Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Glen Coe

    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 – 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.

    The Summit Buttress of Beinn Fhada in Glen Coe showing the lines of The Rhyme (red) and Last Orders (blue). James Roddie made first ascents of these two well defined Grade II/III mixed routes on February 19. (Photo James Roddie)

    Over the last month James Roddie has made a few solo trips to the unfrequented West face of Beinn Fhada in Glen Coe.

    “On February 3 I explored the North-East top of the West face, and found an unrecorded rib about the same length as Micro Rib in Coire nan Lochan,” James told me. “Continuing the insect-based theme of route names on the North-East top, The Gnat (III) seemed appropriate. After downclimbing a snow-gully I moved over to the Summit Buttress, and the crest that forms the Western flank of The Ramp gave a pleasant turfy Grade II that I called The Rampart.

    Far more fruitful however was my trip to the Summit Buttress on February 19. A few weeks back on Bidean nam Bian I’d seen through my binoculars a pair of narrow buttresses on the right hand side of the Summit Buttress. They definitely weren’t recorded but I decided to go and see if they were worthwhile.

    Identifying features from below is quite a challenge on West face, and it was definitely the case with these two buttresses. But after some exploring I managed to find them, and from below they revealed their true nature – far more distinct and more worthy of attention than they appeared from neighbouring summits.

    I chose the right hand buttress first. The route started with a short, steep wall and an awkward narrow corner. After this easier turfy ledges moved up to a second wall that I climbed via a small chimney on the right hand side, though the entire wall looked inviting and of similar difficulty at Grade III. Easier ground led to the ridge crest. I called this right-hand buttress The Rhyme (II/III).

    After descending a gully I climbed the steeper left-hand buttress. Similar to The Rhyme, an initial steep wall was followed by turfy ledges – though on the first wall on this route I had a bit of a fright when my left axe ripped out from behind a small chockstone during an awkward move. The crux on this second route was very enjoyable – I climbed a slanting crack up a steep rock wall with quality hooks, and this delivered me to the easier ground above. This steeper route was of slightly higher quality to the first, and I called it Last Orders (II/III).”

    Summit Buttress on Stob Coire Sgreamhach in Glen Coe. This crag was developed with three routes by Simon Yearsley and partners last season, and Simon added a fourth route with Chris Pasteur last week. Click on photo for larger image. (Photo Topo Simon Yearsley)

    Chris Pasteur and Simon Yearsley had a good day in Eilde Canyon and on Sron na Lairig in Glen Coe on February 3.

    “We managed to get out on Friday, before the warm front came in, and went up to Eilde Canyon, in the hope that the previous few days had helped things form,” Simon told me. “Interestingly, some lines hadn’t formed much at all (e.g. Andale Andale, Aye Carumba), but lots of the lines were there, and probably climbable (e.g. right hand 3 Amigos, Zapatista, Primero Pool)…. but the problem was the ice wasn’t thick enough to guarantee good protection in the way of screws.  It was a very beautiful day, and we weren’t feeling super-brave, so we decided to wander up the rest of the canyon and found Por Que, a very pleasant grade III about 100m up from the pool, and then also did Palenque (III) which I’d mentioned in my older topo as the unclimbed easier angled ice on the left just above the pool.

    We then went up to the summit buttress of Sron na Lairig, and climbed Return (V,6) which is a 60m line on to the left of the routes we did last year. In fact, Neil Silver and I backed off this line on the same day as climbing The Slot, because I stupidly dropped an axe whilst seconding. So I was determined to return, and found a slightly more direct way of starting the route which meant it can be done in one pitch and which finishes in an excellent position right on the narrowest part of the Sron na Lairig ridge.

    It was nice to go back to Eilde Canyon and find it wasn’t just a product of last year’s awesome winter. It does re-affirm my belief that there’s a strong link between conditions in Eilde Canyon and Beinn Udlaidh, as folk were reporting some of the routes on Beinn Udlaidh as being ‘in’ but also as ‘bold & thin’.”

