Simon Richardson (currently working on Scottish Winter Climbs East)
Last season was a difficult one with an almost continuous run of storms from December to January. But a brief ridge of high pressure extended across the north and east of Scotland on Sunday January 9 which resulted in a wonderful winter day on the Cairngorms, with the hills frozen and white with fresh snow.
Forrest Templeton and I decided to visit The Stuic on the north-west flank of Lochnagar. This delightful cliff has only been developed relatively recently and is slowly becoming recognised for the quality of its turfy mixed climbing with a wonderful panoramic view across to the Central Cairngorms.
Three other teams also had the same idea, and it was a very sociable day with ascents of The Stooee Chimney, First Light and Daybreak Corners. Always keen to look around a new corner, Forrest and I took a line up the centre of the steep recess between Bonanza and Twilight Groove. True Grit (V,7) features a strenuous second pitch up an overhanging niche and groove that was superbly led by Forrest.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season ahead, winter climbing in the Cairngorms typically follows a similar pattern each year. The Northern Corries provide good early season sport with the likes of The Message and Savage Slit being popular favourites, but invariably I’m attracted to the more remote corries on Braeriach or Beinn a’Bhuird. They still have many features to explore, with the bonus of nobody else around and guaranteed adventure.
A sign of a good winter is when the routes in the Loch Avon Basin come into good condition. Although I’ve climbed a couple of the magnificent winter routes on the Shelter Stone, an ascent of the classic 1950s masterpiece Sticil Face has always eluded me. You never know, this February or March it may be in condition – here’s hoping!