Calum Muskett and Dave MacLeod have made the second and third ascents of Greg Boswell's Cairngorm route, Banana Wall (XII)
The route, previously unrepeated since Boswell's first ascent in 2015, was just the second to be graded XII 12, after MacLeod's 2010 route Anubis (XII).
Both Muskett and MacLeod led the crux pitch, with Macleod then proceeding to lead up the easier second pitch and Muskett following on second. The pair made multiple visits to the crag earlier in the season, but ultimately left empty handed due to confusion about the line of the route, poor protection, and the steep and sustained nature of the climbing.
Taking to instagram to share the news of the two ascents, Muskett said:
'It's an impressive route and an improbable line, up the deceptively steep cracked wall right of 'Fallout Corner (Winter) (VI 7)'. It's a tricky wall to get in good condition; ideally you want the crag to be well frozen and rimed up, but with dry enough cracks to allow you to place cams for protetction'.
'On the first day we tried the route, the crag was heavily iced up and we got shut down by a lack of protection & not realising we were trying to go direct where the route takes a dog-leg. Before the next visit we found a picture of Greg climbing which showed us which way to go on the initial section. Dave then made a second visit in very challenging conditions whilst I was in Wales and impressively made it to the headwall placing terriers and pecker hooks for protection in the icy conditions'.
'I made a second trip up to try the route over the last couple of days. The first day was incredibly cold and icy with us both turning to human icicles as we climbed. It was the kind of day it would have been easy to turn around and go home, but Dave put an excellent battle in to make it up the pitch with a few rests. This made it a lot easier for me to go up with prior knowledge and protection from Dave's attempt. The climbing was really tenuous in places and very pumpy. We both left at the end of the day feeling like an ascent would be a tall order the following day with tired arms & bodies'.
'The following morning we had blue skies and low winds. I went first as I suspected I would be falling off and seconding Dave. I surprised myself by making it up to the headwall pretty quickly, but had to really dig deep towards the top! Dave then led the route smoothly and we finished off up the much easier 2nd pitch after I huffed & puffed seconding!'
'As for the grade, we both thought grade 12 seemed to be fair, with climbing in the realms of M10. An onsight ascent of this would be very impressive due to the difficulty finding hooks and placing gear on lead. Top work by Greg on the FA!'
Having recently dedicated an extended period to projecting hard boulders, MacLeod found himself struggling with endurance required for Banana Wall. He took to instagram to document how he overcame these challenges in order to climb Boswell's route:
'The route is very steep and pumpy and I was reluctant to get fully committed without protection and icy cracks prevented me from using the double set of cams I had hanging from my harness! I might have been able to work around this with good endurance fitness. But I didn't really have this either, having just spent the last couple of months trying to link more than one move on my boulder project'.
'So, those were the problems. The solutions were to 1. Carefully go a bit higher on the climb, finding the odd pecker runner here and there. 2. Do a week stint of 3x20mins circuits on the tools on my board 3. Keep coming back until we got better conditions. All that worked. Calum also did the same, minus the training, but substituted this with just going for it. Yesterday we turned up to find a nice day with no wind. Calum went first and made it to the belay. He lowered down and, psyched by his performance, I led it too and then we continued to the top'.
'I was very impressed with this route by Greg Boswell from 2015. Hard Scottish winter routes can sometimes be overhanging, sometimes with very thin hooks that take a lot of care and are often difficult to protect. But rarely are they all three at the same time. This combination is what gives Banana Wall its big grade. It's one thing hanging about on an overhanging wall on reliable hooks, or with bolts. Quite another to be scraping about trying to find very thin hooks above questionable gear in icy cracks'.
We reached out to Muskett to ask for further information about the style of the ascent, and he responded with this:
'Both of us had the gear in from our previous attempts, so it was more like an M10 for the actual ascent. We went ground up on the route initially, but due to icy conditions, ended up dogging up the pitch on our second visit so we could actually get peckers/terriers in for pro as the cracks were too icy for anything else, with Dave doing the hard shift of going first'.
