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    Greg Boswell on the crux pitch of Range War (X,10) on Creag and Dubh Loch. This was the second on-sight Grade X led by Greg in the space of four days and is a significant event in the history of Scottish winter climbing. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Greg Boswell on the crux pitch of Range War (X,10) on Creag and Dubh Loch. This was the second on-sight Grade X led by Greg in the space of four days and is a significant event in the history of Scottish winter climbing. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    The 100m-high Broad Terrace Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch is one of the most awe-inspiring cliffs in Scotland. It is situated above a steep lower wall and all the routes are sensationally exposed. It overhangs for much of its height, but the angle tips back considerably the wrong side of vertical between the lines of Sword of Damocles and Culloden. In summer this section is breached by two mythical climbs – Flodden (E6) and Range War (E4). Both routes are rarely climbed, but Flodden is slightly cleaner and sees occasional ascents when the cliff is dry. Range War is the steepest line, but unfortunately the first pitch is very vegetated and the route has only been visited a handful of times since its first ascent by Kenny Spence and Duncan McCallum in July 1983. It had been noted however as a possible futuristic winter line.

    Over the last three seasons Greg Bowell made a winter ascent of Range War one of his prime objectives. He made the long approach into Dubh Loch seven times to recce or attempt the route, but it was only in condition on one of these occasions, and then it was thawing fast. Finally on January 22 the stars aligned, and Greg and Guy Robertson made a tough approach through deep crusty snow to find the cliff hoared up and dripping with icicles and frozen turf.

    The pair decided to climb an alternative start to the left of original summer line, so Guy led a long and sustained pitch up steep turf and a series of overhanging capped corners to the Grass Balcony, a welcome ledge in a sea of overhanging rock. (This pitch was climbed last season by Doug and Uisdean Hawthorn). Greg then prepared himself for the daunting 35m-long overhanging crux pitch that is graded 6a in summer. After his outstanding lead of The Greatest Show on Earth just three days before, Greg was initially unsure whether he had the physical and mental strength to make the lead.

    “I started up with every move nudging my thoughts into the correct headspace, and found myself enjoying every second of the experience’” Greg wrote on his blog. “I composed myself and tried not to let the technical torques and moves get one arm more pumped than the other. I continued up and then the pump started to sneak in. I was shaking and looking for the next move, shaking and looking, this process went on until I decided to charge for the niche that looked like it would be home to a nice comfortable rest. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be. The route’s steepness was deceptive and although the niche wasn’t as steep as the lower wall, it was still very overhanging. I fought to get some gear in and try and de-pump my now burning forearms. Deep Egyptians and contortions were tried to relieve my arms, and finally, once I had scoped what looked like the way to sanctuary, I powered on through the steep capping roof of the niche to gain a wild and astonishingly exposed position on the overhanging arête. Hundreds of meters of cliff dropping away below me with nothing but air between me and the corrie floor. This is a memory that will last a lifetime!”

    Greg had climbed the crux, but the pitch was still far from over.

    “After that it was out onto and over the ice-capped overlap and into a position below another steep ice smothered bulge. At this point the head games had returned, I really didn’t want to blow it at this point, but the next section of climbing was not too hard but very off balance. With only a turf hook half hammered into the capping ice, as there wasn’t enough for screws (which we did remember this time), I had thoughts of fluffing it and taking the ride into the exposure in the back of my head as I committed. Eventually I gained easier ground and the comfort of the ice cave where I belayed and took in the exposure in a more comfortable state.”

    Guy followed and led the top pitch on thick bulging alpine style ice to the top.

    Greg contacted me the following day. “Scotland has gone and worked its magic again,” he said. “Another outstanding route went down yesterday. Three years I’ve been wanting this one, and it was worth waiting for and all the unsuccessful walk-ins. Breath-taking and possibly up there as one of the best pitches I’ve ever done!”

    Greg and Guy gave Range War (Winter Variation) the same grade as The Greatest Show on Earth at X,10. Two new Grade Xs in the space of four days significantly raises the bar, and in response, the small but tight-knit world of Scottish winter climbing world has collectively gasped in astonishment.

