Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Fiddlers Nose

It was dark. The air was still and empty. The only thing to see was the outline of the mountains set against the wisps of high clouds obscuring blotches of an otherwise starry sky. We knew it was going to be a long day, so we were up early. No cars, no people, no morning chorus. Just the persistent babbling of burn somewhere far off on the other side of the Glen. The forecast for the day was supposed to be okay until the onset of an approaching front in early evening. But then again, what good is an hourly estimated forecast up here anyway?

We stood on the verge, gear and maps strewn across the road in preparation for the day ahead. We were parked at the eastern end of Loch Lurgainn on the road from Ullapool to Reiff. It's such a remote place. Mountains, moorland, bog and not much else. Such isolation can't help but make you feel apprehensive.

The objective was the much sought after Direct (Nose) Route on Sgurr an Fhidlier (peak of the fiddler). The route provides over 200m of climbing located nearly 6 miles from the road in central Cogiach. As I threw my pack over my shoulder I couldn't help but wonder if this was the right decision. The barmaid from The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool said this was the wettest summer she'd ever known. But then again it hadn't rained properly in the 4 days we'd been there so maybe at least the rock would be dry? Swallowing these thoughts we set off through the gloom along the vague stalkers path across the Glen.

The going was rough wading through knee-deep heather across endless rocky knolls, each of these interspersed with deep, black and acrid smelling bogs. It was relief when dawn finally broke, but the summits retained their cloudy veils, as if they were refusing to be awakened. Given the terrain it was going to be at least another hour before we reached the base of the climb anyway. We can worry about the clouds then, we're here now and we're not turning back.  

On the approach to Sgurr an Fhidlier from Lochan Lurgainn deep in the heart of Coigach in the North West Highlands
Thankfully we were greeted in the upper Glen by a fortuitous parting of the clouds. This meant the route could be seen in its full profile, towering straight up out of the moor like the prow of a ship. It almost looked as if long ago the mountain had collided with the moor slicing through bog, heather and lochan. I stood in awe of the route. The ridge rose gently at first in a series of dripping wet overlapping slabs before rearing up into the final tower hiding the upper sections from view. I had been thinking about doing this climb for so long and now I was finally here it looked everything I was hoping for. As we stood at the base looking up and pondering on what the day would bring, the first midge landed on my hand. The sound of me wiping the wee beastie from existence was drowned out by the roar of a million tiny beating wings. This clearly wasn't going to be a day for lingering. 

Rafe won the toss so he geared up and set off climbing quickly to escape the midges. We swapped leads as we went with wet slabs quickly turning into steep grass filled grooves. A bit of background reading had revealed that both the SMC and the Gary Latter route descriptions were both useless on this route and this was quickly confirmed in the field. Reading both seemed to make everything more confusing and we had no accurate topo to delineate where the right line was. Both mentioned a cave - so we aimed for there, only to find two caves leading to yet more confusion. 

Starting out on the lower grassy grooves of Direct Nose Rose (HVS 5b)

Endless towers of perfect Torridonian Sandstone with the upper pitches disappearing into the clouds high above
We'd decided to follow a series of steep grassy grooves and corners up the prow of the nose as a 'direct approach' seemed to be the obvious option given the name of the route. The descriptions both agree that a traverse below 'a pale slab' was required before you reached 'the hansom cab stance'. We had a slab to our left. So agreed that must be the traverse. Two Aberdeen climbers had been following us and caught us up at this stance. They were convinced we were at the wrong cave and opted to climb up through a groove on the right rather than traverse. In hindsight they were probably correct to follow the groove but ignorant to the crampon scratches they had seen we set out across the face. 

As it was his turn, Rafe led off onto the traverse. Standing on the in-cut, 10cm wide grassy ledge he shuffled along leaning his body onto the blank slab for balance before disappearing round the corner and out of sight. He gave a shout and I followed him round, opting to peddle my feet on the wet wall below and yard on a fist full of turf rather than balance on that disgusting ledge. 

Rafe seconding up one of the many grass filled groove pitches below 'the cave belay'

Rafe making an unnerving traverse away from the 'cave belay'. We should have continued up as this took us off-route for 3 pitches. Hindsight is a wonderful thing really. 

