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    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!

    Roger Webb pulling through the roof on the crux roof of Tempting Fate (V,6) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The climbing potential of this rarely visited corrie on the north side of the mountain has been largely ignored until recently. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb pulling through the crux roof on the first ascent of Tempting Fate (V,6) in Coire Ruadh on Braeriach. The climbing potential of this rarely visited corrie on the north side of the mountain has been largely ignored until recently. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    We had big plans for a route in one of the great east facing corries of Braeriach, but despite a good forecast, the weather had other ideas. When Roger Webb and I started cycling up Glen Einich early on Sunday morning (January 13) it was already starting to snow and by the time we left the shelter of the forest we had to put on goggles to see into the full frontal blizzard.

    On the long walk towards the plateau we reassessed our options. Plan A rapidly became a less committing Plan B, and when that too seemed overly optimistic in the blowing storm, we opted for an even easier Plan C. Even so, it took over five hours to reach our crag in Coire Ruadh on the north side of the mountain. We were cold and tired after being knocked about by the wind, so we rapidly set about climbing a straightforward-looking mixed groove to salvage the day and start the descent as soon as possible. As I started leading the first pitch, Roger wryly commented we were a ‘hostage to fortune’ given the inclement weather.

    But as we started climbing, our luck began to change. Our mixed groove was great fun, and although it was steeper than it looked, it was blessed with so many hooks, spikes and little pinnacles that we only needed slings for protection. We finished our new III,4 as the sky began to clear, so ‘tempting fate’ I suggested to Roger that we try another route.

    This time, the climbing was even better, but technically harder, and we both had to think hard during our leads of the second and third pitches. The protection was so good (Friends this time rather than slings) that we couldn’t grade it more than V,6, but when we reached the top it was almost dark. Fortunately we had taken a GPS reading of the top of the descent gully leading down to Glen Einich, and as we descended the hard frozen snow, the wind dropped and the stars came out. “You know, we wouldn’t have felt fulfilled if we’d gone down after that first route,” Roger observed as we reached the car at the end of our 14-hour day. And of course, he was right.

    Roger Webb on the final section (common with The Blood is Strong) on a new Grade III on Cregan Cha-no on Cairngorm on December 30. This photo was taken during a slight lull in the wind – storm conditions persisted throughout the day and the route was ironically named Captain Fairweather. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb on the final section (common with The Blood is Strong) on a new Grade III on Creagan Cha-no on Cairngorm on December 30. This photo was taken during a slight lull in the wind – storm conditions persisted throughout the day and the route was ironically named Captain Fairweather. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The weather over the Christmas –New Year holiday period was very challenging with high winds putting the hills out of bounds for much of the time (for sensible folk at least). Rather frustratingly, the fluctuating temperatures were on the cool side and conditions at mid-height across many of the ranges were very good, with well-frozen turf, neve and ice.

    December 27 was the best day and several teams were busy on Ben Bevis. Iain Small and Blair Fyffe added a difficult new pitch to the left of Rogue’s Rib and Michael Barnard and Ron Dempster added a good new finish to Jacknife on The Douglas Boulder. The Off Road Finish (IV,4) steps down and left from the belay at the end of pitch two, climbs the corner at the back of the ledge and continue up through the obvious square-cut chimney above.

    I ventured into the hills on December 30 with Roger Webb, rather hoping that the forecast 80mph winds with 100mph gusts were an exaggeration. We decided to play it safe and make a visit to Creagan Cha-no on Cairn Gorm, which is probably the crag with the shortest approach in Scotland. But even a few hundred metres from the car park we were being blown off our feet. Rather stubbornly (and stupidly perhaps) we continued, reasoning that the east-facing cliff would be sheltered from the westerly winds. Unfortunately this was not the case, and the cliff was a maelstrom of blowing spindrift – the day quickly became a matter of climb something quick and get down as soon as possible.

    We climbed the prominent rib to the right of the groove of The Blood is Strong which takes in several technical and steep steps. “This is not a day to break a leg,” Roger reminded me as I struggled on the steep initial wall, and we emerged on to the plateau after two pitches in a whiteout facing into the gale. Roger had wisely put on his goggles below, but as soon as I dug mine out of my sack they immediately filled with snow and ice.

    The navigation back to the car was technically easy – we knew we had to travel due west for about a kilometre until we hit a ski fence and then turn south, but walking straight into the wind was almost impossible, and made doubly worse for me as I could barely see through my now useless goggles. For a few minutes I thought that we were going to have to crawl, and the situation reminded me of descending Cerro Torre in a storm ten years ago. But soon enough we found the ski fence, dropped a little height and if it wasn’t for our stinging cheeks and eyes, we would have wondered what all the fuss had been about.

    For all those brave and determined enough to succeed on a winter route, whatever the grade, over the holiday period, I salute you. The Scottish hills really bared their teeth, and the weather conditions at times were as challenging as you are likely to meet anywhere else in the world.

    Roger Webb moving up to the base of the cave pitch on the first ascent of Insurgent (VI,7) on Sinister Buttress, Lochnagar. This steep buttress is the least climbed feature in the Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb moving up to the base of the cave pitch on the first ascent of Insurgent (VI,7) on Sinister Buttress, Lochnagar. This steep buttress is the least climbed feature in the Southern Sector. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Lochnagar is my local crag, and over the years I have climbed almost all of its features, often by multiple routes. But there was one buttress that had eluded me – Sinister Buttress in the Southern Sector. Greg Strange wrote in his 1978 guidebook that it is “named for its associations and its rock which is lichenous and vegetated.” The term ‘associations’ refers to a bad accident in 1949 when Cairngorm pioneer Kenny Winram fell whilst attempting the first ascent of the buttress. The route was finally climbed in summer by the crack team of Bill Brooker and Tom Patey in 1955. Sinister Buttress is deceptively steep, and twenty years later, mixed master Norman Keir and D.Marden made a futuristic winter ascent approximating to their line.

    With a high freezing level forecast for Sunday December 16, Roger Webb was keen to visit Lochnagar and give Sinister Buttress a go. The result was Insurgent (VI,7), a new and exciting four-pitch line with an intricate second pitch that tested both leader and second alike. We started early, but even so we it was night time by the time we finished on the plateau, well satisfied after finding away up the least known of all Lochnagar’s buttresses.