Just back from my best trip this summer so far, very very happy, such a fab time was had!
Thurs 24th - Drove up to Chris's for a fairly late (for us) start of 8am. It was nearer 9.30 we left after sorting all our gear, me deciding I was starving and needing some food (bowl of cereal and left over divine chocolate cake from one of Chris' daughters b'day) and Chris needing some coffee. I then reckoned I might manage to go on a bike with all our climbing and camping stuff to save a bit on the walk in to Bheinn a'Bhuird so bikes are bunged in the car too and at last we are off!
Plan was to walk in, find a spot to camp, then walk in to Garbh Coire of Bheinn a'Bhuird and climb Squareface, a 3 starred classic V.Diff and one I had seen pictures of in Classic Rock and wanted to climb ever since. The walk in starts at Invercauld, but we were going to bike up to the Fairy Glen, or the head of Gleann an t-Slugain but I really struggled with the bike and sack and it hurt my back to ride, but I gritted my teeth and managed as far as the end of the woods but no way I could cope with the rougher track ahead. Bikes were ditched in the woods and the walk in began.
Really enjoyed the walk in. The Fairy Glen is real pretty and with a bit of imagination you could imagine the litter away, and picture the King of the Fair Folk with his enteurage having a merry wee party amongst the trees. (By the end of the trip, Chris was positive I was on drugs, after my ramblings about faeries and spotting animal shapes in boulders! There is an amazing, gigantic frog shaped boulder up above the Clach na Chlerich and then I discovered one that looked like a car and decided I was going to give up climbing and become an SS or Stone Spotter and start guided tours etc. I'm not on drugs, honest!)
Finally we arrived at the foot of the walk up to the Clach. We were going to camp up in Coire an Dubh-Lochain but decided against lugging all our stuff up there and decided to pitch our tent on a wee flat, grassy ledge next to the river. A bit close to the path, but hey ho! After a brew and a wee gear sort we were off for Squareface! The walk up to the 'Sneck' was free of clag and we could see the top of Ben Avon and the wee tors and pinnacles. It seemed other wordly to me, and I could well imagine we were on Mars or some other planet! I remember feeling similar on MacDui a few years back.
After a wee much about on a wee pinnacle boulder, we headed down to Garbh Choire, one of the most isolated corries in the Cairngorms. The walk down to Squareface is pretty minging, slippy loose and steep mud, mmm, nice! But the route, oh the route, it looks just stupendous! You can see the top as you pass by, then see more and more of it and you wander downwards. Getting more and more excited now, and nervous! And all the usual thoughts of, 'oh shit, I don't wanna do this,' are going through my mind! The 1st pitch isn't great tbh. The 3rd pitch is the crux and I had wanted to lead this pitch, but so did Chris! He had been there previously and done the 2nd pitch so really didn't want that pitch again, so I caved in and gave him the 3rd pitch, but happily enough as it gives me a good reason to come back and climb it again :o)
What a marvelous, marvelous route! It lived up to all I thought it would be. My only disappointment with it, was it was far too short! Only 90m, god I could have done with 3 times that much, the climbing was so beautiful! All my fears were over as soon as I peaked round the stance at the top of the 1st pitch, and onto the main face, before me lay a path of beautiful V.Diff climbing. Steady, easy, with just a few moves to make you stop and ponder for a moment or two and then up to a nice big belay ledge with a text book thread and bommer hex placement! And the 3rd pitch didn't disappoint. Some nice moves up to a lay back flake and a few moves of laybacking on a huge, juggy flake in a wonderful position and then up to the wall above. Only a few moves to go and the route will be done. I stop, I tell Chris I'm not moving. I'm grinning like a big cheshire cat, I don't want this route to be over, I've enjoyed it so much! I'm buzzing! I've really needed a day like this, a day of good climbing and sheer enjoyment!
Fri 25th - After a pretty crap nights sleep, we're up early and off back up to Garbh Choire to climb Cumming-Crofton route, a severe. I don't know much about this route, other than it's inclusion in Classic Rock and feel pretty indiffirent about it. Chris is raring to go however! The walk up the Sneck is windy, and windier and windier, until past it and up to the plateau I'm nearly blown over a couple of times! We're thinking that with the wind being easterly and the crag facing West, there will be shelter down in the Corrie. Wrong! It's gusting down there too! Chris had mentioned not climbing if it was too windy, which I was very thankful of! I didn't want to disappoint him by saying I didn't want to climb in strong winds so was happy that he brought it up! The West Face of Mitre Ridge is one impressive cliff face and home to routes HVS and above, with Cumming-Crofton taking the easiest line up at Severe! Having seen the route, I still felt indifferent to it and thought Mitre Ridge at HS, looked a far better line. Moot point anyway, as far too windy to climb. I feel bad for Chris, as this is the 2nd time he has walked in all this way to do this route but been foiled!