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of The Greatest Show on Earth (X,10) on Cul Mor during the first ascent. The route continues up the wall above starting from the small ice smear up and left of Guy’s head. The route goes into Scottish winter climbing history as the first on sight of a new Grade X. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Guy Robertson leading the first pitch of The Greatest Show on Earth (X,10) on Cul Mor during the first ascent. The route continues up the wall above starting from the small ice smear up and left of Guy’s head. The route goes into Scottish winter climbing history as the first on sight of a new Grade X. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson pulled off a remarkable coup yesterday (January 19) when they made the first ascent The Greatest Show on Earth (X,10). This awe-inspiring route takes the huge blank wall on the right side of Coire Gorm on the north face of Cul Mor in Coigach. North-West climbers had been eyeing up this imposing wall for the last 20 years, but defended by a large overhang and plum vertical above, it was clearly a route for the next generation.

    Guy led the first pitch, a steep icefall leading to a small terrace below the overhang, before handing over to Greg who then pulled out the lead of his life. Greg is no stranger to big and bold leads but this pitch stretched Greg to the max. A vertical ice pillar led to the start of the roof that was protected by a couple of inverted Bulldogs and a poor cam. After several attempts Greg pulled through the roof and set off up the impending wall above, climbing further and further above his poor protection.

    “Once I was fully committed and beyond the point of no return, the big fall and dodgy gear left my thoughts completely,” Greg explained on his blog. “I got a little flustered when I couldn’t see a way above the roof and my only axe placement in a thin smear started to slip, but I was committed now, so I had to force myself to calm down. I looked around, took some deep breaths and opted for some very powerful and dynamic moves to get myself out of that situation. Unfortunately all it did was take me further away from my so-called gear and into some of the boldest and most technically difficult moves on marginal placements that I’ve done… I rocked up over the lip of the roof on the tiniest of footholds, praying that it didn’t blow off, and eventually found myself in a semi rest but very off balance position. I struggled to hammer in and clip a turf hook, which surprisingly felt like I’d just clipped a bolt, as long as I didn’t rip the turf off the wall… After composing myself again, I slowly teetered upwards and finally felt the addictive rush of joy you get when you know you’ve basically just gone all or nothing and managed to scrape through by the skin of your teeth!”

    Above, a couple of easier but excellent icy mixed pitches, led to 100m of easier ground that the pair soloed to the top. The Greatest Show on Earth was graded X,10 and put to bed a well-known Northern Highlands last great problem. But more significantly, this was the first time a new Grade X had been climbed on sight. Nick Bullock’s lead of the crux pitch of Nevermore in 2013 hinted that this breakthrough was not far away, and Greg’s outstanding performance on Cul Mor has now made it a reality.

    The Greatest Show on Earth is a milestone in the development of Scottish winter climbing. I suggested to Greg that his feet could have hardly left the ground since climbing the route. “You’re right there mate,” Greg replied. “Apart from feeling a little tired, I’m on Cloud Nine!”

    Guy Robertson climbing the crucial second pitch of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch during the second winter ascent. This sensational mixed route was one of the first Grade IX routes in Scotland to receive an on sight first winter ascent. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Guy Robertson climbing the crucial second pitch of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch during the second winter ascent. This sensational mixed route was one of the first Grade IX routes in Scotland to receive an on sight first winter ascent. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    On Saturday December 13, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell pulled off the second ascent of Culloden (IX,9) on Creag an Dubh Loch’s formidable Broad Terrace Wall. This exceptionally steep summer E2 was first climbed in winter by the top trio of Iain Small, Gordon Lennox and Tony Stone in December 2010.

    “We swithered a bit over route choice but in the end Culloden seemed sensible,” Guy told me. “Firstly because it’s such a great line which came highly recommended by three of the country’s best winter climbers, and secondly because it only has three pitches and we might just be able to get up it in daylight! Every pitch provided superb climbing – the first very long and sustained but not too difficult, the second shorter but very strenuous and aggressive, and the third a steep, complex and very committing finale. Overall, solid at grade IX was our consensus. The icicle was there for the technical crux getting into the groove on pitch two, and although Greg knocked this off the remaining ice was useful nonetheless. Like all the most memorable days our ascent wasn’t without incident – on the third pitch, in a rather ‘strung out’ predicament I managed to get my axe firmly jammed in the only good placement for pick or protection. After some protracted and very precarious but wholly ineffective wriggling and jiggling to try and get it out I gave up, clipped it as a decent runner and lowered a loop of rope down to Greg to get a loan of one of his axes. The vicious bulge and fist crack above were then duly dispatched just in time to catch the last rays of a dying day…”

    I was intrigued as to how Guy and Greg came to make the inspired choice of Creag an Dubh Loch for their first route of the season. After all, Dubh Loch is normally thought of a cliff that takes a long period of cold weather to come into condition.