I eventually joined him and stood on a tiny ledge above the void. We silently looked up at the next section with the ridges final towers leaning over us high above. 'Climb easy ground and up cracks to large ledges' - The route didn't make any sense at all - we were most certainly off route at this point. All I saw was mossy wet corners and unrelentingly steep slabs.  Not wanting to repeat the traverse, I led on and up a wet corner to a semi-hanging stance on a slab about 35m below what looked like a good ledge.  

Between us and that ledge was large shattered slab riddled with small overlaps. Rafe led tentatively up negotiating flared cracks and sloping holds until a large cheer confirmed we had at long last reached a good ledge! In fact we were now at the 'hansom cab stance' - which turns out to be a large triangular ledge on the arete - great for consuming bits of crunched pie from the rucksack. Apparently it's from this point onward the real climbing starts and it had only taken us 6 hours of climbing to get to this point. I hastily lead the next pitch up a precarious hanging arete to a wild stance below a roof. It was now 17:00 and Rafes lead. It was here that a breeze started up, blowing the midge cloud around my head out of bite range making visible the showers pouring in across Sutherland to our north. Time to go.

Climbing steep wet corners - we were most definitely off-route at this point (R)

Back on-route climbing up the final towers after the 'hansom cab stance'

Looking back down the nose from the top of the towers with all of Coigach beneath our feet. (R)
Once again the route description didn't do much to help find the way. Rafe ended up linking two pitches together into one mega long 50m pitch up the tower to a fantastically positioned ledge. It felt like the whole of the northwest highlands was beneath our feet. We had one final tricky corner pitch to tackle before we broke out onto the easier angled upper ridge. From here 150m of scrambling led to the top. We celebrated in the fading light with another pie and a kitkat. 

With the hardest part of the day done we started the long scramble down occasionally glancing up at the ridge through the gloom wondering if the last 12 hours had actually happened. By the time we descended the corrie to below the route it was pitch black. Stumbling over more bog and heather following compass bearings and hand-railing burns we eventually made it back through the maze to the road and by 22:00 and collapsed on the floor by the car. The mountain was still silent. The Glen was still empty. The midges had gone. The rain was coming. And we were going to the pub. 

Top of the climb with all the major difficulties done. Stac Pollaidh and the other Sutherland giants can be seen behind. Not a bad view!  

The summit of Sgurr an Fhidlier in the fading light. Time for the pub!
I have listed below what I think would be a more appropriate description for the route (including our variation!!!). However take it with a pinch of salt - after all it's your adventure.

The route starts just left of the main ridge arete below a slab bounded by a roof and on the by a crack. Generally you are aiming to get to the obvious grassy groove running down the apex of the ridge before reaching the cave. 

Start on the left of the slab..

P1 (~55m) - 4b - Make an awkward step up onto the slab and climb boldly up rightwards and round a small rib to a groove/corner. Climb the corner to a slab above and belay on a large boulder in the middle of the ridge. 

P2 (~60m) - 4a - Walk up over grass for about 20m to the right of a large pinnacle and climb the mossy groove above on its right hand side. Continue up grass afterwards and climb a short steep corner stepping right after ~10m to belay on a ledge on the right below a diagonal crack. 

P3 (~50m) - 4c - Climb the crack and groove above and then stepping left into the main groove line after ~20m. Climb up this passing a cave on the right to the steep corner above. Surmount this and step right to a ledge with a thread belay (tat). 

P4 (~45m) - 4c - Climb past the thread and over a small slab to rejoin the grassy groove line. Yard up unpleasently on grassy ledges to join a rib on the right. Climb the rib/groove to a block belay below a large roof (SMC cave stance?).

At this point we incorrectly went left. The true line climbs rightwards through the roof following the odd crampon scratch to a stance and then making a 'belly button' traverse below the first pale slab to the 'hansom cab stance'. This description is available in the SMC route guide and states that the cave belay (P4 above) can be reached in 2x 50m pitches which is incorrect.

P5 (~15m) - 4a - Traverse the grassy ledge left along the base of the slab passing a block to belay in a crack on a sloping ledge.

P6 (~20m) - 4c/5a - Make an awkward step up left to a small ledge and climb up to the corner above. Make strenuous moves through the corner to a slab above and take a semi hanging belay in a thin crack.

P7 (~25m) - 5a/5b - Climb rightwards to an obvious crack on the arete and continue boldly upwards trending left then back right to the 'hansom cab stance'.

