Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Shelter Stone

    Kenton cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Kenton Cool on the second pitch of The Needle (VIII,8) on The Shelter Stone. This iconic route in the Loch Avon Basin was first climbed in winter by Andy Nisbet and Colin MacLean in February 1985. Thirty years on it still retains its reputation as one of Scotland’s most sought after and demanding winter routes. (Photo Ian Parnell)

    Last week saw one of the standout events of the season when The Needle (VIII,8) on the Shelter Stone was ascended on consecutive days. Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool climbed the route on January 8, and the following day, Andy Inglis and Neil Adams also made an ascent.

    “It was my second route of the season after the short one I did with Dave Almond in the Corries,” Ian explained. “It was also Kenton’s first of the season and it told in terms of mental fitness once night descended at the Needle Crack, where I ended up aiding a quarter of the pitch. Having said that I gave it all I had and it was a fantastic day in so many ways, but perhaps most because I’d almost dismissed the idea of the harder routes on Shelter Stone being proper winter routes. For some reason, perhaps influenced by the chat in the 90s that it was almost impossible to get the cliff fully in condition, I’d avoided that part of the cliff.

    I’d been in contact all week with visiting Americans Steve House, Josh Wharton and Mikey Schaefer and so had a good idea that close up conditions were a lot more wintery than some reports were suggesting. With mine and Kenton’s day fixed as Friday to fit round our family commitments we were super lucky to have Thursday completing the conditions set up with all day snow and 80mph winds followed by the blue sky calm on Friday. We left the car at 4.45am and after breaking trail started climbing at 8.15am, we diagonalled in from Clach Dhian Chimney area, climbed the Steeple layback rather than the Crack for Thin Fingers mainly as we got a bit lost as the snow was making the footless ramp pitch look very different from the photos I had. We reached the bottom of the Needle Crack at twilight at which point the verglas, my lack of wide gear, and mental exhaustion (lots of excuses!) meant I ended up aiding the middle section of the pitch eventually climbing the 3-4 inch crack in the left wall to a ledge from where I could free climb up the arête. We then lost even more time trying to thread the eye of the needle which after Kenton had dug out the through tunnel he failed to get his chest through – Kenton goes to the gym a lot but he’s a lot slimmer than I am. My guess is we topped out about 9.30pm and were back at the car just after midnight. Despite my failure on the Needle Crack it was one of my most enjoyable days out and the hardest day I’ve had for a while. Guy [Robertson] reckons the route should be IX,8 as the crux is at the top and I agree. In the fully hoared up conditions we had I think the route is one of the best in Scotland!”

    The strong Scottish based team of Andy Inglis and Neil Adams had a similarly fulfilling eperience. “Neil and I had been eyeing up the forecast for most of the week, swithering on whether the crag would be absolutely buried,” Andy told me. “A prospect I could quite believe judging by the monsoon last week which for a while made escaping Aberdeenshire on the Friday night rather ‘challenging’! Our guesswork paid off, the forecast played ball with a stunning morning on Saturday, and some decent blokes had even stuck in a trail down Pinnacle Gully for us. As it happened, they seemed to also have also put in tracks up the route too, which was a bit of surprise and we spent much of the day guessing who it might have been! As for the route…. long, very sustained and high quality with the crux right at the top, which Neil dispatched in style (I assume, as it was dark by then unsurprisingly!) Its incredibly fulfilling to eventually climb a route that you spend years dreaming about, training for, watching the forecast and conditions for… and it all coming together… in many ways it was the essence of Scottish winter climbing.”

    Regarding Ian’s comment on the grade, Andy commented: “Neil led the crux so he is probably better placed to say, but I think The Needle is so sustained and situated in a serious a place to climb, that suggesting it has the same overall grade as stuff like Sioux Wall, The Gathering and The Secret (just for instance) is Bonkers. For me it was like doing a long mid grade VIII,8 into the 1st pitch of Unicorn, so I can understand Guy’s logic for his suggested grade of IX,8. Without question it’s a four star route though!”

    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 – 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.

    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!

    Markus Griesshammer from Germany on the first ascent of Red Dwarf (VII,7) on Stacan Dubha. This route takes the prominent groove system to the right of Goldilocks, which saw its first ascent earlier this winter. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Loch Avon Basin has been a much-visited venue this season, and it was a popular location of Day 2 (January 24) of the BMC Winter Meet with two ascents of the classic Postern on the Shelter Stone. Iain Small and Magnus Stromhall from Sweden made a rapid ascent of Citadel, and across on Stacan Dubha, Markus Griesshammer from Germany joined me for a new route up the prominent pillar on the left side of Stacan Dubha. The four-pitch Red Dwarf followed a line of grooves and cracks up the right side of the Goldilocks pillar, with Marcus pulling out the stops leading the technical second crux on the third pitch. The following day he showed his mixed climbing credentials by on sighting Fast and Furious at Birnham.