    “Our main reason for going to the Dubh Loch was simply that it’s the best crag in Britain!” Guy joked. “Seriously though, there are lots of different options and styles there, and it rarely disappoints. It’s been a very wet couple of months in the east so the chances of ice were quite favourable; the low altitude meant that deep snow (at least on the crag) should be less of a concern; and the forecast was better for this side of the country with a warm front moving in late in the day. Broad Terrace Wall is also exceptionally steep so the turf more likely to be exposed and well frozen. As it turned out it was a great choice with a very snowy and icy (though not rimed) cliff and an approach that wasn’t too strenuous despite still taking about four hours in all. A night in the bothy helps to break up the approach though.”

    The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland, compiled by Guy Robertson and Adrian Crofton, has just been published by Vertebrate Graphics. It is one of the most significant books about British climbing to be produced in recent years. The cover photo shows Dave MacLeod climbing Dalriada (E7) on The Cobbler. (Photo Dave Cuthbertson)

    The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland, compiled by Guy Robertson and Adrian Crofton, has just been published by Vertebrate Publishing. It is one of the most significant books about British climbing to be produced in recent years. The cover photo shows Dave MacLeod climbing Dalriada (E7) on The Cobbler. (Photo Dave Cuthbertson)

    This is an inspirational book.

    Guy Robertson and Adrian Crofton have compiled contributions from 25 authors describing 33 of the most significant mountain crags in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The book is published in large format and illustrated with many action shots and outstanding landscape photographs by Colin Threlfall and Dave Cuthbertson, resulting in a lavish celebration of Scottish summer and winter climbing. The chapters describe the nature and character of the crag together with a brief recent climbing history and a ‘Story’ by the author on their individual experience. Guy and Adrian state in their Introduction that “many of the climbers have enjoyed extended love affairs with the crags they describe” and the resulting writing shines through as authoritative, and sometimes very personal too. This makes for compulsive reading, and it is hard to put the book down as all too quickly you are swept away to the sharp end of a long and lonely lead high in the Scottish mountains.

    When Guy gave me the brief to write one the chapters (the Fhidhleir’s Nose), I was a little concerned that the standard of climbing to be described in the book was too high. Many of Scotland’s recent cutting edge routes are highlighted, and to complete the full list you would need to be proficient at Grade IX and E8. The secret of success for the likes of Hard Rock and Cold Climbs was that the routes were just about accessible for the climbers of the day, however The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland addresses a different remit. Although three or four routes are highlighted in each chapter, the purpose of the book is to portray the nature of the cliffs and the character of the climbing rather than presenting a simple tick list of climbs. In a similar way to Cold Climbs and Hard Rock however, I suspect in the coming decades many of the harder routes mentioned will become well-travelled. But more importantly, my worry that the book would be too inaccessible is dispelled by the nature of the writing. Rather than take an elitist stance, the authors have written in a ‘you can do it too’ style, which is as refreshing as it is engaging.

    I have no doubt that The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland will play a part in updating the broader perception of Scottish climbing and stand as an important historical record. The developments in the Scottish mountains over the last couple of decades have largely gone under the radar screen, which is surprising, as arguably the Scottish Highlands and Islands are the most exciting adventure climbing playground in the British Isles. Whilst the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal has painstakingly recorded new route descriptions, and magazine and journal news reports have attempted to put some of these routes into context, many will be unaware of the quiet climbing revolution that has been taking place north of the border. The majority of the accounts in the book would have merited a contemporary magazine article in themselves, but with the exception of one or two routes that have been described on this blog or reported on UKC, most have passed unnoticed. This is probably how many of the climbers involved would have wanted it, but it is fortunate that they have now taken up the opportunity to recount their experiences, so a flavour of the last 20 years of Scottish climbing history has been preserved for posterity.

    In their Introduction, Guy and Adrian state their aim is to inspire the next generation. There is no doubt that The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland will succeed in doing this. Congratulations to all who contributed and for Vertebrate Publishing for their commitment and for delivering such an outstanding production. The publication of books like this is a rare event, so if you have a strong interest in Scottish trad climbing, be sure to get yourself a copy.

