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    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Strike 3 (III) in Coire na Caime on Liathach. This was the last unclimbed gully on No.2 Buttress in the corrie. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “So said Dave McGimpsey when we got back to the car,” Andy Nisbet recounts. “Which seemed a bit mean; better than being pulverised by gales and spindrift in the East, I thought. Thanks should first go to James Roddie for blogging pictures of Coire na Caime (Liathach), showing the best conditions since 1994. Although it has to be said this was only in the high east corner of the corrie and much of the rest was bare except for the easy gullies. I immediately picked out an icefall on the buttress between Gullies 2 and 3, and not one I remembered seeing before. This corner of the corrie, lying under the summit of the mountain, is rarely visited, largely I think because it’s the hardest to reach, and clean slabby rock is not much of a temptation either. The weather has been unusual this year with snow in Torridon on a south-easterly wind when normally that direction would be dry; so it had drifted on to that face.

    Dave, Sandy Allan and I set off on Monday (January 20) to climb the icefall, although not having been to the corrie for some ten years, I forgot that the traditional approach up Coire Dubh is not the best. After three hours, I had remembered many times! But now we were there, and the icefall was looking good, if a bit wet and thin in the middle section; the freezing level was 200m higher than the monk had predicted. But the ice was soft, never brittle and actually continuous over three long pitches. The thin section seemed to justify a grade of V,4 given that the ice would rarely be thicker and the belay wasn’t the best. And being No.2 Buttress, the name of Two Faced seemed to fit.

    Conditions were so good on the buttress that, even though time was getting on, we felt we should try a gully line to the right. And it went well, again continuous snow and ice, and quite steep for a couple of steps (Strike 2; III,4). If the approach was long, so was the descent over the summit and we reached the car well after dark.

    With more routes to do, it was a case of keeping very quiet. Which is quite difficult when folk ask you for recommendations for venues in this unpredictable season. But you know that information nowadays spreads so fast. After an essential rest day, the forecast wasn’t great for Wednesday (January 22) but we knew from last time that gales in the Cairngorms and heavy rain in Lochaber meant that it might be fine in Torridon (given a southerly wind). Sandy was busy, so Dave and I returned to Coire na Caime, this time approaching over the top. We were in good form when we stood under No.1 Buttress, which has one ice route from 1994 on its right side. I had always been put off a return by slabby rock, but this time it was white of unknown quality. With no runners on Two Faced and little prospect of any on a route up the centre of this buttress, we had gone light with a 60m half rope and a small rack.

    It soon turned out that the white stuff on ledges and any grooves was in fact neve, and there was a continuous line of snow and ice leading up to a smooth barrier wall. The rope did run out, but a brief moving together gained a prefect belay of two large nuts. The barrier wall had to be passed by a line of ice on the right, leading to a second and bigger barrier wall. The existing route was moving towards us at this point, so we agreed to try a line up steeper white grooves near the left arete of the face. Dave headed along a ledge and was soon delighted that the smooth grooves were filled with neve and not powder. Another long pitch gained easy ground. First Foot was quite hard to grade; it felt a bit like a Ben Nevis open face (although not so steep) and we decided on IV,4. You could have argued for IV,3 or V,4 also.

    After 230m of climbing, time was again getting on, but the last gully line on No. 2 Buttress was too hard to resist. We decided just to dump the gear and solo it. Again the ice was good and we knew it was less steep than the others, so we climbed it without any heart fluttering and actually made it back to the car without torches. The gully is joined at the very top by the easier option of No.3 (Pinnacle) Gully, so the name of Strike 3 does at least for now (Grade III). I should say before anyone rushes up there, that Coire Dubh Beag was pretty black, and even Coire Dubh Mor was poor with Poachers Fall probably not quite doable. And the steeper icefalls on Am Fasarinen were also too thin.”

