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    Browsing Posts tagged Simon Richardson

    Henning Wackerhage on the improbable undercut prow of The Seven Ages of Man (V,5) in Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova. The route takes the prominent buttress on the left side of the cliff between the gullies of Age Before Beauty and The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Henning Wackerhage on the improbable undercut prow of The Seven Ages of Man (V,5) in Corrie Farchal in Glen Clova. The route takes the prominent buttress on the left side of the cliff between the gullies of Age Before Beauty and The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday February 7 was not a particularly nice day but time was running out for Henning Wackerhage and I. After 19 years in the UK, Henning is set to return to his native Germany in a couple of weeks time to take up a professorship in Munich, and there were still some outstanding lines in Corrie Farchal to do.

    It was snowing hard and it took us a time to find our objective, the buttress to the left of the gully of The Art of Growing Old Gracefully. This is defended by steep bands low down and at mid-height, but in typical Farchal style the rock was surprisingly helpful and some steep moves up undercut twin cracks led through the first crux. Henning then confidently threaded his way through the improbable undercut prow of the second band that led to a third pitch of simple snow slopes and the top. We debated the grade a little, but to me The Seven Ages of Man felt like a V,5 experience overall even though the crux sections were steep and technical.

    Four days later on February 11 we back in better weather. This time we had our sights set on a long sought after goal – the overhanging front face of the buttress above Farchal Ramp. This is arguably the finest feature in the corrie and was first climbed by Alex Thomson and Jenny Hill in January 2015 with Age is Only a Number (III,4), a brilliantly devious line taking hidden chimneys and ramps on its right side. But the front face is the real challenge, and tantalisingly it is cut by a diagonal crack. The problem is that it is difficult to judge the angle from below as the buttress is covered with overhangs and impending corners all leaning the wrong way and festooned with hanging icicles. Looking up it is like an impossible Escher drawing and any route through seemed highly improbable, but diagonal lines can sometimes cut through remarkably steep ground and the only way to find out was to give it a try.

    We soloed up easy ground to Farchal Ramp and then Henning led a slanting chimney-slot, stepped over the chimney of Age is Only a Number and continued up the ramp above to a narrow ledge with the headwall bulging above. From directly below we could see the crack cleverly threaded its way through the steepest overhanging terrain but it was still the wrong side of vertical. Unfortunately it blanked out for the first three metres or so, which meant there were some delicate moves on thin ice on the left wall to get established. Once in the crack itself, it provided one of those unrelentingly strenuous pitches where every move is Tech 7, and just hanging on to place the gear feels as hard as the climbing itself. Finally a good hand jam at the top allowed a swing left to a good ledge. Henning led a short vertical icefall to finish and The Age of Enlightenment (VI,7) was finally in the bag.

    We had time for one more route, the discontinuous gully line left of Farchal Gully, which provided three excellent sections on steep ice and a chance for Henning to use the route name he’d been saving for his final new route – The Last Hurrah (IV,4). There was just time to sprint back to the car and drive back for Henning’s farewell climbing dinner in Aberdeen.

    Henning has spearheaded the development of winter climbing in the Angus Glens in recent seasons and has been a prominent figure on the North-East climbing scene for the last ten years. His boundless enthusiasm, superb photography skills and awesome fitness on the hill will be missed.

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar. Unlike previous winter meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    German climber Michael Rinn on the first ascent of a new V,7 on The Stuic on Lochnagar climbed during the 2016 BMC International Winter Meet. Unlike previous Meets, challenging conditions meant new routes were thin on the ground during this year’s event. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The Weather Gods did not smile kindly on the BMC International Winter Meet that was held at Glenmore Lodge from January 24 to January 30. Over 35 guests from 30 different countries were teamed up with UK hosts and let loose on the Scottish hills. Unfortunately a major thaw preceded the event and the first two days were spent dry tooling at Newtyle or sea cliff climbing in the warm sunshine at Cummingston and Logie Head. The exception was Andy Nisbet who showed his great experience by leading a party up Fiacaill Couloir on ice that had survived the thaw. Despite the non-wintery start, there were smiles all around, and for several of the visitors, climbing by the sea was a new experience in itself.

