Winter First Ascents - UK
The Tempest X 9 (M9) Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glencoe, UK, 02.01
Scottish Winter climbing seemed to hit a bit of a plateau around the turn of the century. It didn’t seem possible to push standards any further using primitive straight-shafted ice axes with leashes, so controversially, I decided to use pre-placed protection and redpoint tactics to ascend the blank verglas-smeared wall below Spectre in Stob Coire Nan Lochan. My misguided concept was to bring a slice of sport-style continental mixed action home to Scotland, yet without the use of bolts. Needless to say, there were critics and the style never caught on, not least because leash-less tools opened the door to progress. Nonetheless it still took a decade for the Tempest to be repeated in more traditional ground-up style, with the aid of modern tools and training methods by Dave Macleod and Greg Boswell. Hopefully with time, the quality of the route will make up for my ethical misdemeanor!
Feeding Frenzy VI 7 Ben Nevis, UK, 1997
In climbing, sometimes you have to change your plans on the spur of the moment to take advantage of an opportunity. Colin Smith and I had plodded all the way up to Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis to repeat the classic icefall, Megaroute X, but on arrival our attention was drawn immediately to an impressive hanging ice curtain, that had formed on the rock overhangs to the left. To our knowledge it hadn’t been climbed, so Colin scratched his way up a corner to the left, leaving me to lead through and launch up onto the ice. Feeding Frenzy had a futuristic feel to it back in the mid 1990s and if I hadn’t had a small taster of this style of climbing on the continent, with the aid of bolts, I don’t think I would have been up for it.
'Welsh Ice Triple' - A link-up of the Devil's Appendix WI 5, Central Icefall Direct WI 6 and Cascade WI 5, in a single push at night, with Tim Emmett. 02.12
It was Tim Emmett’s crazy idea to attempt to link-up Snowdonia’s three best-known, classic icefalls in a single push during a sudden cold snap in February 2012. His sales pitch was so persuasive on the phone that I dropped everything and head over to North Wales before properly considering what I was letting myself in for. Sure enough, in customary Emmett style, as the plan unfolded, things started to seem a little dicey. For a start, Tim had to do a morning’s work beforehand, so we wouldn’t be setting out until mid afternoon and secondly, the first route on our hit-list, the mega-classic Devils Appendix V 5, was in lean condition, or as Tim explained: ‘The icicle hasn’t quite touched down, but don’t worry mate, you like a bit of free-hanging action!’ We felt like guilty schoolboys as we charged out off into Cwm Idwal. It was great to be out with my old sparring partner again. Soon I found myself taking deep breaths before committing my weight to the whispy, chandeliers that were dangling off the crux overhang of the Appendix. Luckily it held and before long we were coiling ropes under torchlight and racing off down the slopes of Glyder Fawr under a clear, star-filled sky.
As we descended into the Llanberis pass, the temptation of the pub started to loom, but clearly neither of us would have suggested quitting, so we crossed over and hacked on up into the darkness. Soon our torch beams were illuminating the two monolithic, monster icefalls that are the jewels in the crown of Welsh winter climbing. As I led up the initial thin ice ramp of Central Icefall, I chuckled to myself at how history was repeating itself. It was fifteen years ago that Tim and I first climbed together on this very same route at night. We got our wrists slapped for overtaking a slower party and then Tim ended up lobbing off the main pitch because he has been so ‘mad for it’ that he moved both axes at the same time! Fortunately Central Icefall passed without incident, and soon Tim was launching up onto Cascade. He led the whole route in less than ten minutes in one giant pitch and placed one ice screw at half height. He was either on top of his game or eager to get down in to Bangor to go clubbing. In climbing, the spontaneous plans so often lead to the most exciting outcomes and this night had been no exception.