    Nick Bullock climbing pitch 5 of The Shield Direct (VII,7) on Ben Nevis on 24th March. Instead of going left above the chimney-flake as per the guidebook description, Bullock and Guy Robertson continued straight up an icicle-draped overhanging wall, which proved to be the crux of the route. If anyone else has gone this way then please get in touch as it will be recorded as an alternative finish in the next edition of the SMC guidebook (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Nick Bullock climbing pitch 5 of The Shield Direct (VII,7) on Ben Nevis on 24 March. Instead of going left above the chimney-flake as per the guidebook description, Bullock and Guy Robertson continued straight up an icicle-draped overhanging wall, which proved to be the crux of the route. If anyone else has gone this way, then please get in touch, as it will be recorded as an alternative finish in the next edition of the SMC guidebook. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    “And again, like all of the times before in this winter of difficult conditions and wrong weather forecasts, Guy Robertson, normally so knowledgeable in where to go, procrastinated,” Nick Bullock writes. “An Teallach, Beinn Eighe, Glen Coe. I received text messages throughout the day, each one telling me what crag and what time to meet. Finally, at 7pm, Cairn Dearg, the venue I had suggested at the start of the text tennis, was decided upon.

    The heavy snow storm on Saturday, followed by rain, more snow, rain, snow and almost the first frost of winter on Sunday night, made for possibility anywhere on Cairn Dearg but neither Guy nor myself had been on The Ben for a while and I felt the weight to produce something good for Guy as he had once again been building pressure like my coffee pot.

    ‘Something will be in Guy; it has to be given that snow and a frost.’

    6.30am – And as we walked the frozen gravel, avoiding the snake tongues of clear blue ice welded to the surface of the footpath, I could sense the weight lifting from both our shoulders.

    The CIC Hut was near and like the frost scraped from my windscreen earlier, the alpenglow warmed the white summits for the first time of my 2014, and in this one fell swoop, it made up for much of the battling. We were still heading for Cairn Dearg, but with open minds and a monster rack of gear, hopefully we had all bases covered. The only two things we did not bring were ice screws and a guidebook.

    9.00am – Gently, I flicked an axe. The pick curved in the cold air and penetrated a thin skin of ice. Gentle, the second axe-pick connected but with downward dragging force, the pick sliced, puckered and wrinkled the frozen water until it caught and held on some hidden obstruction. I breathed deep and stepped from the snow. Above me, the steep corner of The Shield Direct with a continuous stream of thin ice beckoned. And above this, the two hundred and eighty five metres – flakes, chimneys, rock-overhangs, snow-fields, overhanging-ice, history, reputation, connection, surprise – Fowler and Saunder’s thirty-five year-old climb.

    Once again an axe arced gentle and the pick penetrated thin with a stabbing flesh squish. Spindrift lifted from the summit slopes poured down the line clotting my eyelashes. I shouted to Guy,

    ‘Do you know where we are going?’

    His answer was succinct, ‘Up.’”

    Guy Robertson following the ice section on the bold second pitch of One Step Beyond (IX,9) during the first ascent. The combination of steep technical mixed with thin vertical ice, makes this route one of the most challenging winter climbs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Guy Robertson following the vertical ice section on the bold second pitch of One Step Beyond (IX,9) on Beinn Eighe during the first ascent. The combination of steep technical mixed with thin vertical ice, makes this route one of the most challenging winter climbs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Pete Macpherson and Guy Robertson made a highly significant addition to Beinn Eighe’s Far East Wall on January 29. One Step Beyond (IX,9) takes the line left of King of the Swingers, and is based on an unusual hanging ice smear that oozes from a seep half way up the wall.

    “We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else in Scotland,” Pete told me. “I think it’s quite unique. We’ve been to Far East Wall numerous times over the years but have never seen ice form so abundantly around this area before. We spotted the ice just before New Year when we had to make a hasty retreat off another line due to the onset of bad weather.

    Conditions and weather were great last Wednesday, so we thought we’d have a look. To be honest I had reservations as to whether it would go, and after succeeding on only three routes this season with three failures due to poor weather, I was keen for success. Guy headed up the first pitch that starts below the big corner of King of the Swingers and belayed below the impending grooved arête to the right of the ice feature. Gaining the niche below the groove on pitch two involved some intricate moves, but when I was standing below it I was taken aback by the steepness of the groove above.

    The groove was extremely strenuous tech 9 with absolutely no rest in sight, so I just kept climbing until I pulled round onto the ice into a wee icy niche, pumped out of my mind and ‘one step beyond’. I was way above my last gear (a small peg only half in), so I stood perched on the ice for an hour and half, scared out of my wits, as there was no more gear. Guy reassured me that there was nothing below me if I fell off – nice one, cheers for that Mr Robertson! Eventually I plucked up the courage to climb up to a bomber hanging belay at the top of the ice.

