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    Iain Small moving up to the first crux bulge on a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small moving through a bulge on From The Jaws of Defeat, a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained and spectacular 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The vertical triangular headwall on the left side of the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis is split by a spectacular groove that runs up to the very apex of the wall. It had fascinated me for years, so when Iain Small suggested we try and climb it last Sunday (March 23), I jumped at the chance.

    Unfortunately, conditions were not too helpful as a deep thaw had stripped the cliffs the previous week, and before it had a chance to re-freeze, a heavy snowfall had smothered the crags on Friday and Saturday. We hummed and hawed about trying something in Coire na Ciste instead, but in the end we settled for Plan A and headed up to the base of Carn Dearg.

    Iain and I had climbed the deep chimney on the left side of the triangular headwall when we made the first ascent of The Cone Gatherers in 2008. On that occasion we raced against darkness as we climbed into the gloom of the December twilight, which sums up the challenge of climbing on this wall because it is such a difficult place to get to.

    This time, with longer March days we felt we had time on our side, but our initial choice of line ground to halt in deep snow overlying unfrozen turf. With our time advantage quickly slipping away, it would have been easy to turn tail, but instead we knew that we had to find an alternative that relied solely on snowed up rock. I remembered that the rock was clean and steep on the wall left of Staircase Climb Direct that I had climbed with Chris Cartwright way back in 1999, so we retraced our steps and headed up towards that.

    The tactic worked. Iain led a spectacular tech 8 pitch left of an overhanging prow, and then we ploughed up easier ground for a couple of pitches to gain the foot of the triangular headwall. The snow was deep with a layer of windslab, and at one point I was considering the wisdom of continuing (especially when we heard the boom of one of the Castle gullies avalanching), but there was the odd running belay, which encouraged upward progress.

    The first pitch on the headwall was steep and devious, but eventually it led to the base of a spectacular 50m-long groove that soared vertically upwards into the late afternoon sky. This was a perfect Iain Small pitch, with reasonably straightforward tech 7 climbing to start, but as it steepened the protection became sparser, and two crux sections led to a devious slabby finish. At the top, Iain likened it to a mini version of The Great Corner, but there was no time for pleasantries as the light was fading fast.

    Two long snow pitches took us onto the upper crest of Ledge Route, where a welcome set of footsteps wound down into the lower reaches of Number Five Gully and the warmth and welcome of the CIC Hut. It had been a fine adventure snatched from the very jaws of defeat.

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkeys buttress on Lurchers Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the crux pitch of Impulse Grooves, a new VI,7 on the Arctic Monkey buttress on Lurcher’s Crag on Cairn Gorm. Snow conditions were so heavy that it was impossible to distinguish between blank slabs and turfy ground, making route finding both exciting and challenging. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett and I were wrong-footed by logistics, weather forecasts, blocked roads and avalanche-prone slopes throughout the previous weekend. We ended up visiting Lurcher’s Crag on Sunday February 16, which I think was our Plan D!

    The weather was good, but neither of us had been to the cliff before, and our guidebook only listed a handful of routes. The crag had a nice friendly feel with lots of people about, the scenery was magnificent and with our plans in disarray we didn’t really care what we did, as long as we climbed something. Roger fancied The Shepherd, but there were two teams ahead of us, so we went to look at K9. When we got there, we found we were fourth in line, so we thought we’d carry our ice screws up a mixed line on the (Arctic Monkey) buttress to the right. We ended up following a logical sequence of grooves straight up the front face to arrive on the apex of the lower buttress before finishing up the left flank of the easy ridge above. We had no intention of climbing a new route and fully expected it had all been climbed before.

    When I arrived home, I saw a Facebook post from Andy Nisbet saying that he had climbed the face right of K9 with Susan Jensen two days before, and a look at the SMC Journal revealed three more of Andy’s routes on the buttress. I’ve been (inadvertently) following Andy’s footsteps quite a lot this winter, so I put this down to another dose of fate, but I emailed Andy anyway, to find out the relationship of our climb to his recent route, and the other climbs on the buttress.

    About twenty emails and six topos later, we all finally unravelled the relationship between the routes on the buttress. Remarkably they are all independent, although a couple do cross each other. Starting from the left, Andy and Susan’s line from February 14 is called Tetradecaphobia (V,5). It takes the right end of the roof system down which the icicles of K9 form, before climbing the grooves and corners to gain the crest of the upper buttress.

