Since participating in the BMC winter meet two years ago, I’ve been dreaming of returning to the Scotland. Although it has some of the most persistently appalling weather imaginable, it’s stunningly beautiful, and is home to one of the most interesting styles of winter climbing I know of. A strict code of ethics prevents any bolting in the mountains. The rock is typically granitic and well featured, and the wild north atlantic weather plasters the cliffs in ice, rime, snow and verglas, thus creating conditions where you’ll often be dealing with 4 or 5 different mediums at time. Mix that with some frozen turf and neve, it’s about as mixed as it gets. Although all the climbing I did seemed quite sustained and technically in the M6 to M8 range, placing the protection was often the crux as most of it needed to be pounded in. Camming devices were almost completely useless!
During the last week of January and first week of February 2016, a small group of Canadians including myself, Michelle Kadatz, Paul McSorley, Marc Andre Leclerc, Ian Welsted, and Paul Bride, settled into a little rental cottage in the village of Glen Coe, a little village situated in Scottish highlands. Over 12 days, the milder than average weather we experienced only permitted about 6 days of climbing, which I suppose isn’t too bad for a trip of this nature. A couple of days were spent taking the gear for a walk, also known as hill walking, only to find the cliffs “black” and out of condition due to rainy weather with higher than mountain top feeling levels. It needs to be frozen / look white in order to preserve the turf, but fortunately, as soon as the temps drop, many routes are instantly good to go.
Down time involved a good mixture of cruising around the country side sampling the local flavours, checking out castles, lochs, pubs, towns, and couple of trips to the worlds biggest indoor climbing gym in Ratho to keep the form. All said and done it was a great trip, the locals were really helpful and I look forward to honing my mixed climbing skills in highlands many more times.
Much of climbing we did was on Ben Nevis, and I also visited Stob Coire Nan Lochan at Glen Coe, and Coire An Lochan in the Cairngorms. My favourite route of trip, and also the hardest one I climbed was definitely Knuckelduster on Ben Nevis. It was so plastered in rime and verglas that route finding was really difficult as there are many small precarious holds and very in obvious gear through the crux, although I've never climbed anything with such a truly mixed feel to it. It was definitely a battle to put it together and was of very high intensity at much of the time. A really cool line that I’m stoked to have on-sighted, especially considering difficult conditions.
Scottish grades don't make a lot of sense to me, but I've never really felt that grades mean very much in this style of climbing.
The following photos are some highlights and maore interesting photos of what we got up to:
Michelle climbing the Gargoyle cracks during a link-up of Hobgoblin (VII,7) into Babylon (VII,8) - Number 3 gully buttress of Ben Nevis - a fun warm up day
Michelle and Marc enjoying some blustery conditions on the rim after Michelle and I finished Hobgoblein / Baylon, and Marc had just finished his 8th route of the day!
The coveted Stob Coire Nan Lochan. A nice venue to have in our backyard, stacked with classic routes up to 200 meters high
Me starting up the first pitch of what I called Impulsive Inclination (VIII,8). It starts at the base of the Unicorn (summer start to this route?), and heads up and left. After 20 meters, it joins Inclination for its second pitch which I linked all the way to a big terrace after 40 meters of climbing. It may or may not be a couple of new variations to the routes around it, but either way it was top quality climbing and a lot of fun! photo: Michelle Kadatz
Looking right from the end of the of the first pitch, Ian Welsted seen here, and Paul McSorley were trying to find the way on Scanzor (IX,9) - Stob Coire Nan Lochan
Looking up p2 of Impulsive Inclination. It climbs an unprotectable series of edges up and left for about 7 meters towards the obvious hand crack, up that for a bit, and then moved right into a groove. After about 20 meters, it joined Tilt which was followed to the top.
Here is Paul Bride's view of me, leading the second pitch.
Upon reaching the summit, we met up with Marc Andre who had just soloed 5 routes! Here's a link to a raw video clip of what he had to say about his day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0nr9pa5To4
The next route we did and the highlight of the trip for me was Knuckleduster, a burly VIII,9 on Ben Nevis. Here's Michelle following the first, and a link to Greg Boswell's take on the route http://www.scottishwinter.com/?p=2264 with a cool photo of him entering the crux, although for me is was completely plastered white with rime and looked a bit different.