A slog back up the grassy and muddy slope takes us back up onto the plateau, where we dander over to the summit of Bheinn a'Bhuird itself, before dropping down into Choire an Dubh-Lochain for a reccy at the routes there. There is a starred severe called Polypody Groove which looks quite nice and as per guide book there is still a bit of snow at the base of the route! There is also a starred Diff called Slab and Arete which looks a lovely and clean route to take to the summit of the mountain! Then it's downhill all the way to the tents, a quick brew, pack up the tents and we walk back out to the bikes. I struggle on the bike again and get too scared to free wheel it downhill on the slippy track, but get back to the car eventually! We heat up some chilli that I had made previously, and eat sat at the benches in the carpark before driving up to Ullapool. I'm impressed with Chris, I can tell he's knackered but he's soldiering on! Finally find a spot to camp, it's tents up and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!
Sat - Another pretty crap nights sleep as we'd dossed to near to the road and there seemed to be a lot of late night traffic of the large lorry variety! A quick bite to eat whilst walking about, as the midgies were a tad annoying, and then we were off to Reiff. Hurrah! I didn't think I was going to make it to Reiff this summer, and a spontanious visit had me really excited. The view as you turn into the Coigach area road to Reiff and Auchaltibuie really is one of the best in Scotland, with views of Stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag and the amazing nose of Sgurr an Fhidhleir opening up, with Suilven away in the distance to the North. This view never fails to take my breath away! I'd love to come climbing here in winter, if it's ever in nick, must be simply amazing!
The sun was shining, so it was a climb in t-shirts and shorts kinda day! I started off on a Severe called Slanting Corner which was straight forward enough,the Chris led another severe called Skel which involved some thin climbing up a slabby wall. Then I led a lovely severe called Midreiff which I thoroughly enjoyed! The rock at Reiff is simply superb! So clean and hard, with lovely features and such amazing grip :o) The routes are always interesting and varied too. Then Chris jumped on a VS called Puckered wall which is a real fun route! It starts off really steep and overhanging but with big jugs and pockets to heave up on! He managed to get 2 bits of gear in and then was up and off, putting in a brilliant thread just after the crux start. I fluffed up the moves though and ended up with the wrong hand on a crucial flake and didn't have the strength to match hands and swap them over, taaaaaaaaake, bollox! :o( I must remember when I go to lead this route to have my right hand on that flake! (though I can't picture if that will work, or through me off balance. I might have to have a play about on the starting moves again before I ever commit to leading it) I've come to realise that the thing with VS leading that is needed more than anything else is a good, confident approach. Seems much more important than anything else but it seems to be something I'm all too lacking in! I'm sure I'll get there though eventually with some hard work, as V.Diffs and severes used to be terrifying to me but all seem pretty straight forward now, with the odd one still giving me a spanking!
The past couple of days were starting to catch up with us by this point and I was getting more knackered, spaced out and mentally weary. One more lead though? Could I be arsed? Aye ok. Tried a severe called Xyles, but remember what I just said above about the odd spanking?! This severe is nails!!! Felt more like top end HS to me! I got in a couple of ok bits of gear just below the crux, but there was nothing above and then when I stretched up onto my tippy toes I could only just get half my fingers onto an okish hold. Could see a better one above, but way too reachy, god damn! Up and down like a yoyo I was. When stretched up for the ok-ish hold I was far too stretched up to see what to do with my feet! Nup, couldn't do it, downclimbed and then gave the lead to Chris, who found the crux pretty tough also! Glad it wasn't just me! Found it tough on 2nd too, just really reachy, and even past the crux it's still sustained with not brilliant holds! Def never a severe!
Decided to finish off on a V.Diff as I didn't want to end the day on a sour note, having failed on a lead. So went up a tiny thing called Something Borrowed, which was pleasant enough but a bit scrappy and pointless, and felt quite steep for a V.Diff but that was maybe the tiredness, rather than the route.
To finish off the evening, we spotted a rare sighting of a Sea Otter diving about the water and chattering away, brilliant!