    Simon has updated his Eilde Canyon topo, which can be found on his blog.

    Looking up Number 3 Gully Rib (II/III) on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. The route follows the snowed up rock on the left side of the picture with the deep Number 3 Gully on the right. Climbing solo, James Roddie made the first winter ascent of this natural winter line on December 5. (Photo James Roddie)

    James Roddie has been exploring the crags of Glen Coe for a couple of years now, often as bold solo outings. His latest adventure was on Monday December 5, when he made the first ascent of Number 3 Gully Rib (II/III) on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. James takes up the story:

    “Given the westerly winds, I knew that a buttress route on a West face would be likely to give good climbing and frozen turf, so I headed up underneath B Buttress on the West face of Aonach Dubh. It’s a rarely visited area of Glencoe in the winter, void of crampon scratches and still with potential for more new routes. I’d been up a summer route here before a few times but I couldn’t find any record of it as a winter route so I thought it well worthwhile a look.

    At the base of The Pinnacle Face you break right at the level of the Middle Ledge onto a rib running up the left hand side of Number 3 Gully. There was plenty of fresh powder around but lots of frozen turf. I took the rib as directly as possible, with a few awkward moves on the steeper sections as the rock type doesn’t give many cracks or great hooks. I climbed a final narrow chimney and topped out to the Upper Rake just as very heavy snow started to fall. The traverse across the top of Number 2 Gully, to escape the face, was quite spicy on soft snow.”

    The Vertigo Wall area on Creag an Dubh Loch. Vertigo Wall (VII,7) is shown in red and the More Vertigo Finish (climbed last Saturday is marked yellow. The false attempt is shown in green. (Archive Photo Henning Wackerhage)

    Last weekend was wild and stormy with significant snowfall across the Highlands. Despite this, there were good routes climbed on Ben Nevis, in Torridon, and in the Cairngorms. Several teams came back wide-eyed after full-on Scottish adventures, but the most exciting tale I heard came from Henning Wackerhage who visited Creag an Dubh Loch on Saturday March 11 with Robbie Miller and Andrew Melvin.

    After weighing up the various options, the threesome decided to make an ascent of Vertigo Wall. First climbed by Andy Nisbet and Alf Robertson in 1977, this VII,7 was a landmark in Cairngorm climbing and is considered to be one of the best winter routes in the country.

    The team made good progress, but a route finding error on the fourth pitch led them out of the main corner line across a hidden weakness onto the undercut and very exposed left wall. After this difficult and committing lead, they realised they had made a mistake, and the situation began to look bleak when they failed on the next pitch. Instead, they continued left to reach a ledge in the vicinity of the summer E3 Wicker Man, and Henning made a bold lead up a leaning offwidth leading to a blank slab.

    “The slab was the scariest climbing I have ever done,” Henning wrote on his blog. “Thin hooks out of balance with no gear and the central gully wall exposure below. Somehow I managed to inch up the slab to a position where a big tuft of turf and safety were near but yet so far. Some moss did not even yield a marginal placement but finally I excavated a poor sidepull, kept the axe steady, placed my front point out of balance high up and with a lot of stretch just about managed to whack the axe into the turf. The left axe followed and I made the sweetest pull up of my life, scraped my feet up, ran a few steps, fell mentally and physically exhausted into the snow and shouted ‘safe’ into the void below.”

    It was now 7pm, but the epic did not end there. It had been snowing all day, and it took another four hours to wade back to the car park which was blocked with snow. Fortunately they were able to drive out with one of their cars, eventually arriving back in Aberdeen at 1am on Sunday morning.

    The three-pitch More Vertigo Finish was given a technical grade of 8. “The final slab was the boldest and thinnest I have ever climbed,” Henning explained,  “and the psychological crux was the last move way above gear to reach that tuft of turf on the plateau. As for stars, the positions are wild and unlikely for the grade, especially the swing moves are excellent and the only minus is that the line is not straight up. However, I’d rather leave the grade and stars to others.”

