Desperate times make for desperate measures; with no serious climbing having been done since new year’s day a photo of fat ice at the Dubh Loch was enough to entice me into the huge drive to Ballater, 5am start, cycle and deep soft snow approach. It is a very beautiful part of the Highlands and the rewards soon started as the sun rose.
Sadly the lower half of the crag had lost a lot of ice in the past week but Robin came up with a plan.
A scary snowy approach over steep vegetation took us to the foot of The Last Oasis.
I took the first pitch with instructions to break right to block belays below the thinly iced rib.
Robin then took the helm, had a few words with himself on the initial thin steep slabs and finally sounded happier once the 3rd screw was placed without going down to rock. Classically I found the climbing far steeper than it had looked from below!
A drippy ice grotto after 35m gave a good screw belay but an intimidating step round the corner to reach the start of the Sword of Damocles final pitch.
The excitement continued with a cornice to finish-
and then a huge great avalanche down the face 100m to the right of where we’d been climbing; gulp. This was the final straw in deciding not to stash our kit for a return battle next day but, in a winter where any climbing has been hard to come by the day was a great result. A waist deep battle through soggy drifts confirmed we’d made the right decision & we were both completely ****ered by the time we reached the bikes.
If anyone is particularly taken by the colour and design of Robin’s climbing sack he would love to hear from you; I’ve certainly never seen such a magnificent hue of blue……. 😉
The weather finally settled down a wee bit in the middle of last week, enough for Ally and I to get out and see what all this wild weather has produced. Very impressive indeed!
We opted for a broad open gully line that finishes near the sumit of Sgurr na Banachdaich. The line traverses out almost horizontally for 100m from just below the Bealach Thormaid on the Coruisk side. A short, 30m, steeper section leads up into a broad finishing bowl and the summit above. It was short and sweet giving 4 pitches and grade II for the steep section in the conditions we found.
I scrambled up the same line a couple of years ago in snow-free conditions. In summer it is often taken by mistake by climbers heading north along the Ridge so we’ve called it False Gully. Hopefully, in time, this will raise awareness of its presence as a false trail for future parties.
Richard Hines of St Andrews Uni MC saw reports of our new years day route on Scottishwinter.com and contacted Simon Richardson to say his team had climbed the same gully back in 2012. This isn’t a surprise given how accessible and obvious the line is and doesn’t remove any of the enjoyment Jim and I had climbing it.
Picture from the actual first ascent in January 2012.
The incident highlights 2 sides of the guide-book writer’s job.
Non-recording of routes is something I was, and many others are, guilty of. Some people choose deliberately not to record but the majority, like St AUMC, just assume that such obvious lines have been climbed before. This may well be the case but recording your ascent (unless you know it has been climbed before) gives a description and hopefully inspiration to others in the future. Particularly useful for winter routes where conditions can vary enormously. If it has been recorded before it should come out in the process of writing and editing the next guidebook.
Digital photography and websites have the potential to make the guidebook writer’s job far easier. This is a perfect example where Richard recognised the gully from my photo and I can confirm this from his shot (above). All cleared up in a week. Trying to decipher descriptions of routes climbed in the past involved analysing descriptions, interpreting scribbled diagrams and a fair amount of intuition/guesswork. The lesson and request is PLEASE do take a picture of where your climb is located. Any more detailed photos may also be useful.
Congratulations to StAUMC; any thoughts on a name?
See post on 8 Jan for update on this.
New year’s day was the only one with easterly winds forecast so Jim and I decided to head for a section of the Ridge and hopefully a view of the Pinn.
Avoiding the wind in Coire na Banachdaich a nice wee gully leading directly up winked at me. I convinced myself (and Jim) it would be a brief bit of added excitement and our limited kit would suffice with a bit of improvisation. I was right but only just-
Whillans would have been proud of my pebble-wedging that made prussic loops into runners before the final vertical wall of powder. Our 480cm sling was used and recycled for all 3 belays and Jim only had to do one of the cruxes just on gloves & feet to reach the axes dangling above ;-).
