Friday, 14 June 2019

Glencoe's Low Level Cragging

Stunning Spring weather so I took a run up Glencoe to visit some of the roadside crags. "The Bendy" has many routes. I did routes at either end and one in the middle with Gary Latter back in the 1980's and Gary and Stork did some other ones. The Bendy is a great Spring and Summer morning venue and has a tremendous big swimming pool below it. Midge hell at night though. Sad to see the old Rannoch Club Doss debris after the fire. As a rescuer we were there a few times taking club members out who had broken legs on the wooden ladder climbing down into the gorge to get to the hut. Often on return from Clachaig.

Below this is the really good little "Dry Gorge Crag" an excellent evening crag which catches the sun and has easier less bold routes than the Bendy. Up the dry gorge is "The Squirrels Crack" and opposite a nice but short crack route that I did with Mark Tennant which about HVS 5a/b. Further up is the bold blank crag that Garry Latter did a few routes on.  I think these routes are in the new outcrops guide and some are certainly in Garys selected climbs guide Scottish Rock Vol. 1 South. If you want to study the images closer just click on them and open up a bigger size.

All that remains of  "The Rannoch Doss" a once well used and secretive hut below Allt na Reigh
Bang in the pic centre at the top of the wall is the final groove (with a peg runner) of "Simmering Psycho" E3 6a Davy Gunn lead and Chris Ducker (Fionas Brother) 1998
The left side has a cracking E2 5b that I did with Mark Waugh as second. In the middle wall are the E4 6a's that need RP's and have exploding crimps!  I did a FA of one with Gary and the others I think he did with Stork. There is a dry platform below so no need for wet feet. Quite a pool and roaring waterfall across from you.
The Dry Gorge Crag. A great little micro crag. Maybe 10m in height. Right to left. The grey wall on the right with a very thin crack is "Crimp" needing a couple of RP's is E2 6a and crimpy. Left again is the very well protected "Sin Nombre" E1 5b a bomber crack for cams and mid sized stoppers. Left again across the black streak is "Ascolatre" E1 5c again good pro but a bit thuggy. Then left is an alternative direct start to the same finish which is maybe 5b/c. FA's Davy Gunn with Chris Ducker and others.
Slightly further up on the same side as the dry gorge crag is"Crack Route" HVS 5b FA Davy Gunn and Mark Tennant. A damp little number but well protected with cams and nuts.
Even further up on the left side is "The Squirrels Crack" by - you guessed it, the Edinburgh Squirrel climbing club.  No give away at HVS 5a/b it used to have a peg runner at the overhang and is fairly well protected but no belay at the top so its a sit and squat job or leave a rope far back. You can get to this route from the top of the dry gorge by scrambling in from the high point.
Garys Crag has a few hard routes but no gear. Multiple bouldering matts might suffice as they are "highballs"
Looking up into the bowels of Beinn Fhada in the middle is a slot. The right side has a detached pillar with a route called "Triple C Special" HVS 5a. You can take it that it's pretty much ungradable much like KAK it's V-Diff neighbour lower down which in the old english would be XS. Both would be nice for those liking a JH Bell style such as Chimney Route - Severe Aonach Dubh "where the last 20 feet are on rock"!!
Looking across from the top of "The Squirrles Crack" to Allt na Reigh home of  Downie's Barn (on the right of the cottage) which is often mentioned in Alastair Borthwicks book "Always a Little Further". This later became Hamish MacInnes's workshop when he started making ice axes and stretchers so is a bit of Glencoe's history. Under the old road bridge (this is a new one) used to be another doss which in my day the donkey jacket clad "Black Frank" lived in. He was a dirtbag climber who lived rough and climbed hard in the 1970's and who's favourite ice tool was shortened wooden grivel axe with a bent pick he had shaped over a gas stove.

A Guides Tale

Not sure if I put this up before on here.  I am sure I put the story of being rescued by the team from Aonach Dubh the year before up.  Pretty wild looking back at what I was up to.  Ian Nicholson at 17 some 5 years earlier had climbed the Eiger N. Face with Dave Knowles.  Now that's impressive as it was probably one of the earliest British ascents. The Clachaig gully is pretty tame in comparison. Published in the SMC Journal here is the original draft.

A Guides Tale

June 1974
Guiding was as yet confined to few within the Glen and these few mostly in the employ of the old fox or his 2ic Ian Nicholson. Many were on an ad hoc basis recruited when business was brisk. Notables being the likes of Fyffe or Spence or maybe Dave Knowles when he was about.

