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    Donald King battling up the fierce crux section of Angels (VIII,9), a new route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian. “Going climbing with Donald means I'm going to have sore arms at the end of the day!” Mike Pescod said afterwards. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    Donald King battling up the fierce crux section of Angels (VIII,9), a new route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian. “Going climbing with Donald means I’m going to have sore arms at the end of the day!” Mike Pescod said afterwards. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    Donald King, Mike Pescod and Andy Nelson made the first ascent of Angels (VIII,9), an excellent new mixed route on the front face of Church Door Buttress on Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe on January 13. Conditions were good with light winds, and the rock was well rimed up and had quite a few bits of usable ice with clean rock underneath for placing protection. Donald takes up the story:

    “The first pitch follows a line of pick-width cracks straight up the front face of the massive flake on Flake Route. The first half is very positive and good for the feet, but as I started up the top half of the pitch things got a bit more exciting! There is a 10mm wide crack running up the next section, but halfway up the footholds disappeared and I had to pull up some more protection on the rope as I needed a medium Hex. I battled with the Hex trying to get it seated, but I never got it quite right, so I also placed two cams beside it. Unfortunately, they slid out of the icy crack each time I pulled them, but it was now or never to continue up, or go down.

    There was a ledge ten to twelve feet above me and the next few minutes went by in a state of fear with my hands nearly letting go of my ice axes. I think there was three or four total lock offs with nothing for my feet apart from smearing into the corner. At the ledge the crack ran out, and I only just managed to get onto it without falling and testing the gear.

    Mike and Andy followed up with very tight ropes. Mike led a wee link pitch to below a groove, and then Andy led us up the groove to the Arch. My arms where still pumped by the time we got back to the car. As with many of these routes its very hard to put a grade on them, but we all thought VIII,9 is about right, but who knows?”

    Looking up to Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis, with the sinuous line of Point Blank (VII,6) to the right. Uisdean Hawthorn can be seen leading the first pitch with Robin Clothier and Doug Hawthorn belaying below. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Looking up to Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis, with the sinuous line of Point Blank (VII,6) to the right. Uisdean Hawthorn can be seen leading the first pitch with Robin Clothier and Doug Hawthorn belaying below. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Saturday March 16 was a landmark day on Observatory Buttress with two repeats of the legendary Point Blank (VII,6) and two new routes on the buttress itself.

    Point Blank, which takes the steep rib bounding the right side of Point Five Gully and was first climbed by Mal Duff and Rick Nowack in February 1988, has a colourful history. Mal first spotted the line from a picture in Cold Climbs, and attempted the route with Jon Tinker in March 1984. They almost succeeded except for a short section in Point Five Gully that avoided the crux groove. Although it was written up as a route in the SMC Journal, a comment by New Routes Editor Andy Nisbet that the ‘purity of their route had been spoiled by the traverse in and out Point Five’ pricked Duff’s ego, and he was determined to straighten out the line.

    Duff and Tinker planned to return to the route in the winters of 1985 and 1986, but conditions were unfavourable. Conditions looked better during the 1987, but Duff injured his knee and was out of action for most of the season. Instead, Tinker conscripted the very strong Aberdeen-based climber Colin MacLean to straighten out the line. The climb was going well, but when MacLean was belayed from the hanging stance at the top of the second pitch, a peg pulled out as Tinker was climbing and they both fell. Fortunately they were held by a protection peg left from the 1984 attempt. The ever-competitive Duff admitted later that he was secretly delighted when he heard the news. Finally, the following season, Duff returned with Nowack and completed the line. Despite numerous attempts, the route went 22 years before it was eventually repeated by Iain Small and Owen Samuels in February 2010.

    Robin Clothier had made various determined attempts over the years, so it was fitting that he should make the third ascent with long-term partner Doug Hawthorn and Doug’s son Uidean. The trio were only just in time however, because hot on their heels were Tim Neill and Donald King. Tim said afterwards that the second pitch was a big step up from any Ben experiences he’d had before – quite something for a man who has logged thousands and thousands of metres of high standard ice climbing on the mountain this year.

    Donald King approaching the crux section of The Good Groove (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This may be the only second time this route has been repeated since the route was first climbed in March 1993. On the first ascent (in similar icy conditions), Roger Everett belayed from the spike with the sling at the bottom of the photo. (Photo Tim Neill)

    Donald King approaching the crux section of The Good Groove (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This may be the only second time this route has been repeated since the route was first climbed in March 1993. On the first ascent (in similar icy conditions), Roger Everett belayed from the spike with the sling at the bottom of the photo. (Photo Tim Neill)

    Every season I receive an exciting email or two from Tim Neill recounting his latest adventures in the Scottish Highlands. It’s always a long list of impressive new routes and repeats, which is very fitting, because Tim’s enthusiasm for winter climbing is legendary. It’s no surprise to learn that he’s only had one rest day in the last month!

