Southern Cairngorms Winter Crags

Lochnagar – North East Corrie

Southern Sector – 950m, 1000m,North West facing –

Main Sector – 900m – North East and North West facing

Good mix of routes at most grades

Coire lochan Na Feadaige – 900m – North East facing

Two III and a V

The Stuic & Whacky Butress – 1000m – North East and North West

Good mix of I – V

The Dubh Loch Crags

Spittal of Glenmuick or Glen Clova approach

Creag An Dubh Loch – 730m NE to E

Not loads of winter routes.  Mainly rock routes.

Glen Clova

Winter Corrie – 650m NE

Good mix of routes

Corrie Fee – South Wall – 550 North East

Good mix of routes I – V

Corrie Fee – North Wall – 550 – South East facing

Small handful of routes III to IV

Craig Maud – 600m North East facing

Pinnacle Ridge II

Jaunjorge – 550m South facing

Not many routes at II – V



Northern Cairngorms Winter Crags

Northern Corries

Coire an t-Sneachda


Coire an Lochan


Loch Avon Basin

Stacan Dubha – 850m – North West facing

Carn Etchachan – 900m – North facing


Shelter Stone Crag – 850m – North East facing


Hell’s Lum Crag – 930m – East facing

Stag Rocks – 900m – South facing

Stac an Fharaidh – 900m – South East


Northern Lairig Ghru

Lurchers Crag – 780m West South West

Good selection of I – IV

Sron na Lairige – 850m East North East

I – IV

Sgoran Dubh Mor

Selection of butresses around 700-750m, mostly East, East South East.

Sgor Gaoith

Mix of butresses 750 – 850m mostly facing East South East.

Coire Garbhlach

Lower buttress 650m and Upper butress 750m


An Garbh Choire

Corrie of the Chokestone 1100m, North facing

Good mix of I – III/IV

Garbh Choire Mor – 1130m East


Garbh Choire Dhaidh – 1100m South


Coire Bhrochain – 1150m South

Good mix to I – IV

Northern Corries of Braeriach

Coire an Lochain – 1100m North

Southern Lairig Ghru

Beinn Bhrotain

Coire Cath nam Fionn – 950m North West facing

Good mix of I – III

Ben Macdui Massif

Coire Sputan Dearg – 1309 South East

Misc butresses I – IV

Creagan A Choire Etchachan – 850 – 900 East facing

Multiple butresses, lots of routes

Stob Coire Etchachan – 900m South South East


Lochside Crag – 1000m East South East

III and IV

Beinn A Bhuird

Approach from Braemar.

Coire Na Ciche – 1000m East

II to IV

Coire An Dubh Lochain – 950m North East

Mainly I – III and some VI/VII.

Coire Nan Clach – 1100m South facing

Not much

Garbh Choire – 950m North West to North

II to IV/V

My first climbing rack 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about buying your first climbing rack.  As I’ve actually been climbing a few years now I’m a bit more qualified to make suggestions.  So with out too much further ado, here they are.  Again this is a starter rack aimed at folk climbing mainly on limestone, so no cams.  They’re easy to get wrong and on easier climbs you’ll find plenty of good nut placements.  Generally.  You’ve got a good choice for krabs.  Generally I personally prefer DMM kit.  They’re a great company and do excellent gear.

For nuts the choice is simple.  DMM Wallnuts, the full 1 – 11.  You can often get deals that come with a racking krab.  If not, oval wiregates make good racking karabiners.

Hexes, the choice is equally straight forward, DMM Torque nuts 1 – 4.  These should be racked individually on colour coded DMM Spectres.  You could go for a full set of Wild Country Hexes on wire, but they’re more expensive and the extendable slings on the Torque nuts means you need less quickdraws.

The choice gets a bit trickier at the quickdraw level.  However generally I’d go for the standard DMM Spectres.  But if you want the no snag nose of the Alphas, then they’re worth the extra money.  Also the Alphas fit into your hand really nicely.  Lengthwise you need a mix of 18cm and 25cm.  12cm is simply too short for 90% of trad climbing.  If you’re thinking, well I can use them for sport climbing, don’t, it’s best to have a set of cheap draws made of solid gate krabs with nylon slings for sport.

