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Anubis: UK’s Hardest Winter Route?

Anubis, The Comb, Ben Nevis, Scotland. Dave MacLeod first climbed the route–the Ben’s hardest at E8 6c (5.13c)–in August 2005, then made three winter attempts over the past year. He succeeded on February 20, when this photo was taken. Anubis may be the hardest winter line ever climbed in Britain. [Photo] Dave MacLeod collection /

On February 20, Dave MacLeod completed the first winter ascent of Anubis on Ben Nevis, Scotland. It is likely the most difficult winter route ever climbed on the British Isles.

MacLeod’s blog suggests that the very hardest winter routes in the UK top out at around the grade of E4, or roughly 5.11, in summer conditions. But Anubis, which climbs 220 meters out an overhanging prow of The Comb, is one of the Ben’s most difficult summer lines, going at E8 6c (5.13c).

Anubis is special to MacLeod for more than just its difficulty: he established the climb in the summer of 2005. At the end of last winter season, Anubis coated in rime, he tried the line again with axes and crampons, without success. In early February he gave another go, but it took a third day for the winter line to fall.

“The route started as an idea to see if it was possible today to maintain the Victorian mountaineering tradition of opening a new climb in summer conditions and progressing to an ascent in winter,” he wrote on his blog. “Great that it’s still every bit as possible as it was a century ago.”

The route climbs an intermittent crack up an obvious prow to a roof. The steepest sections overhang severely and, though the crux sports a pick friendly crack, require total commitment. MacLeod ripped out some gear when he took a fall on the lower wall, just below the crux roof. He then lowered to the ground to try again. The fall allowed him to relax, he said, and push his limits over the ensuing several hours that it took to complete the climb.

During another attempt the same day, this time on the final headwall and suffering from extreme exhaustion, MacLeod had to downclimb quickly back to a foot-ledge under the crux roof to return to the belay and recover. The next go, he pulled through the crux and huffed up the final ice grooves and snow to the summit.

Two of MacLeod’s previous winter climbs, The Hurting (XI,11) at Coire an t-Sneachda in 2005 and Don’t Die of Ignorance (XI,11) on Ben Nevis in 2008 have been considered pinnacles of Scottish mixed climbing. As far as a winter grade for Anubis? “No idea,” MacLeod said. “I’ll have to think about it. I haven’t ever tried or done anything harder in winter.”

Sources: Dave MacLeod,,,,

MacLeod working Anubis during his first winter attempt last March. [Photo] Dave MacLeod collection /