    With lower temperatures, an overnight snowfall, and a temporary lull in the gale force winds, winter climbing final kicked off on Wednesday January 27, and teams headed off to the well-known ‘early season’ locations of the Northern Corries, Ben Nevis and Beinn Eighe. In Coire an t-Sneachda, Original Summer Route, Fingers Ridge and The Message were climbed and in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Deep Throat, Western Route, Sidewinder and Ewen Buttress all saw ascents. Full marks went to Raphael Slawinski (Canada) and Erik Eisele (US) who both made ascents of The Vicar (VII,8) as their first-ever Scottish winter routes with Dave Garry and Tom Livingstone. The Beinn Eighe teams climbed East Buttress and West Buttress, and on Ben Nevis the best conditions were found on Tower Ridge and North-East Buttress. Unfortunately it had not been cold for long enough to bring the mixed routes into condition, except for Sioux Wall (VIII,8) which was well rimed and saw an ascent by Uisdean Hawthorn and Luka Strazar, and Ian Parnell and Ian Welsted (Canada). This was ten years after Parnell’s first winter ascent of this landmark route with Olly Metherell in December 2005.

    Thursday January 28 dawned wild and windy, but it was still cold with a thaw forecast in the afternoon. Attention focused on the Northern Corries, and in Coire an t-Sneachda, The Haston Line, Houdini, The Message, Hidden Chimney Direct, Patey’s Route, Stirling Bomber and Invernookie were climbed together with Central Crack Route, Deep Throat, Savage Slit, Fallout Corner, Hooker’s Corner in Coire an Lochain. The highlights were ascents of The Gathering (VIII,9) by Tom Livingstone and Ian Welsted (Canada) and Never Mind (IX,9) by Dave Almond and Luka Strazar (Slovenia). Elsewhere in the Cairngorms on Lochnagar, Michael Rinn (Germany) and I climbed a new V,7 on The Stuic that was sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales. Across on Ben Nevis, Raphael Slawinski (Canada) led The Secret (VIII,9) in very stormy conditions.

    Friday was a write-off with more gales and thawing conditions, but that evening snow began to fall and everyone prepared for one last push on Saturday January 30 to finish the Meet on the high. Unfortunately for most it was not to be, as the winds and unrelenting blizzards were too strong and all parties attempting to climb in the Northern Corries were beaten back. The only climbing in the Cairngorms took place in in Stac na h-Iolaire, a small crag within walking distance of Glenmore Lodge where a number of new additions up to Grade IV were found. Enterprising visits to Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh came to nought with teams reporting black rock or avalanche conditions, but surprisingly the determined teams that ventured across to Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe to climb in the teeth of the westerly storm were rewarded with ascents of Spectre (V,6), Tilt (VI,7) and Chimney Route (VI,6).

    The Meet finished that night with a disco at Glenmore Lodge that lasted well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Despite the challenging weather and conditions (almost certainly the worst ever experienced on a BMC International Winter Meet), the week was a great success. Every evening, presentations were made showing the winter climbing potential in Scotland, Canada, USA, Greece, India and Portugal. Ideas were shared, friendships made, new partnerships formed and the overseas guests returned home with a new-found respect for the Scottish mountains, the Scottish weather and for all those who climb in them.

    Thanks once again to Glenmore Lodge for hosting us and Nick Colton and Becky McGovern from the BMC who set such an upbeat tone throughout the week and worked so hard behind the scenes to make the event run so smoothly. Tom Livingstone has also written a report on the BMC website.

     

    Adrian Crofton about to ‘bamboozled’ on the first ascent of Bamboozle Buttress (V,6) in Corrie Bonhard. The route eventually went up and left. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Adrian Crofton about to ‘bamboozled’ on the first ascent of Bamboozle Buttress (V,6) in Corrie Bonhard. The route eventually went up and left. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On January 16, Adrian Crofton and I visited Corrie Bonhard in Glen Clova and climbed Bamboozle Buttress (V,6), a direct line up the left-hand of the twin buttresses high up in the corrie. The right-hand buttress was climbed last year by two good routes – Mystery Ramp (III,4) and Cryptic Wall (V,6) – and the left-hand buttress did not disappoint with sustained mixed climbing from the first move to the very top.