Normal route re-gained at this point.

P8 (~15m) - 4b/4c - Step left into the bottomless groove and climb the arete on the left past a block to a grassy ledge below an overhang. Belay here on good wires in an outrageous position. 

P9 (~50m) - 5a/5b - Surmount the overhang using the crack (peg on the right) to easier ground (possible belay?) before trending rightwards to a huge slab. Climb this on fantastic holds to a small ledge (another possible belay?) before launching up the final ridge arete finishing with an awkward mantel onto a large ledge.

P10 (~15m) - 4b/4c - Climb the final corner to belay well back on blocks.

The ridge is then scrambled for the remaining ~150m to the top with difficulties probably avoidable on the left if required. Some of the photos used here are Rafe's (R) - Thanks for letting me use them!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Sea Stack Sickness

Sea stack climbing is a branch of climbing entirely devoted to the surmounting of rock plinths isolated from the main land by the sea - not to be confused with rock pinnacles which are attached to land such as Napes Needle or the Bell Tower outside the Aber Uni Student Union. Its probably considered by many to be a bit of an esoteric outing where loose rock, sketchy abseils and guano is all part of the package and where failure will result not only the dampening of dignity but also a soggy chalk ball.

The Old Man of Stoer is one of Scotlands most iconic sea stacks, The original route climbs up the middle from the base up to the right flank then onto the top and its only VS!
England and Wales have there fair share of stacks such as the Devil's Chimney on Lundy or the great red sandstone towers of Ladram Bay however, its no secret that the best stacks are in Scotland. With over 245 recorded stacks out of the ~300 recorded in total for the UK, Scotland is definitely the hub for this masochistic sport. And like all sports, sea stack climbing has its hero. Just like Gandhi was the hero for peace and Nigel Farage was the hero for nutters, Dr Tom Patey was the hero for Sea Stacks.

Often refereed to as Doctor Stack, Tom Patey climbed many of the Scottish stacks by their most popular routes during the late 60s and even made a televised ascent of The Old Man of Hoy (not technically a sea stack but we'll let this one slide..) with Bonners in 1966. Apparently his ascents were often famous for being characterized by lengthy swims, massive hang overs and usually finishing by abseiling down an accordion.

Nowdays many of these stacks have multiple routes on right through the grade range all the way to E6 6a and beyond. The tale of John Arran and Dave Turnbull driving the bold and terrifying line of The Orkneying Saga up the Old Man of Hoy is a great read and reminds me why I'll never bother to climb E6!

The crux 5a moves on Original Route involve jaming, yarding, grunting - everything you'd expect really for a Scottish VS!

Having completed 2 stacks now I feel like I have definitely caught some kind of Sea Stack Sickness. Its seems that Doctor Stack took the cure to his grave but I'm sure I'll have fun trying to find out more for myself on all of the other aquatically isolated esoteric outings around our coastline!

Getting down is certainly the easy bit

Its getting there and back which is the hard bit!
A few of these photos are Rafe's so thanks for letting me use them! 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Alpine Foray

Managed to squeeze in some 'alpism' this summer with a quick trip over to Chamonix Mont Blanc. An early attempt on anything out the Cosmiques Refuge was thwarted by some summer storms resulting in a rapid retreat down the midi lift. Later that week the weather stabled up and with a fresh sprinkling of snow we went back up the mountain to find calm, blue skies.

Looking down into the gloom. Emma still managing a smile though!!

Looking up the snow arete towards the midi station with the weather closing in

After catching the first lift and seeing such fantastic conditions we opted for the Pointe Lachenal Traverse (AD) which is a small, mildly technical ridge that sits below the impressive Triangle du Tucal Face in the Mont Blanc Massif. There was a bit of fresh snow which added to the excitement and meant there was actually some patches of ice in the 4a chimney but otherwise was a grand expedition!

Even though it took the three of us a while to do the route we made it to the base of the route 45 minutes faster than the guide time and got back to the midi even quicker. Celebratory beers were well deserved!

Dad and Jed walking in perfect conditions on the upper Valley Blanche. The lower peaks on the left side of the image is the Pointe Lachenal Traverse

Looking along the ridge of the lower peak of Point Lachenal with the Grandes Jorasses in the backdrop

Dad scrambling up the final section of the mixed 4a chimney up to the main summit

Looking at the ques back along the traverse. Good thing we got the first lift up!