    Dave McGimpsey high on the West Face of Aonach Beag during the first winter ascent of North Buttress (III). The Mamores are in the background. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey high on the West Face of Aonach Beag during the first winter ascent of North Buttress (III). The Mamores are in the background. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “I never thought I’d go to Aonach Beag from Glen Nevis,” Andy Nisbet writes. “I had it in my head it was such a long way. And Simon and Helen going there the day after last year’s SMC dinner didn’t encourage me; Simon does like the long walks. But I was watching a DVD while wondering where to go with Dave McGimpsey the next day, and suddenly this helicopter flew across the cliffs of Aonach Beag, high and west facing. Just the perfect aspect after a big storm from the west had brought a sudden drop in temperatures. West facing should be frozen and east facing buried and insulated.

    Only one snag, how do you reverse the DVD and stop at the right point? Now there aren’t many climbers who find this is as hard a task as finding a new line; in fact I might be unique. But I finally succeeded and the new line was quickly spotted. Now for the next problem, how to note it down. Quick thinking, or so I thought; photograph the TV screen, transfer to the computer and print it out. Later Dave said, “why didn’t you just play the DVD on the computer?”

    So back to the mundane tasks, how to persuade Dave to get up at 5am, how to drive on icy roads to Glen Nevis and would we have to wade up to the crag? Much to my amazement, you can actually see the West Face of Aonach Beag when driving up Glen Nevis, and my worry that the new line might just be a walk on grass (it did look very green on the DVD) suddenly changed to how steep and rocky it looked, and would it be possible. Mental note: look at crags from a helicopter as the lines look easier.

    It turned out the crag isn’t nearly as far as I thought but it is a long way up, and that equates to steep. And the buttress we’d chosen, the one left of a prominent gully, was steep too. But there was a nice deep groove with quite a lot of ice (conditions were surprisingly icy, but it had been a sudden freeze) and a big flat chockstone, which would have been awkward without the good placements in the ice. This lead on to an easy ramp out left to the crest of the buttress. Dave’s pitch had a smooth start on slabby rock but then turned easier, and soon we were on top, unexpectedly quickly and wondering how to get down for another route. We gambled on the bottom end of the crag first and that didn’t work, so it was annoyingly back up to try the top end. There was an easier slope here but it was further, even without our detour.

    The next potential line was the buttress right of the prominent gully. It did look smooth at the bottom but a sneak round the corner showed up some big rock crevasses and a likely way up. It was easy to get into the crevasses, although we did have to jump into one, but not so easy to get out. Still these tricky moves weren’t exposed so we soloed up until we reached the upper slab. A crack-line on its right side proved more awkward than it looked, with a bulge and the crack closing above, so it was lucky we roped up. It was still cold and windy on top but even the Ben had cleared and we admired great views all round. And there was time to return by the longer Glen Nevis meadows and still make the car in daylight.

    Now exactly what we did is not so easy, as the crag is only summarised in Simon’s Ben Nevis guidebook. There’s little doubt that the buttresses we climbed were the ones holding the original summer routes; the crevasses and the final slab of ‘Crevassed Rib’ were a giveaway. We graded North Buttress (the left route) III and Crevassed Rib IV,5; both about 100m long.”

    Simon Yearsley making an ascent of Savage Slit (V,6) in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm. Savage Slit reliably comes into condition with the first snows of the winter and is a popular early season choice. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Simon Yearsley making an ascent of Savage Slit (V,6) in Coire an Lochain on Cairn Gorm. Savage Slit reliably comes into condition with the first snows of the winter and is a popular early season choice. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Strong westerlies brought the first real snows of the 2013/214 Scottish winter season during the last days of October. There are rumours of an ascent of Fingers Ridge (IV,4) in Coire an t-Sneachda during the first snowfalls last week, but the first batch of this season’s winter routes were climbed over the weekend and Monday.

    Blustery conditions and poorly frozen turf, meant that many folk climbing in the Northern Corries went away empty handed over the weekend, but further west, parties were more successful on the mountaineering classics suxh as the Aonach Eagach and Ledge Route on Ben Nevis.

