and Andy Benson in 2007. Nearby on South Trident Buttress, Fiona Murray and Siw Ornhaug from Norway repeated Gallifrey Groove (IV,5).

    Tower Ridge saw multiple ascents and was a wise choice in the conditions, but the low snow level also brought The Douglas Boulder into play. The classic South-West Ridge, Cutlass and Militant Chimney saw ascents, and on January 28, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan climbed Nutless and added the Arete Variation (VI,6). The weather was wild the following day (January 29), but Rose Pearson from New Zealand and myself followed the summer line of East Ridge (IV,5). Rather surprisingly, I can find no record of a winter ascent of this short and accessible climb, which proved to be a good route for a stormy day. I returned again on January 30 with Stefan Jacobsen from Denmark to climb Alaska Highway (IV,4), the crest of the buttress taken by Lower East Wall Route before finishing up Tower Ridge.

    Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren from Sweden braved the higher slopes of Coire na Ciste to climb Sidewinder adding the Unwound Finish (VI,6) which climbs up directly rather than traversing left into the exit gully as per the original route. The rarely climbed 1944 Route also saw an ascent by Ian Bryant and Pawel Wojdyga (Poland), and lower down on Carn Dearg Buttress Kenton Cool and Corne Brouwer from the Netherlands climbed Route One. Nearby on Am Bodach in the Mamores, Andy Nisbet and Ricardo Guerra from Portugal made the first ascent of the 350m-high South Buttress (II).

    Further South, Stob Coire nan Lochan was in superb icy condition and ascents were made of Scabbard Chimney, Sceptre, Raeburn’s Route, SC Gully, Moonshadow, Tilt, Chimney Route, Crest Route, Para Andy and Central Grooves.

    Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner and Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made early repeats of Central Buttress with the Starting Blocks Start (VII,8), and Slenderhead (VIII,8) saw second and third ascents by Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz (Canada) and Ian Parnell and Olov Isaksson (Sweden). The finest performance in the corrie came from Harry Holmes and Polish climber Piotr Sulowski who made an ascent of Unicorn (VIII,8). Not only was Harry recently back from the Ice World Cup, but Piotr’s ascent of the difficult second pitch was his first ever Scottish winter lead!

    Two contrasting views of the first pitch of Twisted in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right photo shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “There was quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

    Two contrasting views of Twisted (VII,7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The left photo shows Malcolm Bass enjoying delicate mixed conditions on the first ascent, and the right shows Dave Almond taking advantage of useful ice at the same point on the second ascent. “Quite a bit of the first ascent was on ice too,” Malcolm commented. “We were of the belief that ice would be critical, so had waited till there was a drool at the top of the wall.” (Photos Simon Yearsley/Helen Rennard)

    “Back in November Harry Holmes, Dan Tait and I went into Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe with the aim of making the second ascent of Twisted, a three-pitch three star VII,7 to the left of Chimney Route put up by Simon Yearsley and Malcolm Bass last March,” Helen Rennard writes. “However, on the day we found the bottom pitch to be bare, Chimney Route dripping and the rest of corrie disappointingly unfrozen, so we returned to the car having got up nothing.

    Onto January and I was climbing with Dave Almond the weekend of January 11-12. Dave was up from Liverpool for his first trip of the winter and, as ever, was highly motivated to get out, having been training hard at White Goods since October. We were keen to avoid too much driving so opted to stay local to Fort William (where I live). I texted Simon on the Friday for his thoughts on Twisted and he replied “I’d be worried about it being black…I’d have a Plan B.” As it turned out, being too black was not an issue!

    Dave did a great job leading the first pitch, remaining completely calm despite getting only three lots of gear in 30 metres. Pitch one was easily the crux, though the rest of the route maintained a high quality of (run-out!) climbing in an impressive situation. Comparing photos with Simon afterwards it was clear that Dave and I had climbed the route in contrasting conditions to the first ascent; where Simon and Malcolm had been delicately hooking on snowed-up rock, we had had usable ice for most of the route. We thought the VII,7 grade still applied for our conditions, and Dave described it as having “a tasty first pitch followed by a mellow second pitch.”

    As it was, the climb was the least exciting part of the day. While we were gearing up in the foot of Twisting Gully the cornice above us collapsed. I heard a loud ‘boom’ and seconds later was being pummelled by wet heavy snow that obliterated everything around me. I was clipped into the belay, but Dave wasn’t, and I was convinced he had been swept away. After what may have been minutes, but maybe it was only seconds, the snow subsided. Then there was shouting and confusion. Below us, Adam and Dougie Russell and Steve Johnstone, who were under Chimney Route and had also been hit, were shouting up at us to check we were OK. They could see the end of one of our ropes trailing in the snow below with no one attached and thought the worst. I didn’t know what was happening and thought someone had gone, but Dave was still next to me, and Adam, Dougie and Steve were all unharmed. Cue some nervous laughter and Dave commenting that he’d have grabbed onto me as he went past if it had come to that…

    And, with that, he set off up pitch one, not being a man who is easily scared. But it was certainly a lesson to be more aware of the objective dangers when winter climbing in Scotland, and I think it’s fair to say, that the five of us had a lucky escape.”