    There was a new addition in Glen Coe on Friday March 10 when Adam Hughes, Colm Burke and Dave Burke added the Japseye Variation (VI,6) to Yen on the Far Eastern Buttress on Aonach Dubh.

    “I spotted a crack half way up the wall that was looking pretty good and whiter than anything else on the steeper routes,” Adam told me. “I could not find it in the guide as a summer or winter route, so thought we could give it a go. An easy pitch led to a ledge and belay below the crack. The crack was steep to start with thinnish hooks and poor feet, but good gear. This continued to a good rest at about 6m. Hooks improved with height from there after a tricky move from the rest. This led into a chimney at the top and easy ground. A great day out considering the poor forecast!”

    Malcolm Bass on the first ascent of the beautiful Zapatista (V,5). This is one of ten new routes added this season to the new Glen Coe ice venue Eilde Canyon discovered by Simon Yearsley and Malcolm Bass. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Simon Yearsley and Malcolm Bass, along with a variety of friends, have been busy exploring the beautiful Coire Eilde in Glencoe.  Most climbers who travel up the Lairig Eilde are aiming for the classic ridge of Sron na Lairig on the south east ridge of Stob Coire Sgreamhach.  Malcolm and Simon wandered slowly up this fine ridge on December 12, after several beers and vodkas too many in the Clachaig the night before, to celebrate Malcolm and Paul Figg’s outstanding first ascent of the West Face of Vasuki Parbat in the Himalaya earlier this autumn.

    Whilst descending back into Coire Eilde, they stumbled (almost literally!) into the Alt Coir Eilde, which tumbles into a steep-sided,  long canyon which is almost invisible until you are standing in the very edge.  The pair was amazed to see about a half a dozen superb icefalls dropping into the deep canyon.  The recent thaw was making some of them run with water, but there was no doubt that the early December freeze had created lots of ice in this superb and unusual feature, and it was ripe for exploration.  It was too late in the day to even find an easy way down into the canyon, and it also needed a wee bit more of a freeze.

    Simon returned on December 22 with Dan Peach, and abseiled in from a convenient boulder.  The canyon was like no place either of them had ever been in Scotland…. the main canyon felt like a hidden world, and was about 250m-long, 10 to 15m wide with superb steep walls dripping with incredible icefalls, most of which were 30 to 40m long pure ice routes.  Rather than the half a dozen they had expected, as they walked up the canyon, the pair were amazed to find at least 16 compelling ice lines including an awesome feature of three vertical pillars of beautiful blue ice. They chose a line of steep ice above an obvious frozen pool towards the top of the canyon, and climbed Primero Pool (IV,4).

    Simon returned again two days later on December 24, this time with Neil Silver and Simon Davidson.  Neil and Simon loved the venue, and likened it more to a Mexican desert canyon than a Glencoe ice venue… hence the Mexican vibe to the naming of the subsequent routes!  Christmas Eve gave two lines: the two tiered Andale Andale!  – a solid V,5 with a superb initial ice pillar and steep finishing section, and Jumble Left-Hand, again at V,5 up a large area of ice with at least three potential lines. Neil led the initial vertical and thinly iced wall of Jumble Left-Hand before moving to the centre of the icefall to finish.

    Simon Davidson then returned on Boxing Day with Tom Broadbent and came away with three fine lines: the short but sweet El Mini at IV,4, which lies about 100m downstream of the main canyon, and Aye Carumba (V,5), the right-hand of the two obvious lines opposite the abseil point. They finished the day with Jumble Right-Hand, again at V,5.

