Scottishwinter.com

    Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Roger Webb

    Anvil Chorus

    Roger Webb tackling the final pitch of Anvil Chorus (IV,7) on Creagan Cha-no. The recalcitrant chockstone can be seen winking above his head. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb tackling the final pitch of Anvil Chorus (IV,7) on Creagan Cha-no. The recalcitrant chockstone can be seen winking above his head. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday December 13 was a beautiful day in the Cairngorms. I’ve been feeling lousy with a persistent cold for the past three weeks but the good weather forecast tempted me out with Roger Webb for a short day on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. By the time we arrived at the top of the crag, two teams were already in action, and throughout the day the popular routes saw multiple ascents. Johannes Felter and Ruth Love set the pace with ascents of Chimney Rib, Jenga Buttress, Anvil Gully and Fingers and Thumbs – a productive day!

    Roger and I had our sights set on the wide crack system on the left wall of Anvil Gully. Roger led up the left branch of the gully (which is often climbed as an easier start to the original route that takes the steeper right leg), and belayed below vertical twin cracks on the left wall. As the invalid I’d chosen this pitch as I thought it would be the easier option, but I soon found myself wrestling with an awkward bulging offwidth. Eventually sense prevailed, I investigated the left wall and found a couple of hidden hooks, and two steep pulls later I was in the upper slot that led over a bulge to a large platform below the steep headwall. I then made myself comfortable at the belay, quite happy with my lead of the Tech 6 pitch.

    The headwall is cut by two offwidth cracks. Sandy Simpson and I climbed the left-hand one when we made the first ascent of Flaked Out on our first ever visit to the crag. I remember Sandy bounding up the pitch in five minutes or so, which is just as well as it was getting dark. Today’s objective was the right crack, which was clearly steeper and capped by an overhang, but suitably prepared we had brought a rack of large cams. As Roger started up it was clear that the wall was even steeper than it looked and the lower section was surprisingly technical. Roger made steady progress, but unfortunately the chockstone below the roof was awkward to reach, and after an hour of fighting he surrendered the lead after finally making the crucial thread.

    We pulled the ropes through and I tied on to the sharp end. It hadn’t been my plan to do any difficult leading, but the shadows were starting to lengthen, and if we were going to get up the route it was now or never. Fortunately Roger had done all the hard work, and when I reached the chockstone I still had sufficient power in my arms to pull over the roof and make a long reach for a hook. Roger followed quickly and we joined a group of climbers who had just finished Chimney Rib and Anvil Gully and had been following our progress with interest.  After such a public display, Anvil Chorus seemed a suitable name, and we settled on a grade of IV,7 (Roger was in a devilish mood and wanted to rate it III,7), and we’ll leave it to the next party to make a smoother ascent.

    Roger Webb leading the final pitch of Now Winter Bouldering (III,6). This short addition lies on Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm and is the first new route to be reported this season. (Photo James Edwards)

    Roger Webb leading the final pitch of Now Winter Bouldering (III,6). This short addition lies on Creagan Cha-no on the east side of Cairn Gorm and is the first new route to be reported this season. (Photo James Edwards)

    After a warm autumn the Scottish winter season finally got underway on November 14 when a plunge of cold air covered the Carngorms with the first snows of the season. Coire an t-Sneachda was predictably popular with ascents of Fingers Ridge, The Seam and Pygmy Ridge, and Creagan Cha-no saw some new route activity. James Edwards, Gary Kinsey and Roger Webb linked the Direct Start to Chimney Rib with its unclimbed left arête to give Now Winter Bouldering (III, 6).

    “It is the sequel to our other spirited effort on the cliff Once We Were Alpinists,” James explained (with tongue firmly in cheek). “Roger, having just returned from the Alps, aptly compared the route to a series of boulder problems, and the comparison was not without merit. We started up Martin Holland and Steve Langton’s Alternative Start. The route then went to the arete (new) then into the chimney (climbed before) then a new finish (Roger in the photo). So a micro variation on a micro route really, but like Once We Were Alpinists, the moves were very good.”

