Flurry of winter desperates from Guy Robertsonby Jack Geldard Feb/2008
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Guy Robertson has had an exceptional Scottish season so far, with a flurry of desperate new routes and fast repeats of various test pieces. Partnering up with some of the UK's leading winter experts including; Pete Benson, Mark Garthwaite and Ian Parnell, Robertson and friends are showing the way forward for Scottish winter climbing.
Robertson and Benson repeated Centurion (VIII,8) in a single push (15 hours) on 2 February 2008. Robertson says of the route: "Conditions were undoubtedly exceptional, with the first 3 pitches completely plastered, encased in verglas, with some useful ice. The climbing was very sustained but nowhere desperate. The summer line was followed on pitch four, as on the first ascent. Above pitch five conditions deteriorated rapidly, both on the route and overhead, with the onset of a severe southerly storm – it took the team some nine hours to get up and down from this point; overall a twenty three hour day car-to-car. We thought the route was outstanding – worth four stars, as good as The Needle, and just as hard."
Earlier in the season, with Parnell and Garthwaite, Robertson repeated The Secret, Ben Nevis and thought VIII,8 – "A superb and well-protected three star test-piece that should be in condition often".
Guy has provided us with details of three new routes climbed so far this year. All of exceptional difficulty and climbed ground-up in the traditional style.
Beinn Eighe, Far East Wall
The summer route was followed throughout. Pitch three was extended to take in both the overhangs, leaving a 20m fourth pitch to finish. Both the overhangs on pitch three had significant quantities of ice (useful), the second one sporting a 20 foot Damoclean ice fang. The climbing is superb, generally well protected and exceptionally sustained, with spectacular exposure high up. The final short pitch is bold.
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, Skye
The summer route was followed for four pitches until below the “steep 15m wall”. From here a short pitch traversed right to the rib then up to below the split overhanging nose. A long final pitch (in the dark) approximated the Direct Finish to Crack of Dawn, trending right up a right-facing groove with a wide crack in the back. A superb, sustained and well-protected winter adventure in a magnificent setting – every pitch apart from pitch five has considerable difficulty (tech 7 at least). The first pitch is probably the crux of the route. There was some useful ice on the first ascent.
Mitre Ridge, Garbh Coire of Bheinn a Bhuird
A high quality but serious and intimidating undertaking in a very remote location – not for the faint-hearted. The summer route (right hand variant) was followed in three hard pitches to the terrace below the headwall, then the final pitch scurried right to escape up the obvious fault. Pitch one was split in two, with a belay below the crux overhang. Pitch one was tenuous but well-protected, pitch two more strenuous and very run out, and pitch three was bold to start (though not technically quite as hard as the previous pitch). On the first ascent conditions were lean but very unhelpful; little hoar, but lots of snow and verglas / ice. One rest was taken on the crux to excavate a reasonable runner above the overhang, then the leader (Benson) lowered down and climbed the pitch clean (there were no runners for the crux 7m up to the belay).
So where do these ascents sit with other Scottish winter desperates? I asked Norrie Muir, well known UKC forum user and winter climber his opinion;
"Guy Robertson and his partners have, over the last few months, epitomised what Scottish Winter Climbing at the highest level is all about - long days, strong lines and great adventure. Winter climbing has followed rock climbing, with the emphasis on short hard routes. Guy and Pete are continuing the tradition of long and committing undertakings.
Will these new routes become future 'test pieces', like the 1980's 'test pieces' such as Centurion and The Needle, or will they be by-passed like Guerdon Grooves? I suspect they will only get a handful of repeats over the next 20 years, but hopefully they will encourage others to be more adventurous when winter climbing in Scotland."
Guy Robertson is in his mid thirties and is an excellent all round performer. He works full time for an environmental consulting company and is expecting his second child this March. No wonder he's trying to get all these routes in first!
Thanks to Guy and friends for the route information and photographs and to Norrie Muir for the helpful commentary.