Quick dash back to the car to ditch climbing stuff and then we drove down to Achaultibuie to the cafe down there, for some more water. Decided to treat ourselves to some fish and chips and boy was that a good move, mmmmmmmmmm, mmmmmmm, mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! It was the best fish and chips I've ever tasted! The batter was so crisp, and the chips very juicy and the fish very fresh. No grease whatsoever! Had a wee side serving of locally produced salad leaves too, very very nice!
Back to Reiff, grab our camping stuff and then a 10min walk to a wee sandy bay where we camped for the night. We had a wee silly moment and a fit of the giggles kicking about sheep poo, trying to clean an area for the tents. Funny how random things like that seem so much more amusing when you're sleepy and a bit out of it, lol! Had a wee wander about and a play of some silly wee boulders where I found a wee fun problem that even had Chris trying his 1st 'sitting start'. It involved pulling up and over a nose, squat over the nose and pull up and onto the top. You really don't want to fall onto the nose, esp if you are a bloke, lol! Back to the tents where I fell asleep pretty quickly, getting a much needed good nights sleep!
Sun 27th - Up around 7.30 ish to another day of sunshine :o) We managed to eat our breakfast in peace as there was a bit of a breeze and no midgies! Didn't last though, the wind dropped and the midgies were awful. Not so bad though as we were ready to leave for the car. By the time we'd walked to the car, the sun was blazing and the midgies gone, brill! We had decided last night to have a look at one of the tidal areas (me trying to be brave!) Wandered along to The Orange Walls area for a look at Tystie Slab, a 3star V.Diff. The bottom ledge was a bit seawashed with just a tiny platform to stand on and belay, hmmm, not that brave thanks! Chris didn't like the look of it either thankfully. The slab descent down to the platformed area was much easier than it looks! The slab is at an angle that you can just walk down no problem as the rock is so grippy. There was a HS there called Meikle Neuk that looked like a good line and had 2stars which Chris really wanted to do.
We warmed up with a V.Diff called Deep Crack, which goes up one wall, crosses over the top of a slab and onto a second wall above. This created a lot of problems!! Firstly, I found the route quite awkward but finally got up onto the slab, walked across a horizontal crack and put a bit of gear in the wall above, only to be stopped by rope drag from below! Had to cross back over, lean down and remove my last bit of gear and then go back across to upper wall. Then I had to do some serious rope flicking as the ropes kept getting caught in a wee groove! Aaaaarg, then I was up and down placing gear in a strenous position, the V.Diff was overhanging!! Finally made it to the top, set up a belay, after more faffing when one of the ropes got caught in anther groove and took an age to get out! Then the 2 ropes were utterly tangled and I ended up having to untie from one to untangle the mess! As I brought Chris up, one of his ropes got caught in the rock also and he ended up untying from that one too! It really was a nightmare and we both got a bit grumpy! It's a damn shame because it was a great wee route (atleast I thought so, Chris wasn't so enamoured!) but it was marred by the walk over the slab at half height!) Better rope management would have been to only clip one rope on the wall below with a VERY long extender on the top piece and to only use the other rope on the wall above.
Back to the HS. What a wee epic we had on this one! Chris got to the crux and was up and down, up and down. He finally managed to get a bit of gear directly under the crux, and another to the right side. The moves were damn hard though and Chris ended up sitting on the rope, needing to have a good think about it! He eventually committed but still struggled with the moves and I could see it was tough for him! Not all over though as the top out seemed quite exciting too! He was finally up and safe and my hands could stop sweating for him!
My turn! Up the initial corner easily enough and to the crux. This involves moving over right on tiny tiny crimps (unless you are a 6 foot giant with huge reach and a large stride!) There was a German climber in the same area as us who had done the route earlier. He was a strong climber, trying E1's and 2's and even he found it tough! I ended up sitting on the rope and just swinging over to the right rather than make the moves. I'm just not stong enough to do moves like this! The top was exciting but easy enough with good holds, a stupendous position though! We reckoned the route was no way correctly graded at HS, I've done VS's which were easier and Chris reckoned a lot of the HVS's he's done were easier!
That was it anyway. It was getting later in the day and we both had to be home fairly early.
We made possible plans to come back in a couple of weeks if the weather is good enough. Maybe, maybe not, more mountain routes still calling.
Fab long weekend, and much needed sunshine and brilliant climbing in fantastic scenery, happy happy!