Introduction Craignaw has probably the best and most accessible winter climbing in the Galloway Hills.
Conditions. Snow is not required for any of these routes, just a good hard freeze of at least 3-4 days duration. The routes face east and catch quite a lot of morning sun by early March, so the more open routes like the Dow Spout are better in December or January. Well hidden routes like Silver Flowe and Drainpipe Gully are not affected as much by the sun and are often best later in the year. It is generally possible to find good rock protection on the routes, so bring lots of wires and cams rather than too many ice-screws. Even the Dow Spout requires very few, or no, ice screws.
Access. The climbs are on the east side of Craignaw. Access is pretty long, but very worthwhile. Park at Craignecallie at the end of the unclassified public road around the west side of Clatteringshaws Loch. Then bike about 5km along forest roads to just before the Backhill of Bush bothy, where there is a small parking area just as the road comes nearest to the Cooran Lane. From here follow a very short spur track to reach the Cooran Lane, cross this and the large floating bog of the Silver Flowe beyond. From here you have your first real view of Craignaw. If it is formed the Dow Spout at the south end of the crags is very, very obvious..... Cross the bog more or less directly westwards to reach the Dow Spout in 30mins, the other, higher, routes in about 45-60mins.
Dangers This is a remote mountain cliff. Winter climbing is inherently dangerous. However on Craignaw it is generally possible to find good rock protection on the routes, although Silver Flowe will certainly require ice screws.
Descents. The easiest descent from all the climbs on Craignaw is down ramps and little walls starting about 50m south of the top of the Dow Spout and finishing back near the lower part of the Spout. It's also possible to descend the wide gully of Shot Cleugh with care, about grade I; traverse hard left (northwards) once you are on the more open hill below the narrowest part of the gully, to avoid the steep direct descent, otherwise known as a tumble.
Craignaw in winter from the approach, showing the three main winter climbing areas. From south to north these are:-
Pictured below is the Dow Spout in March 2006, on a pleasant and sunny day (yet the ice was still excellent!). The Dow Spout is easily the best route of many good ones on Craignaw, and probably the best ice climb in the whole of southern Scotland. It is much safer, more reliable and much more fun than the more famous Grey Mares Tail at Moffat. The route is given II/III, 3 and worth at least **** on our rating system. In fact the ice-fall is so wide you can climb by a variety of lines, and it is quite easy to find fun, well protected climbing up to grade 5 technical.
The Dow Spout in January 2009.
North of the Dow Spout the next major feature is the recess of Shot Cleugh, grade I, which can be used (with some care and prior knowledge) in descent. There are a number of other good short grade III and IV gully routes here on the right hand wall after the bend. In particular Hidden Chimney (pictured below) at IV, 5 and Full Metal Jacket at II/III form quite readily after some snow and freezing conditions. See the SMC guidebook for full details.
Further north and under the summit of Craignaw are three recessed parallel gullies, pictured above. All three are good climbs. To the left of them is the easy Broad Gully. The first and shortest of the recessed routes is the 80m Silver Flowe ice route, a classic grade IV 4, which forms fairly readily because it is hidden in a gully. About 50m to the right is Drainpipe Gully which makes a good III, 4 winter route, with a particularly hard start. This climb gets easier if there has been some snowfall. The third and longest gully is Goat Track Gully, mostly grade II but with an optional IV finish.
Giant tussock grass on the Silver Flowe, Galloway, Winter 2006. Known locally as "Dougals" ...think of that wee dog in the Magic Roundabout... these ones which we found on the way across the Silver Flowe towards Craignaw were the deepest yet!
The original Dougal, about 1974!