Murdoch Jamieson and John Orr made the first winter ascent (FWA) of The Route of All of Evil, a summer E2 on Beinn Eighe. Murdoch and John graded the route IX,8 for a winter ascent with three grade 8 pitches in a row, it's no pushover. In addition to this, Murdoch then made the 2nd ascent of Vishnu, VII,7, a couple of days later with Iain Small.
The Route of All Evil was first climbed by Nisbet and Allot in 1996. On Sunday 23rd February Murdoch Jamieson, an outdoor instructor at a climbing wall in Inverness, and John Orr, a freelance instructor at Plas y Brenin headed in to Beinn Eighe for a 'chilled day'. During the approach to the crag, John asked Murdoch what the 'big obvious corner system' was so the pair abandoned their original plan and had a go at The Route of All Evil.
UKClimbing contacted Murdoch and John to find out more about their ascent:
Firstly, how has the winter season been for you both? To begin with it seemed pretty frustrating but it looks to have shaped up into a fairly decent season, you both been getting out a lot?
Murdoch: Aye, it was a bit slow to start with. I can’t be bothered with really crap weather (hence why I’m not a WML or MIC!!) so was only getting out on the odd day. There were a few days where I took the rack for a walk and all that. However I did get some really good routes done before they all became buried. Over the last few weeks, I’m not sure things have actually improved; I’ve just been off when there has been a weather window and as a result, I’ve managed to get out 2 or 3 times a week.
John: This winter seems to have been characterised by snow, wind, snow, wind, rain, wind and so on. I've been on the hill with work quite a bit so days off have been limited but there have been good days, its just they have been seemingly few and far between. It's been frustrating and tiring but then that sums up Scottish winter! As Murdo often says, you have to be ready to 'cash in' on such days!
What made you have a go at the FWA of The Route of All Evil? Was it something you had had in mind for a while or was it a more spur of the moment decision?
Murdoch: Well I have been involved with over the last few years with doing some new routes on Beinn Eighe. So for a few years, I have been aware it hadn’t been done. A few weeks ago, I went in with Iain Small for a days climbing. We did consider The Route of All Evil but settled for doing Sundance as I’ve been longing to that for years. So, I must admit, I had been angling to get back in there to have a look at ROAE. John and I had planned to have a mellow day climbing on that Sunday so I didn’t really consider it as an option. But on approach to the crag, John asked what the big obvious corner was… I informed him it was The Root of all Evil and said it hadn’t seen a winter ascent. So we walked on, had a look at the rest of the crag. Far East Wall was pretty white and we both new we had to cash in on the conditions so John said he was keen to have a go at something hard on the wall. He suggested ROAE and if I was keen to do the 2 hard pitches, then he would follow!
John: I thought we were going for a mellow day out! I should have known something was up as Murdo and mellow generally do not go together. Murdo was giving me a guided tour of what was what and I was intrigued as to what the striking corner line was and Murdo just nonchalantly replied 'oh that's Root of All Evil...hasn't had a winter ascent' We kept on walking to have a look at Kamikaze and Vishnu. I could tell Murdo wasn't that interested in Kamikaze and the ice didn't look super inspiring on Vishnu. It was pretty obvious at that stage what we were for doing!
How did the ascent go?
Murdoch: John dispatched the first pitch well which was actually quite tricky. Seems to be a common theme on all the initial pitches on that wall! I then set off up the 5b pitch which was pretty sustained straight off the belay ledge. The only decent rest on that pitch was on a small ledge before you traverse left into the main corner line. From there it was just relentless climbing. There were a few sections where there was very little for the feet. The guide talked about belaying 3m below the roof so I was expecting a half decent ledge. There was none, just a slight slopey foot hold and a few small edges.
John seconded the pitch and felt a bit overwhelmed by the steepness of the whole thing. He set up a belay just below me and I set off for the 5c roof. This looked mental and harder than I thought, but I was keen to have a look. There were only a few tiny edges for the feet but enough. The whole thing was really strenuous. Moving back right proved much trickier than I thought as there were just a few tiny hooks for the tools. Pulling round the arete to join Hydroponicum was pretty hard as well. The belay was not the most inspiring either. There was 2 old pegs linked by some tired slings. So I managed to get another peg half in, a pecker and a small stopper.
