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    Browsing Posts tagged 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)

    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.

    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!

    Iain Small pulling out of the constricting chimney at the top of the third pitch of Jib (VIII,8) on Blaven during the first winter ascent. This summer E1 was first climbed by Messers Boysen, Alcock, Clough and MacInnes in May 1969. The imposing wall of Stairway to Heaven (E5) is in the background. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small pulling out of the constricting chimney at the top of the third pitch of Jib (VIII,8) on Blaven during the first winter ascent. This summer E1 was first climbed by Messers Boysen, Alcock, Clough and MacInnes in May 1969. The imposing wall of Stairway to Heaven (E5) is in the background. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind, and chase your dream. When Iain Small and I climbed on Blaven three years ago we were struck by the soaring corner-line of Jib on the north side of The Great Prow, and vowed to return. Severely undercut at its start, it seemed an unlikely winter prospect, but Iain reminded me of it when we decided to escape the south-easterlies and head to Skye for the weekend. I reckoned that we had a 50% chance of the route being in condition, and then a 50% chance of actually being able to climb it, so it felt as though the odds were well and truly stacked against us.

    Walking up in the dark on Saturday January 19 we were surprised that the scree slope below the face was covered in good neve, rather than loose powder, and we made rapid progress to the base of the route. In the pre-dawn gloom The Great Prow looked black, steep and forbidding, but as it became light we could see that, incredibly, the Jib corner was filled with snow. Our route was on!

    Rather than take the original summer start, which traverses in from the right, we started up the overhanging crack of Stairway to Heaven. This led to the infamous Jib traverse, but a helpful banking of semi-consolidated snow led into the corner. Iain then made an impressive lead up the overhanging crack and fierce offwidth above. We had brought a double set of large Camalots, but even so these were not big enough to protect the technical crux. By using a sling to retract the trigger, Iain managed to place a cam at full stretch in a tenuous placement at the back of the crack before launching up a series of desperate unprotected moves to the belay.

    Above loomed a constricting overhanging chimney-slot. I fought, cursed and cried my way up this, ripping my jacket as I popped out, like cork from a bottle, below an overhanging wide crack. A steep layback move and I flopped onto snow leading up to a small shoulder and a welcome flat ledge. The summer route steps back right from here into a groove, but it was logical to continue up the right-slanting corner line above. We made the top just as it was becoming dark, but there was still time to scamper down Scuppers Gully before we needed our head torches.

    To wind down next day (January 20) we visited a crag that Iain had spotted a couple of years before low on the south-east side of Beinn Sgritheall. We climbed the obvious line up its centre, a good three-pitch V,5 chockstoned gully. Our bodies were tired after the full body pump the day before, and other times we may have rushed down for a second route, but we were content to call it a day, and make a leisurely descent (in daylight for a change) to the car and the long drive home.

    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.

    Henning Wackerhage on the first ascent of The Art of Growing Old Gracefully, a new Grade III,4 gully in Corrie Farchal, Glen Clova. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Henning Wackerhage on the first ascent of The Art of Growing Old Gracefully, a new Grade III,4 gully in Corrie Farchal, Glen Clova. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    January 1 was forecast to be a good day in the East, so Henning Wackerhage and I arranged to meet up in Glen Clova. We both had (party) commitments the night before which we meant we couldn’t meet up before 10am, but if we were quick and efficient we thought, we may get a route in before it became dark.

    I had a hunch that Corrie Farchal may have survived the brief thaw the day before, and sure enough once we rounded the corrie lip it was frozen hard and white with new snow from earlier in the morning. I’d visited the corrie last season with Roger Everett, and knew that there were three prominent unclimbed lines – a gully, a corner and a buttress – so with conditions close to perfect, we set about the challenge of climbing all three.

    The first two Grade III’s took an hour apiece which left a couple of hours to climb the buttress which weighed in at a more sustained IV,5. We arrived back at the car a little over seven hours after we’d set off, with nine pitches and over 400 metres of new ground in the bag. It just goes to show that good weather and amenable conditions can be everything when it comes to the Scottish winter game!

    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.