"Ascent of the winter" for Bullock and Robertson

14 March, 2013
Nick Bullock at the second small roof/overlap faced with the run-out above on the crux fifth pitch. © Guy Robertson

Nick Bullock's recent series of visits to Scotland over the past six weeks, reached a fitting finale with arguably a new benchmark in on-sight winter climbing. Guy Robertson writing on his blog has this to say about his and Nick's first ascent of Nevermore (X,10): "Strictly speaking, I can’t say that Nick’s ascent of both hard pitches on Nevermore was the first on-sight of a new grade X winter route, but I can say that in my view it was probably about as close as anyone’s got to it."

Simon Richardson reports on Scottishwinter.com: "For me, in a season that stands out for its superlatives, Nevermore is the ascent of the winter. Not only is it technically difficult, bold and committing, but it opens the door to the chilling prospect of on-sight Scottish winter Grade X." The five pitches of Nevermore (X,10) on Lochnagar's Tough-Brown Face are based on the the E2 summer line of the same name.

To understand of how close it is to being a pure on-sight you have to know the history behind the eventual successful ascent. Pete Benson, Pete Macpherson and Guy Roberston were the original team and driving force behind trying Nevermore. Last winter it took Pete Benson two visits to get up the extremely difficult second pitch (IX,10) cleanly. Reaching the stance below the fifth pitch they had to retreat owing to a rapid thaw.

On March 11th this year Pete Benson and Guy Roberston invited Nick Bullock along with them to try the project. Nick said: "Pete ran out of steam this time round on the second pitch and lowered-off so I led it with half the gear in place but without any falls. We had a half-hearted probe at the fifth pitch but running out of daylight and chilled to the bone as it was the coldest March day for 25 years, we backed-off."

Guy Robertson following pitch five with the obvious small ledge he has to gain above and left of him. © Nick Bullock

Fast forward to the 8th April and this time it’s just Nick and Guy giving Nevermore another big effort. Nick does the second pitch clean again but this time placing all the gear and Guy has the first go at the fifth pitch. Managing to turn the roof just above the belay Guy takes quite a big fall and loses an axe in the process. Guy writes: "I felt sure the climbing was within my physical capabilities, but the risk? I wasn’t sure. This was new ground in every sense."

Nick takes over the lead. He describes it as: "A stein pull with feet on smears to get round the roof let me reach a layback for one tool and a tiny tuft of frozen moss for the other . Teetering up thin ice leads to an overlap and a bit of gear. Above here the climbing got really technical and bold, having to use one of those typical Tough-Brown cracks that aren't really a crack and needing to rely on bits of moss in it. The moves to get established on a small ledge out left seemed the hardest. Once stood up you thankfully get some gear and join Trail of Tears."

Nick added: "If I'd fallen off the crux moves I'd have gone for miles. I didn't dare think about the prospect of breaking bones at best. But routes like this with the uncertainty and adventure are worth so much to me."

To get a full perspective on this ascent it's recommended you also read Guy's well-written personal account (Back to the Future) and Simon Richardson's report.