How to climb Scottish Grade 5 this winter

Posted by Becky McGovern on 11/11/2013

Are you looking to climb Scottish grade 5 this winter? James Thacker, British Mountain Guide, offers some tips.

James has been climbing in Scotland in winter since the mid-nineties: He started as a student, progressed to a weekend warrior and now workds full time as an IFMGA Mountain Guide. James most enjoys the challenge of a long day out, preferably somewhere slightly off the beaten track.

When did you lead your first Scottish winter grade 5?
Not quite sure which was my first, but certainly The Curtain at IV,5 was my most memorable early lead in 1997. Shortly after this I climbed Point Five with Tom Spreyer.

Were you nervous?

Yes. On both occasions these routes felt bigger than anything I had done before in winter and a definite step up from lots of IV's that I had done.

Did you do any special training to prepare?

Like many people I had a traditional climbing apprenticeship and had climbed lots of III's and IV's before taking it up a notch. I had also been on two or three cascade ice climbing trips to Argentiere le besse and La Grave and was used to steeper ice.

What about mental prep?

It was nice to have something in the tank, but the psychological pressures of Scottish ice always prayed on the mind a little as the routes are generally not quite as well protected (e.g. not taking screws quite so easily).

Did all grade 5s that you lead afterwards feel easier than that first one?

Some were easier some harder! Like any grading system there are some stoppers in there… Routes like 'Winter Chimney' on Ben Nevis are short but pack a fair punch.

What advice would you give climbers out there wanting to lead Scottish grade 5 this winter?

Work up the grades and make sure that you have a good collection of IV's under your belt first. Grades vary depending on whether you are after  a classic ice line of mixed/buttress route. Know your preferred style and try and pick routes to match. Finally, make sure that you DIG for good gear and never climb past a good belay.

WATCH: Winter skills 3.5: climbing technique on grade I-II climbs

WATCH: Winter skills 4.2: bringing up a climbing partner

WATCH: Winter skills 4.5: transitions between technical and easy climbing


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