Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Martin Moran

    Martin climbing the second pitch of Boggle (VIII,8) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe during the first winter ascent. (Photo Robin Thomas)

    Martin Moran climbing the second pitch of Boggle (VIII,8) on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe during the first winter ascent. (Photo Robin Thomas)

    Last week’s ferocious storms relented on Saturday December 13 providing a well-timed weather window before a quick thaw on Sunday. The fast onset of winter made venue choice tricky, as lying snow had insulated unfrozen turf, and there were deep drifts on some of the approaches. The solution was to go where the wind had scoured the hillside, and where the crags faced into the wind so the exposed vegetation was frozen. The Northern Corries fitted the bill as they were windblown, and provided good mixed climbing conditions. Ben Nevis on the other hand was not so good as it had collected large amounts of snow and most climbing was restricted to the lower lying cliffs such as the Douglas Boulder.

    An excellent choice was Beinn Eighe where Martin Moran and Robin Thomas took full advantage of the wintry conditions. “After several years of eyeing the line, I finally got on Boggle on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe on Saturday,” Martin told me. “It was worth the wait and a special thrill to climb a Robin Smith route in winter.”

    Boggle (E1) was first climbed by Robin Smith and Andy Wightman in October 1961 and was unrepeated for over 40 years. “Boggle is one of the mystical routes pioneered in summer by the late Robin Smith in his brief but mercurial career,” Martin explains on his blog. “The route climbs the central portion of the Eastern Ramparts on East Buttress. His description was as enigmatic as it was vague. He said, ‘Climb by cracks, grooves, flakes, corners, hand traverses and mantleshelves away up and right on the crest of the pillar.’ Since 1961 it probably remained unrepeated until Andy Nisbet climbed it 10 years ago, found the features and confirmed a modern grade of E1, 5b. Boggle remained one of the few E1’s on the mountain that had not received a winter ascent.”

    Martin and Robin graded their winter ascent of Boggle VIII,8, and described it as “a monolithic and super-sustained winter line with pitch grades of 8, 8 and 7.”

    Although the season has barely started, the first winter ascent of Boggle will almost certainly be a contender for one of the stand out ascents of the winter.

    Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up thin ice during the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, it was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Pete Macpherson tip-toeing up the fourth ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar. This very sustained mixed route route was first climbed nearly 30 years ago, and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was thought to be the hardest winter route in Scotland. (Photo Andy Inglis)

    Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran added to their long list of cutting edge ascents with an ascent of Diedre of the Sorrows (VIII,8) on Lochnagar’s Tough-Brown Face on January 11. This much-celebrated route was first climbed by Dougie Dinwoodie and Andy Nisbet in March 1986, and has only seen two other repeats. On the second ascent in January 2000, Dave Hesleden and Andy Cave added a direct finish that they thought was harder than anything on the original route.

    “I have real admiration for Dinwoodie and Nisbet doing this route way back in the mid-eighties and questing into the unknown’” Pete told me. “I’ve wanted to do Diedre of the Sorrows for over a decade now, but the Tough-Brown Face is so rarely in good condition that I’ve never had the chance.

    I’ve been on that face three times now, twice on Nevermore, and once when I took a whipper off another new line, so I was keen to actually get to the top of something. Diedre of the Sorrows has a huge reputation for hard bold climbing in a sort of tradition kind of way, rather than a modern steep hard pulling style. There was some nice quality super thin ice on the route, but every time the angle eased, or you reached a ledge, you were met with sugary tool-ripping snow on top of bald slabs, which made for some nerve-wracking moves way above gear.

    That’s the thing about this face compared to everywhere else I’ve climbed in Scotland – you dig out the back of grooves, and nine times out of ten you find nothing, no cracks no gear just an open groove. Martin made a smooth lead of the super thin and serious third pitch, and I got the direct pitch above, which Andy Cave and Dave Hesleden did on the second ascent. Six millimetre-thin ice with Peckers in an icy groove for pro focuses the mind somewhat! We did the last two pitches in the dark, which added to the adventure. All in all, a cracking day out which should keep me happy…until next time!”

    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.”

    Pete Macpherson ion the first ascent of Suspended Animation (VIII,9), a new four-pitch long mixed route on Suspense Wall in Coire na Feola on Beinn Bhan. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Suspended Animation (VIII,9), a new four-pitch long mixed route on Suspense Wall in Coire na Feola on Beinn Bhan. (Photo Martin Moran)

    “After a four-week layoff due to cold and chest infection,” Pete Macpherson writes, “I ventured out (on January 16) with Mr Moran in the hope of a relatively easy day. Big objectives were out of the question due to my lack of fitness and chronic cough so we headed to Suspense Wall on Beinn Bhan, which has a nice short (two hour) approach and is an easily accessible crag.