    Yesterday (November 4), Duncan Hodgson and Mark Chadwick visited the Northern Corries and climbed the modern classic Hookers Corner (VI,6). Next door on No.4 Buttress, Helen Rennard and Simon Yearsley made an ascent of Savage Slit (V,6).

    “Sensible route choices are always important, but none more so than with the first snows of the winter,” Simon told me. “It’s tempting to rush out to “grab the white stuff”, but it was pretty obvious that from following the forecasts that no turf would be frozen by Monday (as Helen found out the day before when she’d taken a walk into Coire na Ciste on the Ben to check out conditions), so it was all about routes which can be climbed in a good coating of snow but don’t rely at all on turf. Routes like Fingers Ridge, Crest Route, Crypt Route, Hookers Corner Savage Slit and Mess Of Pottage are good objectives, and yesterday was no exception!

    Helen and I walked into Coire an Lochain with deep snow in the boulders around the eponymous lochan and the cliffs plastered with rime and heavy snow. Savage Slit was beautifully white, with lots of effort needed to uncover the cracks for gear, and coupled with the wind it was a full-on reintroduction to Scottish winter! Mark Chadwick and Duncan Hodgson found similar conditions on Hookers Corner, and later in the day we also bumped into Lou and her partner after they’d done a route on Mess of Pottage, and also heard later that Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey enjoyed a fun (and possibly slightly more sheltered) day out on Fingers Ridge. I must admit I did feel pretty tired after the Ice Factor Festival of Ice Comp on Saturday, but walking back down to the car park, we both agreed that it felt wonderful to be back in the swing of things… here’s to more white stuff!”

    Dave McGimpsey enjoying superb late season conditions on the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach in Torridon after making the first ascent of Spring Roll (IV,4) on Meall Dearg. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey enjoying superb late season conditions on the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach in Torridon after making the first ascent of Spring Roll (IV,4) on Meall Dearg. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “When Spring is arriving, I can’t help thinking about a fantastic day I had climbing Spring Gully in April 1996,” Andy Nisbet recalls. “The gully is on the north face of Meall Dearg, an outlier of Liathach and I had spotted it thanks to the RAF who flew me over it a few days before. OK, they weren’t just being generous; they were flying out Brian Davison and me after a Jenga incident on Beinn Eighe which cost Brian a broken arm. It was a warm day but the snow was frozen in the shade, so the gully followed by the Northern Pinnacles gave one of the longest Grade II outings in Scotland. When we finished on the summit of Mullach nan Rathain and hit the sun, suddenly there was no snow and we changed into tee-shirts for the walk down. It was the end of a long winter and the mood of total relaxation stays with me still.

    So when March 31 was going to be my last day of the winter (I had a hernia operation the next day), and the forecast was sunny, I couldn’t help thinking of Meall Dearg and that there was a gully line right of Spring Gully that would make a fine finale. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a great line, as an easy gully led up to an improbable barrier wall, but Dave McGimpsey was willing to take a chance, plus my ‘black book’ was running rather short on certainties.

    The walk-in starts from the Beinn Alligin car park and goes round the back of Liathach, so it was a little worrying that such a low cliff might be bare, but at least it was a gully so the odds were improved. The ground was dry but frozen so the walk-in was so quick that we realised the cliff was in good nick before we really had time to worry. The next question was whether the barrier wall would be exactly that, but initially we found a steep wall at the base to worry us. It puzzled me, as I didn’t remember seeing it on the photos, but there was a steep icefall through it. But when we got to the icefall, a hidden snow gully appeared, almost disappointingly easy as we soloed up towards the barrier wall. It was too nice a day not to be optimistic, and sure enough the barrier was broken by a fine chimney.

