A climber on a chimney in the Cairngorms. Photo: Simon Richardson

A climber on a chimney in the Cairngorms. Photo: Simon Richardson

Organisers of a revived major international climbing festival in Scotland have been cheered by recent improvements in conditions.

Streap Alba Geamhradh 2020, the International Scottish Winter Climbing Meet, will take place at several mountain venues over a week-long period.

Mountaineers behind the event said a relatively warm December and January over Scotland’s high ground had meant the festival starting this weekend was facing poor conditions in gullies and crags normally cloaked in the snow and ice that makes them an international draw in winter for the world’s mountaineers.

But conditions are now improving.

Simon Richardson, one of Scotland’s top winter climbers, who is on the organising committee for the festival, said: “Participants of the international winter meet have been anxiously watching the Scottish weather for several weeks now.

“After the warm December and January the prospects for winter climbing looked bleak.

“Fortunately, the February conveyor belt of westerly storms has changed all that. There is plenty of snow across the Highlands, and ice is building rapidly. Ben Nevis, and the mountains of Glen Coe are ice-making machines that love frequent blizzards and rapid temperature fluctuations.

“The soft aerated Scottish ice occurs in very few parts of the world and is a delight to climb, and ice climbs in Scotland are highly sought after by International climbers.

“This weather trend looks set to continue through the week of the meet, and winter climbers from both the UK and overseas are looking forward to some superb ice climbing conditions.”

Streap Alba Geamhradh 2020, the International Scottish Winter Climbing Meet, runs from 22 to 29 February, and will see international guests team up with UK climbers to climb classic routes, technical test-pieces and possibly brand new first ascents, getting a taste of the unique delights of winter climbing in Scotland.

Nearly 30 guests from 22 different countries will be attending the week-long event, including veterans of Everest and the greater ranges, as well as leading alpinists. All abilities are represented, with climbers from Israel and South Africa, who have little opportunity to climb snow and ice in their own countries, through to regular winter climbers from Europe, Scandinavia and North America.

Host climbers from the UK have been selected to match the abilities of the international guests. These include Paul Ramsden, one of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers and three times winner of the Piolets d’Or – mountaineering’s highest award.

The meeting is being run by Mountaineering Scotland in partnership with the Alpine Club, the Scottish Mountaineering Club and the British Mountaineering Council, and is sponsored by gear brand Salewa.

A mountaineer on Braeriach. Photo: Simon Richardson

A mountaineer on Braeriach. Photo: Simon Richardson

Stuart Younie, chief executive of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “The delivery of the 2020 winter meet has been very much a partnership approach and it’s fantastic to welcome Salewa on board. With their brand reputation and heritage, it’s a great fit for the event and we are very grateful for the support they are providing.”

The winter meet was started in 1997 and ran for 20 years. The last meet was held by the British Mountaineering Council in 2016, but this year’s revival, led by Mountaineering Scotland, recognises the key role that the meet has played on the world mountaineering stage, bringing climbers together to share ideas and form new plans.

Partnerships formed on the meets have resulted in dozens of important new routes across the world such as Light Traveller on Denali, The Diamond Ridge on the Grandes Jorasses, and the North Face of Latok 1.

During the week climbers will stay in some of Scotland’s most famous winter climbing arenas, including the Cairngorms, Lochaber and Glen Coe, being accommodated in mountaineering huts such as the CIC Hut beneath the crags on the north face of Ben Nevis.

John Fowler, president of the SMC, which owns three of the huts accommodating climbers, said: “The Scottish Mountaineering Club is delighted to contribute to this international event and welcomes the opportunity to showcase the impressive nature of Scottish winter climbing to some of the best mountaineers from home and abroad.”

Alpine Club president Vic Saunders said: “The Alpine Club is proud to be part of the Scottish international meet and we are delighted that 12 of our members will be there to host the international guests. Bringing climbers together to try new routes and make new partnerships is a key aim of the club.”

Salewa’s UK sales and business development manager Mark McCarthy said: “Salewa is delighted to be supporting the 2020 International Winter Mountaineering Meet as a grassroots event targeting the core mountaineer, and to allow some of the participants to experience, first-hand, our technical mountaineering product.

“As a technical alpine mountaineering brand, with a long and rich history rooted in the Dolomites, we are proud to have this opportunity to see our products tested to the limits in an environment they were designed for.”

The week will close with a social evening in Tiso Aviemore Outdoor Experience, where members of the climbing public will be able to meet and chat with the participants. There will be a talk by leading climber Guy Robertson and a chance to hear about the week’s climbing.

Tickets for this event are available to members of the public online.

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