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    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!”

    Pete Benson climbing the challenging second pitch of Nevermore (X,10) during the fourth attempt in March 2013. Extreme cold and dwindling daylight forced retreat from two pitches above. The first ascent of this highly significant route fell to Nick Bullock and Guy Robertson several weeks later. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Pete Benson climbing the challenging second pitch of Nevermore (X,10) on Lochnagar during the fourth attempt in March 2013. On this occcasion, extreme cold and dwindling daylight forced retreat two pitches above. The first ascent of this highly significant route finally fell to Nick Bullock and Guy Robertson several weeks later. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    On April 8, Nick Bullock and Guy Robertson put to bed one of the last great problems on Lochnagar with the first winter ascent of Nevermore on the Tough-Brown Face. This rarely climbed summer E2 was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Bob Smith in August 1981 and takes a direct central route up the face between Post Mortem and Mort.

    Pete Benson and Guy Robertson were the inspiration behind this climb. They made three attempts with Pete Macpherson, but were repeatedly turned back by the extreme difficulty of the second pitch. When Pete Benson finally succeeded on climbing this clean during their third attempt in March 2012 (a pitch thought to be worth IX,10 in its own right), they were shut down by a rapid thaw on the fifth and final pitch.

    For their fourth attempt this March, Pete and Guy roped in Nick Bullock, but ferocious cold and dwindling daylight forced another retreat from high on the climb. Guy and Nick probed the fifth pitch, but both climbed back down unwilling to commit to the difficult initial roof.

    On their fifth attempt on April 8, Pete was unable to join the team, but Guy and Nick were highly focused. They both knew that this was their moment, and they would either climb the route that day or not at all. Nick led the challenging second pitch leaving Guy the crucial fifth pitch. After some hesitation, Guy pulled over the roof, but on the moves above, with still no protection in place except for below the roof, he fell. With the on-sight lost, he handed over the ropes to Nick who soon passed Guy’s highpoint and pushed on into the unknown.

    “The climbing difficulties above the second overlap increased,” Nick wrote later. “There was no more gear until the pitch and the angle eased. I took a long time as the technicalities were brain-ache inducing, stomach churning – the prospect of falling now slowed me – terror was the tang of battery terminals licked.” Incredibly Nick kept his cool together and a winter ascent of Nevermore was finally a reality.

    “I’m astounded to get the route finally in the bag, “ Guy told me. Although Nick and Guy share the honours as the first ascensionists, they have both been quick to acknowledge that Nevermore was very much a team effort with considerable input from the two Pete’s – Benson and Macpherson.

    The significance of this ascent goes far beyond Lochnagar and the Tough-Brown Face. Nevermore was graded X,10 – a significant step up from the dozen or so Grade IX first ascents that have been climbed on-sight. Of course, with the prior attempts, Nevermore was not the perfect on-sight, but although we have a handful of higher graded winter routes in Scotland, they have typically benefitted from pre-inspection, multiple attempts on the crux pitch or knowledge from summer ascents. For me, in a season that stands out for its superlatives, Nevermore is the ascent of the winter. Not only is it technically difficult, bold and committing, but it opens the door to the chilling prospect of on-sight Scottish winter Grade X.

     

    The daunting Slime wall on Glen Coe’s Buachaille Etive Mor showing the line of Cold Revenge (IX,8). This serious climb, which is based on the summer routes of Bludger’s Revelation and Bloody Crack, is only the second winter route on Slime Wall. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    The daunting Slime Wall on Glen Coe’s Buachaille Etive Mor showing the line of Cold Revenge (IX,8). This serious climb, which is based on the summer routes of Bludger’s Revelation and Bloody Crack, is only the second winter route on Slime Wall. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    Nick Bullock and Guy Robertson made a significant addition to Buachaille Etive Mor’s Slime Wall on March 27 with the first ascent of Cold Revenge (IX,8).

    “We started up the first three pitches of Bludger’s Revelation, then climbed a short corner onto a ramp leading left to Bloody Crack,” Guy told me. “We followed this, and the obvious series of steep grooves above to the top. The route provided six pitches and 200m of climbing in all.

    As Nick is getting old (nearly 50) he’s developed a habit of leaving things behind – on this occasion it was his harness, so we made one out of slings and led in blocks. So after he led the entry pitch I led the two main pitches on Bludger’s, the second of which (the Link pitch) was quite serious to start and very precarious. Nick then led the next two pitches, including Bloody Crack. I guess I could have given him a loan of my harness for this, but in my experience those lessons learned the hard way tend to stick for longer. As it turned out he was lucky as it would not have been advisable to fall off the top half of the pitch anyway!”

    Roger Webb approaching the imposing Atlantic Wall on Slioch. Over the last 20 years Webb has authored over a dozen new routes on this remote face. With a total height of over 400m it is one of the biggest cliffs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Roger Webb approaching the imposing Atlantic Wall on Slioch. Over the last 20 years Webb has authored over a dozen new routes on this remote face. With a total height of over 400m it is one of the biggest cliffs in Scotland. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Pete Macpherson and Roger Webb added a challenging new route in Torridon on March 29.

    “Roger and I had a memorable day on Slioch’s impressive Atlantic Wall on Good Friday,” Pete told me. “Last time I climbed with Roger was about six years ago when we had a massive day in Beinn Dearg Mor so it was good to get back out with the ‘North-West Connoisseur’ himself. We left the car at 5.30am in daylight and made the longish approach along the shores of Loch Maree then up to the crag.

    I can’t believe I have never been to this crag before – it’s a cracker! There are 250m of steep sandstone broken by three or four terraces topped by a further 200m of Grade II scrambling which takes you to the very summit of the mountain.