    We roped up with our 50m of half rope doubled and I set off. The chimney was steep but technical 4 at most and soon I was in the long groove above. Now Liathach sandstone doesn’t have many cracks so we decided Dave would untie from one end and I would lead on it single. That only helps if you intend to stop, so soon I was below a steeper section with still not much rope and nothing I trusted for a belay. Dave said there was 10m of rope left, and it looked about 15m to an easing, but it was one of those days where you had the feeling it would work out in the end, so I went for it. I think Dave had started climbing when I reached a good belay. Dave’s pitch was also very turfy and steeper than we expected but he reached easy ground just as the rope ran out. I expected the ground above just to be turfy slopes but actually the rib right of Spring Gully was well defined and we enjoyed some easy soloing right up to the crest of Meall Dearg.

    Up here was very snowy, so the Northern Pinnacles were no pushover. They are very popular and the turf is slowly eroding, but I was still surprised how little was left in the crux chimneys. Some folk recently have said Grade III, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. The summit of Mullach nan Rathain was busy with Liathach traversers and not as warm as I’d hoped, but it was still crampons off and a fine roll back down to the car. Spring Roll was Grade IV,4.”

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Allt Coire nan Arr (III) in Applecross. The first ascensionists did not carry ice screws, so had to lead the route with minimum protection. Even so, Andy Nisbet commented afterwards that it was a ‘relaxing day out.’ (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Allt Coire nan Arr (III) in Applecross. The first ascensionists did not carry ice screws, so they had to lead the route with minimum protection. Even so, Andy Nisbet commented afterwards that it was a ‘relaxing day out.’ (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “I had been out six days in a row, all to the West from home, so I needed somewhere near the road,” explains Andy Nisbet. “Just like the Bealach na Ba, where the road goes almost through the cliffs. Why not a direct finish to an older Grade I on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain unimaginatively called Far North Gully? I printed out an extra large version of the 1:25000 map so I could find it, but of course the weather was perfect and gave a stunning view of Skye and many other islands.

    Now I admit my memory was a bit vague but I did remember how rough the descent was, down beside a steep branch of the stream called the Allt Coire nan Arr. The legs were protesting as we zig-zagged between the tiers, and Dave McGimpsey’s legs must also have been unhappy when he pointed out that the stream itself was fully iced and was that not a possibility. But I had this finish in my head and wasn’t going to give up easily. But as we descended further and below the snow level, even I had to reluctantly admit that there wasn’t even a single snowflake down here and no rule book can be bent that much. So we headed towards the stream and looked in to a pleasant surprise. There was continuous ice even on the horizontal sections and the various pitches were complete, even if the flickering light of flowing water could be seen through the ice.

    The only snag was that we hadn’t taken any ice screws. We were trying to save our legs by going light and as usual, this suddenly didn’t seem like a good idea. So being my fault, I set off leading the first pitch knowing there wouldn’t be any runners. But actually any angle of ice where you aren’t on your arms feels quite straightforward after several weeks of ice climbing, and the flow of water underneath made the ice very pliable with minimal dinner plating. Dave quickly caught on to this too, so we climbed three long pitches very quickly, leaving Dave with the final wide fall, the one which caught his eye originally. It was quite steep but in steps, so soon we were sitting in the sun having our lunch. “Just like the climbing the ghylls in the Lakes”, said Dave who’d lived there for a few years and only recently escaped back to Scotland.

    After a break, we went and looked down our intended line but I couldn’t really see any worthwhile direct finish. It’s funny how memories can play tricks. But then I did remember that Martin Welch often used the top pitch of our stream for ice practice with his clients, and I can remember his lamenting more than once that he’d love to climb the stream below but that it was never frozen. And that was in the mid 90s when winters were really cold. I suspect that there had been too much water and the long dry spell had given us a very lucky break. The Allt Coire nan Arr gave a 200m Grade III on March 30, and as far as I know, Martin Welch never did climb the lower pitches.”