However one thing you do need lots of is slingdraws.  There’s a good article about slingdraws at Planet Fear. Basically they’re excellent for extending gear that’s a bit far off the line or on a traverese.

So you’ll need a few locking karabiners for belays.  Again I think it’s fairly simple, a DMM Boa to create a central point on your belay and about 2 or 3 DMM Phantoms for the gear on the belay.

If you’re trad climbing, you want half ropes.  8.5mm to 9.0mm would be ideal.  Thinner is only good if you are planning on doing Scottish winter stuff.  Basically something that’s thickish, as it’ll mean the rope is less likely to tangle like hell on the belay.  Cause it will.  Trust me.

Finally you’ll need some slings.  Not loads, just a couple of 120 cm slings and a large one for boulders.  I have a 400 cm cordlette from Wild Country.  But you can grab a 240 cm sling instead.

The list:

  • DMM Wallnuts 1 – 11
  • DMM Torque Nuts 1 – 4
  • 6 DMM Spectre Quickdraws – 18 and 25cm lengths
  • 4 Sling draws (made from spectre wiregates)
  • 1 DMM Boa Locking krab
  • 3 DMM Phantom Locking krabs

Switzerland Mountaineering 2012

We flew out from Bristol to Geneva on Friday morning. On the way out we met with another alpinist, Steve and as he was travelling out to Saas Grund as well. So we all got the train and then bus out together. The first night was in Pension Heino, which was a cheap hotel offering half board. There were a number of other alpinists there and we ended up on the table with one of them.

Lagginhorn (4017m)

The first peak of the week was the Lagginhorn. As the weather was good, we decided to go for it. In hindsight, not the best choice, as one night as 2800m doesn’t make a good acclimatisation strategy. We picked on following the West Ridge all the way up to try and speed things up a bit and miss out the glacier. We made fairly good time till around 3700m when we got up to the snow fields and things really started slowing down. The last few hundred meters were done Everest style, take a step, pause for breath, take a rest and then take another step. But eventually we got onto the small rock step that makes up the summit.

Weissmeis (4023m)

As I was properly acclimatised this peak went much smoother. The last part was tough, but I was able to keep on trudging for much longer. I actually enjoyed the summit properly. We go in a bit under the guidebook time, we left at 0430 and hit the summit at 0845, spent 10 minutes there before heading down. We made good time on the descent getting back to the Hosaas hut shortly before 1100. We met up with Steve and his son Ben on the descent and had a chat with them in the hut. Then the long trudge down to Kreuzboden station so we could get the monster scooters and blast down to Saas Grund. 1000m and 30 minutes later and we were back at the hotel. Well to be fair, it only took Steve 25 minutes, I’m a wimp and after a big speed wobble I backed off somewhat.

Breithorn (4164m)

As things were getting warm and we couldn’t book into a hut, we decided on a quick trudge up the Breithorn. We got the Klein Matterhorn lift first thing in the morning and beat a path over to the western summit of the Breithorn. This one was much easier, however the very deep tracks on the way up presented their own challenge. We then negotiated the narrow snow ridge off the summit before heading back down before the snow on the glacier got to slushy. As it was it was pretty poor on the way back across.


By this point, I was pretty knackered and as the Rifflehorn had been suggested as a sport crag, we were keen to try it out. There is an AD ridge route, Skyline, so we decided on that as a introduction to AD routes for me. We got up the route pretty quickly. Sat around and had a nice lunch. We then abseiled back down the route and downclimbed the last section of the route. We thought about another route however the clouds were building over the mountains so we decided descretion was the better part of valour. After a long slog we got back down into the valley. Thankfully it didn’t start raining heavily till we got back into town.


After this we were planning on doing the Via Ferrata in Zermatt however on Saturday it rained pretty consistently. To be honest after the long week, it was nice to do nothing. However we did head out for a few celebratory beers around Zermatt on Saturday night. Then it was the long slog back to the airport and back to blighty. All in a great week.