    Simon Richardson approaching the through-route of Time Lords (VI,6) on the North Face of Aonach Beag. Surprisingly the tunnel shaped feature was entirely composed of ice and not based on an underlying chokstome. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Simon Richardson approaching the through-route of Time Warp (V,5) on the North Face of Aonach Beag. The original line of Blackout is off picture to the left, and the easier-angled line of ice left of the chimney was soloed by Ewan Lyons two days later at a grade of IV,4. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Roger Webb and I visited the North Face of Aonach Beag on March 14. It was a memorable day on several counts – the weather was superb and we climbed a good new route – but most importantly, it was nearly 30 years ago that we first climbed on Aonach Beag together. The climb in question was modest Grade II called Whiteout, but it holds personal significance for both of us. Not only was it the first route on the cliff, it was also a precursor to great ice lines of King’s Ransom and Royal Pardon that we climbed two years later.

    As the name suggests, the weather was terrible the day we climbed Whiteout, but even so were dimly aware through the blowing snow that the steep headwall on the right side of the cliff was dripping with impressive ice features. Three days after the first ascent of Royal Pardon in February 1987, Roger returned to the cliff with John Dunn and climbed Blackout – a route based on the deep overhanging chimney cutting through the right side of the headwall. Careful reading of their description reveals that they did not actually climb the chimney, but steep ice on the left flanking wall instead. This meant the chimney itself was untouched, so it fitted the bill perfectly for an objective last weekend that required to be high, north facing and based on a natural drainage line.

    Roger led a long mixed pitch to the right of the wide entry gully of Whiteout to gain the snow bay beneath the chimney. It was a deceptively difficult lead that looked straightforward from below, but was a case where 45 degree snow was really 70 degree ice and the slabby mixed walls were in fact overhanging. It was a stark reminder that the North Face of Aonach Beag is serious crag that only reluctantly gives up its protection opportunities away from the main ice lines. Roger only found one rock runner on the 60m pitch – the other two pieces of gear were ice hooks driven into turf.

    The chimney was choked with ice and looked magnificent. It was deep and overhanging but a curious formation of ice appeared to block it at half-height. There was a hint of through-route, but if it existed would we be able to squeeze behind it? The lower half of the chimney looked inviting, but it turned out to be unconsolidated snow, and I was soon forced to bridge up ice on the sidewalls to reach the icy constriction.

    As I squirmed deeper into the mountain I could see that the through-route was there, but it looked too tight. Chopping away the ice to collapse the feature would have not only have sent a ton of ice down on top of Roger but also turned the chimney into a desperate overhanging slot. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts I tried to squeeze behind the ice one last time, and like a cork out of a bottle, I suddenly slipped through and my head popped out through a narrow window half way up a curtain of icicles. Some wide bridging and a few steep pulls took me into the easier upper continuation gully with 60m of easier ground to the top.

    Roger thought the route was very 1980s in style, taking such a prominent feature draped in ice, so we called the route Time Warp to mark 30 years of climbing together on Aonach Beag.

    Roger Webb finishing the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the steep wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct of Creag Coire na Ciase. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb nearing the top of the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct on Creag Coire na Ciste. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Choosing where to climb this weekend was a tough call after the devastating New Year thaw. With temperatures only dropping on Friday, it was difficult to figure out how much it had snowed, and where, and whether the turf had re-frozen. In the end, Roger Webb and I opted for the failsafe option and visited Ben Nevis on Saturday January 3. We were hoping that the thaw had left sufficient snow on ledges and flat holds to bring in an icy mixed possibility in the Tinkerbell area of Creag Coire na Ciste.

    We were second into the corrie following behind the welcome footsteps of James Richardson, Andy Munro and Helen Rennard who were heading for The Comb. As the daylight broke it was clear that high up, the mountain was icy and frozen hard, and tell-tale streaks and blobs of white on our objective looked encouraging. An pleasant icy gully leading through the lower tier warmed us up for the first pitch that climbed a mixed wall before joining the upper section of the intial icy groove of Tinkerbell.