    A thin crack system sprouts from the top of the ice. It looked utterly desperate, but appeared to be well protected by small nuts. Guy headed up the crack (solid tech 9), but unfortunately dropped our small wires at the start of the pitch. Gutted but not deterred, Guy pulled out a cracker of a lead, especially so when one of the cracks petered out over a bulge forcing him instinctively out onto the arête.

    The next pitch is common to King of the Swingers and is solid VII,7, but I really struggled with it as I was so wrecked and it was getting dark. I stopped about two metres from the top below a steep tech 6 corner as both my arms kept cramping up. Guy nailed the last corner on failing arms and that was that. We could hardly untie from the ropes we were so exhausted.

    Climbing One Step Beyond on sight is the stuff of dreams for me. The route is definitely my hardest on sight to date, and we thought it top end IX,9. It most definitely deserves four stars. This morning, four days after our ascent, I received a text from Guy which says it all – ‘Still high as a kite, dude!’”

    Will Sim making the second on sight lead of The Tempest (X,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The Tempest was first climbed in 2001 by Neil Gresham, with pre-placed gear and graded M9. It was a deliberate attempt to raise Scottish mixed standards, but the difficult to place in-situ gear meant the style never caught on. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Will Sim making the second on sight lead of The Tempest (X,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan. The Tempest was first climbed in 2001 by Neil Gresham, with pre-placed gear and graded M9. It was a deliberate attempt to raise Scottish mixed standards, but the difficult to place in-situ gear meant the style never caught on. (Photo Greg Boswell)

    Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Guy Robertson and Nick Bullock visited Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe on January 13. “It turned out to be a very successful day,” Greg told me. “Guy and Nick went off and did their own thing, which turned out to be a stinking new three pitch route. [Slenderhead (VIII,8) - the thin ice seam and arête left of East Face Route]. Will and I went to look at something new early on, but were foiled by lack of protection. So we turned our sights to the Tempest. Will led off first as I had been the one on lead whilst trying our new line. He put up an awesome show of style, fight and bravery. The route was pretty icy all the way. The cracks were chocked and gear was tricky to find. His last runner that would have held any weight was just above half height, and there was some heart in mouth moments on the snowy top out when he was looking at a ground fall if his axes ripped!

    By the time he had finished, the light was starting to fade, but I really wanted to climb. So Will rapped the route and I put my head torch on (just in case) and proceeded to lead the route as well. It was an awesome pitch but the second half of the route was very serious and we both agreed that the last tricky four metres were absolutely a no fall zone! It was an awesome day and everyone got some brilliant climbing done. Glen Coe delivers five star activities once again!”

    The Tempest was first climbed by Neil Gresham in 2001. This 30m pitch on Summit Buttress was a landmark ascent at the time, because along with Logical Progression in Arrochar, it used pre-placed nuts and pegs for protection (but no bolts). The route was repeated in this style soon after by Innes Deans, and then ground up by Andy Turner in 2010. The first on sight ascent fell to Dave MacLeod a few days after Andy’s, so Greg Will and Greg’s repeats are the second and third on sights respectively.

    But as is so usual for Scottish winter climbing, The Tempest was as much a head game, as a pure technical climbing exercise. “The icy conditions on the Tempest meant that it felt more bold than it was hard,” Will explained. “We thought that if we had fallen on the very top section we could maybe have bounced on the floor… just! I think a lot of the gear, and perhaps the in-situ pegs as well, were hidden under the thin ice, but overall it’s an amazing pitch!”

    Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary shot showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of the summer line Falkenhorst. Their VII,7 route then continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, nearing the top of a serious VII,7 route that takes the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right to the prominent ‘Y’, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

    Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary photograph showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of Defence of the Realm (VII,7). The route continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, engrossed on Hustle, a serious VII,7 that climbs the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

    Some more details about the three new routes climbed on the right side of Broad Terrace Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch on January 11:

    First up were Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell who started up the summer line of Falkenhorst (E1) to a good ledge below imposing overhangs. The summer route traverses right to break through these, but instead Guy and Greg stepped left to climb the imposing inverted staircase of ice smears. This outstanding looking route is called Defence of the Realm and was graded VII,7. The grade was confirmed the following day when it was repeated by Iain Small and Ross Cowie, followed by Doug and Uisdean Hawthorn together with Callum Johnson.

