Scotland – The final climbs

Looking back at Am Bastier and Bruach na Frithe from the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean

The sunshine of Sgurr a’Chaorachain gave way to foreboding skies and blustery winds as I crossed the steep bridge onto Skye and I arrived in Glenbrittle campsite with specs of rain whipping in off the seay. A mid afternoon downpour when Josh, Jezabell and Jon arrived meant I abandoned my plan for a speedy evening ascent of the three routes on Sron na Ciche. A couple of hours later I was regretting the decision as we could see the Cioch bathed in beautiful evening sunshine. The forecast for the foreseeable future was for rain and I was worried we had missed one of the few chances we would have to get the climbs done. I lay awake for a lot of the night listening the rain hammering on my tent thinking about the missed opportunity. I woke up at 3.30, still raining, 4.30, still raining, 5.30, not raining! I quickly roused Josh and we set off a few minutes later, our bags already packed to take advantage of any chance we might get. Arriving at the base of Cioch Direct at 7am we found it a flowing waterfall, fortunately the climbing was straightforward until we reached the awkward chimney crux. Months of practice on many ‘classic’ chimneys enabled me to wriggle up the chimney which was almost fun, I don’t think enjoyment would have been Josh’s way of describing it however! The immaculate slab of Arrow Route and fantastic 40m crack pitch on Integrity followed and we scampered back to the campsite in time for lunch and shelter from the incoming rain storms.

I felt relieved that the technically tricky rock climbs were now completed. If necessary I could wait as long as I needed for the weather to clear for a traverse of the Cuillin, if push came to shove, solo, as Josh couldn’t stay on Skye indefinitely. I was also excited to get it finished because Stu Fisher -Jamie’s dad- was arriving the following day. It was sitting with Stu at loch Coruisk 10years ago that the idea of repeating Jamie’s challenge was first planted in my head. Through this whole trip I have felt closer to Jamie, my journey making many parallels with his, from basking in a lake district heat wave to rain and midges in Glencoe. The thought of stumbling into the Sligachan hotel below the end of the ridge to meet Stu, exhausted but happy was something to looked forward to.

An overnight gale flattened three tents in the campsite and the ridge was cloaked in rushing clouds the following morning. The forecast indicated it might clear up in the afternoon so we decided to head up to Gars Bheinn for a look, hoping we might get a chance for a bit of reconnaissance of the first bit of the ridge. We arrived at the summit cairn in a freezing gale, the wind chill taking the temperature below zero. We sheltered in a bivi hollow, deciding that we were just going to freeze staying still and we may as well do the first couple of kilometres. They were straightforward enough that we were unlikely to be blown off the mountain.

Amazingly as we descended Sgurr nan Eag (The first of 11 munros on the ridge) the wind dropped and the clouds showed signs of lifting as we crossed Choire a’Grunda. We found our way to the top of Sgurr Dubh Mor and Sgurr Alasdair in cloud, well I had to check the gps to make sure we were on Alasdair as we could only see a few feet!

The damp chimney that provides the upward escape from the TD gap was a psychological low point for Josh (see previous comment about chimneys!), but our spirits were buoyed by the clearing clouds and the brilliant scrambling up An Stac and the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Having made Sgurr Dearg by 4pm, about four hours after we’d started we realised that actually we could probably manage the whole thing before it got dark, so after a quick refuel on sandwiches and Jamaica ginger cake we set off into the middle section of the ridge. It is all a bit of a blur with lots of ups and downs and scrambles, but after every top Sgurr nan Gillean looked a little closer and the ridge began to stretch out behind us.

“How the f**k do we get down from here?” we wondered trying to make sense of the complicated descent from Bidean. We committed to balancing down a slab that appeared to end with a precipitous drop to the coire below, but the descent finally revealed itself much to our relief.

The complex routefinding over we raced to the summit of Sron na Frithe, arriving with only the final hurdle of the Basteir tooth lying between us and Sgurr nan Gillean. The tooth provides an imposing obstacle, it’s huge overhanging face blocking the way. A fine traverse however, leads to the cracks of Naismith’s route and the summit of Am Basteir leaving a final dash to the bealach and a scramble to the table top summit of Gillean.