    Our line then went left onto the impressive wall to the right of Central Rib. This wall overhangs for much of its height but is cut by a tapering ramp that leads into its centre. Unfortunately the ramp disappears and the way is blocked by an undercut monolithic block. The plan was climb the ramp, hand traverse the block and then climb the vertical groove above that leads into a parallel ice line left of Tinkerbell.

    The ramp was reassuringly icy, but it was clear that hand traversing the monolithic block was going to be a non-starter (for me at least). After a lot of hesitation I hooked a high flat hold on the wall above, stepped up on a small rounded nick and precariously stood on top of the block. The wall above was overhanging and pushing me out and the only way to get back into balance was to kneel on the block. I urgently needed a placement to lower myself down but there was nothing. I contemplated falling and catching the block as I went past, but eventually I found the tiniest of hooks and lowered myself down, first one knee and then two.

    I could now see round the block and into the groove but the view was not good. A steep overhanging wall barred entry to the groove and there was no protection in sight. Eventually I dropped down to the left, changed feet on the tiniest of footholds, hooked a poor edge and bridged up sloping icy dimples to gain the foot of the groove. I was now a long way above my last gear, and my tools were starting to rip. There was nothing for it but make, one, two, three, four, five moves on the most tenuous of placements. One slip and I would have been off. Eventually my right tool sank into a centimetre-deep crack and vibrated. My heart sang. One final pull took me out of the groove onto easier ground.

    By the time Roger came up it was dark, but he made short work of the final icy groove and led all the way to the top. The plateau was bathed in beautiful moonlight. It felt late but was only about 6pm, and made all the more sociable by bumping into James, Andy and Helen after their fine ascent of Tower Face of the Comb.

    Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Imperturbable (IV,5) on the South-West Face of Cona Mheall in the North-West Highlands. Cona Mheall is the mild-mannered cliff facing the steep and demanding Upper Crag of Beinn Dearg on the west side of Coire Ghranda. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Pete Macpherson on the first ascent of Imperturbable (IV,6) on the South-West Face of Cona Mheall in the North-West Highlands. This the mild-mannered cliff faces the steep and demanding Upper Crag of Beinn Dearg on the west side of Coire Ghranda. (Photo Roger Webb)

    Roger Webb, Neil Wilson and Pete Macpherson visited Cona Mheall on December 28. “It’s a good looking crag, but none of us had been there before,” Roger explained. “It was cold and overcast, so despite being south facing we thought it would probably be in condition. Neil broke trail, Pete led the hard bits and I supervised. The crag lived up to expectations, but the weather did not, being more grisly than forecast.

    We did a rather good 100m-long IV,6 that we called Imperturbable after Neil’s total lack of reaction to being avalanched on the way in. Pete and I were very perturbed watching him go but Neil simply continued the ongoing conversation some 50m or so lower down the hill. This crag is a very good place to go to see the wilds of Coire Ghranda without the grim foreboding (route name for you Guy) of the Beinn Dearg side. The existing routes (all three of them) look excellent. In particular Twisted Rib III,4 (Robertson brothers and Jason Currie 1998) should be on the list of anyone who is looking for a great but not too desperate day in a spectacular and lonely spot.”

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. This is probably the first route to be climbed on the summit cliff of the mountain. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Saturday December 13 Roger Webb and I decided to gamble on the summit cliff of Beinn a’Mhuinidh in the Northern Highlands. We had stared at this NW-facing crag whilst descending Slioch on several occasions, and as far as we knew, nobody had ever visited it before. With a cliff base at 550m it is low-lying, but we were counting on it being blasted free of snow and fully frozen.

    Our optimism was misplaced because as we approached the foot of the face through a snow storm the ground was still soft under our feet, and the cliff covered in snow and not as steep as we had hoped. Prospects looked bleak, so whilst Roger sorted the gear, I headed right to look at a steeper looking buttress that was just visible a long way to the right. From underneath I could see that it reared up into a steep headwall. This was excellent news as there would be little reliance on turf, but there was no obvious line and it looked extremely difficult. As I walked back to Roger, I looked back, and through the blowing snow there was a hint of a right-trending diagonal weakness. So perhaps there was a way?