Ignoring all the improvisation the climbing was excellent with a mix of hooks, bridging and ice placements. The final 10m section will always be steep and a bit bold. Overall I’d say 100m of one star grade IV,5 with no name yet.
Above we found superb neve running right to the top of Sgurr Dearg. The Pinn looked fearsome and the views were magnificent throughout all 360 degrees.
The top of the West Ridge gave a final 20 mins of concentrated footwork then a gentle stroll back down before nightfall. It is really amazing to already have over an extra hour of evening light to play with already compared to pre-xmas outings.
Great day exploring Window Buttress with Simon yesterday. Cool but dry and midge free we started with 4 pitches on the original route. Simon was keen for more so the beautiful soaring corner of Widow’s Eye on the middle tier was next; it really is a quality pitch, thoroughly deserving its 2 stars.
Above again I’d never climbed “Upper Window Buttress” and the description was ambiguous. We took the most obvious line of weakness in 3 pitches. Can’t recommend anyone follows us as “Broken Windows” (VS 4b) had a bit too much on the worrying rock front. Caution got us up safely and with plenty of adrenalin dished out.
Lucy made her first VS lead and her first new route with the delightful Jacobite, VS 4c.
We then headed over to the Garbh Casteil where Diamondhead gave an improbably superb outing. Definite 3 star recommendation but I’m finding it hard to grade. A 40m vertical wall covered in huge holds but requiring caution and a steady head for the final 30ft run-out to the top. V Diff or VS? Severe 4a is probably the right result but can’t wait to hear other opinions.
Guy came up to join us next morning. Too Hard for the Old Man (E2 5b) takes a very steep line up the south side of Sgumain’s Final Tower- the Old Man’s face can be seen in the gallery below but you can guess about the cheeky whippersnapper’s naming process…..
After lunch we headed to the Stone Shoot for a return battle with Deliverance that Guy had led this winter. My lead this time & the climb proved just as steep in summer conditions and also E2 5b.
Time for a pint of Cuillin Beast 🙂
Enjoy the gallery-
A groove & slab of thin ice right of Sailaway has enticed me for years. As well as waiting for enough ice I’ve been intimidated because I know the whole buttress is very compact and unlikely to yeild much protection; and so it proved. The climbing wasn’t too hard but all a bit thin & run out.
The first pitch eventually yeilded a good wire at 15m and a bomber belay at 25m. A detour for a good nut left a bit of good but delicate hooking to regain the ice groove. A column of stacked blocks was frozen together enough to justify a sling and the ice above finally began to thicken up nicely. The final steep ice was even well protected by 2 bomb-proof screws.
A bit of a steep learning curve but Simon took up the challenge well and also enjoyed the (nearly as hard) challenge of naming the route. Something related to Escape from Colditz and Birthday Breakout made sense and I’d heard about the escape glider they built but never got to use. We had to look up the name on-line but, 19 years after I first saw this line, it felt like the Colditz Cock had finally taken off!
The ship was sinking (in alcohol?) and the rats abondoning fast but Andy & Iain went off to enjoy one final Cuillin winter romp up the Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain while Spike & I decided it was time to tackle the daunting North face of Mhadaidh.
Descent off Foxes Rake was thought provoking but the deep snow now seems well bonded and we enjoyed a romp back below the impresive sight of the Smear. This grade V still hasn’t seen a second ascent since it was first climbed in 1979!
Image Gallery Below-
Considerably fewer pics as the carefully organised photo collecting of the first 2 days faltered somewhat. Hopefully shots will emerge of-
Spike, Nathan & Kim headed into Coir’ a’ Ghreadaidh to practice some skills; Spike practising for his MIC assessment and the others getting yet another instructors opinions!
Paul & Brendan headed to Window Buttress and climbed Curtain Call-
“New route on the West Face of Window Buttress.
side of the gully to an open area with a choice of exits. Climb the steep groove on the left (crux) for 35m before escaping right. Follow easy-angled grooves for 200m before joining the final pitches of Deep Cut Gully.“