/ Agag's Groove

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Jamie B - on 29 Jan 2013
Interested in what sort of conditions people feel are required for a winter ascent. Does the groove ever fill with consolidated snow/ice, or is the norm to climb it under powder/rime?

Also interested in what people thought the grade was/is. VII,6 seems like an odd one for snowed-up rock (knowing it to be well-protected in summer) and I've heard VI,7 suggested.

The other thing that intrigues me is what conditions were encountered and tactics employed by McInnes and Bonnington back in 1953? They did FWAs of Crowberry Direct and Raven's Gully the same week, so one assumes they were going well and conditions were pretty good.

Hoping to hear from those who've actually done the route, but not averse to armchair speculation either!
Steve Perry - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to Jamie B: Some quotes from Bonington's Autobography on the first ascent 1953, may give a slight insight.

"all the holds were covered in snow and ice"
"I was much too gripped to notice the cold, and enjoyed clearing the holds"
"balancing up the ice glazed rock"
"I felt weak and inadequate against the size of the wall, the strength of the wind and the driving snow"

Sounds like Macinnes led most of it and there was 5 on the route.

Grade VII sounds pretty incredible for then.
Stuart en Écosse - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Did it about 20 years ago, by the summer line. Frigged the third pitch (the one off the big central belay ledge and up the crack in the 'nose') which was desperate. It was pretty plastered but there was also a fair bit of snow clearing. I think it would have been a mare without crampons, I used sawn-off Salewa hard ice classics with wee stubby points, almost like tricounis.

Grade: well I have very little experience of such grades, but;

The Rab grade in the early 90s guidebook of VIII,8 was clearly way off the mark. The gear was generally pretty good especially where it mattered, so VII,6 seems off as well. A couple of teams (Adam someone?) did it 2 or 3 years ago and I think they settled on it being VI,7, which is probably more like it.

I've spoken to a couple of teams who've done it though one admits that it was a rock climb covered in snow.
James Thacker - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to Jamie B: High Jamie, a few folk have suggested VI,6 or VI,7 - think powder/rime is the norm. Generally quite stormy weather required to get it white.

Crowberry Direct is an interesting one, I tried it with Graham Stein a few years ago. It's hard, the first ascent team were on fire. Did a bit of a write up here on the blog Some extracts from Alex Small's letter to Rab Anderson:

"Alex CD Small - dated 6 Jan 1981 - excerpt as follows:

“I find that the Crowberry winter climb was done on April 3rd 1938. (He was checking his diary).

It was a rough day of hail squalls & sun bursts, & snow & ice was pretty thick above 2000 ft., enough to make the way from the Water Slide up the early bit of Curved Ridge messy & toilsome.

I swept away snow from the holds on Abraham’s left traverse but once started I found I couldn’t manage to clear the further over so I went back, took off my boots & tried it in my stocking soles. The famous finger tip hold at the move up was iced over & I thought I was beaten but my soles stuck so well I did a press up & sweeping & climbing I finished the pitch.

The next pitch was hard & we could now see that the slabby section up to the foot of the Tower was mostly an ice sheet with runnels of snow. As we only had one axe (& borrowed at that) we did a slanting line across and down onto Hyphen Rib – which we knew well as we had done the first ascent. Straightforward until we came to the overhanging slit which leads up to the crest of the Crowberry Ridge. This again beat us until I jammed the axe in a crack & once more in stocking soles, used the axe head as a handhold then a foothold & finding some unsuspected holds for my left hand made the crest. Hauling the sack, my boots & my second, who came off twice, was bloody tiring & trying to force my feet into frozen boots rather piled on the agony.

Fortunately that was the end of the difficulties & we went over the Tower – nearly dropping the axe down Crowberry Gully, & got down to the road in another blinding hail storm.”


James Thacker - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to Jamie B: Oh, Rab had to estimate some of the grades as the SMC Guide had previously used the old system prior to two tier grades - the hardest lines still getting a max of VI in some cases. There are still some stoppers out there...
Andy Nisbet - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to James Thacker:

Rab used a slightly different system for that book. Similar principle but higher grades. In retrospect it had a lot going for it, but wasn't accepted. Although what some folk call grade creep means some of Rab's grades are now accepted (but Agag's clearly not).
Colin Moody - on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to James Thacker:

I thought I read that Hamish couldn't climb the crux of Crowberry ridge direct in boots so did it in socks, and had to climb slowly to let each sock freeze.

Seems very odd so maybe my memory has failed again!
TobyA on 29 Jan 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet: Is Rab still winter climbing? He was a bit of an inspiration for me when I lived in Scotland - being in the magazines just about every month and forever doing new routes; just like your good self Andy!
Andy Nisbet - on 30 Jan 2013
In reply to TobyA:
> Is Rab still winter climbing?

No new routes recently but I dare say he has the odd day out. Certainly still keen on the rock.
TobyA on 30 Jan 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet: Good to hear. I wrote a thing on my blog years back about how magazine photos of Scottish winter climbing were a good part of the inspiration that led me to move to Glasgow, and looking back at it now: there's Mr. Anderson, torquing up Incubator on the Cobbler!

And apologies, back to Agag's Groove, which like most, I've only done in summer.
Erik B - on 30 Jan 2013
In reply to TobyA: ahhh THAT infamous photo, captioned by a certain guidebook or article proudly exclaiming:

"Ice on the cobbler? You better believe it!"

whereas in reality the route is as black as coal with less than little snow or rime, let alone ice!!! those boys got away with murder back then eh?!
TobyA on 30 Jan 2013
In reply to Erik B: Yeah, I thought that these days that pic would get a good "conditions rant" rant on UKC. I did notice though that caption says "thin" conditions. A bit of editorialising from Prentice or whoever was the Climber and Hillwalker editor at the time?

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