My intention was to put together a short list of favourite climbs, but I ended up with far too many. So I settled for five that have stuck in my mind. Memories of great climbs, stunning locations, climbs I aspired to that didn't disappoint, or simply one of those days when everything just feels right!
So in no particular order:
Groovin’ High (E1 5b, 90m)
Far East Wall, Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Eighe, Torridon, Scotland
Guidebook – Northern Highlands South (SMC)
Located in the magnificent, but unpronounceable, Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Groovin’ High requires a long approach (2-3hours). When you finally crest the lip of the corrie, the Far East Wall can be seen tucked away in the top left corner, dwarfed by the main cliffs. But as you get closer, it increases in size and steepness. We arrived at the route under a glorious blue sky, with little wind and crucially, no midges. The rock was bone dry as it had not rained for the previous five weeks, so conditions were perfect.
The first pitch requires a bit of route finding but is easy enough. This takes you to the base of the groove and the meat of the climb. The climbing is delicate and not too strenuous with plenty of bridging, the odd lay-back and good rests. It’s a style of climbing that I enjoy, picking your way up and quickly unlocking the sequences to each section, often rewarded with a good hold or a rest. The gear is solid and the rock immaculate quartzite. You can climb the route in 3 or 4 pitches, the choice rests on splitting the final magnificent pitch. We chose to split the pitch and this gave great value due to the exposed nature of the belay, which is a tiny perch. The descent is simple but carrying trainers is a good idea.
We planned to pick up the rucksacks and carry on up the classic VS ‘Central Buttress’. But after sitting in the sun, soaking up the atmosphere and eating, we decided to relax and take a leisurely walk back to the car. Giving us chance to enjoy the fantastic wilderness stretching north towards Gairloch and the North Western Highlands. A memorable route in a stunning location combined to make a fantastic day and a place to go back to. The neighbouring Angel Face is high on my wish list!
The Clean Sweep (VS 4c 160m)
Hell’s Lum, Loch Avon Basin, Cairngorms, Scotland
Guidebook – The Cairngorms (SMC)
Sticking with the Scottish theme, after all it does have the best climbing in the UK, the Loch Avon basin is without doubt one of the most amazing places I have ever climbed in. It has something about it that not many places have, Upper Corrie Lagan on Skye, Lundy Island, The Bridestones in Yorkshire and Scafell Crag, are other personal favourites that have that special quality.
The day we did The Clean Sweep we approached through a dark and cold Coire An T-Sneachda with an open mind. I had my eye on ‘The Needle’ on Shelterstone crag, but there was still lots of snow on the ground and a cold nip in the air. As we started to descend towards the Loch, the magnificent Shelterstone came into view, sadly looking cold and damp, The Needle would have to wait. A quick scan of the guide and The Clean Sweep on the sunny Hell’s Lum crag looked like a good option. So we kitted up, leaving the bags close to the top. On the descent it was obvious that the climb was far from perfect, with numerous wet streaks. Once below the route it looked okay, with most of the wet streaks looking avoidable, plus with the rough Cairngorm granite a bit of dampness is manageable. The four pitches are all long and sustained, following a series of slabs, corners and grooves. Pitch one is probably the crux. The climbing flows and is never desperate, you really can get into the groove, enjoying the movement and the majestic mountain atmosphere. As it turned out there was water running down the route in places, but it didn't affect the difficulty and the protection is excellent for such a slabby crag. It’s one of those routes that you can relax on and enjoy without stress or needing to rush. The belays are big and comfortable, what more could you ask for? Granite climbing at it’s best, which to my eyes, is some of the best.
The route back to the bags was a bit less enjoyable. We ‘cleverly’ carried sandals on the route and wore them to get back to the bags. Unfortunately we had to cross a large and quite steep snow slope en route – hot aches in the toes are not good!!
A fantastic climb snatched from the jaws of less than perfect conditions.
Satan’s Slip (E1 5a 100m)
The Devils Slide, Lundy Island, England
Guidebook – Lundy (Climbers Club)
Half a mile wide and three miles long, Lundy is a lump of granite twelve miles out in the Bristol Channel. A trip there is about the whole experience. Nights in the Marisco Tavern, sea sickness on the ferry crossing and chilling out at the top of the lighthouse, are all as essential as the climbing. The island is run by The Landmark Trust with some unique accommodation, a small campsite and shop as well as the brilliant pub. There are no vehicles permitted and restricted numbers of visitors. It’s a different experience to any other climbing trip in the UK. The place is renowned for adventure climbing even the names of some of the crags are enough to get the pulse racing (Grand Falls Zawn, Devils Chimney, Dead Cow Point). It is best advised that climbers stay within the safe bounds of experience, as rescue is a long way off - if at all! But if adventure climbing above the full force of the Atlantic, in the summer sun, is your thing, then this is for you.
The Devils Slide is one of the friendlier crags on the Island, with relatively easy access and solid rock it’s a good introduction to the climbing. Descent is by a grassy gully down to a boulder at mid height, from where it is best to abseil to the large platform which forms the base. This can be sea washed – check tides and sea state. The slide now stretches out above, in a single sheet of golden granite, with the half height break barely visible. This is where I’d wanted to be since first seeing pictures of and reading about it as a teenager. Absorbing anything climbing related from books or magazines and cycling to the local Leicestershire granite quarry to try and put it into practice. So it had been high on my wish list for years!