Rocio Siemens snapped this shot of me (center of photo) making the final traverse left to the belay stance at the end of the crux second pitch. It was the third traversing bit of this wild pitch that involved a nice mix of corner, face and arete climbing, and is a cool overview of one of Scotland's finest crags.
Michelle making precarious moves around the arete to the belay back in main corner of the summer route, at the end of pitch 2 on Knuckleduster. It's about the same spot I'm in in the previous photo. This was definitely the hardest pitch of the trip as it plastered white with rime, and coated in verglas, which made for very tricky route finding and gear placements. It also felt a little on the bold side as I was never quite sure whether or not I could trust my gear, although judging by how hard it was to clean for Michelle, it must've of been adequate!
Michelle happy to be off the traverse and at the anchor. A week later and she still seems traumatized by this pitch!
Me climbing pitch 3 of Knuckleduster with burning forearms. I think this is the direct finish or the summer route. A nice crack in the right wall of the corner provides sustained climbing up a slightly overhanging for about 15 meters, followed by a short ledge traverse and another 15+ meters of slightly easier terrain to the top. As usual, the crux was hammering nuts into the iced up crack. Photo: Michelle Kadatz
Marc Andre Leclerc trying to find the Coire an Lochan in the Cairgorms, in sustained 60 mph winds (at least that what was forecasted and i don't doubt they were at least that!) and zero visibility.
Marc Andre Leclerc on sighting the first pitch of Happy Tyroleans (X, 10) in howling winds and constant snow. Fortunately the overhanging nature of the pitch kept too much snow piling up on the ledges.
Marc Andre Leclerc following the second pitch of Happy Tyrolean. Vertical climbing soon kicked back a bit, and storm snow was piling up fast! Also a great pitch, and about two grades easier than the first one.
Scotland is famous for its pubs and this was our local watering hole. From L to R: Marc Andre Leclerc, Ian Welsted, Will Woodhead, Paul McSorley, Paul Bride, Jon Walsh. Photo: Michelle Kadatz
Over the last decade or so, the 500-meter high East face of Snowpatch Spire has been transforming into one of the finest alpine rock faces in North America. What used to be a face known primarily as an aid climbing venue, is now covered in free-climbing lines, although mostly difficult ones, usually reqiuring at least a couple pitches of 5.12. But perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that almost every pitch is good! I don't think there's another mountain in western Canada that can boast that! Like a big crag offering pure rock climbing in the alpine, it offers an easy approach from the nearby campground, belays on most routes are mostly bolted, there are no "approach" pitches, and there's no tedious summit ridge. The climbing is almost entirely traditionally protected, although most routes have a few protection bolts where cracks need to be conected by face moves, and face holds are plentiful. It has been one of my favorite zones for over ten years now.
Last season, Michelle Kadatz and I investigated the sector in the Bugaboo guidebook where the great flake fell off the lower middle section of Snowpatch Spire, taking the first three pitches of several routes including Les Bruines Es Pentinen, Deus Ex Machina, and the original Sunshine Wall with it. The obvious scoop at the bottom went ok, but the next 80 meters required extreme care to remove the left over debris from the major rockfall. Once it was gone, it didn't take much to buff it into a nice free climb and a fairly moderate one by East face of Bugaboo standards. After five pitches, we had established Minotaur Direct, which seemed like a better start than the original version that climbed the lower pitches of Labyrinth and traversed over. We returned this year, adding stations and continuing up the amazing middle section of Minotaur, a route I put up several years ago with Colin Moorhead. We gave this a good clean up too as this section of the wall is becoming a popular option amongst both Bugaboo regulars and visiting climbers. People seem psyched to have good pitches within a close proxitimity to Applebee and often set out to climb only half the face.
Alik Berg and I teamed up in mid July to venture out left from Minotaur into the obvious corner system that splits the big roof in the middle of the face where the Deus Ex Machina goes. We were blown away by the quality of the climbing and the softest pitch gradewise out of all the routes to go through this continuous roof system that runs the width of the face. Above it we ventured into new terrain but a couple of mossy cracks slowed progress about ten pitches up. We cleaned them out and rappeled. Two weeks later we were back with plans to finish the line. On the first day we climbed the first four pitches and fixed our two ropes. This allowed a bit of head start for a bigger day the next day. It was nice to sleep in the evening after hiking up, and fun to have Taran Ortlieb join us for this. The next day, we ascended the two lines, then made the continuous free ascent to the summit, adding four more pitches above our previous high point and sending every pitch first try! A very satisfying day, on a fun route with a lot of varied climmbing.
