I've done loads of mountaineering in Scotland but never any proper rock climbing. However me and Staples are starting to get pretty bored of all the usual places - North Wales, Cornwall, Peak District - so now it's time for a road trip north of the border. Looking through the 2 cherry picker Scottish rock guides it is fairly obvious that the climbing in Scotland is going to be far far better than any of the shite us English and Welsh brexit cunts have down here...
Keeps the midges out and it's stylish as fuck...
We arrive knackered after the long drive but with enough time to knock out a couple routes on a crag near Dunkeld in the Central Highlands. I go for the first route, some VS, and shamefully get pumped near the top fiddling in gear then lower off again. Staples leads it instead and annoyingly I find the move completely piss on second. To redeem myself I try another route, this one with a steep Boulder problem crux, and cranking through the hard bit I manage to stick my hand in a pocket that's full of slugs. Lovely.
I'm close to saying fuck it, let's just go back to Tremadog or somewhere, but instead we find a layby to doss in and Staples gets on the uri geller. I can't drink anything because I'm still on meds for a tooth infection that made my jaw swell up like the fucking elephant man.
Crag Sodding Death
Next day finds us hiking up to a cliff with the interesting nickname of 'Crag Death'. Famous for its sloping handholds and bugger all gear. Great. We decide to try a classic called King Bee with the direct HVS start. Staples leads this because he was clearly going better than I was yesterday. The climbing is exactly as advertised until the scary as fuck roof crux, which thankfully has actual holds and some gear protecting it.
Staples leading up the absence of anything positive or secure
My pitch traverses across a steep wall towards an arete. I start edging my way across, fumble in a terribly uninspiring cam, but soon enough my head starts turning to porridge. It all looks the same so I've got no idea where to go, and I'm shitting myself that I'll end up stuck completely off-route with no gear in. I can't bring myself to keep going so it's back to the belay I go. Staples isn't keen on the pitch either so we just abseil off a tree and say a heartfelt fuck you to Crag Death.
The weird sight of Coire Sneachda not being plastered in snow and ice
The vague plan is to spend a few days in the east while the weather's a bit crap, then head west for the remainder of the trip. So we drive north to Aviemore with the extremely optimistic hope of getting a route in Coire Sneachda done in a brief afternoon weather window. Amazingly we walk into the crag in blue skies and sun but clouds are massing to north and starting to come over. Our objective is an amazing looking HVS called the Magic Crack, featuring a huge finger-width splitter on the final crux pitch.
A somewhat rubbish photo looking up the second pitch
The first pitch is pretty wank and badly protected, but it gets you into the good climbing. Staples leads up a finger crack in a slab, traversing into a layback corner. All brilliant stuff but here comes the bloody rain to ruin everything. He carries on because there's gear the whole way up the pitch and our guidebook says probably tat at the belay as well. I pay out rope and curse uselessly at the weather, at god, at the Easter bunny, at fucking Boris Johnson. I bet this is his fault, somehow.
We gamble, push on, and for once are rewarded by the rain fizzling out and the sun coming out again. I rack up for the big crack pitch, set off, and am just fiddling in the first wire when an enormous cloud of midges appears out of nowhere and swarms around my head. The wee bastards. They burrow into my ears, my eyes. I'm frantically clawing them out of my face, climbing fast as I can just to escape the fuckers. Lob some gear in, any good, who cares, just keep going. Despite the wee bastards the climbing is utterly sensational every step of the way to the final belay. We abseil off and walk out feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves.
The view across Torridon from Diabaig
Have you climbed at Diabaig? No? Well you're missing out because it's the best 'cragging crag' in the world. Without a doubt the best rock I've climbed on as well, you poor bastards.
Funky moves past the holly in pitch one of Route One
The 5c direct of pitch two
We climb two of the classic multipitches, imaginatively named Route One and Route Two. Both routes follow splitter cracks in the steep slab, gear everywhere, perfect friction. I unknowingly lead the 5c direct variation of Route One and find it piss because my feet stick anywhere I slap them. Great stuff.
Sweet cracks on pitch one of Route Two
The amazing second pitch
Perhaps it's inevitable things will only go downhill after Diabaig. The weather forecast is terrible and we spend a couple of days scratching around without getting loads done. We spend a morning at some unremarkable crag outside Gairloch getting midged to buggery, then take a punt further north and find dry(ish) conditions in Ullapool. Here we tick off one of the big aims of the trip and climb on Torridonian Sandstone. Guess what, it's fucking good. Like grit but pinker and not polished.
