Dave MacLeod and Iain Small Establish Hard New Winter Route on Ben Nevis

250 years after its first ascent, climbers are still finding new routes up the famous Scottish peak.
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From Scottish Gaelic to modern English, “Ben Nevis” translates to “Venomous Mountain.” It is the highest and among the sheerest peaks in the British Isles, and has long beckoned Scottish mountaineers since its first ascent in 1771. In its 250 year climbing history, Ben Nevis has become one of the most popular alpine destinations in the UK, but even today climbers are still finding first ascents on the mountain.

Last week, Scottish climbers Dave MacLeod and Ian Small established Nevermore, a three-pitch direct line up the Number Five Gulley Buttress. It is a mixed route that works up a steep corner over several bulges and a large overhang.

“We knew about this big corner line from scoping out summer routes and it hadn't been done summer or winter,” MacLeod wrote on Instagram.

It is surprising that Nevermore is only now seeing an ascent—in winter or summer—as it lies on one of the more well-trafficked parts of the mountain, with adjacent routes on either side. Evidently, the line lacked a suitor with the vision or the gumption to try it until MacLeod and Small came along.

“I led pitch-one, which had a good full body thrutch to get past the jammed boulder, then a nice tin-opener flake above, which I would have enjoyed more if I hadn't used up all the right size hexes already,” MacLeod wrote. “Iain's pitch was superb with burly yarding in the overhanging section of the corner and then another couple of hard bulges above. We even got to finish in the light, which doesn't happen so often on a new Nevis route in December.”

The duo graded the route VIII, 8. For those unfamiliar, a quick lesson in Scottish winter climbing grades: The Roman Numeral signifies the overall difficulty of the route, factoring in commitment. This grade is on a scale of I-IX, with VIII being among the most difficult winter routes. The second grade, the Arabic number, refers to the technical difficulty of the hardest section of the route, on a scale from 4-9. Scottish mixed and ice grades are roughly a full number above the WI grading system, meaning an 8 in Scotland roughly translates to WI7. Nevermore, a route graded VIII, 8, is toward the upper end of difficulty when it comes to winter routes in Scotland.

Ben Nevis in Scotland. The Number Five Gulley Buttress can be seen on the right side of the photo.

Ben Nevis in Scotland. The Number Five Gulley Buttress can be seen on the right side of the photo.

"We named the route Nevermore (VIII,8) from the Edgar Allen Poe poem—The Raven," Small told ScottishWinter.com. "One of that genus did over our sacs as we looked down from the route. It managed to unzip both lid pocket zips and eat my pieces then throw the rest of the contents over the surrounding area. Luckily my car keys were clipped onto a tab. Later we heard Murdo and Blair had the same treatment up by Number Three Gully Buttress. So next time I will be forewarned, although I’m not sure what the solution will be to deter such wily corvids!”