Taken from Guy Robertson's blog. See the original at http://cairngormtiger.wordpress.com/author/bigstonecountry/
After my last post the weather and conditions took a turn for the worse, though it could have been so different. As is so often the case in a typically fickle Scottish winter (especially for those of us with a preference for steep mixed) a spell of cold, calm weather was unfortunately immediately preceded by an uber-thaw. And so despite a trip to the highest crags in Britain it’s been nothing but classic ice for the past two weeks. Well, until yesterday that was.
In my last post I wrote about a lovely little new route on The Cathedral on Lochnagar. My first trip to this admittedly minor, but intriguing, reliable and quite rewarding crag. On that occasion the most obvious proud feature of the place – a 60m high ’mummy’ shaped tower, taken by a summer E2 – had really caught my eye. A fellow Aberdonian, Neil Morrison, had mentioned this as a possible winter target, but it was really the feature (and the line) that caught my eye / imagination. So yesterday myself and The Beast went for a look.
Pete Macpherson a.k.a The Beast moves precariously up to the start of a sustained and bold thin section up the right-trending ramp
We’d cycled into the bothy, intending to keep going to the Black Lake, but the lack of snow and strikingly dry air forced a quick change of plan – Lochnagar instead, and some gauranteed climbing at least. Having failed to climb anything hard on our previous outing the week before, we were pretty psyched to say the least. Despite a slow approach – The Beast trashing one of the pedals on his Coop own-brand borrowed bike just two minutes from the car - followed by a late start (overdoing it on the sleeping pills?) we plugged up the gorge behind the bothy and found the top of the crag about 10am. The routes here are only 2-3 pitches, so no hurry, which makes a pleasant change. After soloing a pitch of grade III or so ground we got ensconsed at the starts of the difficulties.
Pete drew the short straw and was soon absorbed in some rather intricate, wobbly and quite pokey climbing try to mantel into the right-trending ramp, which led past a token pecker and shaky peg to a committing mantel onto a little pedestal at its top. We didn’t have a guidebook or a description, preferring to follow ‘the winter line’, and at this point all the options looked quite bleak to say the least. The rock became steep enough to require at least reasonable hooks or torques, but up until this point neither had been found, each move instead relying on minimal adhesion, good balance and a healthy dose of faith. Furthermore anything overhanging was unsportingly black, unlike the grooves and ramps we had been climbing. So not surprisingly the inner Beast took over and Pete dropped onto some reasonable hooks and made a few wild strenuous swings across right to belay. The start of the long, left-trending groove across the overhaning upper part of the tower was visible a few steep moves up and left – so far so good. I seconded the pitch thanking the Good Lord I’d not been leading – after so much steep and pumpy but positive climbing in recent years, this was an abrupt throw back into the old school!
Pete starting up the easier upper part of the second hard pitch, having climbed the left-trending groove and moved left round the exposed arete
My pitch turned out to be nothing short of a dream – a wee vertical wall with some decent turf and good gear gained the groove proper, which was one of the best pitches I’ve climbed on Lochnagar; starting easy, then gradually steepening and the footholds thinning out, until some really funky stein pulls, controlled smears and long reaches gained a wild position right on the tower’s left arete. And all with perfect overhead protection All that remained was a romp up the well-protected grade 6 wall, in a beautiful position, to the ridge below the final wall. This Pete duly sent via a little constricting groove on the right just as the sun put on his night Cap. We settled at VIII,8 in winter conditions – although short the route is very sustained, with quite a runout crux section up the right-trending ramp; as bold but harder than Nocando Crack in the northern corries, for example.
So that’s two trips to The Cathedral and two very fine new route. I’ll need to go there more often in future!