    “Just read the post about Raven’s Gully… beautiful photo!” Tim writes. “We had an amazing day on the climb, and capped it off with Hamish autographing my Coe guidebook in the cafe next morning. We put a little album up on our staff facebook page. It’s got to be one of the most memorable classic outings we’ve all done!

    On a more recent note, yesterday (February 15) Keith Ball, Donald King and I did your Good Groove on The Comb… mega! What did you belay on at the foot of the crux groove? This threw Keith as he couldn’t find anything nearly good enough, (and made us think it needed more ice). He ran the two pitches together to the platform and luckily a couple of decent runners appeared in the crux section. Perhaps you might describe it as a 50m pitch in the next guidebook? Each of our three pitches seemed to just have one or two runners and plenty of airy climbing. Wanted to do this one for years.

    Matt Stygall and Keith also did The Secret last weekend in ‘turbo rime’ conditions. Matt did the original version climbing the full length of the crack like Andy [Turner] did. This was because it was too white to see where you could traverse in. Alas he took a whipper high up… he was gutted, but totally made up all the same.

    I read your post about Tony and Rich’s line out of Green Gully. I never got back to you with a line on the photo you sent… I think I failed with the IT skills needed. Anyway, our line starts about 15m higher than theirs. It’s really obvious in the picture of Green Gully in Cold Climbs. It’s the first line of ice after the narrows in the middle of Green, heading out left to belay below the centre of the triangular headwall. The last pitch climbs right of the obvious dark wall on the crest of the comb, linking the snow patches first a little to the right then leftwards up a hidden gully to the big boulder on the crest of the comb. We called it Uranus (between Mercury and Venus) and graded it IV,4.

    Keith and Dave Rudkin also had a great few days up in the North-West. As well as West Buttress Directissma on Ben Eighe and Genesis on Beinn Bhan they climbed a few routes on Meall Gorm, including straightening out Rattlesnake.

    It’s not all been too crazy though. When I messaged you about Clough’s Chimney, I let my clients have a sandwich below the narrows in Comb Gully while I nipped out left to check… just wanted to make sure!

    Getting out climbing most days (one day off in the last month… after Raven’s Direct), but all local to Coe, Bridge of Orchy and the Ben, so got a good idea on conditions. Did Pigott’s on the Comb today…. obviously a bit gloopy, but awesome ice!”

    Donald King on the first winter ascent of Engineer’s Crack (VIII,9) on Buauchaille Etive Mor. This steep two-pitch route on the North side of Crowberry Ridge is rarely in winter condition, but it fell to a well-timed and determined ascent just before the late January high pressure weather system broke. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    Donald King on the first winter ascent of Engineer’s Crack (VIII,9) on Buachaille Etive Mor. This steep two-pitch route on the North side of Crowberry Ridge is rarely in winter condition, but it fell to a well-timed and determined ascent just before the late January high pressure weather system broke. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    On Friday January 25, Donald King and Mike Pescod notched up a significant first winter ascent in Glen Coe by climbing Engineer’s Crack on Buachaille Etive Mor. Engineer’s Crack lies on the north-east side of Crowberry ridge (to the right of Rannoch Wall) and was first climbed with some aid by Hamish MacInnes, Charlie Vigano and R.Hope in September 1951.  Nowadays it is climbed free and graded E1 5b.  Donald had waited over ten years to climb the route; the cold easterly winds blowing on to the Buachaille through the previous week finally brought the route into winter condition, and the wall was white with rime.

    “Donald fell once and was very disappointed not to get the on sight,” Mike told me. ‘However, he got back on and climbed it second go. The protection is quite good and the second pitch is much easier. The route is quite steep, much of it is on dinky footholds and a few flat hooks. The step right near the top of the wall is the crux but it’s really quite sustained and the climb is not over once above the crux. We’re not very good at grading things but Donald’s first stab was VIII,9. I managed to climb it all however, so it can’t be so hard!”

    Dave Almond making an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,6) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This rarely climbed two-pitch route takes the steep groove right of Crest Route and was first ascended by Dave Hollinger and Guy Willett in February 2004. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Dave Almond making an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,6) on Stob Coire nan Lochan. This rarely climbed two-pitch route takes the steep groove right of Crest Route and was first ascended by Dave Hollinger and Guy Willett in February 2004. (Photo Helen Rennard)

    Last week (December 10-14) was undoubtedly the week of the winter so far. Heavy snowfall was consolidated by a mini-thaw the previous weekend followed by stable cold weather with no wind and blue skies.

    Several of the major events have already been reported on scottishwinter.com – Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell’s first ascent of the Vapouriser (VIII,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch, Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson’s third ascent of Steeple (IX,9) on the Shelter Stone and Andy Nisbet and Brain Davison’s good run of new routes in Glen Coe and An Teallach.

