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    Browsing Posts tagged Dave McGimpsey

    Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of the Direct Start (V,5) to the Wall of the Early Morning Light on Beinn Bhan. The complete outing provides nearly 400m of sustained ice climbing on one of Scotland’s finest winter cliffs. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet on the first pitch of the Direct Start (V,5) to the Wall of the Early Morning Light on Beinn Bhan during the first ascent. The complete outing provides nearly 400m of sustained ice climbing on one of Scotland’s finest winter cliffs. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet, Dave McGimpsey and Steve Perry made an excellent three-pitch addition to Coire na Poite on Beinn Bhan in Applecross on March 5. Andy takes up the story:

    “When Dave McGimpsey, Jonathan Preston and I were climbing a new mixed line left of Silver Tear in 2013, Dave pointed out an obvious right-slanting line up the back of Coire na Poite and asked what it was. When I said it was nothing, he was most surprised. It looked a logical natural line in a popular corrie. I later realised it joined Wall of the Early Morning Light and was therefore an unclimbed direct start. We agreed to climb it together.

    It may not have been in nick in 2014 or 2015; at least the weather wasn’t cold enough to inspire me to go there. Plus Dave was mostly working away and not climbing, so the route had to wait. So it was most convenient when Dave’s contract ended just as conditions looked promising. Skye had been in great icy nick the previous weekend and Applecross was near Skye, certainly far away from the unconsolidated conditions in the higher mountains. The only worry was that no-one had logged Silver Tear on ukclimbing, and only a couple of March Hares had been logged, but all my instincts said that conditions would be good apart from perhaps the walk-in on crusty snow over heather. We agreed to climb on Saturday (February 5), and fortunately Steve Perry’s new job had been delayed, so we had three for trail breaking.

    In the end, the walking was as good as it ever is for that corrie, with little snow until the final slope into the corrie bowl was reached, and then you could often walk on top with only the occasional crusty collapse. And when we reached the corrie, we couldn’t believe how icy good the conditions were. Even the top vertical icefall of Silver Tear was fat, and our line was ice top to bottom. I guess so many places were in nick that Beinn Bhan had just gone unnoticed.

    The second pitch, where we would join the main groove line, had an obviously steep entry, but we talked about how the first pitch might be soloable, thereby saving us some time. What a joke when we got close; it was clearly steep and sustained and I volunteered to lead it. I ran out of 60m rope conveniently at a rock wall, but still well below the groove; our assessment of scale was well out too.

    Steve took over for pitch 2. By now it had started snowing and the wind had got up, despite all the forecasts saying it would be dry, so it became increasingly irritating as waves of spindrift were flowing down the cliff, although with no great volume. Steve in the lead actually didn’t notice, concentrating on climbing carefully and placing all our ice screws on this steep pitch; only he was strong enough to double up in the middle of the steepest section. The belayers were worried in case he needed ice screws for a belay, but again he just reached rock.

    Dave’s turn; a near vertical corner was hidden ahead. Dave romped up it, despite being the steepest ice he’d climbed for three years, and we reached the line of Wall of the Early Morning Light. I was wondering why they took such a wandering line in 1971 and now I knew. Steep ice at V,5 wasn’t in favour until front pointing was established. But the rest wasn’t exactly low angled, just a bit less on the arms, as I found leading a long groove pitch.

    A couple more pitches, each slightly easier than the previous, led us to the summit snow slope. It turned out to be wind blown hard snow, and there was a convenient break in the cornice. It’s always hard to judge scale but the anticipated 70m turned into 40m, and we were up in daylight in much better weather. The plateau was solid ice so the going was easy, but we still needed torches for the final descent to the car. Maybe not surprising after 370m of steep ice and snow on one of Scotland’s biggest and best cliffs in such good conditions.

    We felt we could only give it three stars when the even more sustained Silver Tear sat nearby and gets its four. But it’s still a very fine route, and another, which could make my winter. More to come I hope.”