    Adrian was very much ‘bamboozled’ on the second pitch, because the line was not obvious, but after two false starts he found a hidden shelf that deftly led through the headwall to easier ground.

    The low-lying south-easterly aspect of the crag means that these are very much mid-winter routes that can only be climbed after a hard freeze, heavy snowfall and when the sun is low in the sky. Added to this, Corrie Bonhard (together with several other Glen Clova cliffs such as Winter Corrie, Coire Fee, Juangorge and Craig Maud) sometimes carries a bird restriction from February 1 to July 31.

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    Spooks

    Simon Yearsley on the second pitch of Spooks (VI,6) on Craig na Caillich on Meall nan Tarmachan. This cliff has a long history and was first climbed by Raeburn and Lawson in February 1898 by an indirect version of Great Gully that nowadays carries a IV,4 rating. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Simon Yearsley on the second pitch of Spooks (VI,6) on Craig na Caillich on Meall nan Tarmachan. This cliff has a long history and was first climbed by Raeburn and Lawson in February 1898 by an indirect version of Great Gully that nowadays carries a IV,4 rating. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On January 14, Simon Yearsley and I added a new route we called Spooks (VI,6) to Meall nan Tarmachan in the Southern Highlands. Simon takes up the story:

    “Simon and I have known each other, and known of each other, for many years. In fact we probably first met in Snell’s Field in Chamonix in 1983, when the ever-enthusiastic, and sadly late, Mark Miller was bemoaning the fact there were ‘Too many Simons in Chamonix!’ Despite that, we’ve never actually climbed together. Simon rang me to say he had a guidebook meeting near Stirling at 7.30pm in a couple of days time, and so did I fancy breaking the habit of the past 33 years and actually teaming up for the day. A fine idea.  With a bit of time pressure and a lot of snow high up, we opted to check out Creag na Caillich. This modest looking east-facing crag just west of the popular Munro Meall nan Tarmachan has a base around 670m so should have escaped the worst of the snowfall and was nicely close to the road.

    We had expected a bit of a ‘powder wade’ to reach the crag but were pleasantly surprised by good enough travel, with deeper snow only in the last bouldery section below the cliff. I often find crags like this hard to judge, as on first glance it looked pretty easy angled and very vegetated with few really compelling lines. Simon was more optimistic, as he’d stood underneath it in summer, and assured me it was a) steeper than it looked, and b) contained a good looking line to the right of the prominent corner of Momento Mori. He was, of course, absolutely correct.

    Simon took the honours on the first pitch with an innocuous wee groove proving much harder than it looked, then a long vertical section on blobs of turf leading to a fine exposed belay. At one point, Simon’s feet skittered off and there was a momentary yelp as he regained control. Following Simon, I was struck by how insecure and spooky the 55m-long pitch must have been to lead.

    The second pitch was somewhat easier, but very spectacular, as a short groove then an exhilarating swing right round an arête led to a turfy ramp system cutting above the steep section of the crag. The swing round the arête was great fun, the position on the ramp was excellent, and it felt like we were on a bigger and more majestic cliff. An easy pitch led to the top and we scuttled back to sacks before the light faded.

    It was great fun to finally climb together and won’t be the last time either! Oh, the guidebook meeting – Simon did get there, albeit a wee bit late, but with a hopefully good enough excuse!”

    Simon Richardson about to pull into the overhanging offwidth during the first ascent of The Day After Tomorrow (VII,8). This sustained six-pitch route is the most difficult of three mixed routes added to Coire Choille-rais on the south side of Creag Meagaidh earlier this month. (Photo Roger Everett)

    Simon Richardson about to pull into the overhanging offwidth during the first ascent of The Day After Tomorrow (VII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. This sustained six-pitch outing is the most difficult of three mixed routes added to Coire Choille-rais earlier this month. (Photo Roger Everett)

    Several years ago I had a pleasant morning climbing the East Ridge of Mheall Coire Choille-rais, an excellent Grade II on the south side of Creag Meagaidh. Looking north I could see the profile of a prominent buttress in the neighbouring Coire Choille-rais, but the cornices were too big that day to get a closer look. I was sufficiently intrigued to make a visit the following summer, and sure enough, situated at the north-west end of the corrie was an attractive triangular buttress about 150m high. As I approached closer however, my heart sank, as a direct ascent was defended by an impregnable-looking vertical wall. The mica schist looked particularly unhelpful and the only hope of an ascent appeared to be on the flanks, which avoided the main challenge of the feature.

