Scottish winter climbing news

    Browsing Posts tagged Simon Richardson

    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.

    Roger Webb finishing the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the steep wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct of Creag Coire na Ciase. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb nearing the top of the crux pitch of Tenterhooks (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the first ascent. This steep icy mixed climb takes the wall between Central Rib Direct and Tinkerbell Direct on Creag Coire na Ciste. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Choosing where to climb this weekend was a tough call after the devastating New Year thaw. With temperatures only dropping on Friday, it was difficult to figure out how much it had snowed, and where, and whether the turf had re-frozen. In the end, Roger Webb and I opted for the failsafe option and visited Ben Nevis on Saturday January 3. We were hoping that the thaw had left sufficient snow on ledges and flat holds to bring in an icy mixed possibility in the Tinkerbell area of Creag Coire na Ciste.

    We were second into the corrie following behind the welcome footsteps of James Richardson, Andy Munro and Helen Rennard who were heading for The Comb. As the daylight broke it was clear that high up, the mountain was icy and frozen hard, and tell-tale streaks and blobs of white on our objective looked encouraging. An pleasant icy gully leading through the lower tier warmed us up for the first pitch that climbed a mixed wall before joining the upper section of the intial icy groove of Tinkerbell.

    Our line then went left onto the impressive wall to the right of Central Rib. This wall overhangs for much of its height but is cut by a tapering ramp that leads into its centre. Unfortunately the ramp disappears and the way is blocked by an undercut monolithic block. The plan was climb the ramp, hand traverse the block and then climb the vertical groove above that leads into a parallel ice line left of Tinkerbell.

    The ramp was reassuringly icy, but it was clear that hand traversing the monolithic block was going to be a non-starter (for me at least). After a lot of hesitation I hooked a high flat hold on the wall above, stepped up on a small rounded nick and precariously stood on top of the block. The wall above was overhanging and pushing me out and the only way to get back into balance was to kneel on the block. I urgently needed a placement to lower myself down but there was nothing. I contemplated falling and catching the block as I went past, but eventually I found the tiniest of hooks and lowered myself down, first one knee and then two.

    I could now see round the block and into the groove but the view was not good. A steep overhanging wall barred entry to the groove and there was no protection in sight. Eventually I dropped down to the left, changed feet on the tiniest of footholds, hooked a poor edge and bridged up sloping icy dimples to gain the foot of the groove. I was now a long way above my last gear, and my tools were starting to rip. There was nothing for it but make, one, two, three, four, five moves on the most tenuous of placements. One slip and I would have been off. Eventually my right tool sank into a centimetre-deep crack and vibrated. My heart sang. One final pull took me out of the groove onto easier ground.

    By the time Roger came up it was dark, but he made short work of the final icy groove and led all the way to the top. The plateau was bathed in beautiful moonlight. It felt late but was only about 6pm, and made all the more sociable by bumping into James, Andy and Helen after their fine ascent of Tower Face of the Comb.

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among The Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This four-pitch mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just east of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Henning Wackerhage moving up to the turfy headwall of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) on the first ascent. This 150m-long mixed route is located in Coire Farchal which lies just south of Winter Corrie on Driesh. (Archive Photo Simon Richardson)

    Last week’s thaw never made it as far as the North-East of Scotland. I know this only too well as I fell off my bike twice whilst cycling to work on icy roads. As a result, Glen Clova was a good choice on Saturday December 20, and the cliffs were surprisingly wintry and white with fresh snow.

    The most significant event was the first Wackerhage-free ascent of Silver Threads Among the Gold (IV,5) in Coire Farchal by Martin Holland, Ian McIntosh and Sharon Wright. Henning Wackerhage has climbed this route twice since making the first ascent in March 2013, and has established it as a good early season option. “There are plenty of chimneys, technical walls, a cave and some variation,” Henning recounted on his blog after this season’s ascent. “It is arguably the best buttress climb in the Angus Glens.” The route certainly has one of the most evocative names in the area, courtesy of fellow first ascensionist Tim Chappell.

    Martin, Ian and Sharon added an alternative start up the short corner directly below the cliff, but were unable to climb the headwall due to an unusually deep layer of crusty snow, so they sensibly traversed right and finished up the top section of Pearls Before Swine.