    The Cuillin Ridge came into good conditions and four teams made the winter traverse. Both Scott Kirkhope and Ken Applegate and John Orr and Ronnie made a traditional outing with a bivouac, whilst the Fort William-based team of Guy Steven, Donald King, Kenny Grant and Duncan made a lightning-quick traverse in only 12 hours. This is very respectable time for a summer ascent and the team was aided by King’s intimate knowledge of the route. All these ascents were widely reported on various blogs and Twitter, but more impressive perhaps was a solo traverse by Barry Smyth with one bivouac. The Cuillin Ridge has been traversed in winter solo before, but to do it mid-winter with precious little daylight and long nights takes a very special resolve.

    Dave Almond had a good run of routes with Helen Rennard. They started off with The Secret/Cornucopia Combination (VII,8) on Ben Nevis, followed by Tyrannosaur (VI,7) on Lost Valley Buttress in Glen Coe. On their third day they climbed Sidewinder (VII,8) on the Ben and finished off their four-day spell with an early repeat of Tuberculosis (VI,7) on Stob Coire an Lochan. Dave then teamed up with Guy Steven and Blair Fyffe to climb Sticil Face (V,6) on the Shelter Stone with the Direct Finish.

    A blast from the past. A topo of Stob Coire nan Lochan from the March 1974 edition of Mountain magazine with the line of Satyr marked. "Satyr (350ft, VS) brings the number of good climbs in the corrie to four," Mountain reported, "and should help to attract climbers to a ridiculously neglected crag." Satyr saw its first winter ascent in the hands of Donald King and Andy Nelson on December 7 and was graded IX,9. There are now over 60 routes on the crag. (Archive Photo Robin Campbell/Mountain magazine)

    Big news from Glen Coe is the outstanding first winter ascent of Satyr by Donald King and Andy Nelson on December 7.

    Satyr was first climbed in September 1973 by the great Sheffield-based climber Paul Nunn together with Jack Street and Jeff Morgan. They graded it Very Severe (the top Scottish grade at the time), but nowadays it is reckoned to be E1 5a. It is not as popular as the other rock routes on the cliff such as Scansor, Unicorn and Central Grooves, and is rarely climbed.

    Summer routes of this difficulty are now being targeted by an ever-increasing number of top level winter climbers, so it was no surprise to hear earlier this week that a team were working on a winter ascent of Satyr. Donald first attempted the route with Mike Pescod in late November. He returned with Andy on November 30 who climbed the very serious first pitch (thought to be worth IX,8 as a stand-alone pitch) before finishing up Central Buttress. The pair returned on December 5, and climbed Central Grooves to reach their high point on Satyr and then continued up this in two pitches to the top. The second pitch proved to be another demanding technical pitch. Donald and Andy returned once again two days later (December 7) and reclimbed the entire route to record the first winter ascent.

    Satyr was graded IX,9 and ranks alongside The Duel as one of the most difficult winter routes in Glen Coe.  Stob Coire nan Lochan has clearly come a long way since Paul Nunn’s probings in the early 1970s!

    Dave MacLeod on the first ascent of Jane's Weep on Aonach Dubh, Glen Coe. At VIII,8 this is the highest graded ice route ever climbed in Scotland. (Photo Dave MacLeod Collection)

    Dave MacLeod has had a productive week in Glen Coe coming away with five difficult new ice climbs. On January 8 he visited the crag right of Chancellor Gully low down on the south side of the Aonach Eagach and climbed the left-hand of vertical thin icefalls with Donald King to give Liquidation (VI,6). The route went fairly quickly, so the pair nipped up to the Lady Jane Wall on Aonach Dubh and made a rare repeat of Willie Todd’s 1986 icefall Exellerator (V,5). Dave returned to Chancellor Gully two days later with Sam Wood to climb Frozen Assets (VII,7), the rather steeper and thinner series of dribbles, pencils and hanging fangs to the right.

    Whilst he was climbing Exellerator, Dave had spotted several steep ice smears forming down the Lady Jane Wall, so he returned on January 13 to investigate them with Blair Fyffe. Blair kicked off their campaign on the right side of the wall with a difficult VI,7 taking the steep crack and ice pillar just right of the summer E1 Blast Off. Dave then led the plum line, taking the thin dribble of ice running down the classic E2 Lady Jane. Difficult mixed moves and thin intermittent ice lead to the more continuous upper smear resulting in a bold VIII,8. On his blog Dave describes Jane’s Weep as a climber’s dream – “ice smears a few millimetres thick and occasional blobs running boldly up a wall, eventually gaining thicker ice to finish on an overhanging pillar.” Fully fired up the duo returned the following day to climb the overhanging groove left of Jane’s Weep. This looked the hardest route of the three, but good ice and hidden footholds, meant that Dangerous Curves merely weighed in at a tough VII,8.

    Jane’s Weep is almost certainly the most difficult ice pitch climbed in Scotland. There are very few Grade VIII Scottish ice routes of that grade, and Dave Hesleden and Chris Cartwright’s Foobarbundee (VIII,7) on Liathach climbed in February 1993 is probably the closest comparison.

    See Dave’s blog for more details and photos davemacleod.blogspot.com