    Although Coire Choille-rais does not appear in any guidebooks, folk have climbed there for many years. Mick Tighe made a cryptic reference to several ice routes in an article in Climber magazine about 20 years ago, and the SAIS avalanche boys have climbed ice routes on the back wall of the corrie and even promoted the venue on their Creag Meagaidh blog. Guides have used the corrie for ice climbing instruction, and there is an attractive looking two-tiered icefall that has been climbed at Grade III. Nothing has ever been formally recorded however, which is why it doesn’t feature in any guidebooks. To my knowledge, the triangular buttress, which is known locally as the Aisre-Chaim, had never been climbed in winter although Doug Evans (first ascent of Quartzvein Scoop, Beinn Udlaidh) ascended it via a Moderate scramble many years ago. His route was described as mainly vegetation rather than rock, so I presume Doug climbed the right-hand edge, which is spoilt in winter by ever-easy ground to the right.

    The buttress came to mind on January 6 when Henning Wackerhage and I were looking for somewhere to climb after the post New Year thaw. Snow was falling on unfrozen ground in both the East and West, but Creag Meagaidh was in a shadow avoiding the heaviest snow, and I reckoned that the gale force easterlies would have cooled the buttress and frozen the turf. We left the car in the rain, and there was no sign of any snow for much of the walk in, but as we rounded the corrie lip, the grass stated to glisten with frozen dew and our buttress appeared out of the mist frosted and white.

    I’d studied my summer photos long and hard before we left, and realised that there was a natural line of weakness that cut into the centre of the buttress from the left above the lower ‘impregnable’ wall, and lead to the buttress crest. The plan worked perfectly – the turf was frozen and the line wound its way through some spectacular scenery and was pleasantly sustained. Two long 50m pitches took us to the final 60m-long pitch up the summit crest. It was Henning’s Birthday so Birthday Route (IV,4) was an appropriate name. But most importantly the rock has been friendly and taken gear readily, so perhaps the ‘impregnable’ wall was possible after all?

    Three days later I was back with Roger Everett on January 9. The weather was perfect, so we had no excuses not to try a direct line up the ‘impregnable’ wall. Knowing a little more about the nature of the rock I’d spotted a cunning line that followed a narrow ramp across an impending wall into an overhanging offwidth. The moves up to the ramp were bold and unprotected, but the turf was perfect and I pushed on. Unfortunately the ramp was holdless and far steeper than it looked from below but a good hook lured me leftwards across the undercut wall below. I was now only a couple of metres away from the base of the offwidth, and two very strenuous moves later I was frantically trying to find a placement at its base.

    Unfortunately the turf was of the straggly rooted variety, and overhanging turf rarely makes for good placements anyway. After a couple of attempts my options had run out, but as I prepared myself for the inevitable fall I couldn’t bring myself to let go, so I decided to have one more go. A superman effort allowed me to reach a slightly higher turf placement in the crack and with nothing to lose I laybacked against a single crampon point hold on the impending wall and managed to gain a curious jutting out ledge of turf. One by one, my large gear slotted into the overhanging offwidth above and with some relief I pulled onto the belay ledge.

    The next pitch was steep, but had good cracks, but we nearly came to an impasse on the third pitch that barred access to a vertical corner that cut though the centre of the face. The climbing was easy enough to the base of the corner but it was defended by an undercut wall. There was no protection up to this point, which meant the price of failure was a 30m fall straight onto the belay. A flared slot in the roof to the right may have taken a cam but it was filled with ice. After innumerable sorties by both of us, I eventually plucked up the courage to make the strenuous Tech 7 moves in to the base of the corner. It was now dark, and the corner proved steeper and more sustained than it looked, but eventually it lead into the upper buttress. Two more long pitches eventually joined the upper section of the route I’d climbed with Henning three days before.