    : Looking up the lower half of Double Salchow (IV,4) on the West Face of Beinn Dearg with crux ice pitch visible high up. The 350m-long route follows a continuous line of ice (and snow) which forms just right of the crest right of Silken Ladder and left of Peace Process, (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Looking up the lower half of Double Salchow (IV,4) on the West Face of Beinn Dearg with crux ice pitch visible high up. This 350m-long route follows a continuous line of ice (and snow) just right of the crest right of Silken Ladder and left of Peace Process. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey visited Beinn Dearg in the Northern Highlands on March 3 and found rather more white stuff than they anticipated. Andy takes up the story:

    “’Is it just me, or does our route look like a snow slope?’ So said Dave McGimpsey after two hours of wading through deep sludge towards the West Buttress of Beinn Dearg. And it did, so much so that we talked about abandoning it and climbing something nearer on the Glensquaib cliffs. But they looked pretty plastered too, and I only knew of a couple of poor quality new lines.

    We need to offer thanks to Mark Chadwick for a useful blog picture, intended to show the Ice Hose but also showing another line with more ice than I’d ever seen before. But on the day, the cliff showed little resemblance to the picture, plastered pure white and hard to even pick out the ice lines. After some recent thaws, we had chosen a higher option than Skye and were just beginning to regret it.

    But we decided to bash on and see what it was like. As we approached the cliff, the snow began to firm up and we were able to walk on its top on the slope below the line, which we could now pick out. Things were looking up. It had snowed a fair bit overnight but the wind must have been blowing up, as some recessed areas were packed with soft snow but most of the crag was blown clear.

    The line was a shallow gully just right of the steep edge of the famous part of the West Buttress (with Ice Hose and Silken Ladder). Above halfway was much more general snow and ice but I knew from Mark’s picture that there was a good line of ice, just it was now part buried. The route was going to be long (it’s a big cliff) and with limited protection apart from ice screws, so we’d gone light and hoped to solo up as far as possible. Initial ground was easy to the first significant ice pitch which after discussion, we soloed too. Dave seemed happy and the ice was solid, but to me it didn’t seem as predictable as the steeper ice on Skye, so above this I was keen to put the rope on for what was likely to be the crux.

    There were a couple of steep pulls above a good ice screw, then a longer groove which still kept the mind focussed, after which the ground slowly got easier to reach a halfway terrace. Above was white and extensively icy but we knew there was a line of thicker ice under the snow. Some of the ice was good, some brittle and some under deep snow. It was Grade III at most so we just kept going in three extended pitches to reach the top.

    There was so much snow that the wall at the top of the cliff was buried, only the top rocks showing through, but the snow was still largely wind blown and it was easy walking down to the descent gully between the west and Glensquaib Buttresses. Despite our steps, it was hard going walking out, partly because the day had warmed slightly. My legs were protesting but the thought of a high speed free wheel out on the bikes kept me going.

    We discussed the grade. We could have gone for III,4 but it felt a big route so I was allowed to grade it IV,4. Irish names were becoming a little boring so it’s provisionally called Double Salchow, an icy name for a route with two sections and two climbers but admittedly no leaps into the air.”

    Andy Nisbet on the crux pitch of Skyefall (IV,5) on the south-east face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on Skye. This is the first route to be climbed on this difficult to access cliff. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    Andy Nisbet on the crux pitch of Skyefall (IV,5) on the south-east face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on Skye. This is the first route to be climbed on the cliff. (Photo Dave McGimpsey)

    “If you look at the picture in Part 1, you might just see a thin stripe of ice leading into a gully high on the left side of the Coruisg face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh,” Andy Nisbet notes. “We certainly did, so that was the target for the next day and enough to persuade me to stay in Skye.

    I searched the Cuillin guidebook to see what routes already existed on the face, and the winter answer was none. Now it was a case of how to get there. The guide said to climb Sgurr na Banachdich, go down to the col before Sgurr Thormaid and descend easily. I was well impressed by such detail for an obscure crag previously reached from Loch Coruisg, but not at all impressed by the approach time of two hours. I’ve got a thing about guidebook authors and ridiculously fast times, and when the Munros guide has 2hrs 40mins for Banachdich alone in summer with a light pack, this really wound me up. OK, I was tired from the day before, but it took us three hours just to get up Banachdich. Actually snow conditions on the Ridge were fantastic, the scenery descending into the corrie was amazing and we were at the crag soon after.