    The route climbed by Roger and I two days later starts about 30m to the right of Tetradecaphobia, and climbs four pitches up corners and grooves to the top of the lower buttress before continuing easier mixed ground to the left of the crest to the top. Roger made a fine lead of the crux third pitch, a bold and technical overlap leading on to smooth slabs, and given the spur of the moment route choice, he suggested we call our climb Impulse Grooves (VI,7). The remaining three routes all start a long way away at the right end of the buttress, although Overdraft takes a natural rising left traverse line, crossing Impulse Grooves on its second pitch, before climbing near Tetradecaphobia and finishing up a set of grooves to the right.

    Overall, given the unusually heavy snow conditions, Lurchers was a good choice on February 16. We saw teams on Left Icefall, Right Icefall, The Shepherd, North Gully, K9, Arctic Monkey and Dotterel.

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    The BMC Winter International Meet took place between January 27 and February 1. The meet was based at Glenmore Lodge, and 44 guests from 26 countries paired up with UK hosts to experience the delights of Scottish winter climbing. Despite the challenging weather and almost continuous gale force easterly winds, the meet was an outstanding success with over a dozen new routes and a significant number of repeats. Once again, Becky McGovern and Nick Colton from the BMC did a superb job keeping everyone teamed up with appropriate partners and staying cool and calm whilst fixing innumerable logistical issues.

    The big route from the early part of the meet was the third ascent of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh by Nick Bullock with Canadian climber Jon Walsh on January 28. This long, serious and poorly protected route, which was first climbed during the 2005 Winter Meet by Bruno Sourzac and Dave Hesleden, has only been repeated once. Nick and Jon encountered difficult thin and ‘cruddy’ ice conditions. “Even Jon, who has done more hard Rockies alpine routes than most, was slowed down by the first pitch,” said Nick afterwards. In general, the snow was too heavy for good climbing on Meagaidh, although one determined team succeeded on Staghorn Gully.

    Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz from Canada took advantage of a very snowy Ben Nevis to make the fourth winter ascent of Centurion (VIII,8) on Carn Dearg Buttress. Although this route was first climbed in winter 28 years ago, it has maintained its reputation as one of the more difficult Scottish Grade VIIIs. This ascent rounded off an exceptional three days for Michelle who had already made the third ascent of Slenderhead (VIII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan and the fourth ascent of West Central Gully (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe.

    In Coire Ciste, Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner from Germany made the second ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. This challenging winter climb is graded E1 in summer and was first climbed by Rich Cross and Andy Benson in 2007. Nearby on South Trident Buttress, Fiona Murray and Siw Ornhaug from Norway repeated Gallifrey Groove (IV,5).

    Tower Ridge saw multiple ascents and was a wise choice in the conditions, but the low snow level also brought The Douglas Boulder into play. The classic South-West Ridge, Cutlass and Militant Chimney saw ascents, and on January 28, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan climbed Nutless and added the Arete Variation (VI,6). The weather was wild the following day (January 29), but Rose Pearson from New Zealand and myself followed the summer line of East Ridge (IV,5). Rather surprisingly, I can find no record of a winter ascent of this short and accessible climb, which proved to be a good route for a stormy day. I returned again on January 30 with Stefan Jacobsen from Denmark to climb Alaska Highway (IV,4), the crest of the buttress taken by Lower East Wall Route before finishing up Tower Ridge.

    Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren from Sweden braved the higher slopes of Coire na Ciste to climb Sidewinder adding the Unwound Finish (VI,6) which climbs up directly rather than traversing left into the exit gully as per the original route. The rarely climbed 1944 Route also saw an ascent by Ian Bryant and Pawel Wojdyga (Poland), and lower down on Carn Dearg Buttress Kenton Cool and Corne Brouwer from the Netherlands climbed Route One. Nearby on Am Bodach in the Mamores, Andy Nisbet and Ricardo Guerra from Portugal made the first ascent of the 350m-high South Buttress (II).

    Further South, Stob Coire nan Lochan was in superb icy condition and ascents were made of Scabbard Chimney, Sceptre, Raeburn’s Route, SC Gully, Moonshadow, Tilt, Chimney Route, Crest Route, Para Andy and Central Grooves.

    Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner and Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made early repeats of Central Buttress with the Starting Blocks Start (VII,8), and Slenderhead (VIII,8) saw second and third ascents by Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz (Canada) and Ian Parnell and Olov Isaksson (Sweden). The finest performance in the corrie came from Harry Holmes and Polish climber Piotr Sulowski who made an ascent of Unicorn (VIII,8). Not only was Harry recently back from the Ice World Cup, but Piotr’s ascent of the difficult second pitch was his first ever Scottish winter lead!