Winter Climbing Videos

While my winter is over, for some lucky souls it’s not quite over.  So here a few good Scottish Winter videos to keep the psyche going:

Ines Papert, Ian Parnell and Audrey Gariepy – Winter Climbing Video

Petzl Scottish Ice Trip

Point Five Gully, Orion Face and Tower Ridge all three videos by Alan Kimber

Dave MacLeod climbing The Hurting

Andy Turner and Dave MacLeod on Minus Three Gully and them on Piggots Route and finally on the Great Chimney.

That little lot should keep you going for an hour or two.  They’re all really good videos, but the Petzl one is probably just about the best.  All are very well worth a look tho.  Enjoy!

Savagery in SCnL

On the final day we decided that a walk in to Stob Coire nan Lochan (SCnL) would be the best way to finish of our already tired limbs. So once more we began the slow and steady pull up into the corrie again in the rain which turned to snow as we gained height. Legs were definitely slowing down but we still made the corrie floor in a respectable time. Teams were already on Dorsal Arete so we decided to do the first few pitches of Ordinary Route with the aim of ending up and doing some leading on Boomerang Arete. The crux of the inital pitch was quite tricky and I think James was worried we wouldn’t be able to manage it, but after some discussion he romped up it. Darren and I however weren’t quite as quick. I honestly couldn’t have climbed it without leashless axes. I stepped left onto a ledge before the technical 5 crux slab, so had to make a large move onto the spike, before finding a bomber hook for one axe a crap hook for the other.  I  then spent a while cleaning off the small footholds and working out the sequence for the next few moves. I then moved up balancing on my frontpoints and manteling down on the one axe with a good placement. I was then able to get axes into the neve at the top of the slab, so I was able to move up further. Unfortunately I didn’t have the stamina to get the nut out without a rest on the rope. Once the nut was removed it was a simple romp to the belay.

The second pitch was much steadier and both Darren and I shot up it. I took a small slump when removing a cam as the snow that had seemed solid when I kicked a ledge proved to be less than solid. We arrived at the belay on the arete. Unfortunately the temperature had risen and the snow had turned to rain. This meant that the arete was rather loaded with snow so we decided that the safest option was to bail. A quick abseil and we were at the bottom of boomerang gully, we quickly got out of the danger zone and onto the corrie floor. We then made the long and slippy trudge down the path of slush back to the car park.  While it wasn’t a perfect day the technical climbing was awesome and the experience of bailing in winter was a good one to have gained.  Jame’s blog post is here.

All that remained was to return to the cottage dry off our gear, pack it all up and begin the 8 hour drive home.

So far this winter thats a total of 6 days of climbing routes (two on PyF and four in Scotland) and one day walking around only for conditions to be poor.  So that’s fairly decent bearing in mind how changeable British weather can be.  The week was an excellent trip and was certainly money well spent.  I learnt an incredible amount from James, both from watching him climb and what he did and from asking him endless questions about snow stability, placing gear, navigation, climbing etc etc.  I’ve definitely learnt much more in a week with a guide than I would have done from a week on my own.  Now hopefully I can get out a few more times before the winter is over to put the new skills into practice.

Grade IV and blisters of doom!

As the forecast for the Lochaber area wasn’t too stunning we elected to head over to the Cairngorms on the third day. After a much shorter walk-in we arrived in Coire an t’Sneachda.  We had a look around the corrie and the Fiaciall Butress was selected as the crag du jour, as there were already climbers on The Seam, James decided the Invernookie (III,4) was the route for the day. It’s IV,5 under powder according to UKC which is even better, as guess what it was pretty powdery when we went up it.  The routes generally looked in good condition with a stunning looking Patey’s Route in the middle of the corrie.  My legs were really glad of the short walk in, it was a nice change from the past two days.  As the route was considerably shorter I suffered much less from a fitness point of view. My leashless axes and the solid neve coating the route made the crux moves quite easy. Helped by being able to watch Darren struggle on them I floated up the crux moves. A couple of high axe placements and few free climbing moves (a cheeky sidepull) and I was up on to the final rightward ramp up to the top of the Fiaciall Ridge. We scrambled up that and navigated around the top of the corrie, dropping back along the ridge into the ski area car park.  Sadly by now my blister on top of a blister had ripped into one massive open wound on the back of my heal.  So despite all the taping and the blister plasters for the first few days, I’d still ended up with a wound the size of a 50p peice on the back of my left foot.  Once we were back at the cottage it was back into the now routine business of drying off gear and repacking the bags for the following day.  The movie for the evening was True Grit, something we’d need plenty of on the final two days.