    Carn Etchachan also saw several visits during the meet with ascents of Guillotine, Route Major and Scorpion.

    James Edwards battling up the final corner of a new V,7 on Stacan Fharaidh in the Cairngorms on December 30. Strong North-Westerlies had deposited a layer of fresh snow on this south-facing crag. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The hairdryer thaw over Christmas did not completely devastate winter in the Cairngorms, and the Loch Avon Basin was surprisingly busy on Friday December 30.

    On the Shelter Stone, Postern had a couple of ascents by Iain Small and Susan Jensen followed by Helen Rennard, Henning Wackerhage and Mark Mosgrove. Over on Carn Etchachan, Mark Chadwick and partner made an ascent of Route Major.

    Andy Nisbet and Jonathan Preston had a productive day on Stacan Dubha making the first ascent of Atlantis (III), the line of grooves just right of The Shuttle, and the first winter ascent of Zig-Zag (IV,4) at the left end of the crag.  Meanwhile, on Stac an Fharaidh, James Edwards and I climbed the prominent three-pitch buttress on the upper tier of the West Sector which gave a good V,7 mixed route, starting up steep ground before finishing up easier grooves.

    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.

    Greg Boswell (belaying) and Will Sim on the second ascent of Stone Temple Pilots on The Shelter Stone. This eight-pitch route is generally acknowledged to be the most sustained winter route climbed in Scotland to date. (Photo James Dunn Visuals)

    Yesterday (December 15), Greg Boswell and Will Sim notched up a highly significant ascent with the first repeat of Stone Temple Pilots (X,9) on the Shelter Stone. This route, which links the summer lines of Steeple, Haystack and Spire directly up the front face of the crag, was first climbed by the highly accomplished duo of Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson, only last season.

    Greg and Will left their car at 3:30am, started climbing at 6:30am by head-torch and overall spent about spent 14 hours on the climb.

    “The route was the most physically challenging climb I’ve done in winter, due to how fiercely sustained it is and also its length,” Greg told me. “I was literally falling asleep on the penultimate belay as I was so tired, but knowing I had another hard pitch to do after that one made me fuel up on Haribo and fight the fatigue. We finished under an amazing starlit sky with an awesome view of Loch Avon under the bright moonlight.

    I managed to on sight the whole thing, but only by the skin of my teeth. The crux pitch would be worth hard IX,9 in its own right, let alone with seven more hard pitches, most of which are VIII or higher, to contend with as well.”

    Greg was full of praise for the first ascensionists:

    “It was an awesome effort by Guy and Pete on the first ascent, forging a direct line up the huge face and taking in all that hard climbing. It just shows how dedicated and inspiring these two are.”

    Once he heard the news, Guy Roberson immediately emailed me with his reaction.

    “I’m speechless, and so, so impressed. It took me twenty years to get to that route, Simon – it’s taken Greg two seasons! Brilliant – just absolutely brilliant.”

    One senses that Greg and Will are just getting into gear, and many more great ascents are just around the corner:

    “Wait and see what we have planned for next week!” Greg told me.

    Roger Everett exiting the overhanging chimney on the first ascent of Goldilocks (VI,6) on Stacan Dubha in the Loch Avon Basin. The guide book description – “the crag has long approaches, which tends to deter most except for the hardiest of explorers and seekers of the esoteric” – means that the cliff sees few visits. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The great cliffs on the south side of the Loch Avon Basin have come into remarkably good condition for so early in the season. On the Shelter Stone, Sticil Face has had several ascents. Clach Dhian Chimney and Western Union have also been climbed, and Citadel saw a near success with a team retreating from above the upper crux.

    On Carn Etchachan, the classic Scorpion has seen numerous ascents together with Nom de Plume and Guillotine, and on Hell’s Lum, Deep Cut Chimney has been climbed in very powdery conditions.

    On Sunday December 11, Roger Everett and I visited Stacan Dubha, the rarely climbed cliff to the east of Carn Etchachan. We climbed the prominent line between Zigzag and Tangent, which after a couple of easier entry pitches gave three pitches of steep and sustained mixed climbing with an overhanging chimney providing the crux.