The East face of Snowpatch Spire with the line of ascent.
Taran Ortlieb joined us as we fixed two ropes on the first four pitches. Here he is crossing the moat between edge of the glacier and the face. Exactly four weeks earlier, it was easy to step across the gap and be standing on the ledge his left hand is at. As the summer goes on, and the snow melts back from the rock, the first pitch can get 5-10 meters longer and a grade or two harder!
Taran a few meters higher on the first pitch, now enjowing perfect hand jams on perfect granite.
Alik leading off on the second pitch of 5.10 tips.
Having Taran join us to climb the first four pitches and fix our ropes, allowed me to lead the fourth pitch, and then take photos of Alik leading it. It's got four 5.11 sections to it over 45 meters and is delightful to climb!
Another from the fourth pitch - Some face moves protected by a bolt connect two corner systems.
Alik hiking last crux of the fourth pitch with a combination of chimneying, steming, and edge pulling.
Alik climbing the splitter flake at the start of the 6th pitch.
JW in the first of four cruxy sections on the 7th pitch - the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina, previously A3. It's the only one that we think shared any terrain with any of the old aid routes.
Alik nearing the top of the 55-meter 9th pitch.
Alik starting up the 10th pitch.
Some fine heel work high on Snowpach, with magical jugs in the all the right places; Alik getting starting on pitch 12.
Alik on pitch 12
Another from pitch 12
On the North Summit of Snowpatch with the summit ornament, and views of the Howsers.
Welcome to the Machine
5.11+, 13 pitches
First ascent: Pitches 1-5 - Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh; Pitches 6-13: Alik Berg and Jon Walsh
August 2nd, 2015
p1 - 30 meters 5.10-; step across the moat which gets harder as the season goes on. Climb double cracks / flake for about 10 meters until you’re able trend right, and easily up the big scoop. Make a gear anchor before it steepens where you can find some good foot ledges.
p2 - 30 meters 5.10+; continue up the scoop via a thin corner crack, to a belay bolted belay a good stance.
p3 - 30 meters 5.10+; climb the corner above and pull through a small overhang to a stance. Step left and head up a shallow left facing corner, until an easy ramp leads back right. Follow this, hand traversing flakes until a bolted station below a long left facing corner.
p4 - 45 meters 5.11+; A thin tips corner gains a section of cool stemming. When you get to a bolt clip it and face climb left to the arete. Don’t move it up to the bolted station up and right or you’ll have to down-climb 3 meters to continue sending! from the stance on the arete, move up and right back into the left facing corner, and follow past one more tips crux to the bolted station on a good ledge.
p5 - 50 meters 5.10 ; After a couple body lengths of fist crack, pull a small overhang. A #5 camelot is useful here for the crux move. Rather than continue up the obvious corner, look up and you’ll see a bolt. Climb up to it, and move left into the next corner system which is much better. It leads to a fourth class ledge, which needs to traversed up and left. A bolt below a groove is the start of Minotaur. Continue past it for five more meters to a two bolt station bellow a nice looking flake.
p6 - 35 meters 5.10; Climb the flake up, then hand traverse it left. It turns into a walkable ledge. At it’s end, move up and left though small overlaps, then face climb left, and then back right to a bolted station.
p7 - 45 meters 5.11+; This is the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina. Move left off the belay, and then climb up a small right facing corner on face holds. Move left into the main left corner and follow it though a series of small roofs to a bolted anchor.
p8 - 60 meters 5.10; Climb the right hand crack for five meters to a ledge, Move left into a corner which is wide but easy. Follow this to a good ledge. Continue up another short right facing corner with couple of tricky moves and make a gear belay another good ledge, with some very nice looking corners up to the left. This pitch might be better to split into two as rope drag is a factor. Either way, a gear station needs to be made.