    We climbed easy snow and ice up the lower half of the buttress to reach the foot of the headwall. The rock was worryingly compact, there was no belay and failure looked increasingly likely. But sure enough,  a hidden gash cut deep into the crag, so I stamped out a platform in the snow and Roger set off up the gash that soon reared up into a steep chimney. Hopeful looking spikes turned out to be rounded and useless, so Roger continued up as we were blinded by yet another snowstorm. On the plus side, the turf was frozen.

    But you should never give up when Scottish winter climbing. When the chimney tightened and steepened, Roger found a crucial cam placement that gave him the confidence to commit to the squeeze section above. After a brief struggle he moved up to a good ledge on the blunt crest of the buttress. When I came up I was concerned about the blank-looking wall above, but miraculously the rock changed at this point from completely unhelpful to cracked and featured. It had stopped snowing too. An excellent pitch linking grooves up the headwall led to easier ground, where Roger bounded along the final easy ridge to the top. All that was left to do was to bag the summit and then descend the long south-easterly slopes back to Incheril.

    Gary Kinsey making a beeline for the prominent pillar taken by the line of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6), on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. “It’s the best line I have climbed so far at Cha-no,” James Edwards commented afterwards. “On the main pitch every move was interesting, and the protection is excellent.” (Photo James Edwards)

    Gary Kinsey making a beeline for the prominent pillar taken by the line of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6), on Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm. “It’s the best line I have climbed so far at Cha-no,” James Edwards commented afterwards. “On the main pitch every move was interesting, and the protection is excellent.” (Photo James Edwards)

    18 February 2013: First ascent Max Encouragement (VI,7) on Arch Wall by Masa Sakano and Luke Abbott. This steep pitch climbs the parallel cracks just right of the second pitch of Daylight Robbery on the Arch Wall headwall. Masa originally graded the route V,6, but the pitch looks as hard as the next door Smooth as Silk (VII,7), so eventually Masa agreed to the upgrade!

    7 December 2013: Two quick additions by Roger Everett and myself on Blood Buttress. Giant Steps (IV,6) climbs the crest between Blood Thirsty and True Blood, and True Blood Direct (III,4) takes hanging groove and icicle avoided by the original line.

    2 January 2014: First ascent of Once We Were Alpinists (III,6) by Gary Kinsey, James Edwards and Roger Webb. This takes the prominent rib about 50m up and right from Arch Wall. “The main pitch was 40m with another 20m of easy ground to the summit plateau,” James reports. “At one point, just before the end of the difficulties, I was completely flummoxed as to how to sink my tools into the great big sods of turf just out of reach, and Gary’s advice to ‘just pull and step up lad’ left me feeling quite short. Then I spied a tiny seam just on the arête. I just got the tip of my pick in it and stepped up with a wobble (and a tiny squeak). When Roger reached the same point, I kept quiet (of course) about the hidden seam, but noted with disappointment that his wobble and squeak was far smaller than mine!”

    Roger Webb on the first ascent of Moonflower, a new Grade III in Coire nan Clach on Braeriach. Along with the mixed climbs high on Ben Nevis, the remote high corries of the Cairngorms are invariably the first areas to come into condition every season. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb on the first ascent of Moonflower, a new Grade III in Coire nan Clach on Braeriach. Along with the mixed climbs high on Ben Nevis, the remote high corries of the Cairngorms are invariably the first areas to come into condition every season. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Autumn is a great time to explore the high Cairngorms. The north-west facing Northern Corries rime up quickly with the first snows of the season, but it is the likes of Braeriach and Beinn a’Bhuird that truly hold the cold during early season temperature variations and thaw. The climate in the corries cutting deep into the Cairngorm plateau is different to the front line crags on the northern flanks of the massif.