    Malcolm was keen to get amongst the action in what was now called ‘Eilde Canyon’, and made the regular long trip up from North Yorkshire on December 28. He led the beautiful ice formation, Zapatista (V,5), which gave possibly the most aesthetic route so far in the Canyon.  Simon was determined to have a go at one of the three vertical pillars, which had already been named ‘The Three Amigos’.  Setting off up Central Amigo, he was glad he’d borrowed Malcolm’s axes with their brand new picks, and the fantastic blue pillar gave the steepest line (so far!) in Eilde Canyon at V,6.  The pair finished a great day with Malcolm leading El Mixi (IV,5) – an excellent icy corner opposite Primero Pool with a fine mixed section at mid height which proved surprisingly tricky to protect.

    The most recent visit to Eilde Canyon was on January 11 by Simon Davidson, this time accompanied by Neil Carnegie. The pair climbed Hongos (V,5) – the left-hand of what were now known as the ‘Grotto Icefalls’, which gave a fine pitch on chandeliered and mushroom featured ice.  They finished the day with a second ascent of Central Amigo, confirming its quality and steepness.

    “Eilde Canyon is really like nothing else in Scotland,” Simon told me. “It’s very sheltered from wind on a wild day, at an altitude of 500m is only 100m lower that Beinn Udlaidh, which is probably a good indicator of good conditions in Eilde Canyon.  Ten of the most obvious ice lines have been done, but there are plenty more gems still to fall.  Wait for a good freeze, check if Beinn Udlaidh is ’in’, put your sombrero on, adopt a faux Mexican bandit accent, and …… vamos muchachos!!!”

    Simon has produced a mini topo guide to Eilde Canyon, which can be download free from, where there are also a whole host of great photos.

    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

    Dave Hesleden on the first ascent of Tinkerbell Direct (VI,6) on Ben Nevis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    It has been a late start to the winter season. November is typically an excellent month for mixed climbing in the Cairngorms, but unseasonally warm temperatures meant that only the most determined found winter routes high on Braeriach and Beinn a’Bhuird. The snow arrived in earnest at the end of November, and the Scottish mountains turned increasingly wintry.

    Big news in Glen Coe is the long awaited second ascent of Against All Odds (VII,7) by Guy Robertson and Blair Fyffe in late December. This prominent winter line to the right of Ossian’s Cave on the North Face of Aonach Dubh was first climbed by Mick Fowler and Chris Watts in February 1988. Recent milder winters have meant the route has been rarely in condition and the first pitch description ’move up right and tension to a bendy sapling’ put off many suitors. Guy and Blair climbed the route entirely free, eliminating the tension traverse and three points of aid on the third pitch.

    The other notable event in the Coe was the first winter ascent of Line Up on the Buachaille by Andy Nelson, Andy Sharpe and Kenny Grant. This summer HVS on the left side of Rannoch Wall had been eyed up by several activists over the years, but this wall is renowned for its spaced protection and flat holds. The clearly on form Nelson, made a very smooth lead of the crux corner, and overall the route provided a sustained VII,8 with difficulties on all three pitches.

    On No. 2 Gully Buttress, on the West Face of Aonach Dubh, John Lyall and Andy Nisbet took advantage of the cold snowy conditions before Christmas with the first winter ascent of Steptoe (VI,7) and a new route The God Daughter (VI,7), which takes the big groove between Rose Innominate and Oz.

    Across on Ben Nevis, Rich Cross and Andy Benson made the first winter ascent of Lysystrata on Number Five Gully Buttress (VI,8) in early December. This steep summer HVS gave two pitches of well protected technical climbing up a series of grooves, and is clearly a good choice when access to the higher cliffs is limited by too much snow.

    Iain Small and I also visited the upper tier of South Trident Buttress and climbed Polyphemus Pillar (VI,6), the steep buttress right of Poseidon Groove. A couple of weeks later in mid December, Dave Hesleden and I had a productive weekend on the mountain climbing Ramsay Gray, a new 300m VI,5 route based on the steep pillar right of Route Major on The Little Brenva Face. On Creag Coire na Ciste we added Tinkerbell Direct (VI,6), which takes the steep icefall avoided by the original route and finishes up the headwall above.