Monday 4 March 2013

Winter, dry, both or none?

Obviously, the dry tooling route I did on the CIC cascades under the Ben Nevis north face last week was going to provoke a bit of debate. In my mind it’s perfectly suited to climbing in this style and it’s no threat to the traditional Scottish winter routes because it’s so clearly different from them. It did make me wince when I saw include a Scottish winter grade in their headline reporting the route. I didn’t give it a Scottish grade for a good reason! I should have seen that coming I guess, although it was hard to foresee that a casual comment by me comparing it to a similar piece of climbing terrain with a winter grade would mean folk would then take this one as a winter route. A bit like saying an E8 trad route has 7c+ climbing - it’s still different from a bolted 7c+! This seemed to fuel a bit of debate about how it related to the traditional winter climbing game. To me, it’s totally clear the route is a tooling route, not a Scottish winter route. Clear and simple. 

Some folk argued that maybe it should be left alone in case it dilutes the Scottish winter conditions ethic. I personally don’t agree with this. My feeling is that a one size fits all ethic for anything climbed is unnecessarily simplistic. It’s a shame not to climb that crack just because it doesn’t get rimed up. It’s an excellent climb.

More so than any other climbing discipline, Scottish winter climbing seems to be awful scared of losing what we have. Of course it’s special and worth defending. Perhaps because I like going for the steepest routes I’ve spent more than my fair share of days walking in and turning on my heel because the project is not white enough. It’s natural to resist any changes (even if they are only additions) to the status quo, but not always good. Balanced against the fear of losing what we have must be a fear of losing what we could have. To me, the diversity of British climbing has always been it’s greatest asset. A strict and narrow focus on what can be climbed with tools is a strength in upholding a strong ethic, but a weakness in undermining the diversity of climbs that can be done. I just don’t see that the threat to the Scottish conditions ethic is real. Rather than diminished over the years I have been a climber, I feel it has strengthened. The ethic is so strong, it has room to accept some ‘outliers’. However, that is of course just an opinion of one and may be outweighed by those of others, which is no problem. If other folk thought the tooling route was a good idea, very few have come out and said so.

Winter condition or not? What do you think?

A further interesting twist came when the other new route I wrote about (The Snotter) was questioned for not being in winter condition. I must say that took me seriously by surprise. I’ve done plenty of mixed routes that were on the borderline, but it didn’t enter my head that this one wasn’t in good condition. Simon Richardson wrote a particularly below the belt post on his blog which is here. For some reason he didn’t mention my name in it, and is was a little weird that he wrote such strong words and then reported another new route of mine in the very next post. Anyway, the reason it took me so by surprise was the focus on the section of overhanging wall to get between the ice grooves below and the hanging icicle above. I deliberately went on the route because the recent sunny conditions has been good for helping the grooves below the icicles to become iced. In the 55 metre crux pitch, around 47 metres was climbed on water ice, with 6 metres crossing a grossly overhanging wall underneath the roof to get to the icicle. The 30 metres of grooves below the roof were climbed on ice, initially stepped iced slabby ledges, then a thin ice smeared rib and groove, apart from a few hooks on the right of the ice. Once on the icicle, there was a long section (15 metres at least) before the angle even started to lie back.The downside of this mix of conditions was that the overhanging wall itself was pretty dry. My thinking was that this is par for the course for this type of route. The sun helps more ice form, but at the expense of the rime. My interpretation (which may be ‘wrong’ if such a judgement can truly be made) of Scottish winter conditions is that basically the route must be wintery in appearance. If it was nearly all dry mixed with a little ice, it would be outside that definition and I would have come back another time. But the reality was the pitch was nearly all ice with a short section of dry rock. 

A central view in my own new route climbing has always been that I don’t want it to be at the expense of anyone else, even if I don’t agree with their position or motives. Clearly, some folk feel that way. So I have taken away my blog post about the routes and recommend that folk forget about them, if that is what they want to do. They still exist of course, in my memory as great days out and two of the most fun climbs I’ve done in a while. Nothing more ultimately matters. Anyone else is welcome to climb them as first ascents if they feel those ascents are more worthy.


  1. I don't think what you now did is possible. Climbed is climbed, no matter what the interwebz pundits think.

  2. that line looks amazing! i say good on you

  3. This I feel is exactly the problem with climbing and mountaineering in Scotland in general. Young kids that want to start climbing and break the norm of football in the street are often out priced from it, out snobbed if that's a word and it's just so overly complicated to a point that when a grey area like this arises, the so called hierarchy of the climbing word go ballistic. I would say it was a winter climb, easily. A bit of exposed rock but this is Scotland, we don't get perfect conditions day in day out, which is why it's unique. But until the backbenchers get off their high horse, I fear because of things like this, it will always be an elitist sport. Keep doing what you do Dave, great climber and all round good bloke.