Thursday, 13 August 2015


Sanctuary Wall in all its glory! Copyright Justin Timms
I couldn't belive it! Another wonderful forecast for a Saturday! Unbroken spells of bright sunshine and highs of 23 degrees centigrade. Clearly the chief scientist at the Met Office was on holiday over that weekend. Let’s hope not in Cornwall, as Bodmin Moor’s tarmac snake has got its static metal scales on this summer since the Council decided to dig half the road up. We decided on a stay-cation. Torquay to be precise. Once described as the jewel of the South West.

Since adventurous Ed was enlisted we opted to push the boat out and go for something a bit more exciting than the usual well traveled 3 star classic. Sacrosanct is at HVS, the easiest way up Sanctuary Wall. I say easiest because the whole crag overhangs its base by 10m and mainly plays host to routes providing strength sapping near death experiences. You’d think something so loose would just fall over?

Looking at the line of Sacrosanct (HVS 5a) and the rest of Sanctuary Wall. The route climbs from the top of the triangular pinnacles left across the wall into the gully then breaks out right again across a slab before finishing up the overhanging crack. 
After a DWS to the start from Anstey’s Cove we climbed up to the start of the route on a ledge 30 feet above the sea. The first pitch is either 4c or 5a depending on which book you look in. It entails a short traverse on less than generous jugs out across the grossly overhanging wall but at least it has a rusty peg for comfort. So off Ed went across the wall without the slightest hesitation and off he disappeared round a corner onto a ‘good belay ledge’ that turned out to be mostly overhanging vegetation. Still, there was an ace rusty peg to belay so not all was lost.

After a nut clenching second I perched on the ledge and we swapped some gear (except I left him with the size 4 Camelot as frankly, I think it’s becoming a bad omen). The next pitch was a traverse across a slab to a little ledge perched on the edge of oblivion before a safe but super steep strength sapping crack. Crimp, haul, lunge, yard, disco legs, choss, gardening, made it!

The steep second pitch of Sarcosanct (HVS 5a). Copyright Pete Saunders.
Ed reckoned pitch 2 was harder than pitch one but I think he’s wrong. Perhaps it’s because he was carrying the size 4! Either way it's an ace route, but don't tell everyone that.. 

Later that day soloing The Plimsoll Line (S0/1) down at Meadfoot Quarry.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Hurlstone Point

Hurstone Point has got to be Exmoors answer to the Culm Coast. With an isolated and adventurous atmosphere its well worth a visit! Although we only had time for the one route as we went for a post-work foray I'll definitely be heading back.

FYI some of the top stakes are in an extremely sorry state and for some routes I'd imagine that belays are almost entirely dependent on these so watch out! When I grabbed one the top snapped off!

Emma seconding the fantastically positioned Coastguard Slab (VS 4b)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

A weekend on sunshine

I met this weekend with my dear old friend Fred Morgan and spent the weekend adventuring down at Chair Ladder in West Penwith - definitively one of my most favorite crags I've been to this year - sunshine, ice cream, grassy car park, free hose pipe - what more could you want!

After a leisurely start due to post birthday celebration hang-over and a bout of jet lag (as Fred is from Wales...) we headed straight for one of my major objectives for 2015 - Diocese (VS 5a). This route is possibly one of the most celebrated VS climbs in the west country and i've been told on multiple occasions is a total spanker for VS.

We decided we'd abseil down the approach to terriers tooth on its eastern side which is the next-buttress-down from where Diocese was. When we got to the tooth we found a series of ropes set up on the western side down a gully and a group of Falmouth climbers about to descend another climbers rope. As we were talking with the girls left at the top we heard a cry for help from somebody on the abseil. The rope that they were using (which wasn't theirs) had frayed on an edge and was actually worn through to the core! After some scrambling about we passed another rope (not ours..) down to him.

After this eventful start we dropped down Fred's 100m static (yes you read right 100m) and descended to the base of the cliff. Even though I thought I had tied up a reasonable amount at the top we still had enough at the bottom to have done the abseil again!

The first pitch of Diocese (VS 5a) at Chair Ladder. Copyright Kernow Coasteering website.