    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!”

    Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary shot showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of the summer line Falkenhorst. Their VII,7 route then continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, nearing the top of a serious VII,7 route that takes the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right to the prominent ‘Y’, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

    Doug Hawthorn’s extraordinary photograph showing simultaneous new routes being climbed on Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall. Guy Robertson (red) can be seen belaying Greg Boswell (red) on the first pitch of Defence of the Realm (VII,7). The route continues left and up the prominent line of hanging ice fangs. Iain Small (blue) is high above, engrossed on Hustle, a serious VII,7 that climbs the thinly iced slabs and overlaps directly below, whilst Will Sim (orange) is nearing the end of the first pitch of The Cure (VIII,8), which follows the right-slanting shadowed slot below and left. The route then traverses up and left to finish up the black slots between the previous two routes. The Sting (VII,6), the original winter route on this section of wall, takes thicker ice leading up and right, although the exact line is not known. (Photo Doug Hawthorn)

    Some more details about the three new routes climbed on the right side of Broad Terrace Wall on Creag an Dubh Loch on January 11:

    First up were Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell who started up the summer line of Falkenhorst (E1) to a good ledge below imposing overhangs. The summer route traverses right to break through these, but instead Guy and Greg stepped left to climb the imposing inverted staircase of ice smears. This outstanding looking route is called Defence of the Realm and was graded VII,7. The grade was confirmed the following day when it was repeated by Iain Small and Ross Cowie, followed by Doug and Uisdean Hawthorn together with Callum Johnson.

    Iain Small, Doug Hawthorn and I were next on the scene and decided to climb the thin line of ice parallel and left of The Sting. Since Doug had made the first (and only) ascent of the Sting some 20 years before, he decided to pass on the route and take photos instead. Needless to say, our route succumbed to a typically bold Iain Small lead on ice that was sometimes only one or two centimetres thick. Fortunately it was the soft chewy variety, and Iain managed to place a short screw every ten metres or so. After negotiating a couple of tricky overlaps, the upper section followed the final pitches of Falkenhorst.

    Iain and I thought our route (Hustle) was about VII,7, but in truth, it is impossible to say whether it is completely new. Doug cannot remember exactly where he climbed on the first ascent of The Sting, although he presumes he took the easiest line (which appears to be on the right). As far as I know, The Sting (VII,6) is unrepeated and it resisted a second ascent attempt on January 12.

    With the two most obvious lines now occupied, Will Sim and Nick Bullock launched up genuine no-man’s land between the two. Will made a difficult and bold lead up an overhanging slot and overhanging flake that led to icicles just left of The Sting. Nick then traversed across the thin ice climbed by Iain and I, which led to a spectacular finish through overhanging slots to easier icy ground above.

    “Nick and I have decided to call the route The Cure,” Will told me. “It’s probably about VIII,8, but really hard to grade, as there was a short very sharp hard part on the first pitch, and although the rest was not a path (maybe about VII), it was very different. We both thought the route was outrageously good, the kind of stuff that makes you laugh while you climb – too much fun to feel super hard, especially if you can levitate on thin ice like Nick can!”

    First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    First acensionists Guy Robertson, Nick Bullock, Greg Boswell, Will Sim, Uisdean Hawthorn, Iain Small and Callum Johnson after climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch’s forbiddingly steep Broad Terrace Wall. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Creag an Dubh Loch’s Broad Terrace Wall is without question the steepest major cliff in the Cairngorms. It rises for 120m of sheer verticality and bewildering exposure above a steep 100m-high lower tier. Normally wet during the summer, ascents of its excellent mountain rock routes are highly prized but infrequent. In winter, it is even less travelled, and until the morning of January 11 there were only four winter routes on the wall – The Last Oasis (VI,6 Nisbet-Spinks, 1980), The Sting (VII,6 Dinwoodie-Hawthorn 1993), Sword of Damocles (VIII,9 Small-Hawthorn 2010) and Culloden (IX,9 Small-Stone-Lennox 2010). Only The Last Oasis (Hawthorn-Malcolm 1993) and Sword of Damocles (Hawthorn-Hawthorn 2014) have been repeated, meaning that the wall has only been climbed six times in winter in the last 30 years.

