Home NEWS Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell Conquer Challenging Winter Climbs in Scotland

Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell Conquer Challenging Winter Climbs in Scotland

by thesummiters.com
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Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell have a real passion for taking on climbing challenges that push their technical skills to the limit. The tougher the route, the more they’re drawn to it.

Originally, their plan was to embark on an ice climbing adventure in Senja, Norway. Unfortunately, an unfavorable weather forecast and the limited daylight available forced them to scrap that plan.

Jeff Mercier climbing. Photo: Greg Boswell
Jeff Mercier climbing. Photo: Greg Boswell

Faced with a 48-hour window to find an alternative destination in Europe, they weighed their options. However, when it came to optimizing their time, seeking optimal conditions, and the prospect of tackling some of the world’s most outstanding mixed routes (admittedly, Greg might be a bit biased), they concluded that there was only one realistic and enticing destination—Scotland.

Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell’s Adventure, starting with Black Spout Wall

In the first three days of their expedition, Mercier and Boswell took on a series of challenging climbs, and their initial conquest was none other than the second winter ascent of Black Spout Wall in Lochnagar. This particular climb had earned its stripes with the first winter ascent achieved by Guy Robertson and Nick Bullock in February 2012, who gave it a demanding grade of IX 9.

Now, let’s paint a picture of Black Spout Wall—it’s a colossal 170-meter-high structure that looms above the noticeable gully of The Black Spout, standing as the steepest feature on the mountain. Its climbing history traces back to the summer of 1976 when Dougie Dinwoodie and Bob Smith made the first ascent, grading it as E3 5c. This ascent marked it as one of the most coveted rock climbs in the Cairngorms. The Alpine Journal UK, in 2013, shed light on its prominence, noting that it had been a clear winter target for many climbers. Despite several attempts by various teams, the steep, wide, rounded crack of the first pitch had proved to be a formidable challenge.

Jeff Mercier in action. Photo: Greg Boswell
Jeff Mercier in action. Photo: Greg Boswell

Boswell and Mercier faced a real challenge on the fourth pitch, famously known as the inhospitable crack pitch.

Boswell vividly described it as a wide crack with no solid points to grip at the back. His axe’s head was barely catching on the sidewalls, and there was nothing to prevent it from slipping if things went south.

By the time they reached this point, Boswell’s arms were already feeling the strain from the strenuous pitches below. Determined, he had to summon all his strength to make progress. It was only when he finally discovered the turfy ledges that they knew the toughest part of the route was behind them.

Following their successful completion of the second winter ascent of this consistently demanding route, Boswell decided to up the ante by upgrading its difficulty to IX 10.

On the second day of their adventure, Mercier and Boswell decided to leave their mark by adding a new two-pitch finish to Manticore (also located in Lochnagar), earning it a grade of VIII 8.

Day three brought about more challenges as they conquered two additional routes in the same area: The Migrant Direct and Savage Slit, graded VII 8 and V 6, respectively. Each day presented its unique set of obstacles, making their Scottish winter climbing expedition a truly remarkable feat.

Enter Hamish Frost into the mix

The team welcomed Hamish Frost on January 16, and together they ventured northwest to Cul Mor, a place that Hamish described as one of the most mind-blowing winter climbing spots.

According to Boswell, Cul Mor’s colossal steepness and the vast uncharted terrain made it an incredibly enticing challenge. However, he added a word of caution, noting that appearances can be deceiving. If a section looks easy, be prepared for it to be tough, and if it seems tricky, well, you better be wearing your “brown pants.”

Their climb up this unexplored territory began with a new and technically demanding winter route. Boswell recounted the arduous journey, battling through three tough and bold pitches. Buffeted by biting winds and spindrift, they persevered until they finally stood victorious at the last pitch.

The start of pitch four on Black Spout Wall. Photo: Greg Boswell
The start of pitch four on Black Spout Wall. Photo: Greg Boswell

Boswell shared the moment when, with high spirits, they gazed up at the final pitch. It presented a formidable sight with three overhanging roofs. Despite the challenge it posed, there was a glimmer of hope—it seemed like this section could be somewhat manageable, and, importantly, there appeared to be good protection available.

A tense moment unfolded as Frost led the way

As Frost took charge, they moved upwards, but encountered a slowdown in progress. Recognizing that the upcoming section wasn’t suitable for him, Frost wisely decided to step back, passing the ropes to Boswell. However, during Frost’s descent, an axe slipped, leading to a sudden fall.

Boswell vividly recounted the heart-stopping sight of his friend, Hamish Frost, flipping upside down and plummeting over 15 meters. The queasy feeling in Boswell’s stomach intensified as he witnessed Frost tearing through gear during the fall. Adding to the anxiety, Boswell feared that the rope might be slipping through the belay device, given Frost’s seemingly endless descent.

Fortunately, Frost managed to come to a halt just below the belay point. After taking a moment to collect themselves and evaluate the situation, Mercier and Boswell successfully maneuvered Frost back up to the belay ledge.

Despite being aware of his injured ankle, Frost, showcasing his resilience, promptly declared, “One of you needs to finish the route,” as Boswell recalled.

A photo from the first three days of the expedition. Photo: Greg Boswell
A photo from the first three days of the expedition. Photo: Greg Boswell

In the end, they persevered and completed the climb, christening it “Flyby” in a nod to Hamish’s audacious and Top Gun-style inverted pass of Jeff and Boswell at the last belay point.

Mercier and Boswell were on a roll, venturing into yet another uncharted climb

The following day, the dynamic duo took on Cul Mor, marking their conquest with the first ascent of Overwatch and earning it a formidable grade of XI 11.

Boswell recounted that the crux pitch of this route presented the toughest winter onsight challenge he had ever encountered. The mix of technical climbing style and the need for daring route finding, all compounded by the uncertainty of not knowing where to go and if there was any protection ahead, made it a true test of his skills. Boswell emphasized that he drew upon everything he had learned in his impressive 20-year winter climbing career to navigate the climb successfully. Tackling new and challenging terrain is not only physically demanding but also mentally taxing when you’re unsure of its feasibility. Now, with Overwatch, they have not only conquered a difficult climb but have proven that it’s indeed possible.

After two exhilarating days on Cul Mor, they made their way back to their van, trudging through fresh, waist-deep snow. Feeling the need for a bit of a breather, they decided to opt for a slightly easier day in the Northern Corries for their next adventure.

Read Also: New Route for Sieberer and Waldner on Schrammacher’s North Face

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