The climb itself is located around the corner from the abseil on Bishop's Buttress, one of the biggest granite faces in the region. It climbs a striking natural line up a widening corner to below a huge roof before traversing off left and snaking round up onto the upper head-wall in as many as 4 pitches. I knew from discussion with various people that the first pitch was going to probably be the hardest even though ironically its not the most technical as it's only 4c...

So off I went and before long was at the base of the wide overhanging corner crack, if you got some big cams or a hex you can get a good placement prior to entry which marginally comforted my harrowed disposition.

What followed next was 20 minutes of swearing, gurning and general battling up the chimney at the loss of most of the skin on my knees and elbows. When I eventually emerged I felt like I'd had a fight with Mike Tyson and lost. Sprawled on the ledge beneath the roof I brought Fred up who managed to lay-back up the whole thing! Bastard!

The next pitch was the 'crux' 5a pitch which comprises of a delicate and exposed traverse below the monster roof. The hardest moves are literally just getting established on the wall after stepping off the belay and aren't protectable unless you put a massive cam up high in the roof crack (which we didn't have) but after a few delicate and memorable moves you reach some good gear. From there on its yarding on jugs all the way to a brilliantly exposed semi-hanging stance where the route joins Flannel Avenue (HS 4b). The next two pitches up the head-wall are pleasant enough and don't have any real difficulties. Definitely the best route I've done at Chair Ladder so far!

Fred sea kayaking past Logan Head near Porthcurno

It could be 'The Med' thinks Fred! That or he's dropped his Go Pro..
The next day we took the kayaks out for a spin from Porthgwara and headed over towards Porthcurno and Logan Head. En-route saw seals, fish, an RAF bloke get dropped on a rock and we even stopped off at the nudist beach to make a cup of tea! 

With time against us we nipped back to Chair Ladder and did one of the more famous easy lines, Helluva Slab (S 4b), a brilliant route up a huge pinnacle overlooking Porthgwara and the bay beyond. Needless to say I got horrifically sun burnt and have spent as much as I did on the whole weekend away on after-sun lotion.. Ops!

Fred seconding the fantastic first pitch of Helluva Slab (HS 4b). 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Grumpy Guts

It was a beautiful day. The sun was pouring through a cloudless sky, its searing edge softened by a cool south westerly breeze. On days like this the cliffs of Chair Ladder really are one of the West Country's finest sea cliff granite venues.

Emma high on South Face Direct (VS 4c) with a lot of air beneath her feet!

We had abseiled down East Chimney to go and do South Face Direct (VS 4c), one of the cliffs most popular lines. I had a 60m abseil rope in place which I tied off around a large block using a stoppered bowline knot. Bomb proof. If I had a mother-in-law, I'd happily hang her off it!

As we were climbing the 2nd pitch a couple arrived at the top and started to hola down at Emma, who was belaying lower down. I assumed they were just asking if they could use our abseil rope - at that point it formed part of the belay (tied off to make it easier to pull up at the end), but Emma was just moving off anyway so wouldn't have been a problem.. 

The lady starting shouting at Emma and it sounded as if she was asking if the first pitch was clear of the sea as they were hoping to do the same route as us. Communication over the 40m between them was challenging not only because of the wind but also the deafening roar of the crashing sea below. For this very reason Emma and I had been using walkie talkies (a bit gay I know but trust me it works!). Emma struggled to interpret what she was saying over the roar and it became clear that this hugely frustrated the women who began to shout louder. This wasn't fair or justified for three reasons;

1) By coming to a tidal sea cliff venue you'd expect the party to have checked the tide times. If they had done this then they would know the tide was well on its way out. Also, we were half way up the route! Assuming they had to check the tide times they would know that since we were half way up the base was likely to be clear.

2) The guidebook (Rockfax, The CC guide and South West Climbs) clearly states that in high tide conditions the route can be easily reached at the top of the first pitch on a large, comfortable ledge adjacent to the abseil.

3) Most importantly, your safety is your responsibility. If you can't see the base of the cliff and you're not happy about climbing back up the rope if the route is inaccessible then go somewhere else

The women's attitude didn't even put a blip on the day as it was all but forgotten after Emma seconded the outstanding second 4c pitch up the steep crack which has got to be one of the best at its grade in the South West.

The crux pitch of South Face Direct (VS 4c).