    The wall is extremely steep to say the least, and we struggled to find a realistic on sightable, and for that matter survivable line to try. Sometimes you just have to get in amongst it and hope that you find a weakness, such is the nature of on sighting on primitive untouched sandstone.

    Four pitches of pokey and really technical climbing with a bizzare and thought provoking crux (which the Moran machine solved), got us to the easy finishing slopes. Delighted! Beinn Bhan gives pure adventure once again. Suspended Animation. We gave it VIII,9 but as Martin said at the time ‘it’s an intense passage.’ So much for an easy day!”

    Martin Moran on the third winter ascent of Steeple (IX,9) on the Shelter Stone. This landmark route was first climbed in a 24-hour push by Alan Mullin and Steve Paget in November 1999. It set a new standard for Scottish routes of such sustained difficulty, and by deliberately climbing through the night, they redefined the approach to climbing long Scottish winter routes. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    The Shelter Stone has been in good conditions over the past few days with ascents of the classic mixed routes Sticil Face (V,6) and Postern (VI,6). Big news however is the third winter ascent of the summer E2 Steeple on December 12 by Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran. This pair are no strangers to high standard routes on the Shelter Stone. Two seasons ago Pete made the first ascent of Stone Temple Pilots (X,9) with Guy Robertson, and last December Martin made a winter ascent of The Needle (VIII,8).

    “Martin and I had an incredible day yesterday on The Steeple’” Pete told me yesterday. “Rather than begin up Postern we started via the summer line, and apart from missing the 5c crux which was black (we did The Needle crux instead) we followed the true line throughout. Really sustained route from beginning to end. Martin led the corner in style, which was nails to say the least. I was so knackered seconding it with a sack that I only just managed to lead the final pitch in the dark, which was super strenuous before my hands arms and legs started to cramp up. Absolutely shattered today. I’m in college now studying to become a nurse. I think my fellow students thought a zombie had walked into the classroom this morning!

    Martin Moran on the third pitch of Rudolf (VIII,8/9) on Beinn Eighe. Martin considers that the first winter ascent of this summer E2 up the centre of the Far East Wall is the most difficult winter route he has climbed on the mountain to date. (Photo Martin Moran Collection)

    Murdo Jamieson and Martin Moran had a great day on Beinn Eighe on Monday January 23 with the first winter ascent of Rudolf (VIII,8/9) on the Far East Wall.

    “Conditions were just right after three days of humid cool weather,” Martin told me. “It was well worth the wait after a long fallow period since Christmas. We reckon the route was near the top end of Grade VIII but not quite Grade IX, very comparable to but slightly more sustained than The Needle. I think the game will have to move on to the E3s to get a definite winter IX on Beinn Eighe; the protection on quartzite is just too good! Murdo thought it a full grade harder than Pic’n Mix which he’d done in friendly conditions the previous week.

    Having done a few routes now on Beinn Eighe my graded list would be:

    Rudolf   VIII,8/9

    Pale Rider   VIII,9

    King of the Swingers  VIII,10

    Feast of the East  VIII,9

    Sundance  VIII,8

    Hydroponicum  VIII,8

    Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears  VII,8

    It may seem strange that an VIII,8 should be harder than an VIII,10 but that’s how the grading system should work with the real challenge given by the first number!”


    Shelter Stone Crag in the Loch Avon Basin, Cairngorms. Citadel (VII,8) takes a line just left of the right edge. The V-corner alternative exit (useful when the upper exit cracks are rimed over) can be seen above a small diamond-shaped snow field just below the plateau and left of the crest. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The 250m-high Shelter Stone Crag in the Loch Avon Basin has been in superb mixed condition over the last couple of weeks. ‘The Stone’ is one of Scotlands’s greatest cliffs and is home to a series of winter routes that have all been at the forefront of the development of the sport – Sticil Face (V,6 1954), Citadel (VII,8 1980), The Needle (VIII,8, 1985) , The Steeple (IX,9 1999) and Stone Temple Pilots (X,9 2011).

    Sticil Face has had numerous ascents already this season, Stone Temple Pilots had its first repeat by Greg Boswell and Will Sim last week, and The Needle was climbed by Martin Moran and Murdoch Jamieson on Friday December 16. Although The Needle was one of the first ever Grade VIIIs climbed, Martin’s account on his blog makes it clear that despite over 25 years since the first ascent, this route is still a very demanding expedition.

    “Make no mistake The Needle is properly hard,” Martin wrote. “There are grade VIIIs and grade VIIIs; if you do a short test piece like The Secret on the Ben and imagine that you’ve mastered the grade, I respectfully urge you to think again.”

