Scottish climbers Pete Macpherson and Guy Robertson have climbed yet another first ascent of a hard, bold and technical winter line in their usual and very impressive, onsight style. The new route, named One Step Beyond and graded IX,9, is found on Beinn Eighe just to the left of King of Swingers, taking on a rare and ethereal ice smear.
The pair headed in on the 29th of January, hungry for success after a number of disappointments throughout the season due to poor conditions, having spotted the line just after christmas. Pete Macpherson commented on the line of One Step Beyond:
"It is a stunning line involving extremely steep mixed climbing up to a big bulging ice smear followed by more intense and full-on mixed terrain on the upper wall. Neither Guy nor myself have ever seen such a line anywhere in Scotland. Far east wall is the place for futuristic winter lines, however getting winter conditions let alone ice formations like this is a rarity."
The weather was fairly tame on the day they set off up to Beinn Eighe and on arriving at a pretty white wall, it looked as in-condition as it was ever likely to be so the pair decided to go for it, feeling that having trained for months there was no point in losing the fitness gains. Guy took the first straightforward pitch, for Pete to take the second pitch and the beginning of the hard climbing on the route. Pete takes up the story:
"I headed up pitch 2 to below the overhanging groove in the right arête of the wall which involved a really thin technical traverse into a niche. From here it was a case of launching up the overhanging groove which felt full on pumpy tech 9 before making committing moves out left onto the ice and basically no return, hence 'One Step Beyond'.
Fairly pumped, totally committed and teetering in an icy niche with one good tool in the ice I eventually knocked a small knife blade peg half into a horizontal slot which was fairly laughable, not that I found the funny side.
I stood above this peg for about an hour and a half on basically vertical ice really scared at the thought of the huge fall potential and limited help available. Anyway I carried on, got a hook (terrible) in the ice and eventually a wee nut hammered in and continued to a welcome big hex a few metres above. More steep moves took me to a bomber hanging belay at the top of the ice."
However, the difficulties were not over after the ice pitch and Guy then had a very sustained tech 9 pitch ahead following thin cracks as Pete describes further:
"Above us was basically a blank wall with a laser thin crack system above leading to who knows where. Anyway Guy strapped it on and headed up the thin cracks before promptly dropping our small nuts! Not that that was going to stop him. What followed was power screams, massive yarding, and lock offs on miniscule and non existent foot holds, move after move ; a relentless pumpfest until he was forced to pull out right onto the arête and for the second time that day 'one step beyond' before reaching the belay ledge."
Despite the crux pitches having been climbed, the day was far from over with the solid VII,7 pitch of King of the Swingers to go and by this time, both Pete and Guy were feeling pretty physically and mentally tired from the previous pitches. With Pete even having to belay before the final corner with bad cramp in his arms, commenting on the ascent of the route he said:
"The ultimate onsight experience. IX, 9 at the very top of the grade."
Guy Robertson commented further on the route as a whole saying:
"Pete and I have both done quite a few first ascents on Beinn Eighe now and this is probably the hardest, and amongst the best. The combination of extremely steep hooking, followed by thin poorly protected vertical ice, a hanging belay and then more super-sustained and strenuous ‘laser cracks’ in the blank wall above gave a uniquely intense and absorbing climb.
I don’t think either of us has been so utterly wiped out after a winter route before. Of course it wasn’t just the hard climbing that pushed us out. Questing forth on-sight at this level, with no guarantee of finding gear, or a belay, is a cerebrally challenging business. Pete spent a long time sucking it up at the start of the ice before eventually strapping it on and finding a belay."
Guy feels that this route points the way to where winter climbing will go in the future, basically onto blanker faces, away from the crack and groove lines as in the past:
"Mixed climbing nowadays is such that territory which may be relatively difficult in summer (think high E numbers) can in fact be very well suited to winter routes, providing there are thin seams that take a pick and mono points. For us to piece together a route that combined this sort of climbing with a large ice feature was really rather special. Put it this way, if the winter ends tomorrow we won’t be disappointed!"