    Andy Nisbet enjoying the first ascent of the 150m-long Fraoch Choire Icefall (V,5) in Glen Shiel. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet enjoying the first ascent of the 150m-long Fraoch Choire Icefall (V,5) in Glen Shiel. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    “It’s great what unusual conditions have been produced by this cold spell lasting long into the season,” Andy Nisbet writes. “When I spotted a waterfall in an unfrequented valley by Munro bagging without reading the Munros book, I would never have guessed I would be climbing it so soon. Dave McGimpsey and I wanted a short day, and this north-facing icefall at 550m in Glen Shiel seemed ideal. All it needed was a free-falling waterfall to be a frozen pillar. We parked at the site of the Battle of Glen Shiel and hoped this wasn’t going to be another day when the raiders were defeated.

    So we walked south up the valley towards the east end of Creag nan Damh towards where a waterfall is marked on the 1:50000 map and hoped for the best. Rounding the final corner was a “wow moment”, as not only had it formed but it was way thicker and the route longer than I had dared hope. The aim had been to belay behind the pillar and then launch up, so we had brought a huge number of ice screws just in case. But as we arrived at the bottom, we could see that it was a wide screen, no doubt spread out by the cold gales, which we’ve had recently.

    The start was some 90m of low angled ice, around Grade II or III, but a pleasant warm-up for the main event. There was obviously no gap behind the ice, so we belayed in a more photogenic position on an excellent peg. We could see that a lot of snow had blown around the waterfall as it froze, so as well as the blue ice, there was whiter coloured material which would be somewhere between an ice crust over powder and perfect chewy glue. The start, leading left towards the main fall, was somewhere in between but then improved enough to take an ice screw. As I reached the line of the waterfall, I started to hear water hitting my helmet. I could see it was only a couple of vertical moves to escape out on to a hanging slab but still felt the need to place another screw in the compacted slush which seems to form when water is still flowing. The potential soaking speeded me up and I knocked off a couple of large icicles before launching up on small umbrellas, which are typical of waterfall ice. Once on to the slab, I found the ice better than the crust below and placed another couple of ice screws before some more steep moves up left led back into the fall line. But it was all dry this time although I could see the water flowing underneath and one of my placements made a weird sucking noise when I removed the axe. Soon I was into the easier upper gully and digging out an earthy crack with my newly sharpened axes.

    Dave soon joined me and headed on up to the top. It was an easy walk back down to the sacks and an easy walk down to the car. Despite collecting wood for Dave’s stove on the way down, we were back at the car at 1pm and plenty of time to be real tourists and stop at a café for tea and cake. This is what winter climbing should be, my sunburnt nose contrasting with the gales and spindrift which we often find. It felt quite exposed and the shape seemed unusually friendly, so we gave it V,5.”

    Sandy Allan approaching the large cornice on the first ascent of Adventure (V,5) in Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach. “It’s not the quality of the climbing that makes the day here - it’s the whole adventure”, said Sandy on the way down. “And we had had an adventurous day,” confirms Andy Nisbet. (Photo Sandy Allan)

    Sandy Allan approaching the large cornice on the first ascent of Adventure (V,5) in Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach. “It’s not the quality of the climbing that makes the day here – it’s the whole adventure”, said Sandy on the way down. “And we had had an adventurous day,” confirms Andy Nisbet. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet, Sandy Allan and Dave McGimpsey added a new route on the far right side of Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach on March 4. “Braeriach for me is kind of a last resort, when everything else with new routes is bare, but it still needs good weather” explains Andy. “MWIS said winds southerly 15 to 20mph; the Met Office said Sgorr an Lochain Uaine would have southerly 20mph to start, then an unlikely calm by 9am, and later 20mph again, but those forecasts seemed good enough to make the trip. So it was an unpleasant surprise when the wind was at least 20mph even at the car park for the cycle up Gleann Einich and considerably more as Dave, Sandy and I arrived exhausted at the top of the glen. At least it was below freezing.

