This March, Greg Boswell gave Scotland its second-ever grade XII/12 winter route: Banana Wall in Coire an Lochain, Cairngorms. We tracked him down to find out exactly what climbing grade 12 is like.
Banana Wall follows the extremely steep, curving wall between Fallout Corner and Bavarinthia. Greg graded the mixed climbing on the route at M11, thinking it at least a grade harder than Don't Die of Ignorance and The Hurting – both XI/11. Banana Wall (XII/12) is the second grade XII in Scotland. The first fell to Dave MacLeod in February 2010, when Dave made the first winter ascent of Anubis, his own summer E8.
Greg first tried Banana Wall in 2013, but he down climbed after a short distance due to hard climbing and sparse gear. Earlier this season he tried again, once again down climbing. After thinking things over, he decided to try and get a closer look at the gear placements on abseil – which was easier said than done as the line was so steep. In early March, after a successful season, he returned. An initial attempt resulted in a huge fall; the second, in making history.
We interviewed Greg for Summit in 2012, where he said some rather intriguing comments such as “I love training and beasting myself to the limit. I’m not taking about ten seconds of dead-hanging, this is all-over savagery. I’m talking tractor tyres, weight vests and snorkels.”
Time to find out more.
Congratulations on the 12. For us mortals, can you describe what climbing a grade 12 is like?
Thanks. Yeah, it was a pretty interesting route! The climbing was very steep, with a lot of the moves and hooks being on marginal placements and thin torques. Cairngorm granite is not very positive, with rounded breaks and shallow seams, so if you tilt the routes in the overhanging direction, then the climbing gets super hard and very interesting to find and place protection!
What style did you climb it in? Was it on sight?
Well, I had two short-lived attempts from the ground, but I down climbed both times, as the climbing looked very hard and scary, and I didn't feel ready for it at the time. I then rapped the route to see if I could see any potential gear placements, but as it was too steep, I didn't get much info from the ab. So, I went for it again from the ground on another visit and came off high up the wall. I then lowered off and pulled the ropes and got the route on my second attempt.
So, this is the second grade 12 in Scotland. Any plans to check out Anubis? We’re guessing you haven’t climbed the route in summer, so it’s still waiting for a true ground up…
Yeah, for sure. I think the line of Anubis looks mega, and Dave usually picks amazing routes to do, so I'm definitely psyched to give it a try. Maybe next season now, though, as I don't think it will be in again this year. We'll see about the style of the ascent, I'm not ready to get hurt over a route.
How do you see Scottish winter progressing – will people start headpointing again as people reach the limits of current skills, fitness and gear, or is the adventure essential?
I'm not sure really. I suppose the progression of the sport depends on people pushing themselves in their own way, and if people want to try routes after rappel inspection or after trying the moves on a top-rope, then that’s up to them. As long as they eventually get up the route and keep pushing their own limits, them hopefully the sport will keep progressing and moving in the right direction. For me, I'm going to try and keep the adventure alive as much as possible, but when you're leading a route, and you're well above your last runner and the cracks are much icier than the day you rappelled it, and you can't see the moves you practiced due to the amount of hoarfrost, then I think it will still feel pretty damn adventurous. Winter is a different game altogether.
Guy Robertson recently said that he thinks a great winter line needs to involve ice in some way – do you agree, or will the routes just get too steep to hold ice?
Well, routes are never too steep to hold ice – it just forms in a different way on every gradient. I do think routes with ice are awesome and feel much more special, as it adds to the overall winter experience. But I don't think routes without it are inferior: it just depends on the strength of the line and the route itself.
What grade do you think you could headpoint in winter? 15?
Haha. It's the same as rock climbing, the limits are open ended! People and equipment will keep developing and progressing and I believe there is no end to the possibilities.
Have you got any plans to take your skills to the bigger mountains?
Yeah, very much so. I'm very keen to get to some more remote places and try some hard and interesting objectives in the bigger hills all over the globe.
There’s lots of information for people starting out, but what about climbers operating at V. How can they push through to the next level?
Basically, there are no shortcuts. Climb loads of the grade you feel comfortable with until you feel like no matter what route you get on at that grade, you'd be able to get up it. Then try the next grade and climb loads of them. I forced myself to climb and move up through the grades gradually. I just had the benefit of having lots of time off during winter to do this, hence why I progressed so rapidly. Don't run before you can walk, as this might result in scaring or injuring yourself and then that will set you back again!
In our Summit interview, you mentioned training with snorkels. We’re intrigued – tell us more.
Haha, I tried this a few times, it sucks and it’s hard. Basically, you work-out hard with a snorkel on and it limits the amount of oxygen you can breath, which, in turn, recruits your body to work on less oxygen and eventually metabolise better. I'm not recommending this anymore though, unless you’re a little masochistic!
What’s next on the list for Greg?
Steeper, harder and longer. Just to keep pushing myself and having fun in the mountains!