    The same day, I climbed a short Grade III buttress in Coire Bonhard with my son Ben. Recording of routes in this corrie has been a little haphazard over the years, but even so, I was a little surprised to find a skilfully placed knotted sling and karabiner at the top of our first pitch that looked as though it had been used for retreat. It was possibly a relic from the first ascent of Bonhard Buttress (IV,4) by S.Cameron and A.Thomson in 1992, but their description in SMCJ 2008 is rather vague. Andy Nisbet helpfully sent me the photo that accompanied the description, but I’ve had difficulty in relating it to the crag itself.

    So if anyone knows the origin of the knotted sling, or the location of Bonhard Buttress, then please get in touch.

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Webb climbing the headwall on the North-West Buttress (IV,4) of Beinn a’Mhuinidh. This is probably the first route to be climbed on the summit cliff of the mountain. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    On Saturday December 13 Roger Webb and I decided to gamble on the summit cliff of Beinn a’Mhuinidh in the Northern Highlands. We had stared at this NW-facing crag whilst descending Slioch on several occasions, and as far as we knew, nobody had ever visited it before. With a cliff base at 550m it is low-lying, but we were counting on it being blasted free of snow and fully frozen.

    Our optimism was misplaced because as we approached the foot of the face through a snow storm the ground was still soft under our feet, and the cliff covered in snow and not as steep as we had hoped. Prospects looked bleak, so whilst Roger sorted the gear, I headed right to look at a steeper looking buttress that was just visible a long way to the right. From underneath I could see that it reared up into a steep headwall. This was excellent news as there would be little reliance on turf, but there was no obvious line and it looked extremely difficult. As I walked back to Roger, I looked back, and through the blowing snow there was a hint of a right-trending diagonal weakness. So perhaps there was a way?

    We climbed easy snow and ice up the lower half of the buttress to reach the foot of the headwall. The rock was worryingly compact, there was no belay and failure looked increasingly likely. But sure enough,  a hidden gash cut deep into the crag, so I stamped out a platform in the snow and Roger set off up the gash that soon reared up into a steep chimney. Hopeful looking spikes turned out to be rounded and useless, so Roger continued up as we were blinded by yet another snowstorm. On the plus side, the turf was frozen.

    But you should never give up when Scottish winter climbing. When the chimney tightened and steepened, Roger found a crucial cam placement that gave him the confidence to commit to the squeeze section above. After a brief struggle he moved up to a good ledge on the blunt crest of the buttress. When I came up I was concerned about the blank-looking wall above, but miraculously the rock changed at this point from completely unhelpful to cracked and featured. It had stopped snowing too. An excellent pitch linking grooves up the headwall led to easier ground, where Roger bounded along the final easy ridge to the top. All that was left to do was to bag the summit and then descend the long south-easterly slopes back to Incheril.

    Roger Everett on the first ascent of Rumbling Ridge (III,4) on Braeriach. Rocky ridges make good early season routes as their relatively low angle means they collect snow and they do not rely on frozen turf. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Roger Everett on the first ascent of Rumbling Ridge (III,4) on Braeriach. Rocky ridges make good early season routes as their relatively low angle means they collect snow and they do not rely on frozen turf. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    After a very warm November, the winter season season finally got underway in the first week of December as westerly winds brought snow to the higher tops. As usual, The Northern Corries were the most popular venue and there were ascents of The Message, Pot of Gold, Hidden Chimney and Invernookie in Coire an t-Sneachda, and over in Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit and Ewen Buttress also saw ascents.

    Over on Skye, Mike Lates, Jamie Bankhead and Iain Murray made an ascent of BC Buttress on Sgurr Thearlaich. This relatively high altitude crag overlooking the Great Stone Shoot comes into condition very fast, and the trio found an alternative start which brought the grade down from IV,5 to IV,4.

    Finally on December 5, Roger Everett and I added to our collection of obscure routes on the north side of Braeriach with the first ascent of the three-pitch Rumbling Ridge (III,4). This provided a good early season excursion to blow away the autumn cobwebs. The name refers to the rickety second pitch, which is a lot more solid after Roger trundled a series of stacked blocks.

    With storms and blizzards forecast for the next few days, it looks like winter has now well and truly arrived!