    Halfway up, I asked Roger how he was feeling and he replied “Just right. I’m neither too hot, nor too cold, just like Goldilocks!” (Inveterate scientist as he is, Roger was of course referring to the recent discoveries of potentially water-bearing ‘Goldilocks Planets’ in other solar systems, rather than the children’s story!) So we called our route Goldilocks (VI,6), and conditions were just right too – dry cracks and perfectly frozen turf.

    Rob Greenwood surging through the upper crux of Citadel (VII,8) on the Shelter Stone. Nick Bullock climbed this route after making a swift ascent of The Needle (VIII,8) with Andy Houseman the day before. The Needle has seen only five previous ascents, and Citadel is one of the most prized winter routes in the Cairngorms. (Photo Nick Bullock)

    Nick Bullock had a remarkable two days’ climbing on the Shelter Stone, two weekends ago.

    “Last weekend I was at Glenmore Lodge to present a lecture to the AMI AGM on the Saturday night,” Nick told me. “The plan was an easy day on the Saturday, and a longer day on the Sunday. I don’t quite know where it went wrong. Well actually I do, I was in the bar on Friday evening!“

    So, Andy Houseman and Nick climbed The Needle (VIII,8) on the Saturday (January 22), starting at 8.30am and finishing at 4.30pm, just in time for Nick to get back for his lecture. And then Rob Greenwood and Nick climbed Citadel (VII,8) on Sunday (January 23), starting at 8.30am and topping out at 3.00pm.

    “It was cool couple of days,” Nick concluded. “I was a tad weary afterwards though!”

    Guy Robertson on pitch 7 of Stone Temple Pilots on the Shelter Stone. The route links the summer lines of Steeple, Haystack and Spire directly up the front face of the crag and sets a new benchmark for continuous difficulty during a winter that has already broken all records. “Super-sustained, well-protected, strenuous and spectacular are just some of the many adjectives that spring to mind when describing this great climb.” Robertson said afterwards. (Photo Pete Macpherson)

    Guy Robertson and Pete Macpherson pulled off a major coup on Friday (January 28) when they climbed a new direct line up the front edge of the Shelter Stone. Their new route, called Stone Temple Pilots (named after a 90s rock band), links the first three pitches of Steeple with the crux pitch of Haystack, followed by a new pitch into Citadel and a finish up Spire.

    “For me, the Shelter Stone is in some ways Scotland’s ultimate winter cliff,” Guy told me. “It’s rarely in good wintry condition, it’s remote, the routes are very long and arduous, and the climbing is just utterly fantastic, getting progressively harder and more out there the higher up one gets! To climb a directtissima up the front edge has been a long-standing dream for me, and I was very lucky to have Pete on the other end of the rope.”

    The pair left the car at 02.30am and started up the lower Steeple corners at 05.20am, climbing the first big pitch in the dark and the next two as dawn broke. They then continued up through the crux 5c pitch of Haystack.

    “Pete dispatched this very smoothly despite a slip at the start of the difficulties (rather than lower down he just hopped straight back on),” Guy explained. “We split this pitch (Pete had downloaded all his kit) and then we stepped left before the end of the ramp onto a commodious ledge and belay.  We didn’t have a guidebook and couldn’t remember where Haystack went, and with the clock ticking it all began to get rather exciting!  With no choice but to forge on, Pete opened a new hard pitch straight up then slightly left, eventually joining Citadel where this goes right to below the headwall.

    Then it was my big lead.  Despite cramping biceps and only a couple of hours light left, I managed to drag myself up the penultimate pitch of Spire before Pete dispatched the last 5b crack of Steeple – just in time for the darkness to envelope us.”

    Guy and Pete have yet to grade Stone Temple Pilots, although Guy has made the following statement.

    “Both Pete and I feel strongly that there is considerable over-grading surrounding today’s trendy, short routes.  I’ve climbed quite over two dozen grade VIII’s and IX’s now – including others as well as my own – and most of these I’m fairly sure I could have led all the pitches if push came to shove.  This route however (and The Steeple for that matter) are in a different ball park altogether; there’s just no way on earth I could conceive of leading it from bottom to top [by myself].  So does that make it grade X?  In my opinion it doesn’t – but other route grades would need to come down.  If that’s not going to happen then maybe grade X it should be…

    …Whatever the grade, it’s kind of irrelevant.  The Stone has some of the most inspiring and challenging winter climbing this great country has to offer.  For a well-balanced and keen team there’s probably nothing anywhere else to compare!”