Making the most of Scotland's prime winter conditions at the moment, a strong trio comprising Matt Helliker, Nick Bullock and Pete Whittaker have established a new VII/8 on Bidean nam Bian's Church Door Buttress, Glen Coe.
Although two members of the team might sound familiar in their status as winter climbing 'wads', Pete Whittaker is better known for his offwidth talent than his axe-wielding skills. Recently, though, Matt Helliker has given him a crash course in Scottish Winter climbing, with Pete seconding some technical pitches to build up his experience. In his blog, Matt writes about Pete's initiation:
'Pete was on day 3 of his winter climbing career. I'd previously climbed with him a few weeks before on the classic "Central Grooves" in Stob Coire nan Lochain and "Strident Edge" on the Ben. I knew I had my work cut out when he asked for a postcode for his satnav to a small remote parking spot where we would meet the following morning. A POSTCODE!!!! Then after watching him spend 10 minutes to work out how to put an axe onto a pack, alarm bells started ringing, but I was impressed with his attitude and "can do" personality.'
Having made the second ascent of "Church Door Angels" VIII/9, a Donald King route from 2014, the team spotted a possibly unclimbed line up the right hand pillar on the Arch. They predicted a three pitch line in total, two pitches to the top of the Arch and a pitch above on entriely new ground to the top of the buttress. The following day, Pete was on the sharp end first. Matt writes:
'Pete fancied the look of the opening pitch for his first "proper" winter lead. No surprise a wide crack to a step left around a bulge to the belay, with a mix of hand jams, finger and ring locks and with the odd axe torque thrown in, he did a top job to get us established beneath the 2nd pitch.'
In a Facebook 'blog', Pete wrote:
'I felt like such a punter new routing in a team with Matt and Nick (two of the best winter climbers around), but I was keen to put in my pennies worth on this route and do a proper pitch of leading. They recommended the starting pitch for me as it followed a hand width crack.Perfect.
Halfway up the pitch, desperation set in, axes went firmly over the shoulder and I resorted to jamming my gloved mitts inside the crack. As I sunk my hand into three or four consecutive hand and fist jams, I prayed Nick and Matt hadn't noticed me cheating and revelled in the fact that the cold and icy jams felt pleasurable compared to hanging onto the handle of my torqued axe. Well it's called mixed climbing for a reason right?'
Matt's lead followed a leftward-trending crack before a move right to join the bottom of a main splitter crack leading down the wall from a bay above. Thin feet with one big rockover whilst leaning out hard on the axes became the crux, before sustained moves above to frozen turf and a belay in the back of a corner.
The final pitch featured steep, bulging corners, for which Nick had drawn the short straw. Matt was inspired by his gutsy lead: 'He made short work of the bulging corners above in his typical 'drag the axe until it stops on something, no matter how sh*t, then pull and commit' style. Climbing with Nick always makes me smile, apart from being out with one of my best mates, I always get inspired by his confidence on unpredictable placements with wiggy gear.'
Summing up Pete's skills as a budding winter beast, Matt writes:
'Being such a talented climber as he is gives him a good head start, but adapting to winter isn't easy. It's not just about how many lock offs you can do, it's about learning to take care of your body in a challenging environment to be able to continue in bad weather, to suffer and push on when you're freezing your arse off and when abseiling would be an easy way out.'
'Pete still insisted on shouldering his axes and hand jamming wherever it was possible. He's such a Wideboy!'
Pete ends his Facebook blog with 'I'm ready to suffer now.' Watch this space...