    We decided to do a line up the right side of the crag starting up an obvious corner-line followed by chimneys and walls totally direct all the way to the summit. The first two pitches proved to be the crux with strenuous, and at times quite bold, climbing with bomber turf just when you needed it. The climbing eased afterwards but stayed interesting all the way up the remaining four pitches.

    On the top half of the route we had the sun on our backs, which was bliss, and we topped out to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen over Loch Maree and the Fisherfield Forest hills. Overall, it was a very relaxing day and a great laugh with Mr Webb. We called the route ‘Yggdrasil’ which is a sacred tree from Norse mythology and gave it VIII,8, although I find sandstone quite hard to grade. But more importantly, I can’t emphasis enough, how cool this crag is!”

    Despite Pete’s casual description, the long approach and descent makes any route on Slioch a major undertaking. Nevertheless, Roger has had a good late season spell on the mountain. A couple of weeks earlier (March 16), he visited the cliff with Guy Robertson and made the first ascent of Morgane (VII,8) the prominent corner-line on the left side of the wall, which joins the upper section of Katabasis.

    Greg Boswell pulling through the crux roof of Mort (IX,9) on Lochnagar during the second ascent. “After some huffing and puffing and some woeful whimpering… like “I don’t know if I can do this,” and “I’m all idea-ed out”, I eventually unlocked a crazy sequence that allowed me to cross over the huge prominent fin that defines this route.” (Photo Nick Bullock)

    Greg Boswell pulling through the crux roof of Mort (IX,9) on Lochnagar during the second ascent. “After some huffing and puffing and some woeful whimpering… ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ and ‘I’m all idea-ed out,’ I eventually unlocked a crazy sequence that allowed me to cross over the huge prominent fin that defines this route.” (Photo Nick Bullock)

    On February 22, Greg Boswell, Guy Robertson and Nick Bullock pulled off one of Scotland’s the most prized winter repeats with the second winter ascent of Mort (IX,9) on the Tough-Brown Face of Lochnagar. The 1995 SMC guidebook to the cliff described Mort as a challenge for the next generation, but it was the old guard in the shape of Brian Davison, Andy Nisbet and Dave McGimpsey who claimed one of the mountain’s greatest winter prizes in January 2000.

    Mort, which takes a prominent line through the centre of the damp and vegetated overlapping boiler-plate walls of the Tough-Brown Face, was first climbed by Mike Forbes and Mike Rennie in 1967. They used ten points of aid, but the route was free climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Bob Smith nine years later and graded E1. Nowadays it sees no more than one or two ascents each summer and is thought to be at the upper end of its grade. As the most prominent line through the Tough-Brown Face it was an obvious, if futuristic winter challenge, and was first tried by Colin MacLean, Nisbet and Davison in January 1985. The date is significant as the only route of comparable difficult at the time was Guerdon Grooves on Buachaille Etive Mor, which had been climbed, by Arthur Paul and Dave Cuthbertson the previous winter. MacLean led the first hard pitch, using two rest points above the big roof, which is the summer crux, and reached the belay ledge after five hours. Nisbet and Davison were too cold to lead through, so MacLean continued in the lead but he reached a blank section about 15m from easy ground and retreated. Although they had failed, the attempt was an eye-opener and Nisbet and MacLean were quick to capitalise on their experience. Over the following weeks they made the first winter ascents of Unicorn in Glen Coe and Winter Needle on the Shelter Stone.

    All three climbers returned to Mort during the following winters. Davison estimates that he visited Lochnagar 18 times with MacLean to try the route, but it was rarely in condition. In March 1992, Davison and Nisbet made an attempt which ended after Davison took a 20m fall over the crux roof, which he had just free climbed, landing at Nisbet’s feet. As the number of people climbing high standard mixed routes was increasing, it became clear that the route was not going to hold out forever. In December 1999, Alan Mullin made a spirited attempt with Guy Robertson. Climbing on sight in difficult powder conditions, Mullin regained almost regained MacLean’s 1985 highpoint on the third pitch, but was again stopped by the blank nature of the rock.

    Just after New Year 2000, Lochnagar came into superb condition. Most importantly for an ascent of Mort, there was a thin smear of ice above the blank section, which had stopped MacLean and Mullin on their previous attempts. Early on Saturday January 15, Nisbet climbed up to the first stance and Davison led through on the critical second pitch. Onlookers were highly impressed as Davison pulled swiftly through the roof, and stepped left around a rib into a vertical groove. The only protection on this section was a warthog and a poor tied-off blade peg and Davison reached the belay ledge after two hours in the lead. On the third pitch, Nisbet took a couple of 5m falls at the blank section, before handing the lead to Davison who managed to place a poor peg and reach a small turf placement and the ice smear above. The ice was thin and almost vertical, but after 15m Davison reached the belay ledge. Nisbet and McGimpsey came up in the dark, and it was then a formality for Nisbet to lead the final pitch to easy ground.

    Mort was graded IX,9 and was rated by Nisbet as the hardest route he had ever climbed, both from a technical and seriousness aspect. The ascent was met with delight through the Scottish climbing scene. It was felt to be entirely appropriate that Davison and Nisbet, who had been associated with the route for so long, should finally climb the route.

    The story of the second ascent last Friday is not mine to tell, so I recommend reading Greg’s graphic first-hand account on his blog. In summary, Guy led the first pitch, with Greg taking the honours with a superb lead of the crux pitch. Unfortunately Greg took a fall when a block came out below the roof, but he completed the pitch cleanly on his second attempt. Guy then completed the route with a smooth lead of the third pitch, which although still being solid Grade VIII, turned out to be more reasonable than its reputation may have suggested.

    It was brilliant to hear Guy confirm afterwards that Mort fully deserved both its Grade IX rating and its place as one of the landmarks in the history of Scottish winter climbing.