Cold climbs: Going local

For every weatherman issuing dire warnings about bad weather and severe conditions in the past few weeks there’s been a winter climber grinning his head off.

The last month of cold weather has created ice routes in Scotland not seen for decades. This is the sort of winter I dream of – in fact I’d settle for a lot less. And it’s only mid-January.

The prolonged cold has also brought winter mountaineering and climbing to areas you’d never expect it. So I’ve been able to enjoy the simple pleasure of heading straight out my door after dinner with an ice axe and a hot drink to go wondering over the Campsie Fells for a moonlit -10C stroll.

And tucked away in a deep corrie on the northern edge of the fells, there were two rarely-climbed ice routes fattening up.

The Corrie of Balglass, near Fintry, probably contains two of the best winter routes on the Campsies. They were first climbed in 1979 and, in all likelihood, haven’t been done more than a handful of times since then.

I have a lot of winter climbing within a day trip from home. I can get to Ben Udlaidh, Beinn an Dothaidh or Glen Coe – all premier winter venues – in 90 minutes.

But it was incredibly satisfying to find this local, semi-secret venue, 20 minutes drive from the front door, and get on something that has been climbed so rarely in the past 30 years – and may not get done for another 30.

There’s no guidebook and no information on the web. No crowds or footprints to follow. Just a tip-off from a climber who explored this corrie back in the 70s.

It was liberating just to get out and find a nice line. It might have been a wasted hour’s walk through deep snow, but instead we were grinning like idiots at the top. And we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

We found two routes in the corrie – a shy grade III gully, that looked like it could have been a steep, chossy snow plod, but actually yielded three nice ice pitches.

And the prize – a grade V climb, mainly on water ice, which looked so good we both booked a day off later in the week to go back and climb it.

The main picture shows Rob on the top pitch of the route we later learnt was called Moonlight Completion.

We caught it the day before the thaw. It might not form again till 2040.

See also: Canon G11 · Rock & Ice · Scotland