Boswell’s The Fear Factory – probable highlight of the Scottish winter
- Wednesday 23rd March 2022
Greg Boswell’s recent ascent of The Fear Factory (WI6R) is probably the stand-out new route of the 2021/22 Scottish winter season.
Whilst much of England ‘swelters’ in one of the longest, driest and warmest spring weather spells, the Scottish winter rumbles on with snow still falling on the high tops. Conditions on the North Face of Ben Nevis gave some amazing climbing during the first half of March and Greg Boswell, climbing with Guy Robertson and Hamish Frost. was, as usual, suitably poised and able to take full advantage and come away with yet another remarkable first ascent.
A message from Steve Holmes (@synergy_guides) interrupted Boswell during a training session on his home wall. Holmes reported a huge – and probably previously unclimbed – hanging icicle high on the Little Brenva Face on The Ben. It was a ‘call to arms’ that Boswell didn’t ignore; more importantly, said icicle was still there when Boswell, Robertson and Frost went to check it out.
Boswell revealed all the details after his ascent:
“There are two main icicles that sometimes form on this section of the Face, and they form sporadically in contrasting sizes. The right-hand one was climbed by @climbermacleod a few years ago via some mixed rock terrain to reach the ice, he called this The Snotter and gave it grade VIII,8. Yesterday I had my eyes on the big left hand unclimbed (to all our knowledge) hanging fang, and that’s exactly what we did. It was climbed 99% on ice, apart from the odd bridging out foot on rock. I gained the massive ice tooth from the icy left wall and proceeded to teeter my way up, with a 20m run-out section into the exposure ridden abyss, as I wasn’t keen to place any screws in case the whole thing detached!”
Boswell named and graded the route The Fear Factory (WI6R). The use of a Continental WI (Water Ice) grade in this instance better reflected the climbing and was, as Boswell said: “the logical way to grade such an out of the ordinary Scottish route.”
Simon Richardson, writing about the ascent on his ScottishWinter website, reports that Greg was ecstatic about the giant hanging icicle. “Finding an ice feature so distinct in Scotland is almost unheard of,” Boswell told Richardson. “Even in European terms, it would be classed as a big crazy piece of real estate, let alone on Ben Nevis!”
Boswell continued with more details: “It was an absolute pleasure to reach the huge fang completely on ice. The climbing itself wasn’t overly physically taxing. The main difficulty was dealing with the delicate fang and the lack of protection – it was too dangerous to place screws in case it detached. In the end, it was a 20m run out from my last protection to finally reach the safety of the easy ground above.”
Since writing up his ascent details have emerged that Andy Perkins and Nigel Gregory had attempted to climb the icicle about 25 years previously. Perkins describes his attempt: “I got onto the icicle, ran out of steam, clipped into my axes and hung there wondering what the f**k to do. And then the icicle broke and I did a 30-40 footer into the void. Just a bit too ambitious at the time.”
The Scottish winter might not yet be over but at the moment Boswell’s 2021/22 new route activities emphatically 'book-end' this winter’s new routing. Boswell’s mid-December addition, Take Me Back To The Desert (IX, 9) – reported here – is very different from The Fear Factory in both nature and climbing. Boswell's other major route this winter, The Last Crusade (IX,9) on Church Door Buttress on Bidean Nam Bian, also climbed with Guy Robertson, was also another very highly rated first ascent - in this case - of a summer E3! All these ascents demonstrate Boswell’s mastery and expertise of all things winter. That he spent a solid chunk of time this winter in the European Alps and then blitzed a whole series of hard cutting edge routes over a two week period with fellow Rab athlete, Frenchman Jeff Mercier, merely underlines Boswell’s strength in depth.
Follow Greg Boswell here on Instagram and read more details of this and other winter ascents in Scotland on Simon Richardson’s excellent blog here. Finally, follow and see more of Hamish Frost’s excellent photography here.