    The summer routes are mostly on a lower tier, which was below the snow line, but we were able to gain a halfway terrace easily on good snow. The short night, early start and long approach were catching up with us, plus time was getting on, so when we looked up at the steep and possibly thin ice line, neither of us fancied leading it. Not helped by the option of an easier line, still on ice, heading off left to gain the main ridge lower down.

    We chose this and zigzagged around on banked up snow ledges and up a big groove to a cul-de-sac where we got the rope out. The right wall was iced, thick enough for an ice screw, and gave a short steep pitch into a huge enclosed amphitheatre. Ice leading out of its top was tempting but I was on ‘survival mode’ so we carried on left to the main ridge. The route was called Griffin (200m III,4), for no particular reason other than it was a nice name.

    Now the question was how to get down. I knew from summer that neither left nor right was simple, and unable to make up my mind, Sandy said, ‘why don’t we just go straight down?’ I protested that guidebooks warned of all kind of trouble doing that, but I wasn’t thinking about good conditions in winter and we didn’t have any great trouble descending a gully which I later discovered was Diagonal Gully (Grade II). Further down, we came across a fine looking gully on a nearby crag, wondered if it had been done before and when we could come back up to do it. It turned out to be White Wedding and in unusually good nick, it had already been done twice that week. It shows how little we knew about the Cuillin. Despite my worries about time, I was back in Inverness before it got dark.

    Of course the steeper ice line was still there, and with a good forecast for a few days, a line on the north face of Ghreadaidh wasn’t going anywhere. Sandy was working so I roped in Steve Perry for a Skye trip on Sunday (February 28), the last good day before the weather broke. On the Friday, Dave McGimpsey phoned to say he was back from working down south and was there any climbing on the go? I told him the venue and he was definitely interested, not having winter climbed in Skye before. Later he phoned again and asked how we saw the north face of Ghreadaidh from the In Pinn, and was it perhaps the south face, and might the sun not cause us some problem. Actually it was the south-east face, which was even worse.

    So plans rapidly changed and we drove to Skye that evening, reluctantly deciding to get up at 3am and walk in the dark. Just as well we did, although some early morning mist made the approach very atmospheric and dulled the effect of the sun. Steve led the first pitch, 50m of ice with a couple of steepish sections. We had loads of ice screws but he found a rock belay off to the left of the stripe of ice. I claimed the lead on this, and my apprehension immediately disappeared when I hit my axe in first time; the ice was thick and chewy despite the sun getting stronger and chunks of ice starting to fall down. An easing allowed the placement of a couple of ice screws before the steepest section but the ice was so good that after it, I just kept going to the top. There were still some icy steps before the angle really eased, so I kept going until the 60m ropes ran out.

    The sun was hot now but the others climbed quickly as bigger lumps started to fall. The upper gully was part hidden from the sun and turned out to be only steep snow. They set off on a single rope each, leading together and ready to stop at any difficulty. But conditions were so good that they didn’t stop until the top. The descent was the same and we even discussed a quick ascent of White Wedding before common sense kicked in. The name Skyefall was suggested as highly appropriate, if it hadn’t been used before, and we were delighted when it hadn’t. I decided on a grade of IV,5 and although I know it’s high in the grade, there was only one section of 5 and Grade Vs on the Ben had more. I thought it was similar in climbing to Pumpkin (Meagaidh) and most folk think that is more like Grade IV.

    It was one of those special days, which justifies all the scrabbling around in bad weather, and one which would make you content even if the winter ended tomorrow. Which it won’t. Now what’s the forecast?”

    Bolero on Ice

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Bolero (V,5) in Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs. This mid-height north-facing crag has been proved to be a good location for middle grade ice routes this season. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey on the first ascent of Bolero (V,5) in Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs. This mid-height north-facing crag has been proved to be a good location for middle grade ice routes this season. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “After such good conditions on Mullach nan Rathain but the rest of the north-west with little snow, and reports of bare rock in the Cairngorms, somewhere kind of middling was needed,” writes Andy Nisbet. “Coire nan Eun in the Fannaichs might just do the job, so Dave McGimpsey and I gave it a go on Sunday February 15. The forecast was for increasing wind so an early start (by our standards) was made. The plan was that the wind would blow our bikes up the road and get us to the crag, then we’d be sheltered on the north facing cliff and once we’d done a route, it didn’t matter what hit us for the way home.