I lingered for a second, savouring the final moments before placing my hand on the summit cairn. Would I feel different after 10weeks of effort to reach this final small pile of stones?

I didn’t have long to wonder, as soon as I touch it I am wrapped in a bear hug from Josh. No it it isn’t any different, just another great day, with another great friend in the hills.

Chuffed with our day we set of down, breaking into a run when we hear that our dinner had already been ordered in the Slig!

The final stats:

Climbs: 81 out of 82 (Climbers club ordinary had nesting Kestrels)

Time taken: 72days

Vertical metres climbed: 8989m (excluding the Cuillin traverse which is a bit of an outlier with over 3,000m of ascent!)

Climbing partners: 27

Crags Visited: 55

Pitches: 288

Falls: 0

Shortest climb: Topsail – a couple of minutes

Longest: The Cuillin ridge – 8hours 25minutes

Distance cycled: 3038km (1,888miles) + lots of walking!

Top Speed: 47mph (Cairngorm mountain road)

Cycling buddies: 5

Punctures: 3!

Weddings: 1

Worst bit: West country hills

Best bit: Every friend old and new that I met on this trip

The climbs:

May 19th: The Devil’s Slide

May 22nd: Terrier’s Tooth, Pendulum Chimney & Demo Route

May 23rd: Doorpost

May 25th: Central Grooves (alternative to Climbers Club Ordinary)

May 28th: Piton Route

June 2nd: Will o the Wisp

June 3rd: Creagh Dhu Wall

June 4th: Avalanche/Red Wall/Longland’s & Nea

June 5th: Flying Buttress, Spiral Stairs, Wrinkle, Crackstone Rib & The Cracks

June 6th: Main Wall & Milestone Direct Route

June 7th: Hope, Lazarus, The Arete, Grey Slab & Glyder Fach Direct Route

June 8th: Grooved Arete, Gashed Crag & First Pinnacle Rib

June 9th: Great Gully

June 13th: Central Climb, K2, Modern, Black and Tans, Technical Slab & Via Dolorosa

June 15th: Topsail, Powder Monkey Parade, Sail Buttress, Hargreaves Original Route, April Crack & Flying Buttress

June 17th: Parson’s Chimney

June 18th: Red Pencil Direct

June 20th: Murray’s Route

June 21st: Ash Tree Slabs, C Route, Bracket and Slab & Bowfell Buttress

June 22nd: Gillercomb Buttress

June 23rd: Tophet Wall, Napes Needle & Needle Ridge

June 24th: Jone’s Route & Moss Ghyll Grooves

June 25th: New West Climb & Rib and Slab Climb

June 26th: Troutdale Pinnacle & Little Chamonix

July 4th: Sou’wester Slabs & Labrynth

July 6th: Recess Route, Punster’s Crack & Ardgartan Arete

July 8th: The Chasm

July 9th: North Face Route & Agag’s Groove

July 10th: The Long Crack, Archer Ridge & Crypt Route

July 11th: Clachaig Gully

July 13th: The Long Climb & Tower Ridge

July 16th: Ardverikie Wall

July 18th: Savage Slit, The Clean Sweep & The Talisman

July 19th: The Cumming-Crofton Route & Squareface

July 21st: Eagle Ridge

July 26th: Cioch Nose

July 28th: Cioch Direct, Arrow Route & Integrity

July 29th: The Cuillin Ridge


Lundy: Ben

South West: James and Rob S

Bristol: Caz

Wales: Ian, Polly, Tom A, Spencer & Chris H

Peak: Andy B & Libby

Yorkshire: Andy T, John & Alasdair

Lakes: Jim, Sam, Jamie, Mav, Lucy & Stephen

Arran: Jim

Arrochar: Chris M

Glencoe: Tom P & Tom A

Ben Nevis: Es

Binnean Shuas: Ailsa

Cairngorms: Rob A

Sgurr a’Chaorachain: Paul

Skye: Josh

Cycle buddies:

Bristol to North Wales: Maggie and Sara

Northumberland: Josh and Jezabel

Northumberland to Arran: Jim

2 thoughts on “Scotland – The final climbs

  1. Nigel Marsden

    Wow what an achievement Oli, it’s something you’ll always remember I’m sure. Also a well written entertaining article 😃


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