    On Saturday December 17, Jim Higgins and Neil Adams made an ascent of Citadel. This route is considered to be a touchstone Grade VII and a rite of passage for aspiring Scottish winter climbers. Again, their ascent proved to be a gruelling affair, and Jim has written a gripping account on his blog. Jim and Neil ground to a halt in sea of rime above the second crux unable to find the summer exit cracks. Several other teams have encountered the same problem (Robin Clothier and I struggled here too in December 1988 before the moon came out allowing us to top out), but the best option is to take the Moonlight Finish that leads up mixed ground up and left to a large ledge near the final chimney of Sticil Face and then finish by a steep V-corner on the right. This is not described in the guidebook, but has now become the established alternative exit.

    Pete Macpherson starting up the second pitch of The Blue Lamppost (VIII,8) on Meall Gorm during the first winter ascent on Wednesday. This pitch was compared to the main groove-line of Bow Direct, a VII,8 on the Fhidlheir first climbed by Macpherson and Moran with Guy Robertson two winters ago. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran visited Meall Gorm in Applecross on Wednesday December 7. They thought this easily accessible, and relatively low-lying crag was the only place to go without getting blown away, but even so, Martin’s van was rocked back and forth and blasted with hail as they arrived at the bottom of the glen. But they decided to head up and have a look as Pete explains:

    “There was tons of snow, and after leaving the road, the going was desperate on the short approach. We chose an HVS called The Blue Lamppost (first climbed by Gill and Andy Nisbet in September 1996) as it looked the most challenging option. Martin started with a 30m turfy groove (not great turf), which took us to the bottom of the main wall. I headed up, and climbed a cool groove to below the roof, which Martin led, taking a right-hand variation rather than the guidebook fist crack.

    I led the excellent top pitch, which was sustained at technical 8. It had a desperate start up an undercut groove leading steeply up into a block-filled chimney, which felt really outrageous, but positive. Poor Martin had to second in the dark. The turf on the last two pitches was good which will give everyone an indication of conditions in the surrounding area. Overall it was a great day with lovely weather, believe it or not!

    As always, the grade wasn’t easy to decide, but we settled on VIII,8.”

    Martin Moran topping out after his recent new route with Pete Macpherson on Druim Shionnach. The route was graded VII,8 making it one of the most difficult climbs in the glen. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    On Wednesday January 19, Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson added a good new route to Druim Shionnach in Glen Shiel.

    “We’re not sure what the name is yet,” Pete told me, “but it goes up the big left-facing corner which is on the left side of the prominent recess half way up the big ramp in the corrie. The corner is slabby on the left side and overhanging on the right with fantastic hooks but tiny edges for feet. Martin did his usual steady lead up the crux corner before committing to the left wall to pass the massive roof at the top. The second pitch consisted of easier climbing up turfy ramps and ledges to the top. We gave it VII,8 and it made for a nice short day out!”

    Pete Macpherson styling up the first winter ascent of King of the Swingers (VIII,10) on the Far East Wall of Beinn Eighe. The route is graded E3 6b in summer, and the crux section traverses left under the overlap below the huge capping roof. This technical 10 pitch is the highest technical rating ever recorded in the Northern Highlands. (Photo Martin Moran)

    Top team Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson made a stunning addition to Beinn Eighe on Tuesday (January 11) when they made the first winter ascent of King of the Swingers on the Far East Wall. This E3 6b, which takes the big corners left of Vishnu, was first climbed by Brian Davison, John Lyall and Andy Nisbet in June 1992. It sports a ferociously thin crux which traverses left under a huge roof, although this section can be circumvented by a pendulum which reduces the overall grade to E1.

    Unfortunately Pete and Martin just missed out on the on-sight as Pete needed to take a rest point after completing the crux traverse free on his third attempt. “It was a bold lead,” Martin told me, ” because Pete elected not to go up to the high runner placement in the roof [as for the pendulum]. That would have been very awkward and would have required a three-metre downclimb of tech 8 moves. So the crux was tackled with runners way out right at waist height and the threat of a nasty swing back into the corner had he come off. Thankfully he had just got a cam clipped in the main crack when he pinged off on the first crucial attempt!”

    The crack was hands-width and very strenuous to climb, with five or six moves of tech 8 one after the other.

    “We reckoned VIII,10 as a proper grade because the summer 6b traverse was super-thin,” Martin explained. “The upper 50 metres were fantastic sustained VII,7!”

    Congratulations to Pete and Martin for another outstanding addition and for pushing the technical envelope in the far-flung North-West.