    The only snag (but one we could handle) is that it seemed a nice day and there wasn’t much wind to blow us up. Garbh Choire Mor seemed a bit bare but it gets the sun, so our crag would be fine. Which it was until we walked along the approach terrace and couldn’t see any snow or ice. Plans A and B were completely bare, so improvised plan C of climbing some easy ice at the right end of the crag would have to do. But when we got there and looked at the route descriptions, there was a tempting but very steep corner that held a strip of ice. Then we realised that the existing route Bunny Boiler climbed the second ice line from the left and the steep corner was the first. So why not give it a go? At least I’d had early morning thoughts and added an ice screw to the rack at the last minute.

    There was an easy introductory pitch leading to the corner; maybe we should solo it. But we decided to put the rope on and it turned out to be much steeper than it looked. Which of course made the corner even steeper and rather intimidating. But there was a fine horizontal crack in the perfect place for a belay, so no excuses really.

    I set off up the corner with the odd position of climbing pure ice but with bare rock either side. The right side was completely smooth but the left side soon gave a bridge and a good runner. Back up the ice and a spiral bulge called for the ice screw. Some strenuous moves up from this led to another bridging ledge on the left. It turned out I could actually step left and just rest on a strange perch with a nice crack for runners. Back on to the ice, now a little hollow, but a couple of moves not kicking too hard soon solved this. The finish was up a hidden gully on to the windy plateau.

    One of the nicest features of this crag is the easy descent, although a southerly wind didn’t allow us the normal free wheel on the bikes back to the car. The recent routes here have dance names, but since this had been an ice dance, the name Bolero (V,5) seemed appropriate.”

    Dave McGimpsey pulling out of the top of the chimney during the first ascent of Jinky (V,5) on the West Face of Quinag. The cliffs on the west face of Quinag are a good choice in very snowy conditions as they have a relatively short approach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    Dave McGimpsey pulling out of the top of the chimney during the first ascent of Jinky (V,5) on Quinag. The cliffs on the West Face of Quinag are a good choice in very snowy conditions as they have a relatively short approach. (Photo Andy Nisbet)

    “Ice conditions were very good in many places, but it was still hard to make the best choice,” Andy Nisbet writes. “Local enquiries always talked of deep snow and tough walk-ins. Plus the weather was slowly warming up as high pressure pushed gradually into England. So the longer-term plan was to start north and low and work south and higher as warmer air pushed first into the north. So on February 4, Quinag it was.

    A couple of years ago, Jonathan Preston and I had climbed two lines on the sidewall of the biggest descent gully on the Western Cliffs. The advantage of the gully wall was that it didn’t get much sun so stayed in nick longer than the front faces, which were distinctly bare that day in 2013. But there was also a gully that we hadn’t climbed because there was no chance of it being frozen. This time it had been cold for a while and maybe it would even be iced.

    The walk-in was deep snow right from the road but I’d done that before and it wasn’t that far. That opinion had changed a couple of hours later despite having trail breaking Dave McGimpsey with us. Still, the gully looked good and white although the amount of ice was disappointing. I went first, partly because the wind was getting up and suddenly we were all cold, and soon discovered the ice wasn’t that great, so I moved out on to well frozen turf on the right wall.

    Jonathan had the next pitch, quite a chimney and which looked promisingly white. An extensive digging operation created only an overhang, and since I hadn’t taken hexes, not enough protection. Having just been to see Valley Uprising, Jonathan wedged the two largest nuts side by side and they might just have held. But the theory was never tested as the turf over the top was solid.

    Dave led the last pitch very quickly just as the mist cleared and we marvelled over the view to Suilven and Stac Pollaidh in the distance. And Rubha Hunish at the northern tip of Skye was just visible. The route was called Jinky (V,5), not after the famous footballer (although I’m sure he would have enjoyed it too) but after I said it jinked left and Dave was puzzled by that usage. Maybe he’s not a Celtic follower.”

    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.”