    All this changed on January 11 when the number of winter routes on the wall doubled from four to eight. Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson approached in the dark to be first in line for the plum route – an outrageous looking line based on the first pitch of the summer E1 Falkenhorst and continuing up an inverted staircase of hanging ice smears through the overhangs above. When Iain Small and I arrived, Guy was well established on the first pitch, so we climbed a likely new line up the thin icy wall to the left of The Sting. Will Sim and Nick Bullock arrived soon after (following an aborted look at the routes on Central Gully Wall) and elected to attempt a tenuous mixed line between these two routes.

    Iain and Will both made rapid progress which led to an astonishing sight of three of the best of the current crop of Scottish winter climbers (Robertson, Sim and Small) climbing parallel new lines within a few metres of each other. Further left, Uisdean Hawthorn and Callum Johnson climbed a series of ice smears (approximating to Mirage Variations), a strong Aberdeen team attempted Sword of Damocles, and Robin Clothier and Richard Bentley made the probable third winter ascent of The Last Oasis. And to cap it all, Doug Hawthorn, the man who launched this current phase of Dubh Loch activity with the first winter ascent of The Giant in December, was on hand to photograph the action.

    More details to follow, once names and grades of the routes have been confirmed.

    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!

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the final chimney on After the Storm (VI,5) on Beinn Nuis. Glen Rosa, Brodick and the Scottish mainland can be seen in the far distance. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Stuart McFarlane climbing the final chimney on After the Storm (VI,5) on Beinn Nuis. Glen Rosa, Brodick and the Scottish mainland can be seen in the far distance. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Chance is a fine thing. A route on Arran was high on my list of objectives for the winter, but as the season progressed it was becoming an increasingly remote possibility. Then out of the blue Stuart McFarlane emailed me and suggested we visit the island and climb a new route on Beinn Nuis. I jumped at the opportunity, but our first attempt (with Henning Wackerhage) floundered before we even left home with a terrible weather forecast, disrupted ferries and blizzards all over the island. But with disappointment there is often a hidden upside, and in this case the great storm had left the Arran mountains covered deep in snow, and with cold conditions forecast to continue over Easter, the project was back in play.

    Unfortunately Henning couldn’t join us second time around, but the logistics worked like clockwork and at 8am on April 1, Stuart and I were gearing up below the impressive North-East Face of Beinn Nuis. The classic Nuis Chimney may be the most popular route on the island (with about half a dozen ascents or so to date), but I was astonished that the impressive face to its right was completely untouched in winter. Standing directly below, it was immediately clear why it had attracted few suitors – the 200m-high wall is defended at its base by boiler-plate slabs, and above, monolithic walls appeared to block all possible lines through the steep central section. And what was in store on the headwall, buried deep in rime from the recent storm, was anybody’s guess.

    Looking more closely however, there was a single line of weakness that cut through the steep lower slabs – a ribbon of turf no more than 15cm wide that emerged onto a steep undercut ramp. Where this led to was unclear, but this was the genesis of a line that Stuart had spotted through the mist 17 years before and was the reason why we were now here. As always there was nothing more to do, except start climbing.

    Above the ribbon, we followed our noses taking a natural zigzag line between the impenetrable granite walls on patches of well-spaced turf. The climbing looked daunting from below, and was often poorly protected, but no move was particularly difficult and the pitches flowed. We topped out in sunshine just below the summit cairn. Six varied ropelengths lay below us, all set against an incredible backdrop of mountain, glen and sea. Stuart suggested we call the route After the Storm (VI,5) – an appropriate name for a memorable journey up an outstanding face.

    We considered other venues for our second day, but we were drawn back to the architectural splendour of Nuis, and added The Nuis’s Tooth (III,4) on the prominent pinnacle to the right of Gully 5. On the ferry that evening we reflected on our trip. I had fulfilled a long-term ambition of winter climbing on Arran, but for Stuart the satisfaction was deeper and more personal. From his hometown of Stevenston, Stuart can now stare with well deserved pride across the water towards Arran and the beguiling cliffs on the North-East Face of Nuis.

    Iain Small climbing through the storm on the crux pitch of The Wolves Are Running (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This bold icy mixed route takes the vertical headwall between Rubicon Wall and Atlantis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small climbing through the storm on the crux pitch of The Wolves Are Running (VII,7) on Ben Nevis. This bold icy mixed route takes the vertical headwall between Rubicon Wall and Atlantis. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    A direct line up the Observatory Buttress headwall had been on my mind for several years. I’d probed it a couple of times before with Never-Never Land and Atlantis, but it was clear that the true challenge ran straight up the centre of the wall. From afar the headwall looks ominously steep and blank, but I was fairly certain from the earlier forays that there would be a hidden weakness. The only way to find out for sure was to go and have a look.