    We made it back to the car at 10pm. Prompted by the climate science disaster film, we called the route The Day After Tomorrow because as we climbed Lochan Choille-rais froze over and was transformed from rippling water, to snow-covered ice. As for the grade, the first pitch was VII,8 in its own right, but the seriousness third ‘death’ pitch would be negated by a good cam placement so we decided not to factor that into the rating.

    The line of corners cutting into the left flank of the buttress cried out to be climbed to complete the job. On January 12, Pat Ingram joined me for the first ascent of Cat Burglar, a fine V,5 with a memorable crawling section to link the two upper corners. By then a week of snowfall had covered the buttress in deep powder and the route was only really possible because I’d remembered the whereabouts of the crucial turf sections from the previous ascents.

    All in all, it had been a good week’s work.

    Incredible as it may seem, this 60m-high tower is not situated in Patagonia, Alaska or the Chamonix Aiguilles but in Glen Clova. The line of King Herod (VI,7) takes the left-hand right-facing corner to the midway ledge and then continues up cracks and corners on the rimed up wall on the right. Descent was by simultaneous abseil. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Incredible as it may seem, this 60m-high tower is not situated in Patagonia, Alaska or the Chamonix Aiguilles but in Glen Clova. The line of King Herod (VI,7) takes the left-hand of the two right-facing corners to the midway ledge and continues up cracks and corners on the rimed up wall on the right. Descent was by simultaneous abseil. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    After the ferocious easterly winds and blizzards on Saturday, Ben Nevis was the logical choice of venue to take advantage of the ridge of high pressure that appeared on Sunday December 27. But I had an inkling that the weather may have brought an obscure rock tower on Cairn Broadlands above Glen Clova into rare winter condition. Sophie Grace Chappell was keen for a look, so we arrived on the steep slopes below the crag just as dawn was breaking.

    The east side of Cairn Broadlands is very steep with some alarmingly unstable rock, but hidden amongst the rubble is a 60m-high pinnacle. It can be seen in profile from further up the glen beyond the stalker’s house at Moulzie, but it is impossible to determine quite how big it is. I went up to have a look one autumn, but turned back in face of impossibly steep grass and loose unstable rock. All I could determine from my high point was that there is indeed a pinnacle, and it looked very steep.

    On Sunday, SG and I made a less traumatic approach by coming in from the south and contouring along deer tracks to the bay below the base of the pinnacle. It was immediately clear that our gamble with conditions had paid off as the easterly blizzards had frozen the turf and plastered the north facing aspects of the pinnacle with rime. The obvious line, which took the central groove-line to a mid-way ledge and continued by cracks and corners on the wall above, faced north which meant it was sheltered from the sun. I suspect that this route, that has a low lying elevation of only 600m, is only possible in deep mid-winter when the sun is low in the sky.

    The front face of pinnacle was close to vertical, and every move from the base to the very top was interesting and challenging. It reminded me of routes on Cruachan’s Noe Buttress, which although relatively short, pack a punch from very bottom to top. We descended from the tiny summit by simultaneous abseil, a useful sea stack technique that avoided setting up a complicated anchor on the loose summit blocks. SG suggested we called the route King Herod (VI,7) as December 27 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

    I’m intrigued as to who else has climbed this pinnacle. Dundee climbers have ranged far and wide all over the Angus Glens and their explorations have not always been well recorded, so please leave a comment if you know anything more about this remarkable feature.

    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.

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of Nevis Queen (V,6) on Goodeve's Buttress. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Helen Rennard on the superb arête pitch of a new V,6 on Goodeve’s Buttress on Ben Nevis. The major lines of weakness on this feature high in Coire na Ciste are taken by The White Line (and variations), Hale Bopp Groove and Goodytwoshoes, but the ground between provides excellent middle grade mixed climbing. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sunday March 15 was a glorious day on Ben Nevis. The sun shone and the air was crystal clear. After last week’s thaw the snow had re-frozen into hard neve, and the high-level ice routes were in superb condition. The mountain was busy of course, with many teams visiting Observatory Gully intent on the thin face routes on Indicator Wall and Gardyloo Buttress. In Coire na Ciste the pace was less frantic and high up on Raeburn’s wall Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry were climbing the steep icefall of Le Panthere Rose for the camera.