'The route still hasn't had a clean lead placing all the kit on lead, although it sounded like Greg got fairly close when he did the FA falling near the top, then led it next go with the kit in place. Greg did abseil inspect the upper part of the route before making the FA, placing gear to hold him in on the abseil down, so I guess our ascent is a slight progression from that style (obvs easier for 2nd ascent though!), and the next logical step would be a cleaner ground up style'.
'I think in drier rimed conditions (when you can place cams) I could place gear on lead on my next attempt, but obviously a lot different knowing where the hooks and kit are, and to be honest, it would just feel like doing it for an improvement in style for a news report rather than being personally more rewarding or challenging'.
Muskett and MacLeod's ascents mark the continuation of an incredible winter season, which has already seen multiple new routes at X 10 and above, including Boswell's newest route, and Scotland's hardest, Bring Da Ruckus (XII 13). Check out our write up of the ascent by clicking the link below.
In the report it isn't clear, (to me anyway) whether Calum climbed the second ascent placing all gear on lead, or if it had been left in from the day before, or even from previous attempts and lowers.
Also, after Calum's ascent, did he lower down/abseil and clean the pitch before Dave led it, or did Dave climb it with the gear in place?
It's quite an important fact to omit from the report, because placing the gear on lead makes a massive difference to the difficulty of a route of this steepness- hanging in to place it, and also, carrying it.
It's also a very significant route, so it's good to know and report exactly the style it was climbed.
I agree that it would be interesting to know. In fact, I'd much prefer all reports of FAs or significant repeats to explain the style, including for trad, sport, bouldering and Scottish winter. Ideally that'd include when people are posting to Instagram, but especially so when ascents are being reported by climbing media or added to guidebooks. Otherwise it feels like half the story.
Looks like it was climbed in summer style to me...
You're right that it wasn't 100% clear, we reached out to Calum for clarification and he got back to us with this:
Both of us had the gear in from our previous attempts, so it was more like an M10 for the actual ascent. We went ground up on the route initially, but due to icy conditions, ended up dogging up the pitch on our second visit so we could actually get peckers/terriers in for pro as the cracks were too icy for anything else, with Dave doing the hard shift of going first.
The route still hasn't had a clean lead placing all the kit on lead, although it sounded like Greg got fairly close when he did the FA falling near the top, then led it next go with the kit in place. Greg did abseil inspect the upper part of the route before making the FA, placing gear to hold him in on the abseil down, so I guess our ascent is a slight progression from that style (obvs easier for 2nd ascent though!), and the next logical step would be a cleaner ground up style.
I think in drier rimed conditions (when you can place cams) I could place gear on lead on my next attempt, but obviously a lot different knowing where the hooks and kit are, and to be honest, it would just feel like doing it for an improvement in style for a news report rather than being personally more rewarding or challenging.
I'll edit the original article to include this quote too.
That's really helpful clarification. From the photo of Callum lowering off into the void after his ascent, I'd assumed that he'd placed the gear on lead given that it looked like he had leftover gear hanging from his harness.
If we care about at all about grades, we should care equally about style of ascent.
So it raises the the question, who has led XII ground-up placing gear rather than as M-style (R)? I think Dani Arnold was the first with his repeat of Anubis. In his UKC interview, he speaks of stripping the gear after a fall on an unsuccessful attempt (I think his 3rd redpoint go, before succeeding on his fourth try). I'm fairly sure Greg did too when he repeated Anubis (based solely on the huge rack on his harness in Hamish Frost's photo, labelled 3rd ascent). [From the photos, I also think Dave had the gear pre-placed from his ground-breaking FA way back in 2010.]
In Dani's same interview he mentions very nearly on-sighting The Hurting (XI). I don't think anyone has claimed that accolade yet.