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 a bit long, but relatively easy on the legs. Quickest access is from the public car-park at Forrest 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 around the north side of Loch Dungeon and make your way up to the crag through one or other of the forest rides. Check Google Earth first to see the best route through the trees! To get to Millfire stay on the forest roads a bit longer, as far as the Ralph Furlow 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, Fridge Buttress and Millfire is not all that good, you may have to rely on a few warthogs or other turf protection. The gullies and the various icefalls generally have good rock belays but runners only from ice-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. It is also possible to descend in or near Doggone Gully with care. Millfire descents are by going up then back down 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 the Middle Piddle. Higher up (but pictured below) the Upper Gusher gives a tremendous pitch of grade IV ice 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 quite easy to bypass any difficulty you don't like the look of! It is not a very easy descent, better not to try descending this ridge unless you have climbed it first.
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 and well-defined 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.
Descent is best to the right of the picture... either very easily by going all the way round to the big corrie, or more quickly down one of three short snowy gullies about 100m right of Baby Gully. These are about grade I, depending on conditions.
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 a shallow gully/groove in the lower, turfy buttress, then traverses a fair way leftwards to finish up a good icy ramp pitch. Fridgidaire, IV, climbs steeper ice steps left of the start of Fridge Magnate, then finishes up a steep groove right of the finishing pitch of FM. There is poor or no protection on these routes unless the ice is thick enough. Higher up and right of Fridge Magnate is a short easy Grade I gully, Doggone Gully about 100m long, that gives a quick route up or down this part of the buttress.
Linda near the top of Better Gully, December 2010.
High on the NNE flank of Millfire are three short but entertaining icefalls, pictured below. They are located at grid reference 508850. These are best reached from Forrest Lodge 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 walk up and rightwards into the very rugged Millfire corrie. The icefalls are high on the left side of the corrie. To find them in the mist, first find the rocky toe of the NE ridge (470m, 511852) then climb steeply up, keeping just to the right and underneath a very long low rock wall.
This ridge, the NE ridge of Millfire, gives a fun winter scramble at grade I or II. depending on the line chosen.
Climbing the lefthand icefall, St. Lucia, grade II/III on a murky day in January 2023. Lots of scope for variations!
The climbs are mostly 30m pitches, but the middle icefall has a second pitch of about 20m. However the belays can be quite a long way back, so really 50m or even 60m ropes are required. These short problems make good wee ascents to do on your way back down if you've done one of the longer routes on Milldown and have a bit of time left over.
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 and lines.