At that time I was a mere youth as yet not tempered by attempting hard men’s climbs and harder drinking in the wee snug after hours.  One climb above all was revered by us fresh youths, both from behind and in front of the bar. This was partly out of convenience. Like the hindquarters of an elephant as eloquently described by Bill Murray, it started only 10 minutes from the bar door. “The Gully” could be accomplished either solo before twelve thirty Sunday opening, or roped between two thirty and six thirty, usually by a mixed company of barman/maid and customer. It is fair to say “the gully” was well known to us.

Walking down the village one Saturday a passing car stopped and wound down its window with the driver asking if I knew of a local guide for hire.  A couple of names were passed to him and the chosen route asked.  When the reply came that it was none other than “the gully” I felt compelled to offer my services – for a reasonable fee of course.

So it was that I was hired, but not before my clients revealed that they were a professional couple, betrothed, and in addition they belonged to a “socialist mountaineering club” (The Red Rope) and as such were happy to support the local proletariat but not at excessive cost. We settled on a less than princely sum, perhaps due to my obvious youth and assumed lack of experience.  I went home to collect my climbing gear.

My kit at that time was by modern standards very meagre, but at 17 years old, dances, Ceilidhs and girls took priority. So it was that I as a junior bergfuhrer assembled my rack at the foot of the gully.  200’ No 2 Viking nylon donated by Robin Turner after an abseil lesson of his cottage roof, a pair of new Lionel Terray boots from Hamish, as the originals had been stolen from Kingshouse after a rescue in Ravens Gully that winter when I took them off to go in the lounge bar (under the watchful eye of the proprietor Jim Lee), and the most modern harness of its age – the ubiquitous Whillans. This along with a set of nuts made by clog attached to wire hawser, a selection of pegs and several slings in bright pink tape concluded the ironmongery for the ascent.

It had not rained for a month but never the less it would not have occurred to me to wear rock boots, even though I had a pair of EB’s donated to me by Sandy Whillans a local policeman.  The gully is a boot climb.  That’s how Bill Murray did it and you always follow in the footsteps of the master, don’t you?

We started the gully at its root via a pitch shown to me only the Sunday before by one of the barmen. This pitch is walked passed by most but I thought that as I was getting paid for the job in hand then a refund might be requested should all available rock not be included in the ascent. It went very well, with the pair climbing very fast and alarmingly competently in parallel on the twin No 2 weight Nylon ropes. During conversation it became apparent that proper guides were hired on a regular basis by the couple – indeed the previous weekend a “proper” guide had been secured in the Llanberis pass for the same rate as I, and three of the classics of the pass, including the renowned “Wrinkle” had been successfully ascended.

By now the haze of morning had becoming a black menacing shroud of afternoon, and soon the occasional very large plop of rain fell.  By this time we had passed the lower greenery and were in the more austere surroundings of the crux slab above the “Great Cave”. The atmosphere was oppressive and clearly it was going to become very wet. We passed a road sign saying  “ice” complete with metal post, put there the previous year by some pranksters on a fresher’s weekend.  The slab was climbed and soon we were at the redoubtable “Jericho Wall” which at that time was pitch 7 or 8 of the roped pitches if you include the lowest pitch. I regaled them with stories of daring doo and an account of the early history of the gully, plus of course a few rescue stories to enhance the atmosphere. It clearly had the desired effect as they were keen to push on and seemed apprehensive to say the least. This was further heightened when the rain started and they realised we were in for a deluge.

The pressure was on, but could the aspirant bergfurher pull it out the bag without needing the services of the rescue team?  Absolutely - afterburners on it was all go with each subsequent pitch dispatched at full speed with a full blown thunderstorm breaking around us.  With drowning and falling as a combined incentive the pair climbed well despite being visibly terrified, so all credit to them as I was feeling a burden of responsibility beyond my years.  We topped out after a 5 hour ascent 30 odd pitches, over 1,700 feet of climbing and in a reasonable time for  a roped party of three.  Some parties have taken upwards of 14 hours and in one case 2 full days. For us all that remained was the knee wrecker down to the pub and a beer by the fire.

Two hours later as a bedraggled crew we arrived at the pub. They reluctantly bought me a beer as I was underage but  complemented me on a fine though short day.  As the day was shorter than they had in the famous Llanberis pass, and the climbing deemed inferior they had discussed the fee and felt that it should be halved.  So it was that barely enough cash for an evening “session” was handed over to the naive bergfurher, who there and then decided that the peoples flag was brightest pink and not as red as he might think. Guiding might not be for him after all.