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    Iain Small leading the new Alternative Start to Avenging Angel on Ben Nevis. This perplexing area of overhanging grooves at the left end of Creag Coire na Ciste has yielded a number of excellent routes and variations in recent seasons. (Photo Tony Stone)

    Iain Small leading the new Alternative Start to Avenging Angel on Ben Nevis. This perplexing area of overhanging grooves at the left end of Creag Coire na Ciste has yielded a number of excellent routes and variations in recent seasons. (Photo Tony Stone)

    Although this year’s December weather is proving to be unusually mild, there was a brief burst of cold air at the end of last week which produced a flurry of activity on Ben Nevis. Three notable ascents took place on December 6 – an early repeat of The Knuckleduster (VIII,9) on Number Three Gully Buttress by the powerhouse team of Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson, a possible second ascent of The Sorcerer (VII,8) on Creag Coire na Ciste by Keith Ball, Kenny Grant and Guy Stephen, and a new start to Avenging Angel Direct.

    The Sorcerer takes an unlikely line through the steep wall below the exit gully of Lost the Place, and to the best of my knowledge, it had not been repeated. Steve Ashworth and Nils Nielsen from Norway made the first ascent during a memorable day on the 2007 International Winter Meet. They climbed Darth Vader (VII,8) in the morning, followed by The Sorcerer, before racing up Thompson’s Route to warm down!

    The third important event was the addition of a new Alternative Start to Avenging Angel Direct (VIII,8) on Creag Coire na Ciste by Iain Small and Tony Stone. The sustained Tech 7+ pitch follows a parallel corner line to the left of Angels with Dirty Faces (VIII,8) – a Small-Stone addition from February 2011.

    “Friday turned out a nice day,” Iain explained. “There was no wind which was a relief as it was pretty cold. We headed up to the Ben for a look, and as usual, it delivered. Unfortunately the keener (and earlier) team of Moran and Macpherson were already on Knuckleduster so we headed over to the Archangel area. After the recent interest in Avenging Angel Direct, it reignited my regrets over not continuing up that finish when we climbed Angels with Dirty Faces. So this time we started up a different lower pitch between Archangel and Angels with Dirty Faces to reach the top two pitches of Avenging Angel. It was satisfying to finish up that route eventually!

    Reading your recent post, and the opinions generated, regarding the recording of lower grade routes, it left me wondering how to treat our alternative (but less direct) than the Direct Start to AA! It was a fun pitch, but perhaps left until someone can incorporate it into a line cutting through the headwall? On balance though, I feel it should it be recorded as an alternative start – I guess the same agreements and principles apply to routes at all grades in the end.”

    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.

    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.