p9 - 55 meters 5.11; An amazing pitch! Start by climbing double cracks, with a mix of gear and bolts for protection (3 protection bolts total). At a small stance there’s a fixed wire and a bolt for an optional belay, however the FA team linked the next 30 meters of sustained 5.10 to a great ledge and bolted belay.
p10 - 40m meters 5.11-; climb the nice finger crack up and right. After a section of fist crack, two bolts on your left traverse to a ledge system, and a two bolt anchor at the far left of it.
p11 - 50 meters 5.10-; A clean corner above goes from hands to fists to off-width. After it gets too wide for a # 5 camelot, two body lengths of easy lay-backing passes it and gets you to easier terrain with small gear options. Continue up the groove above to a two bolt station below some black overhangs.
p.12 - 25 meters 5.11+; The last two pitches were nearly linked on the first ascent with 68m rope, but this is not recommended. Start by climbing through some overhangs with some great and unlikely moves. Belay at a good ledge.
p.13 - 45 meters 5.11 ; Follow the crack up and left, until a big ledge is reached. This pitch is a bit dirty but will clean up with a more ascents.
A scramble for a couple of ropelengths up and left gets you to the North Summit. You will pass the top station of Sendero Norte on the way which is probably the cleanest descent option. Of course if you don't know it, it might be more difficult.
The other decent option is as follows:
At the big ledge at the top of the last pitch, a sling around a pinch between boulders was used for the first rappel, to get back to the top of pitch 11. From here, rappel to a nut station about 10 meters climbers right of the station at the top of pitch ten. Careful of the rope eating crack below. Best to just rappel to the top of pitch 9 from here to keep the rope out of the crack. Then rappel to the obvious bivy ledge, on skiers left. On the far side of this ledge, rappel down Minataur on bolted stations. The first one is 55m. The second one is 30 m and it’s best to clip a bolt on the way down as a directional. Another 55m steep rappel gets you back to the big ledge at the top of pitch 5. Continue down the pitches you’ve already climbed. From the top of pitch 4, it's about a 65 meter rappel to the top of pitch 2, so if you have 60 meter ropes, it's best to place a directional or two to get into the optional station on pitch 4, and then rap to the top of pitch 2 from there. One more 50-55 rappel puts you on the glacier.
2 x 60m ropes
Double set of cams from tips to #3 camelot.
Triple set from tight fingers to loose fingers (#.3, #.4, #.5 camelots)
1 #4 camelot, 1 #5 camelot
One set of nuts
12-15 quick draws (half of them should be extendable)
KAHVEOLOGY - (The science of coffee)
160m, M8 WI5 First ascent by Jon Simms and Jon Walsh, Jan 23rd, 2015
Simms on the approach
Jonny “the Simmulator” Simms and I had a good Man Yoga practice at the Storm Creek Headwall, in Kootenay National Park. Despite much thinner that usual ice-conditions this year, the end result was Kahveology, a new 4-pitch mixed route, that’s essentially the direct start to final ice pillar of Check Your Head, another route I co-authored a couple years ago with Jason Kruk and Joshua Lavigne. Kahveology means the Science of coffee, and it’s a also a company in Portland that named one of their coffee blends Man Yoga, after the route on the Stanley Headwall that Simms and I authored, and Joshua Lavigne made an entertaining video of. We were so honoured they named the main blend served in their shop after us, we named our latest route after them, to complete the circle, as well as a thank you for sending some of their crucial beans our way! Being the serious coffee fiend that I am, I would definitely drink it all the time if it was closer to home.
Crucial coffee in necessary for Man Yoga
Anyways, while descending from Check Your Head by headlamp, straight down, rather than reversing a couple traverses we had made, I couldn’t help but notice the immaculate, featured, overhanging limestone that directly lead to a tongue of ice that slithered halfway down it, flowing from the pillar. What particularly caught my eye was the abundance of natural protection, somewhat rare for a steeper-than-vertical angle, and I immediately planned to come back someday to attempt it.