    Given the ideal conditions and almost carnival atmosphere in the corrie, I couldn’t believe that I’d chosen the worst ice on the entire mountain to climb. Helen Rennard and I were attempting a new line to the left of The Alpine Princess on Goodeve’s Buttress, and I had ground to a halt on the opening moves. The initial gully of 70 degree ice looked to be in perfect condition, but when hit with an axe it dissolved into a series of brick-shaped lumps exposing bare rock beneath. The lack of purchase was bad enough, but with every move, so much material fell off that it threatened to push me off balance. Slowly and carefully I down climbed back to the belay and we reconsidered our options.

    I thought I knew this part of the mountain well, so I was surprised to find a hidden V-groove up and right that I hadn’t noticed before. Steep mixed moves on good holds led into the groove, which had a ribbon of ice less than 10cm wide at its back. This time the quality of the ice was good and the V-groove led rather neatly to the top of the gully. We were on our line again and back in business!

    Helen took the lead up an awkward left-leaning ramp that led to a superb narrow hanging groove in the arête between two of the variation finishes to The White Line. It was a spectacular pitch – never too hard and a delight to climb on such a clear day. Another long pitch took us to the plateau on the rope stretch and the welcome rays of the warm afternoon sun.

    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.

    Jenny Hill climbing the chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this esily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    Jenny Hill climbing the spectacular chimney on the first ascent of Age is Only a Number (III,4) in Corrie Farchal. There are now over a dozen routes in this easily accessible corrie in Glen Clova. (Photo Alex Thomson)

    When I enquired about Bonhard Buttress in Glen Clova last month, Alex (Tam) Thomson replied to me with details about the first ascent. I was delighted to hear from Tam, as he is something of a Glen Clova pioneer and made the first ascent of Farchal Gully in February 1980 with Ian Shepherd. For nearly 30 years this was the only (recorded) route in Corrie Farchal, but the crux runs over blank slabs and is rarely iced. I’d been watching the route myself for the past ten seasons or so and finally climbed it in March 2013. Corrie Farchal has been unusually snowy this year, and Farchal Gully received another ascent in December. I doubt it has seen many other visits despite being such a prominent line.

    Tam visited Corrie Farchal on January 4 with Jenny Hill made the first ascent the steep buttress high on the right side of the cliff. Age is Only a Number (III,4) takes a ramp and chimney and finishes with a exposed traverse and a steep corner. Tam first spotted the line March 2012. “I’d just climbed Central Gully in Winter Corrie and thought I would pop over and have a look at Farchal Gully and the possibilities for new lines,” Tam told me. “Farchal was a bit thin for soloing so I followed the ramp line up right, and that’s when I spotted the corner and chimney. I skirted further right and followed the snow line up, then back left onto the flat area to look down on the line. I could see the chimney exit and the line coming up to where I stood. The wall above with its leftward lines, looked like the best way to finish the route. So a mental note was made to come back and do it. Hearing that there was activity in the corrie was nagging at me to get back and do the route, but it still took nearly three years to get there!”

    Elsewhere in the corrie, Sophie Grace Chappell, Ben Richardson and myself added Over the Hill (IV,4) on December 28. This route takes the natural line of weakness between Brains Before Brawn and Elder Crack Buttress, and is notable for an undercut slot that was considerably eased with a good coating of ice and a convenient snow cone at its base. Rarely is nature so accommodating!

    Finally, on January 3, Martin Holland Ian McIntosh added another Direct Start to Silver Threads Among The Gold. “It’s short and the difficulties are in the first few moves, but it’s much more in keeping with the climbing above,” Martin explained. “We had the usual grade debate and settled on IV,6.” Wilf and Mac then continued up Pearls Before Swine before finishing up the headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold, which they had missed the previous time when they made the fourth ascent.