December 2020, winter so far...

Over the past month I have had the pleasure of climbing a few new routes and thought I would collect them altogether in one place. So should anyone wish to climb them, or read about them out of interest, all the information is available in one place.

Two days at the start of the season with an on-form Callum Johnson kicked things off to a good start. He was keen to head to An Teallach a magnificent mountain in the wild North West of Scotland that I had never visited, but had heard much about. Hayfork Gully Wall was the cliff of choice and the scene of a couple of hard routes climbed by the Robertson/Boswell duo a few years before.

The entrance into Hayfork Gully is small and unlikely, but soon opens out and the huge walls loom above the left side. Unfortunately, things were looking a little more bare than we had hoped and we were forced to climb the whitest looking line, high up the gully. Callum set off up the first pitch of the Silver Fox, a Moran and MacPherson VII 8. This turned into a harrowing lead by Callum, who, unable to find any gear on the initial 7m, teetered his way up on thin placements and made a move to what we assumed would be a thank-god turfy ledge. However, his axe ripped through and he came crashing back into the gully landing with a thump in the snow. Amazingly, unharmed and eager to put the deamons to rest, he jumped back on and reclimbed the bold start in a heroic effort. Spying an inviting steep corner up to the right he branched off The Silver Fox and belayed at the bottom. This turned out to be quite the contrast to the previous pitch, pumpy climbing on good hooks and thin feet with plenty of gear. I made my way up the corner and the technical slaby wall above. Callum then lead one last pitch to the top.

We were joined on the day by photographer Marc Langley who positioned himself a little further up and captured these magnificent snaps of Callum.

Callum Johnson, The Flying Fox, Hayfork Gully Wall, An Teallach
Callum approaching the turfy ledge moments before disaster struck. Photographer Marc Langley
Callum Johnson, The Flying Fox, Hayfork Gully Wall, An Teallach
Glad to have got some gear a little higher on the successful attempt. Photographer Marc Langley

When discussing the grade, we agreed that the individual pitches broke down as VIII 7, VII 8 and VI 6. So we found it suprising that The Silver Fox, which shares the same bold start was graded VII 8. Maybe the fact that we had tested the fall, had heightened the sense of risk that we felt and we may have not have thought much of it had we not experienced a potentially harmful ground fall? Or maybe later in the season the gully would bank out with an extra few meters of snow, making the fall much shorter? Or maybe The Silver Fox is just a snadbag? Either way we thought the route that we climbed on the day was VIII 8.

The Flying Fox VIII 8 ** 90m

Callum Johnson & Tim Miller, 03/12/20

1. 30m. Start as for The Silver Fox (very bold/serious) continue up the steepening groove until it is possible to balance right on ledges to gain the groove leading to the obvious left facing corner. Belay at the base of the corner.

2. 30m. Climb the superb vertical corner, move right 2m and climb a shallow groove straight up to an easing in angle, belay in a bay below a series of roofs.

3. 30m. Climb straight up a wide steepening groove to below a roof, step right on ledges to climb a shallow groove for 4m then step right again and climb another easier angled groove to the top.

Tim Miller, Never Never Land, Eastern Ramparts, Beinn Eighe
Myself seconding pitch 2 of Never Never Land. Photographer Callum Johnson

That evening we drove round to Beinn Eighe with the van heaters on full blast in an attempt to dry the kit as best as possible. We walked in the next morning with an open mind to find The Far East wall out the question, but the Eastern Ramparts looking snowy. This wall is riddled with many cracks, grooves and corners, making route finding tricky, but potential for new lines high. We found a blank section in the guide book and off we went. Once again I got a fairly straightforward pitch, taking in a typical Beinn Eight corner with positive hooks and gear, before Callum was landed with the awkward second pitch. A few committing moves lead to a hard reach up and round a flake. I shouted up to him that a stein pull might do the trick and sure enough it allowed him get established on the flake before making a tenuous mantle off the stein and accessing more conventional and enjoyable cracks to the top. I finished up an easy pitch onto East Buttress.

Callum Leading pitch 2, the awkward flake looming above. Photographer Tim Miller

Never Never Land VIII 8 ** 100m

Callum Johnson & Tim Miller 04/Dec/2020

Start roughly 8m right of Fairytale Groove, just left of a tricky step on the lower girdle ledge.