My irritation lies with their grumpiness. I like climbers. We are usually a good bunch. It's a shame that some people feel the need to get so wound up and frustrated so needlessly in such an inspiring place. If you're reading this - the shop in Porthgwara does great ice cream. Perhaps have one of those before you come climbing next time!

No Stress! A climber finishing the crux pitch of Aerial (VS 4c) on a stunning day at Chair Ladder.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Deliberate Lethargy

It’s been a slow start to 2015 so far. Some would say that starting a new job, helping with 10 Tors training and competing in a 100 mile marathon is actually to some extent rather fruitful. However to me, all this extracurricular has greatly repressed my time out on the rock. This combined with a couple of rained off trips as well as intermittent bouts of non-existent motivation I’m starting to think maybe I need to splash out on a jet ski or a road bike as they can both be used in the rain. Then I remember I still owe the tax man and various banks 4 years’ worth of drinking money so I should probably square that up first. I’ve had a few positives this year though like having an article published on UKClimbing.com and so far successfully managing to give up mayonnaise for my new year’s resolution! Talk about a challenge! 

My main objective for this year was to try and tick all of the rock routes in the ‘South West’ chapter of the book ‘Classic Rock’ and so far it’s going really well – only Piton Route in Avon Gorge left to do! The routes, for the most part, have all been really worthwhile and are generally well deserving of their 'classic' status.

To be honest - most of the routes are a little bit outdated and most venues usually have better-quality-similar-graded-equivalents. For instance, at Chair Ladder Pegasus is definitely better than Pendulum Chimney and again at The Dewerstone Central Grooves is a total belter when compared to Climbers Club Ordinary. From the ones I've climbed in Scotland this wasn't so much the case but is especially true with the routes I've ticked from 'Hard Rock' and 'Extreme Rock' which have all been jaw-droppingly fantastic!

Whilst i'm trying to get all these routes ticked I'm also trying my hand at photography - I still only have a compact camera but it seems to have loads of settings so i'm hoping there has been an improvement. On so many occasions climbing has taken me to some impressive vistas yet my inability to take a descent photo makes a picture of the inside of a static caravan look more interesting. It still seems to be a lot of pictures of helmets and bums at the moment but I think they are gradually getting better! I've put a couple of my favorites from this year so far below.

1. Taken from Gavel Fell in Lake District looking over towards Buttermere and the Sca Fell Range with a sky full of air craft contrails. I think it demonstrates well how such a seemingly wild landscape is still influenced so much by humans!

2. A photo of Adam Bloch seconding the middle pitch of the Bosigran Classic - Little Brown Jug. It really looks like Bosigran is 'in bloom' in this one.

3. I know! Another Photo of Adam! This time he is seconding the crux pitch of Pegasus at Chair Ladder. The sharpness of the photo and the contrast of the dark rock with the blue sea is great.

4. Last photo of Adam I promise! He's seconding the crux pitch of Aerial at Chair Ladder. Its a super exposed pitch and in this instance we had a ranging sea echoing beneath us. I think the ledge we were sharing with the black back gulls and their nest was still more scary!

5. Post storm crossing to Brodick on Arran. It's supposedly too far south to succumb to the grips of Winter but this definitely didn't appear to be the case when we traveled there over Easter. 

6. Sneaking in some climbing in between the showers. This is a photo of Sol Armer climbing the rarely repeated Dogleg on South Slabs in Glen Rosa. If only you could see his hands and feet, you'd be able to see the invisible holds!

7. A snowy Goatfell from Cnoc Brec. I like the color of the lethargic sky set against the white dusting of snow with the contrast of the brown, dead grass in the foreground. And of course the perched erratic boulder! 

8. Springtime at Oldwalls. This photo was taken from the base of Matchless on the culm coast looking south through the spray. It definitely aids in the understanding of the isolation of this venue.

9. Ski touring on Creag Meagaidh. It really was a winter wonderland up there this year. Dave in the distance definitely helps give the place a bit of scale!

