7-15 September 2023
Peter, Kathy, Neal, James
The aim of this trip was “big mountain days with scrambles and classic climbs” and the group managed to deliver on this despite chasing the weather around the Highlands! The base was the Raeburn Hut (SMC) on General Wade’s Military road between Dalwhinnie and Newtonmore. A really cosy place with good facilities, gas heating and cooking and the best shower we have ever experienced in a hut!
Peter and Kathy arrived on Thursday night and had to talk their way through a closed road sign as the road was being resurfaced. After a night being kept up by tarmac removal (grind… beeeep beeeep) they picked up Neal from the sleeper train at Dalwhinnie (good for Neal!) and headed to The Ben Nevis North Face Car park for a stunning sunny day climbing The Ben by Tower Ridge (Vdiff – 800m). This was Neal’s first Munro and first “proper” scramble route. Having done the route in 2021 Peter and Kathy enjoyed a relaxed and interesting second time around including advising other groups exactly where the Eastern Traverse actually is. Neal was nearly broken by the 1300m descent but all made it back to the hut in time to meet James who had arrived by car.
With slightly less promising weather on Saturday, we headed to Binnean Shuas – an hour and a half walk into possibly the best Hard Severe multi-pitch in the UK – “Ardverikie Wall”. Neal and James climbed it first (with Neal veering into and out of the E1 side of the first pitch!) while Kathy and Peter enjoyed the 45m sensational second pitch of “Kubla Kahn” (HS) and then followed them up. Climbing finished just before the rain set in and we all got completely drenched on the way back to the car (except Kathy who had brought her waterproof trousers)! Luckily the Raeburn Hut has a great drying room.
On Sunday there was better weather in the Cairngorms so we walked into Coire nan Lochain to climb “Savage Slit” (S) and “Fallout Corner” (HS or VS) on the number four buttress – both of which start at 1100m. Stunning vertical climbing on horizontal folded granite ribs with great protection. Descent over the Cairngorm Plateau down Fiacaill Ridge (grade 1 scramble) back to the car. A group of 4 Ptarmigan were spotted on the way down. Kathy headed home on the sleeper train that night after Fish and Chips at Joe’s in Newtonmore.
On Monday Peter, James and Neal took a break and found some sun cragging at Huntley’s cave near Grantown-on-Spey. Unmidgey in September, but still with ticks, the rock is overhanging and intimidating but with positively angled holds making for surprisingly accessible exits through roofs. The climbs of the day were “Cave Route” (HS– led by James) and its pumpy variation “Cave Route Direct” (VS – led by Peter) both of which exited out through an off-width crack in a large roof, but with good protection.
On Tuesday good weather in the West and the need to do something on James’ way home led us to Glencoe to climb the mega-classic “Agag’s Groove” on Rannoch Wall, Buchaille Etive Mor. A grade 2 scramble in (Curved Ridge) leads to the bottom of the wall. 4 pitches of fine mountain VDiff were led by Neal and James while Peter hung out (literally) on the belays chatting with other climbing groups and drinking tea. Neal’s second Munro! James headed home.
On Wednesday Neal and Peter went adventurous with a 4:45am alpine start to beat the weather and climb the 4-pitch “Cioch Nose” (S) on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain – another Classic Rock must. Immaculate Torridonian red sandstone coupled with wild scenery and a complex mountain route mean this is not a route for the fainthearted and we both felt the first two pitches were stiff at Severe. On reaching the top of the climb after only 2.5 hours, we decided that the intended descent gully was a “grassy deathtrap” (Peter’s words) and so the decision was taken to carry on with the 500m VDiff scramble of the “Na Ciochan continuation”. One roped pitch, some pitched down-climbing, plenty of exposed scrambling and an abseil. A great mixed mountain route. Eventually, we got back to our car 7 hours after leaving; and just before the rain! Coffee at the cosy Tornapress gallery revived us for the drive back to the hut.
Thursday was a rest day with a lie-in and then a drive to Moy Rock for some sport climbing. An intimidating vertical to overhanging conglomerate crag with long routes. 4 routes were managed topping out at 5c+ but felt like 6b! Beautiful scenery south to Inverness.
On Friday after a good tidy of the hut Neal and Peter headed to Polney Crag near Dunkeld for some Mica-Schist rock. After a 5-minute walk-in, Peter led “Cuticle crack” (S 4a) then Neal led “Kestrel Crack” (S 4a). An interesting route with a good off-width section which he was particularly pleased with leading. The crag’s easy descent is via abseil with in-situ tat and blackberries in September! The trip finished with Peter leading “The End” (VS 5a) with some excellent technical pulls-over overlaps and decent protection. It was great to be able to experience some of the great mountaineering routes in Scotland over the week – hopefully, MKMC can revisit the Raeburn Hut again.