Through the crux of the first pitch
That finally came a week ago, as Michelle and I skied up there on a cold day. I did get on it, but unfortunately, couldn’t make it go bolt free, like I’d been dreaming about. The route starts with about ten meters of easy stuff to get to the back of a cave. Unsurprisingly, the back of the cave was chossy, and I had to place two bolts just to get into the steep climbing. Then two more bolts got placed as I blew my gear and tools out on body weight placements. With four bolts placed through the steepest and hardest pulls, I got to a nice crack which marked the beginning of what’s probably the best stretch of limestone I’ve ever dry tooled on. Eventually, I placed two more bolts, perhaps unnecessary ones (although I was pretty psyched to clip them on the redpoint burn a week later), before getting to a fixed-nut rappel anchor left from a couple years ago, which marked the end of the day. Many thanks to Michelle for enduring a long cold belay.
Higher on the first pitch but still 15 meters to go
Six days later, the stars aligned for us. It was much milder making for perfect conditions, the track was still good, and Simms and I made it to the base in 2 hours at a casual pace. With the route prepped, I was able to get the redpoint, and was even egged on to make it a “mega-pitch” and keep climbing all the way to a small ledge, just above the bottom of the ice. Definitely one of the best pitches I’ve done in the Rockies. After a few steep pulls out the cave, the angle eases to vertical to slightly overhanging for about 30-meters, with numerous bulges to negotiate. Perfect torquing cracks and incut holds, made for really fun sustained climbing, with enough stances to shake out from, although never a hands free position until the belay.
The second pitch was also new and of similar quality, although it followed a fragile strip of ice that on average was an inch thick and a foot wide. By the time we were done it, the snow was falling so we had to hurry as a 2000’ couloir was above the route. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before huge sloughs started coming down at frequent intervals. We split the last 60-meters of ice into two pitches as there was a good belay spot on the right below a rock overhang and we only had a 50-meter rope. We had also brought the drill and installed bolted anchors the whole way right to the top, with hopes it will entice others to get out and try this incredibly high quality route.
starting pitch 2
Higher on pitch 2
Simms on pitch 3
me following it
pitch 4 as the storm intensifies
rappelling from the top. We had a lot of snow come down on us and around us over the course of four rappels
Approach: Park at the Stanley Headwall. Walk or ski for two to three hours depending on conditions. It is one of the closest to the road on the Storm creek headwall, and you can see the upper ice from the highway. I believe it’s probably climbable most years.
-2 ropes, 50-meters will suffice if you have them and want to carry less weight.
-12-14 quick draws, which should include a few long ones
-6 screws, mostly 10-13 cms
-stoppers from 4-11
-Pitons: optional….I placed one #3 Pecker and left it fixed on the second pitch
-I had a double rack of cams up to #3 camelot, and 1 #4. I didn’t need much in the really small sizes. I did place two #3’s on the fist pitch, but would probably have been ok with a single set in the hand crack sizes. Definitely double up in the .3, .4, and .5 camelot sizes, and maybe a bit more.
There is a sheltered spot below a small overhang about 20 meters down and lookers right of the route to gear up, and leave your skis and packs.
THe route as seen from the approach
Pitch 1: 45m M8 - From the highest point of snow below the ice, trend slight right up easy, scrappy, mixed snow ice and rock. A fist crack provides protection for a steep bodylength to the chossy back of the cave. Follow 4 bolts up and left requiring a few honest pulls, to get to a nice crack. Follow that up. It soon passes two more bolts and a fixed nut from the old rappel anchor. After those, trend right, then back left to a bulge below the ice which is used to gain a small ledge and a bolted anchor on the right. Be sure to put a runner on the first bolt, a medium length draw on the second bolt, and extend other cams etc. where necessary to reduce rope drag.
Pitch 2: 50m M6 R - This might be much easier on fatter years. An 80-degree ice goulotte, with occasional rock pro for 15-meters, leads to average 60-degree terrain. It was a very consistent 3 cm thick the entire way for us, and was unprotectable for 30 meters after the angle kicked back. A fall would be serious. Fortunately, the ice we had was of excellent quality making it a reasonable endeavour. The bolted anchor is about 5 meters right of the pillar.
Pitch 3: 30m WI5 - Steep ice, thin and hard to protect at the first, but it does improve. A bolted anchor is on the right below a rock roof.
Pitch 4: 25m WI4 - Straight forward ice climbing. The bolted anchor is about 3-4 meters above the top of the ice in some rock.