10. Emma seconding Doorpost at Bosigran in the morning light. Believe it or not the ocean is actually that color and I haven't just cranked up the contrast! West Penwith is an amazing venue and is probably the best in the West!
Any feedback would be much appreciated. For some reason when you upload photos to Blogger it adjusts the contrast of the photos so some of them are a touch more saturated than they should be. Hopefully I'll be able to get some more shots later this year and at the same time get my big-rock-route-day-out climbing fix.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


The A’Chir ridge (pronounced A-Kier) on the Isle of Arran is considered by many to be the finest Scottish mountaineering ridge located out of the Isle of Skye. It boast over 1.5km of scrambling and climbing with difficulties gradually building to a climax at the Le Mauvais Pas (AKA ‘The Bad Step’). Any aspirant ascensionists for the ridge will have to endure sustained and heart stopping exposure, bottomless abseils and complex route finding. Its huge granite towers and seamless slabs present the keen mountaineer an irresistible and memorable mountaineering challenge and as if it couldn’t get any better it’s also located far from the road on one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands. The ridge itself is located along the western flank of Glen Rosa in the heart of the island.

The majestic A'Chir ridge with its winter coat on as seen from Beinn a Chilabhain 
The easiest approach is from the campsite, where the main Glen Rosa track can be followed to where the frothing Garbh Alt burn tumbles steeply down the hill side. A parallel path follows the burn up before breaking out onto the lower slopes of Beinn Nuis and up to Cnoc Breac. From reading guidebooks and online literature it was evident that Arran is not often held in the grips of winter – its ironic then that when we plan a summer climbing trip these illusive conditions come to fruition! So as we approached the first peak of the day, Beinn a Chliabhain, we realised as we were trudging through fresh powder and across ice covered slabs we had in fact actually been that unlucky! Prior planning ensured we had a few ice axes between us and also a calm, dry sky so all was not lost!

On the approach to Cnoc Breac under a storm battered sky

Beinn Nuis and Beinn Tarssuin in unusually white conditions for Easter

Taking the winter conditions seriously on the first summit of the day, Beinn a Chliabhain

The easy start of the wintry traverse below Beinn Tarssuin

From there we broke out above huge cliffs onto a ‘heathery traverse’ below Beinn Tarsuinn. The heather was well buried with fresh powder and its location being sandwiched between two ice covered rock precipices above and below made it quite exciting – the rope wasn't employed but was defiantly considered! Eventually we reached the start of the ridge giving us a glimpse of what was to come – overlapping slaps and granite towers glistened in the sunlight, cris-crossed by streaks of water ice and snow.

Moving together across iced slabs towards the first rock tower

Looking back along the ridge towards Beinn Nuis

Ed leading one of the icey chimney pitches barring access to the summit of A'Chir.

Because of the unusual conditions we found the line to be quite indistinct with much of the ledges covered however the snow, being soft meant at least we didn't need crampons! We took the line of least resistance across iced slabs and heathery ramparts and after a long while of moving together we reached the main summit block. 

The summit selfie!
With the top behind us we plodded down the airy ridge and as it grew steeper eventually reached the next obstacle – a tricky step between two towers with more exposure than you can shake a stick at. Once we gingerly crossed we began the most exciting part of the traverse. The Le Mauvais Pas is a section on the ridge between two towers, that from the north, is accessible via an awkward and polished down-climb or a hair raising abseil. Due to the abundance of snow and by that point, strengthening wind we opted to abseil (~25m) off the eastern side. Having a 40m rope we had to split the abseil at a chokestone on the way down. The far side climbs out on the right via some polished grooves and fabulously positioned slabs. The pass is an amazing place and must be one of the most inaccessible places on the island!  

Ed making a bold stride across one of the more exposed sections of ridge.

Looking along the narrow ridge just before the decent into Le Mauvais Pas.

The airy abseil from the ridge top down into Le Mauvais Pas

Breath-taking exposure on the upper slabs climbing out of Le Mauvais Pas

Looking back along the ridge of A'Chir with the hardest part now defeated.
On the long walk out passing below the mighty Cir Mor, home of numerous classic lines such as Sou'wester Slabs (VD) and Labrinyth (VD) and of course the South Ridge Direct (VS 5a).

After that the route gradually quietens down before an escape can be made south down from the Bealach into Glen Rosa below the majestic face of Cir’ Mor. The route is a wonder of lithological architecture. In summer the ridge is Mod/VDiff but does apparently ‘go’ at about grade III (3) in winter conditions but since it was it wasn’t full blown winter I guess it’s just a combination of both! Either way, it’s a great ridge and we were very lucky to ‘tick it’ with its winter coat on!