Introduction. Milldown & Millfire at the southern end of the Rhinns of Kells have a small amount of relatively friendly and accessible winter climbing. Some of the routes require a fair amount of water ice, others, like the two long gullies, are good in many conditions, while the Boxing Day Buttress routes really need frozen turf.
Five areas are described on this page, running from south to north:-
Access The majority of the climbs (the Gusher Icefalls, Milldown Gullies and Boxing Day Buttress) are on the east side of Milldown. Access is pretty long, but relatively easy on the legs. Quickest access is from the public car-park at Forest Lodge, then use various forestry roads as marked on the map (and signposted) to get near to Loch Dungeon. It's then best to come round the north side of Loch Dungeon and make your way up to the crag through one or other of the forest rides. To get to Millfire stay on the forest roads as far as the memorial cairn, then go down a ride to a bridge and style.
Dangers These are remote mountain cliffs and winter climbing can be dangerous. The rock protection on Boxing Day Buttress is not all that good, you may have to rely on a few warthogs or other turf protection. The various icefalls generally have good rock belays but runners only from screws or warthogs.
Descents The easiest descent from all the routes on Milldown is down the broad (snowy) gully just to the north of Boxing Day Buttress. Millfire descents are to the right of the climbs, which are only short routes so it's obvious!
On the east flank of the NE ridge are a series of three icefalls, which can be climbed in sequence, with easy walking in between. All require a good freeze to come into condition and they catch a lot of sun so are best in a hard freeze in December or January. They are in sequence, the Lower Flower, II *, 50m, the Middle Piddle II, 20m, and the 40-50m high Upper Gusher! Approximate locations are shown on the topo above. Pictured below is myself leading the thinly iced slabs on the Middle Piddle in December 2012. Picture thanks to Stephen Reid @ Needlesports
Above- Another shot of Middle Piddle, and higher up (but ironically pictured below) the Upper Gusher gives a tremendous good pitch when formed.....
The NE Ridge of Milldown gives a pleasant scramble, requiring both snow and a good freeze. If you stick fairly near the crest of the ridge this is about grade I/II. It is easy to bypass any difficulty you don't like the look of!
On the NE ridge of Milldown, an enjoyable grade I/II scramble, December 2012.
This north facing buttress is on Milldown at an altitude of c.650m (GR. 514842). It lies on the south flank of the wide gully which runs down NE from the summit of Milldown. The climbing on this buttress is mostly on nice turfy rock, and the best conditions are a good freeze after a dusting of snow. There isn't always lots of protection but there is usually enough. Bring rock gear with you, wires and nuts are best. Due to its distance from the sea Milldown is probably more reliable as a winter climbing venue than any other crag in Galloway, with the possible exception of the Howe of the Cauldron on the Merrick.
The most obvious feature of this buttress is a very straight gully towards the right hand side, this is the line of Baby Gully I/II, 120m **, which gives a really nice climb at the grade after a good freeze, when it is full of ice and frozen moss. First recorded ascent J. Biggar, L. Biggar, 6th March 2005. The buttress left of this is climbed by Boxing Day Buttress III 4 *, 120m. Avoid the steepest section of the lower buttress by turfy grooves on the left (crux) then move slightly back R to climb the obvious vertical groove in the headwall on good turf. First ascent J. Biggar, L. Biggar, 6th March 2005 . Boxing Shorts II 3 *, 100m takes a ramp line on the left of this buttress to a huge perched boulder. The ramp goes leftwards here (easy finish) but a better finish goes directly up a wide turfy groove and the short headwall and narrow slot above. First recorded ascent 26th December 2004, J. Biggar and I. Livingston.
About 200m north of Boxing Day Buttress are two more worthwhile climbs. The gully running up from the wall is Biggar Gully III, with left and right hand finishes. Another 200m north is the parallel Better Gully, III **. Both of these can hold quite large amounts of ice, almost entirely invisible until you get to the bottom! Just right of Better Gully a route called Fridge Magnate III, climbs the lower, turfy buttress, then traverses leftwards to finish up a good icy pitch.
Linda near the top of Better Gully, December 2010.
High on the NE flank of Millfire are three short but entertaining icefalls, pictured below. These are best reached by staying a bit longer on the forestry roads, until you reach the memorial to the shepherd Ralph Furlow. From here follow a forest ride to a bridge and then a style over the deer fence, then up and rightwards into the Millfire corrie. The icefalls are high on the left side of the corrie, and are not really visible till you get a bit higher. They are mostly 30m pitches, but the middle one has a second pitch of about 20m. They make good wee ascents to do on your way down if you've done one of the longer routes on Milldown and have time left over.
The middle icefall, grade II/III is on the left of this picture. The righthand fall, about grace IV?, is on the right. The lefthand icefall, also grade II/III is about 50m off picture to the left.
Some new lines at grade II and III were put up in the excellent winter of 2010 by Cam Rivers. here is a photo that he took of the conditions. Thanks Cam.