    Despite the temptation not to bother, we did leave the bikes and set off into the wind cloud. The idea was a route on Corrie of the Chokestone Gully so we made the long rising traverse round the hillside in a whiteout. Sandy is good for comments – “We’d be telling clients to get the compass out and count paces, but we’re just blagging it”. He did get the compass out and count paces for a while but then we got distracted but still hit the col spot on. We almost hadn’t noticed that the wind had dropped, so one up for the Met Office. We took our sacks down to the crag and our lack of confidence that we would be returning was justified as our route was looking rather bare (and hard). So we carried on down into the Garbh Choire and headed up for Plan B, a groove line on the right edge of Garbh Choire Mor and left of a route called Jackpot which I’d climbed in January.

    The name Jackpot was because of a lucky guess that the cornice would be small. This time Stephen Reid had sent me a lovely picture showing that White Nile was black (three folk in the next three days asked me if White Nile was in), and this just happened to show what I thought was a small cornice above our line (thanks Stephen!). And it was still a bit misty as we approached in blissful ignorance. It did clear as we roped up and the cornice certainly wasn’t small, but not quite the normal house-sized, and we just had enough momentum to start climbing.

    The groove looked quite easy from below but was full of soggy moss and detached ice. Fortunately the right wall turned out to be a huge spike, which allowed me to swing up. With a nice sling runner for confidence, the ice disintegrated more slowly than I made progress upwards (just, but tough on the seconds) and I reached a good crack just as the rope ran out. Sandy led on towards the cornice, a curly affair, which seemed to increase in size as the rope ran out and the Sandy figure got smaller. By the time he belayed, he was quite small and it most certainly wasn’t.

    There weren’t any volunteers for the next pitch but it had been my idea to come here. So I set off hopefully left over a rib with the idea that the cornice, which was out of sight, couldn’t be any worse than what was above. I admit I was disappointed but at least there seemed to be a chance. The snow started at 70 degrees and over ten metres reared up to vertical before the last two metres were overhanging to a considerable lip. Fortunately the sun hadn’t been on it so the snow was good enough to take your weight. By digging though about a foot I was able to get axe placements, which seemed to hold. By using the one move at a time method (like footballers, one match at a time) I ended up almost able to reach the top and with a lot of effort, chopped away the lip. I did think about digging out a slot but that would have taken at least an hour of effort I didn’t have, compared to a few seconds going for it. With the knowledge that the plateau had perfect neve, it was over in seconds but took another couple of minutes for my heart rate to slow down.

    As I dug out a buried axe belay, I realised that the mist had settled down into the valleys and I now had a perfect vista of snow capped peaks rising from a sea of cloud, plus flat calm weather allowing me to chat to the others coming up. It was like a true reward for the effort. Adventure is hard to grade; it could be anything from III to V depending on conditions and more likely impossible with the bigger build-up, so we graded it V,5 on the day.”

     

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Begging for More (III,4) on the West Face of Aonach Beag. Although rarely visited, this cliff has some of the most reliable high altitude ice climbs in the country. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Begging for More (III,4) on the West Face of Aonach Beag. Although rarely visited, this cliff has some of the most reliable high altitude ice climbs in the country. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “When the big thaw was ending, and after my Ben Wyvis day when the ice was shrinking fast, a high safe choice seemed best,” explains Andy Nisbet. “The Central West Face of Aonach Beag has some of the most reliable ice in the country but is rarely visited so plenty of choice for exploration. Maybe folk think it’s a long walk but only an hour and a half from uplift in the current good walking conditions. The face doesn’t look very impressive from the Aonach Mor-Aonach Beag col but actually it’s much further away and therefore bigger than appearances suggest. And many of the ice lines are in grooves so while the face looks like snow ledges from a distance, the snow ledges are 50-degree snow and continuing up the icy grooves feels natural. But as a word of warning, in current conditions this is probably the most serious approach in all Scotland, close on a kilometre of Grade I hard snow to the far end, up, down and traversing where one trip would be terminal.