The Slide has a barely discernible change of angle at the break, which takes the open V.Diff slab in the lower half to the exposed and poorly protected E1 slab in the upper half. The first pitch serves as a good warm up for things to come. The main pitch is almost 50m and described in the guide as “A lonely lead” which sums it up nicely. There are a couple of bits of gear, small and spaced, so not a climb to risk falling off. Technically, the climbing is quite steady, often on small scoops, dimples and edges. So it’s not the insecure smearing typical of European granite. It is delicate and technical between decent spots to stand and work out the next sequences, in relative balance . But it does keep coming at you, for what feels like forever, until you reach the security of the corner of Albion and some bomber gear. It’s brilliant climbing, a granite slab to be savoured, that lived up to all my expectations.
The Red Edge (E1 5a 60m)
Esk Buttress, Eskdale, Lake District, England
Guidebook – Scafell Wasdale and Eskdale (F&RCC – new guide out soon or several selective guides available)
Esk Buttress is a magnificent crag on the lower flanks of Scafell Pike, in upper Eskdale. Typical of Lakes climbing, it has a longish walk in, rock that could be cleaner and a strong sense of adventure. When we climbed The Red Edge I was moving up through the grades, so it felt like a benchmark. I had been told that this was top end HVS (it gets E1 now but is probably between the two) so I felt it was going to be a real test. The walk up Moasdale and across the Great Moss is boggy but relatively flat. When Esk Buttress comes into view it is like a huge monolith looking over the wide expanse of upper Eskdale. The climb starts in the dark dampness of ‘Frustration chimney’ but soon pulls out onto the rib to the right and up into a groove where the exposure is well felt. The climbing is never hard, but never easy and rests tend to feel off-balance and slightly insecure. The protection is regular and good but can need a bit of searching to find the mainly small wire placements. After negotiating a small overhang in the groove, things ease off, giving you time to relax and enjoy the exposure. The main pitch is totally absorbing, requiring you to pick your way up methodically, making good use of the protection you find. A great pitch, worthy of its reputation. Beyond this, the quality tails off, it is possible to abseil off, but it’s worth carrying on if only to spend more time enjoying the atmosphere. A great climb that lives long in the memory.
Vestpillaren (N6 467m)
Presten, Lofoten, Norway
Guidebook – Lofoten Rock (Rockfax)
This mega-classic Arctic trad route had been on my ‘all time wish list’ for years, so when the opportunity came for an extended European road trip, Lofoten and Vestpillaren (West Pillar), were top of the list. This granite archipelago situated in the north of Norway, 160km inside the Arctic circle is not the easiest place to get to. We had been climbing in Bohuslän, a brilliant granite area in Sweden, then onto the granite slabs in southern Norway (did I mention I like granite climbing!) from where it took us four days of driving. The weather was unsettled but with some studying of the forecasts we got plenty of climbing done, 24hrs of daylight helped! After climbing loads of the superb classics in the area we felt well prepared and just needed a dry interlude.
Eventually the forecast gave us a 12hr window. With the rain quite light the night before, we planned on a late start to allow the route to dry and make the most of the clear sky's and light winds forecast for the rest of the day, before heavier rain came in around 8pm. If we had to walk out in the rain, we didn’t care, at least it wouldn't get dark. We left the van around 11am and with a bit of nervousness we started the first of twelve pitches half an hour later. I think that at least seven of the pitches would get three stars as single pitches on any crag, but the best pitches are probably the three hardest given N6. The whole route is considered equivalent to UK E2, but most individual pitches would be considered no more than E1, it’s hard to compare as it’s quite unlike anything in the UK.
The climb follows a logical and varied route. Ascending a series of corners, flakes, grooves and cracks, with pitch after pitch of stunning climbing. Added to which there is the surprising nature of linking the cracks on pitch 7 and the famous Slanting Corner of pitch 9. The climbing is always enjoyable and well protected, involving lots of bridging, lay-backing and jamming. A few years on and I can still remember many of the key sequences and moves.
The only nervous moments were on pitch 3, the first of the N6 graded pitches, it climbs a north facing groove. It only sees the sun around midnight and was also sheltered from the wind, so it had not dried out from the rain the previous night. This left it greasy and insecure, but with a bit of care and steady climbing I was at the belay with no major issues. The Slanting Corner of pitch 9 is the last of the harder pitches and consists of an amazing corner up a slanting slab. The slab leans down away from the corner making it feel insecure and off-balance, but it’s not too hard, the main difficulty comes with stopping to place gear. The only negative for the route is its final pitch up a grassy gully, the route deserves a better finale. But the views from the top more than compensate, as you look out over the fjords, mountains, bridges, islands and ocean. We got back to the van with time to spare before the rain came in, about 9 hours van to van, with the walk off taking about 2 hrs (need to carry trainers!). It was certainly one of the most memorable climbs and fully deserving of its maga-classic status. Amazing!!
If you have an adventure in mind or want to improve your skills to complete that challenge, then maybe we can help. Please get in touch with Freestone Climbing for guided rock climbs, walks and scrambles or skills courses in climbing, scrambling, mountain walking and navigation.