Scotland – The first bit

So at the end of my last post I was setting off on my detour into Northumberland for some friends’ wedding. This was right in the middle of the late June heatwave and I was literally getting stuck to the melting tarmac as I plowed along the old military road while what felt like being blasted with a hair-drier. Great to get across and be joined on the last cycle in to Otterburn by Josh and Jezabell who will also hopefully be joining me on Skye later on. I was slightly worried that taking a week out of climbing (but definitely not cycling!) would break my moment, but this trip has been as much about meeting up with friends (something also noted by Jamie Fisher) as the climbs themselves so this just felt like and extension of that.

From Otterburn, returning parter Jim joined me on the cycle to Arran via my mum’s in the Scottish borders. A fine few days cycle and only a short delay getting on the ferry as they got the loading door jammed (resulting in poor caravan drivers having to reverse off the boat!).

Arran proved another hot and sunny paradise, the fine technical climbing of Sou’Wester slabs was followed by the slighty more traditional feel of Labrynth which did certainly remind me somewhat of Weetabix in places, a great climb though. The Crystal Pools on the descent gave a welcome swimming and sunbathing spot to prepare us for ice-cream on the beach!

An early boat and Cal Mac cooked breakfast followed the next morning and I waved bye to Jim as I set off straight north towards the Cobbler. A closure of the A82, meant the procession of holiday traffic from the south meeting the returning traffic from the north got jammed together on my nice quite back road, nothing more frustrating than loosing precious uphill (and downhill) momentum to a traffic jam.

Chris rolled up bright and early to the Cobbler carpark next morning and we had a good catchup on the hike up, not having climbed together since a winter accent of Deep Cut Chimney some 5 years ago. It was pretty much t-shirts off weather all day, first up Recess route, then the particularly finely situated Punster’s crack before we wandered over to the South Summit for Ardgarten Arete. Another nice swim in the river on the way down before Chris headed back to Stirling and me forever northwards for an evening ride along Loch Lomond. It was a beautiful evening, until I realised I was getting eaten by midges while still cycling at almost 20mph, a complex operation was required to get camp set up and me in the tent without drawing too many off the little buggers in with me.

A day on the tourist bus busy A82 up to Glen Etive, but I was rewarded with a fine camping spot right below the chasm and Tom P arriving with all the luxuries of car camping (BBQ and strawberries + merangue for dessert.

The good weather of course had to end at some point, and the overnight rain soaked the rock in the previously bone dry Chasm making our climb for the day a bit more challenging. What a route though, it is such a huge feature, quite a different feel from other gully climbs and apart from the loose rock around some nice parts. That is until we were faced with the final two pitches of the direct finish right in the back of the Devil’s Cauldron. The first pitch bridging up greasy rock into the belay cave complete with small waterfall on your head felt tenuous enough, but nothing compared to the second pitch. Tom P said the sound affects of me leading (lots of scraping, grunting and terrified squeaking noises) let him know there were certainly some difficult moves to come!

The sun made a reappearance the next day for a great link up of North Ridge Route and Agag’s Groove, both on Buchaille Etive Mor. Ailsa had an after work scamble up curved ridge to meet us and we went back down together for a late afternoon swimming session at Triple Falls (there is a bit of theme here with post climb swimming).

The bad weather returned again for Tuesday, but there were no complaints from Tom P as we sorted our bags in the Stob carpark unable to see the towering sides of Glencoe all around us. The mists parted just long enough for us to find the base of The Long Crack, which proved very enjoyable on the drying rock followed by Archer ridge taking us nearly to the summit of Aonoch Dubh. We then had a good couple of hour hike over to Church Door Butress on Bidean nam Bian for Crypt Route, our third of the day. The rain was by now properly coming down as we abandoned our bags on the col and scrambled under the buttress, trying to dislodge as few of the giant boulders perched on the scree field as possible.

“Tom! TOM!!!” I screamed above the deafening sound of crashing boulders filling my ears as I was perched somewhere inside the buttress. I frantically took in rope, expecting instead of my second to be left with two shredded ends of rope, fortunately I eventually heard Tom P cheerfully calling back, informing me that the sound I had thought was the bottom of the route collapsing was in-fact rockfall in the gully well below the route. I can’t say the experience helped my slight claustrophobia as I squeezed further and higher into a bottomless cleft right inside the mountain, edging ever closer to the light above. At the exit (well supposed exit, the route has altered significantly over the years apparently) I managed to remove my helmet and gear poking them through the gap to give me the best chance of fitting through, however try as I might I couldn’t find any orientation or contortion that would allow me to fit through the impossibly small gap without asphyxiation. With the rock outside now a waterfall and the “Crypt” section of Crypt route thoroughly explored we had no qualms in retreating from the depths. Perhaps leaving the map and compass in the bags was a slight error as we missed out bags on the col in the mist and ended up almost on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan!

Tom P departed the next morning and I waited in the rain at the Clachaig Inn for the arrival of Tom A (another returning partner, this time for a climb much more local for him). Again no mention of not heading up as the rain lashed down on the rear door of the van we were sheltering under to pack our bags. Full waterproofs required all day as we ploughed our way up Clachaig Gully. Wet and loose rock abounded as we tottered our way up the difficulties, culminating with Tom A taking a 20ft plunge along with the vegetated wall of the gully he was holding onto at the time. A couple of pitches later I found myself facing an impossibly slippery unprotected slab to regain the gully and chose to carry on my current course taking us out for a slightly early (but much safer) exit. This trip is much more about having great days out with friends than finishing every route no matter the cost, and this day along with the previous on Crypt Route are certainly great days out in the mountains I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!

Tom A headed back to Oban and I sped up the A82, avoiding getting flattened by the passing logging trucks to enjoy the comforts of staying with Es and family for a few days. The forecast was improving so we decided to let the rock dry for a day before heading out up Ben Nevis. The Ben was shrouded in mist as we started our hike up into Coire Leis, but there was the tell tale signs of the sun trying to break through. The remaining snow patches at the base of Observatory gully successfully negotiated, we started up the approach slabs of The Long Climb. This is certainly a route with a bit of a reputation, for its length (450m), potential for loose rock and alpine feel. We had a blast though, finding some great pitches and successfully negotiating any loose soggy sections without any drama. Es knew Jamie Fisher and climbed with him when he was younger, like for me Jamie was a big figure for him growing up, so to climb together sharing stories was a great experience (we were even using some of Jamie’s old climbing gear which had been gifted to Es).

Back in the coire, Es trotted back down the path to get back in time for kids bed time leaving me to head on up Tower ridge alone. By now the late afternoon sun was burning off the cloud and I had a fantastic time swinging my way up the giant solid holds on the steeper sections of the ridge, topping out less than 40mins after i had left the base of the coire. I was in such a good mood, I cheerfully waved at and greeted the hundreds of 3peaks challengers trudging their way up the mountain on a Friday evening.

Now a slight breather (and wait for the rain to pass) before I head East towards the Cairngorms.

Stats so far;

Climbs: 70

Vertical metres climbed: 7457m

Climbing partners: 23

Pitches: 245

Distance cycled: 2,495km (1,550miles)

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