    When Sandy Allan and I arrived at the col on Tuesday (February 19), the face was obviously icy enough but we had expected some mixed climbing up our objective, which was a small smear in an old April picture. But as we started the long traverse approach, we didn’t even get near before spotting another line of ice and setting off up that. This was to the right of a big corner we’d climbed before (Cryogenic Corner) and another ice line to its right (Glycerol Gully). We soloed a bit and then roped up for a long pitch. I stopped when I ran out of rope and Sandy set off, not for long. “There’s a big gap here”, he said. “We’ll have to abseil”. Even from 10 metres away, I couldn’t believe him, but he was right. The route was split by a deep snow gully crossing it diagonally, and now I remembered it. There was a much thicker icefall directly opposite and from below it had looked continuous. So Sandy made a snow bollard and abseiled tentatively into the gully. The ice pitch out of the gully was quite steep, the next pitch easier and the third went over an awkward ice bulge on to icy mixed ground to finish. For a minute, we wondered if this was two shorter routes or one longer one, but it became the longer Glacies Interruptus (220m IV,5).

    The diagonal gully became a descent route but still pretty steep so by the time we had descended and traversed to our original objective, our legs were feeling the strain. But we were inspired by the fantastic conditions and what we had expected to be icy mixed was two long pitches of fat ice on the buttress left of Poached Egg. Preferring our icy theme to eggs which don’t seem to freeze well, we called it Facets (IV,4), after the unusual layer of crystals in the snow pack in the northern Cairngorms. Not that there was any chance of the snow around here avalanching.

    A couple of days later (February 21) I was back with Dave McGimpsey. Conditions were so good that there must be more to do. Sandy and I had spotted an iced groove to the right of Sublimation and left of the older route Beyond the Call of Duty, which is the only Grade III I know with two vertical ice pitches (upgrade suggested!). It looked a bit steeper so we’d taken an extra ice screw. The doubt was a vertical wall, which blocked the groove, and below it was an arete, which split the ice into two thinner falls. The left fall up another groove was tempting but gaining the arete might just be a smear. However there was a green tinge to the ice right at the back, which suggested something thicker and made it worth a go. Sure enough, the green ice was thick enough for a tied off ice screw and good placements for the axes, but one foot was on the smear. The monopoint seemed to hold even though it was too thin for axe placements and only a couple of moves to gain the arete where careful footwork was needed for a 90 degree change in foot angle. Once on the arete you could just stay in balance to place a better ice screw in the thicker ice above and a couple of moves gained the upper groove. We gave Glacial Groove V,5 but with such a short crux, maybe it should be IV,5.

    There was some mist around so the diagonal gully would have been hard to find from the convex upper slopes. Also there seemed to be plenty of time before the Gondola finished so we returned to the sacks for food and made the long approach again. Actually it was less tiring the long way round. My photo had two ice smears at the right end and Sandy and I had only climbed the left one (or so we thought). But when we got there, it was obvious that we’d actually climbed the right one. So there was a quick change of plan and we headed up left to where there was a choice of ice lines. To play safe, I suggested we continue left but as I belayed I convinced myself that Dave had gone into West Central Route. So once he’d finished the pitch and was at the top of the cliff, I untied and went up the right-hand way. It did seem a bit mad but I guess we’d covered both options. Of course when I got home and looked at the photo, we were a long way from West Central Route and both finishes were valid. West Central Route is a Grade II but assuming the guidebook diagram marks its position correctly, it must be a lot easier without its big icefall or else there was a huge build-up of snow in 1987. Although we were Begging for More (III,4) on Aonach Beag, we needed to avoid the walk of shame back down to the car.”

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey climbing pitch 3 during the first ascent of Rongbuk (IV,4) on Toll an Lochain on An Teallach. This 500m-long route makes a fine companion to Potala Buttress (IV,4), first climbed by Des Rubens and Dave Broadhead in January 1987. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet returned to An Teallach on December 18 with Jonathan Preston and Dave McGimpsey to make a fine addition to one of Scotland’s largest cliffs. Here is Andy’s story:

    “There was so much snow on An Teallach a week ago that a good thaw could only improve conditions, and not the opposite as a rather negative thread about NW conditions on UKClimbing had concluded. Toll an Lochain is arguably the second biggest cliff in Scotland, although there are steeper contenders, and I love climbing there. There was an obvious gap on Potala Buttress, and Jonathan and I had previously looked at it, but conditions had been deeply plastered snow and it was a surprisingly intimidating face. This time we expected conditions to be icy and perhaps the smooth slabs would be climbable.