1. VI 7 45m. Climb up corners and ledges, taking in a superb 8m left facing corner. Trend slightly left onto the upper girdle ledge to belay below the centre of the white wall.

2. VIII 8 35m. Move right 4m to make committing moves into the base of a groove (at the right edge of the white wall) which leads up to a small roof with a prominent wide crack splitting its left hand side. Climb the crack strenuously around the roof. Continue up the wide crack then shallow groove, taking a line of twin cracks up a wall to a good ledge.

3. 20m. Climb the open book corner, and pull slightly right onto the crest of East Buttress.

The line of Never Never Land is marked in light blue and belay stances as dark blue crosses.

The next winter climbing operation involved teaming up with Jamie Skelton on another one of our siege missions. The objective was the summer E2 Metamorphosis, on Central Trident Buttress on Ben Nevis. From our research we thought that it hadn't received a winter ascent. By chance we bumped into Iain Small and Dave Macleoad on the approach, who were aiming for a brilliant looking corner on No.5 Gully Buttress. We found out Iain had climbed Metamorphosis via the Cranium start in 2009 with Gareth Hughs and had given it VIII 9. Not too disheartened we thought we would try the original summer line.

This turned into a bigger affair than we had bargained for: we only added one new pitch, but required 3 visits over the course of 4 days and seamed to totally consume us for that time.

Tim Miller, Metamorphosis, Central trident buttress, Ben Nevis
Myself doing battle with the first pitch of Metamorphosis. Photographer Jamie Skelton

A steep start, which involved some painful hand jams, lead to a good rest, then a few positive hooks in an overhanging corner. After this the route breaks out onto a blank slab void of any positive edges on which our axes might gain some purchase. I remember constantly thinking, surly its going to let up soon, there must be a good crack somewhere. But the route continues in this fashion into the corner above where the gear disappears and the hooks are at their worst. Never too pumpy, but very tenuous. A few easy corners lead to a big belay ledge. At this point we joined the route climbed by Small and Hughs. A particularly awkward traverse right, mantle and move back left lead to the bottom of the impending flake. This provided the pumpy fun and a hidden rest was welcomed by swinging a leg onto the flake and lying across the top facing back down the route. Some trickier moves pull you out and over the steep wall above and into the relief of the horizontal world. A short easy pitch leads to the top.

The first two days we took turns inching a little higher up the first pitch before pinging off and swapping leads. The picks of our axes being ground down each day from the constant scratching down the rock till something caught, then we very cautiously pulled and repeated until we pinged off. Eventually Jamie managed to get us to the top of the pitch with a few falls. At this point it was dark so we decided to take a rest day and come back to hopefully climb it cleanly.

After both of us popping off on a few attempts it was my go again, but by this point we had almost given up out of frustration. I pulled back on and after more scratching and teetering found myself at the bottom of the corner, somehow still attached to the rock. I arranged a cluster of small gear, something would hold. I readied myself, then launched upwards, axes scraping away, they caught on something and I worked my feet up. I inched a few more moves higher and the gear passed by my feet. My crampons skittered about on the sloping edges, then popped off and my whole weight shot onto my axes, I was certain I was about to feel the sensation of falling through air, but I didn't. I reached higher with my axes and they caught on a small lip of ice stuck to the rim of a sloping edge, miraculously it held. I pulled and managed to bridge my feet out into a more stable stance. I looked down and saw the ropes trickle down between my feet and under a small roof at the bottom of the corner. I couldn't see my last gear. I shouted down to Jamie "where was that bulldog you placed?" "Still a bit higher" he replied to my dismay. I gulped and moved up again, loath to leave the relative safety of my position. This time my axe found a shallow crack in the right wall. I grabbed the bulldog and smashed it in as hard as I could. I could now relax a little. A few more moves spat me out at the top of the corner and onto a good ledge.

Jamie Skelton, Metamorphosis, central trident buttress, Ben Nevis
Jamie getting stuck into the steep start with a hand jam. Photographer Tim Miller

Remarkably, I managed to climb the pitch clean to the top. Jamie then made an impressive on-sight of the 2nd flake pitch with fading arms. I climbed the last easy pitch in the dark before we found a fortuitously placed abseil off to our left that landed us back at the bags. Despite having limited experience at grade IX between us, we found it considerably harder than any other winter routes we have tried and with the amount of effort it took us to climb it we thought it justified the grade IX 9.

Metamorphosis (winter) IX 9 ** 105m