    As usual, Iain Small was not perturbed by a healthy dose of uncertainty, (although he was a little circumspect about the conditions), so we decided to give it a go on Saturday March 16. Whist the mid level ice routes on the Ben were in exceptional shape, and Observatory Buttress itself looked particularly icy, Iain was not sure about the quality of the thinly plated ice. The minor thaw a couple of weeks before had improved the major lines, but it had lifted the more ephemeral ice just a little from the underlying rock.

    Iain’s hunch was correct of course, for although the first pitch went smoothly enough on well iced slabs, by the time we reached mid-height the going had become rather tenuous with the thin ice easily shattering and leaving blank Nevis rock underneath. This was just about acceptable when the angle was not too great, but as we belayed under the imposing headwall, it was clear that the climbing was now going to step up a notch.

    The crux pitch linked a series of discontinuous grooves, stepping down and left, from corner to corner until a longer groove led up to the final undercut vertical icefall. Iain climbed with absolute precision, and in all my years winter climbing I have never come across anyone else who could have led such a steep, delicate, technical and poorly protected pitch. The ice allowed only a singe hit before it shattered, and sometimes Iain mantled on his lower axe to reach through and avoid the most delicate sections. When he gained the long groove, Iain announced the ice was good, yet when I reached that point I found that the ‘good ice’ was indeed attached to the rock, but it was less than five millimetres thick. The final icefall was also worringly thin, and we reached the Girdle Traverse Ledge in the building storm that swept across the mountain that day, unknowingly bumping into the Point Blank and Night of the White Russians teams.

    After a long discussion we graded the climb ‘bold VII,7’ rather than anything harder, because better ice on the headwall may turn it into a less fragile experience. Nevertheless, The Wolves are Running seemed an appropriate name for a particularly frightening route.

    Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small arranging protection below the crux overhang on the first ascent of No Success Like Failure (IX,8) on Ben Nevis. The route continues up the vertical wall above the double roof to exit just right of the overhang on the skyline. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    When Iain Small and I climbed Rogue’s Rib on Ben Nevis in March 2011 we were struck by the unclimbed shallow groove to our left. It ran the full height of the buttress and was defended at its base by a large roof and punctuated with several more significant overhangs along its length. Continuous features with such a purity of line are rare on Ben Nevis, and it was immediately clear that this was an outstanding, albeit very difficult, winter objective.

    For me the route was pretty much in fantasy territory, but not so for Iain, who attempted the groove earlier this season with Blair Fyffe. On December 27 they climbed three difficult and sustained pitches before a developing blizzard and impending darkness forced then to make a difficult traverse right to reach Rogue’s Rib and finish up that.

    For most climbers, three new pitches of VIII,8 joining an existing climb near its top would constitute a significant new route, but Iain and Blair were unsure – particularly so, because it was clear that a complete ascent of the groove to its top would result in a route of extraordinary beauty and difficulty.

    Wind forward to the morning of February 2, and Iain and I were discussing route possibilites low down in Coire na Ciste. We were unsure of conditions after the recent wild weather, and had decided to head up into the corrie to assess options with an open mind. After some discussion my proposed line was dismissed as being too easy, and Iain’s too hard, so almost by default we agreed to return to the groove that Iain had tried with Blair a few weeks before.

    We climbed a different first pitch, but otherwise, familiarity with the line meant rapid progress, and by early afternoon Iain was halfway up the third pitch, contemplating the unclimbed crux sequence through a double roof. Below him were 20 metres of scantly protected Tech 8 climbing, but this was a mere taster for what lay ahead. As the groove reared up into the first overhang, the rock blanked out. There were no obvious cracks and Iain spent nearly an hour stood on one foot fighting to place a poor Pecker, a knifeblade and finally a small sideways wire under an overlap.

    The crux sequence involved committing to an upside down dance on poor sloping placements with precision front pointing on millimetre-thick edges. Discovery of a small hidden upside down hook proved to be the key, but even so it was a virtuoso performance by Iain, and with another pitch of Tech 8 to follow, the route was from over.

    Once we were safely down we discussed a name. Iain suggested we use the title of Blair’s blog post describing their previous attempt. No Success Like Failure was the perfect name, and went a little way to acknowledging Blair’s contribution to a truly magnificent winter route.