    With Dave roped in, we left the car at first light (none of this walking in the dark for us). Again the turf was frozen down to the road and we hoped it wasn’t just valley frost. But as we gained height it stayed frozen, so surely the snow would have to follow suit. Despite the nagging doubt that a temperature inversion would warm things up, it didn’t and conditions looked very promising. No big build-up and the lower buttresses had definitely thawed, but an ice fringe on every turf ledge high up.

    We geared up in the corrie bottom and made the big mistake of wearing all the clothes (well it is winter). Of course forgetting that it’s 1000ft of Grade II to reach the start, and sure enough we were roasting on a cloudless, windless day. The snow was crusty in places but very solid where water had dripped down. But we got to the toe of the buttress and its smooth slabs, so felt a bit guilty starting round to the right (later relieved to find Potala Buttress starts there also). I volunteered to go first and was even allowed to, but then I did have a fair idea how to avoid the line of Potala Buttress.

    The climbing was well turfy, even as I trended left away from the other route. I did have a warthog and a hook, but thinking I should save them for a hard move, I only placed the hook with 40m of rope out. Jonathan’s next pitch had some steeper icy moves but 8 runners. After Dave’s next pitch, it looked like the ground was easing but the route still had to offer a fine ice-filled short gully and a perfect crack just over the initial bulge when the rope had just run out. Dave and Jonathan then led simultaneously (so we led two pitches each!) to the summit ridge. What great views there were of the Beinn Dearg range.

    With a choice of descents, we decided to reverse the bad step (which isn’t bad if you know how to avoid it) and then descend the endless Constabulary Couloir. Not endless if you’re climbing up full of enthusiasm, but at the end of the day when the light is fading. The route was called Rongbuk after another Tibetan monastery nearer the mountains. We debated over the grade and agreed on IV,4. It must be at least 500m if you count the long approach.”

    Sron na Lairige

    Sandy Allan on the final rib of Kowloon (IV,4) during the first ascent. This route lies on the east-facing cliffs of Sron na Lairige above the Lairig Ghru which have only seen slow development in recent years despite reasonable access from the ski area. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Sron na Lairige, on the Braeriach side of the Lairig Ghru, is a cliff largely visited by locals when an east facing cliff with middle grade routes is wanted,” Andy Nisbet writes. “The classic is Lairig Ridge, originally climbed in summer by Bill Brooker in 1950 and in winter by Greg Strange and Bob Ross in 1985. Without the urgency of competition, new routes have gradually worked rightwards and this year the right end of the cliff has seen some action.

    The rightmost route was a buttress with its crest climbed by Polar Bear (IV,4). Seeing icy conditions from Lurchers Crag, but actually a day too late as it had started thawing (January 8), Sandy Allan and I climbed the corner between this buttress and an unclimbed one to the right. A picture on his blog caused a stir on UKC as it showed little snow but the base of the corner was hidden on the picture and climbed on ice at IV,4 – Goth’s Corner. The route names here have a gruesome theme, or should that be Ghru-some?

    On a rather wild day at the end of the month (January 30), Sandy Allan, Dave McGimpsey and I went in to explore the buttress right of Goths’ Corner. A photo from across the valley showed a turfy corner, and it was certainly cold and snowy enough. This right-facing corner turned out to be easier than expected at Grade III (named Blood Brothers), so there was time to try a mean-looking roofed corner to the right. A thinly iced groove led to the roof which turned out to be an imposter, where a step left gained good turf. A final rib led to easy ground and the finish of Kowloon (IV,4). We had walked in with John Lyall and clients who amicably avoided competition by climbing two new routes on the next buttress right. And they were keen enough to climb a third the next day, but that’s John’s story!”