Matt on Invernookie

Matt on Invernookie

Back to the Ben for the penultimate day. My legs were beginning to feel it and there was a definite slow down as we slogged up into Coire na Ciste.  However we did manage to keep up with a couple of Jame’s considerably fitter mates on the way up the path to the CIC Hut, while they were probably strolling along it was nice to have all the training pay off.  We were keen to get on a IV and Central Gully Right Hand (IV, 4)) was clear so we geared up and got on the route. The first few pitches were dispatched quite easily however the final pitch up the middle of the gully was quite tough and I got my first forearm pump of the week. It was excellent to be back on proper steep ice.  Also as I was following Darren up the pitch I got quite a lot of ice and spindrift down on my head.  Proper Scottish climbing. However I pulled up the steep ice onto the easier ground with a short plod onto the top of the cliff.  Conditions weren’t quite so good weather wise and we took a short walk around to the top of Number 4 gully where the snowpack was stable enough to allow a quick walk down the gully back to the CIC Hut and again down to the car.  The weather wasn’t quite as nice as it had been the past few days so not as many photos in this post.  I’m hoping that I’ll get a few more tho and when I do get my grubby paws on them, I’ll amend this post.

1970s Scottish Winter Climbing Videos

Here are a bunch of great old winter climbing videos from the 1970s.  Enjoy!

Allen Fyffe and Hamish MacInnes, Ben Nevis, 1974 …

Norrie Muir and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler, 1978 …

Norrie Muir and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler (south peak), 1978 …

John Cunningham and Creagh Dhu, The Cobbler, 1978 …

John Cunningham, Ben Nevis, 1976 …

John Cunningham, Hells Lum, 1979 (Part 1) …

John Cunningham, Hells Lum, 1979 (part 2) …

A Proper Introduction

Darren and I arrived in Scotland on the 8th of Feb at the Distillery Cottages in Fort William for a weeks climbing with James Thacker.  The first day involved a very early start to try and beat the freezing level which was due to move above the summits by midday. It was a proper introduction to the vagaries of Scottish winter weather.  We raced up into Stob Coire nan Lochan after meeting James at 0600. Sadly we lost the race and the idea of wading up Dorsal Arete or Ordinary Route in slushy snow did not appeal. So we spent the day discussing snowpack stability and avalanche risk along with trying out a number of different snow belays.  Not quite the ideal start to the week, but it was to make the following day all the sweeter.  Here is Jame’s blog post.

Walking up to Coire na Ciste

The weather was completely changed the following day. The freezing level was much lower, there was little wind and clear blue skies. We didn’t get up quite as early but we still made good time into Coire na Ciste. After a look at the routes available James decided that Number 3 Gully Butress would be the route for the day. We geared up low in the Coire and trailed the rope up the snow slope to the base of the route. James raced up the route, Darren and I followed quickly as well making short work of the difficulties. Indeed for me the route wasn’t technically hard but I pushed myself on the route so by the final pitch my calfs were getting very pumped. The last few moves on to the summit plateau were a real struggle. However it was a good lesson as I paced myself much more efficiently for the rest of the week.  As the day was so nice we walked round to the summit and navigated off the summit down Coire Les to the abseil post.  While it was hard to pretend it was whiteout conditions, I needed to get the practice in to shore up my poor navigation.  We then dug out a snow bollard to abseil into the corrie with. Then we walked past the CIC Hut and back down to the car park.  Jame’s blog on the day.

Gearing up and eager for the route

Gearing up and keen for the route

Moving off the belay

Moving off the belay

James on the belay

James on the belay

Heading up to the summit

Heading up to the summit

Coire na Ciste

Looking back up into the corrie from the CIC Hut