    Aspect is important too. The west-facing Coire nan Clach on Braeriach yielded a couple of new lines to Roger Everett, Roger Webb and myself after the first blast of winter westerlies in early November. Moonflower (III) on Alaska Buttress, and RRS Rib (II) up the ridge to the right, were a good opportunity to blow away the summer cobwebs. The following weekend, all north and west-facing crags had been stripped bare by warm south-west winds, but a sharp freeze had transformed the vertical-stepped corner cutting through the buttress left of Powerpoint in the sheltered east-facing Coire Bhrochain. This gave Roger Everett and I Petzl Buttress, a good III,4 climbed on well-frozen turf, new squeaky ice and hard re-frozen snow.

    On the last Sunday in November, Roger Webb and I teamed up to visit the obscure East Meur Gorm Craig on Ben Avon. The Sheep, The Sheep (III,4) and Sheep of Destiny (III,4) are probably the best winter lines on a largely disappointing crag comprised of massive exfoliating granite, but nevertheless we had the dubious satisfaction of adding the first (recorded) winter routes to the mountain.

    Earlier in the month, The Stuic on Lochnagar – the most accessible high venue in the Eastern Cairngorms – gave a good four pitch V,5 to Roger Everett and myself up the series of steep corners to the left of Millennium Buttress.

    These routes will likely only be of interest to a small handful of climbers, and will be quickly lost in the back pages of the SMC Journal. They will almost certainly never merit full descriptions in upcoming guidebooks, but they do demonstrate the exploratory fun that can be had by looking around a new corner or two!

    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.

    The impressive Flake Buttress on Beinn Dearg Mor. The winter line weaves its way up the front face of the buttress at VI,6 via a series of hidden grooves and chimneys. Above is a long connecting ridge with a final two pitches up the buttress in the top left of the photo. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The impressive Flake Buttress on Beinn Dearg Mor. The winter line weaves its way up the front face of the buttress at VI,6 via a series of hidden grooves and chimneys. Above is a long connecting ridge with a final two pitches up the buttress in the top left of the photo. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb and I were keen to make best use of last week’s high pressure, so arranged a visit to Beinn Dearg Mor on Thursday January 24. This remote Corbett hidden behind An Teallach has an attractive north-facing corrie, but the long approach has deterred the majority of visitors. Apart from Roger that is. Inveterate North-West explorer, Roger already had two new winter routes to his name on the mountain.

    The plan was to make a winter ascent of Flake Buttress, a summer Severe first climbed by A.Parker, J.Derris and I.Richards in 1952. Roger has been intrigued by Parker’s exploits in the Northern Highlands for a number of years, and with routes like the improbable Main Buttress on Slioch (climbed solo), they deserve greater recognition. Parker himself stands out as one of the great Scottish mountain explorers of his era.

    For my part, I had wanted to visit the corrie ever since my great friend Chris Cartwright made a the first winter ascent of the impressive Central Buttress (V,5) with Iain Stevens in February 1995.

    As advertised the approach was long, and even though it felt we had made rapid progress, it took five hours before we were standing underneath Flake Buttress. Rearing up like a skyscraper, it was without doubt the finest feature in the corrie. The problem was that we couldn’t see how to climb it, and knowing the pedigree of Parker, his Severe could be anything up to HVS. With pressure mounting we spent an hour of precious daylight climbing the gullies either side of the buttress to scout out a line.

    Roger was confident that once we started it would slot into place, and of course he was right. We used an overhung turfy fault to gain the buttress from the right, and then followed cracks and grooves, more or less up the font face of the buttress, to where the angle eased. Our line had coincided with the guidebook description in part, but we were in for a shock when an unsdescribed narrow ridge led across a neck and onto a big upper buttress.

    Eventually at 6pm we arrived on the summit ridge with nine pitches and nearly 300m of new winter ground below us. Lean conditions in the side gullies meant that our descent option now led over the summit. We were six hours from the car and ten hours from home, and both had work commitments next morning. It was going to be a long day’s night!