    Iain Small, Doug Hawthorn and I were next on the scene and decided to climb the thin line of ice parallel and left of The Sting. Since Doug had made the first (and only) ascent of the Sting some 20 years before, he decided to pass on the route and take photos instead. Needless to say, our route succumbed to a typically bold Iain Small lead on ice that was sometimes only one or two centimetres thick. Fortunately it was the soft chewy variety, and Iain managed to place a short screw every ten metres or so. After negotiating a couple of tricky overlaps, the upper section followed the final pitches of Falkenhorst.

    Iain and I thought our route (Hustle) was about VII,7, but in truth, it is impossible to say whether it is completely new. Doug cannot remember exactly where he climbed on the first ascent of The Sting, although he presumes he took the easiest line (which appears to be on the right). As far as I know, The Sting (VII,6) is unrepeated and it resisted a second ascent attempt on January 12.

    With the two most obvious lines now occupied, Will Sim and Nick Bullock launched up genuine no-man’s land between the two. Will made a difficult and bold lead up an overhanging slot and overhanging flake that led to icicles just left of The Sting. Nick then traversed across the thin ice climbed by Iain and I, which led to a spectacular finish through overhanging slots to easier icy ground above.

    “Nick and I have decided to call the route The Cure,” Will told me. “It’s probably about VIII,8, but really hard to grade, as there was a short very sharp hard part on the first pitch, and although the rest was not a path (maybe about VII), it was very different. We both thought the route was outrageously good, the kind of stuff that makes you laugh while you climb – too much fun to feel super hard, especially if you can levitate on thin ice like Nick can!”

    First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall is without question the steepest major cliff in the Cairngorms. It rises for 120m of sheer verticality and bewildering exposure above a steep 100m-high lower tier. Normally wet during the summer, ascents of its excellent mountain rock routes are highly prized but infrequent. In winter, it is even less travelled, and until the morning of January 11 there were only four winter routes on the wall – The Last Oasis (VI,6 Nisbet-Spinks, 1980), The Sting (VII,6 Dinwoodie-Hawthorn 1993), Sword of Damocles (VIII,9 Small-Hawthorn 2010) and Culloden (IX,9 Small-Stone-Lennox 2010). Only The Last Oasis (Hawthorn-Malcolm 1993) and Sword of Damocles (Hawthorn-Hawthorn 2014) have been repeated, meaning that the wall has only been climbed six times in winter in the last 30 years.

    All this changed on January 11 when the number of winter routes on the wall doubled from four to eight. Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson approached in the dark to be first in line for the plum route – an outrageous looking line based on the first pitch of the summer E1 Falkenhorst and continuing up an inverted staircase of hanging ice smears through the overhangs above. When Iain Small and I arrived, Guy was well established on the first pitch, so we climbed a likely new line up the thin icy wall to the left of The Sting. Will Sim and Nick Bullock arrived soon after (following an aborted look at the routes on Central Gully Wall) and elected to attempt a tenuous mixed line between these two routes.

    Iain and Will both made rapid progress which led to an astonishing sight of three of the best of the current crop of Scottish winter climbers (Robertson, Sim and Small) climbing parallel new lines within a few metres of each other. Further left, Uisdean Hawthorn and Callum Johnson climbed a series of ice smears (approximating to Mirage Variations), a strong Aberdeen team attempted Sword of Damocles, and Robin Clothier and Richard Bentley made the probable third winter ascent of The Last Oasis. And to cap it all, Doug Hawthorn, the man who launched this current phase of Dubh Loch activity with the first winter ascent of The Giant in December, was on hand to photograph the action.

    More details to follow, once names and grades of the routes have been confirmed.

    Pete Macpherson on the second ascent of Steam Train (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This striking line takes the big corner between Orient Express and Newbigging’s 80-Minute Route on the First Platform. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Pete Macpherson on the second ascent of Steam Train (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This striking line takes the big corner between Orient Express and Newbigging’s 80-Minute Route on the First Platform. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    On April 26, Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson visited Ben Nevis. They had their eye on an objective higher up the mountain, but with the big routes buried under thick unstable snow, they opted for a safer low level option and made the second ascent of Steam Train which they thought weighed in at about VII,7

    Steam Train was first climbed as a summer route by Doug Hawthorn and Noel Williams in July 1984 and graded HVS. Dave MacLeod and visiting US climber Alicia Hudson made the first winter ascent in 2007 and graded the route VI,7.

    “It looks like Dave started up The Ramp and missed the first pitch of Steam Train,” Guy told me. “This was a notch harder than the top corner, so the grades make sense. It’s definitely a quality wee route and a good option when the weather and/or snow are conditions unfriendly!”