Again, John did a brilliant job seconding as he had been strapped to a hanging belay for a wee while. Having not really read the guide properly, I thought we just had the top pitch of Hydropinicum to do. I remember Andy Inglis saying it was VII 7, so I thought John could quickly nip up it. But on closer inspection at the guide what loomed above was the crux of Hydroponicum. Time was marching on, a few words were said, but I couldn't not have a look. Anyway, this went fine as it felt easier than the previous 2 pitches. I linked the top pitches to get to the top just before darkness fell. John joined me a short while later and we were both buzzing with how cool the whole thing was.
John: I took the first pitch which actually turned out to be deceivingly tricky but was happy to have done my little part! We had agreed Murdo would lead the next 2 pitches as I had no grand delusions of being able to lead steep, tricky E2 terrain in winter! Fortunately Murdo was well psyched for giving them a go and his lead of the next 3 pitches was quite incredible to watch. The belay below the 3rd pitch was a full on hanging, cutting blood off to your legs, belay and by the time it came to me climbing I could barely move. Topping out on this route in the dark was an amazing feeling!
You first graded it VIII,8 but then changed your mind and gave it IX,8. What was the reasoning behind this?
Murdoch: Well it’s something I have thought about a lot, I find grading in winter really hard. Whenever I have done a new route, it’s usually been with Martin Moran or Iain Small where they take care of the formalities and I just agree! The reason for changing the grade is because I haven’t done enough grade IX’s. After chatting with lots a folk, ROAE is harder than any of the VIII’s I’ve done on Beinn Eighe and most of the VIII’s I've done else where. With regards to the technical grade, I think its really sustained 8 but very well protected.
So a bit like summer grading, I want to propose a grade suggesting 3 hard sustained pitches of technical 8 with good kit but just pumpy. Plus the belay at the top of the 5c pitch is not the best so overall IX seemed to fit. It would be cool if it got repeats, I would be interested to know what folk thought of the moves traversing under and round the roof on the 5c pitch. I think getting it white again might be hard. I went back in to climb there 3 days later and ROAE was completely black despite other routes on the crag being white…
Was this one of the harder routes you have done, or were you within your comfort zone?
Murdoch: Its definitely one of the harder routes I’ve done physically. I felt within my comfort zone. There was never a point things got out of control. I think jumping on the God Delusion on Giants wall, that will push me out of my comfort zone. I’m psyched for it!
John: Yeah this is definitely the hardest route I've climbed. I've climbed a few other tricky routes but none have been as sustained and as physical as this one. Whereas as Murdo spends hours training in preparation for routes like this I don't! As a lot of winter climbing is really just extreme ledge shuffling (certainly most of the routes I've climbed) this works out fine however this route is steep, physical, unrelenting and rather athletic. As a result I found it pretty hard and my arms were cramping up a lot on the last pitch which just added to the fun!
Any plans for more new winter routes, or are you keeping your cards close to your chest?
Murdoch: No plans for new winter routes. I have established routes I'm psyched for. I'll just take the rest of the winter as it comes really. This winter has been going with what the conditions allow. Anyway, I fly out to Spain in 2 weeks time to kick start my rock climbing season in prep for routes in North Wales I'm gagging to try! But I dare say when I return from Spain, I will get back on the hill for a few final routes!!
John: Far from it! All I can think about at this stage of the winter is rock climbing in a t-shirt by the sea...
A few days later, Murdoch headed back to Beinn Eighe and made the 2nd ascent of Vishnu, VII,7, with Iain Small, so we asked Murdoch a few further questions:
You then headed back in and ended up making the 2nd ascent of Vishnu. What were you heading in to try?
Murdoch: ...I can't tell you ;-)
How was Vishnu? You pondering the grade makes me think it may be top-end as you seem to be on good form?
I felt slightly intimidated with the grade and knowing that a team had bailed on Sunday. Iain linked the first two pitches, and I then set off up pitch three, where with a bit of digging, I uncovered some good wires. Iain did the top pitch, which certainly felt a bit more like real climbing, and was tricky. He managed to get wires on the right before stepping left onto the ice. Overall VII,7? I don't know – that first pitch is pretty serious but not technically that hard.
Murdoch is a very active and able climber who regularly climbs hard, adventurous routes in both summer and winter in the Scottish Mountains. To follow what he gets up to you can view his flickr feed HERE
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