Amazing Highland sunset
Me leading a cool HVS on Ardmair Crag
Staples chooses the perfect moment to discover he's shite at jamming
More apocalyptic weather is forecasted but we wake up in the middle of nowhere in Assynt and it's not raining. Wind howls across the emptiness but it's actually not raining! We've got two options - tick a few single pitch routes on the Reiff sea cliffs, or gamble on a multipitch on the iconic Stac Pollaidh. We say fuck it, throw together a light rack and start trudging up a track towards the peak. Out to sea we can see huge dark walls of cloud and rain come hurtling in, getting closer every minute. The wind is rising. We have a quick think about our options and decide to leg it up to the summit, do the classic ridge scramble, then at least if all hell breaks loose we've done something worthwhile with the day. This turns out to be a good shout when we reach the summit cairn and it starts pissing it down.
The amazing Assynt landscape
Looking back at the peak as the waves of rain pass over
The weather sort of goes completely tits up now. The only half decent forecast is back east, so off we go, hoping it'll clear up and we get at least a couple good days in the west before we have to return home. In the meantime the only dry crag we can find is some wank cave in a forest outside Aviemore. I second Staples up a route and know the moment I grab the first hold that it's shit and I hate it. After that I bail on the crux of the crag 'classic' and we fuck off again. Nice to see there's some rubbish north of the border as well, though it doesn't quite compare to the utter toss known as limestone that we have so much of down here...
We really want to get another mountain route done, and fortunately there's a day of good weather forecasted. So we find ourselves making the long approach trudge to a peak called Binnein Shuas where lurks Ardverikie Wall - the best HS in Scotland according to our guidebook. Alrighty then. It's windy as fuck, and the now familiar fronts of ominous clouds are massing on the horizon, but we seem to be in a pocket of relative shelter. After some hellish bog wading we reach the start of the route and get going.
Me on the juggy as balls first pitch
Staples gets the best climbing up a nice flake crack
The first two pitches are really good but it sort of gets a bit scrappy after that. Plus the wind is fucking freezing and keeps blowing clouds across the sun. Luckily the bad weather seems to be sticking to the other side of the valley, so at least the crag is staying dry. Three more slabby pitches see us to the top, then we slog back to the approach path and bugger off to Aviemore again. Probably not the best HS in Jockland but great nonetheless.
Treading carefully through wet streaks on pitch four
Bad weather rolling through the valley
Oh dear. Oh fucking dear. Now it really does go pete tong. Yet more high winds are forecasted for the next day, so we think 'sod it' let's have a few at the Pine Marten bar. I'm off the meds now and have been itching to get wankered for days now. We chin a few cans, polish off a bottle of Highland Park, then wander somewhat unsteadily into the bar and get the pints in. Sometime later an old dude with a handlebar stache is playing folk songs and we're sharing a table with these very nice middle aged ladies. Who keep buying us rounds of whisky, and who, coincidentally, are getting more attractive with every passing hour.
Yes this can only end well
I don't remember very much of what happens next. Everyone starts dancing, I'm blind drunk, next thing I know I'm crouched outside in the howling darkness, clinging onto the wheel of Staples car like it's the one thing keeping me alive. Sometime later Staples arrives, opens the door and we pass out inside. There's this godawful retching noise and I see, to my eternal horrified amusement, the drunk twat puke all over himself, his sleeping bag, and his half of the car. It literally goes everywhere. The stench of it. For about two hours I fight a losing battle against my own insides, before giving up, booting the door open, and hurling all over the verge. Finally I lapse into a merciful dribbling unconsciousness.
Needless to say the hangovers are something biblical. Staples uses about eleventy million baby wipes cleaning his mess up and we spend the whole day shivering in our sleeping bags, a right pair of sorry cunts.
Now I'm afraid it's all downhill. The forecast is hopeless for the whole country but pretty good for the Lake District, so we cut our losses and drive south. We manage one route the afternoon we arrive before we get word that Staples flatmate has seemingly gone AWOL. So he gives pol pol permission to kick the door in and have a look, and it turns out the poor guy is dead in the living room. End of trip. We start driving home right away.
RIP Chris 'Iron' Garside. Miss you chief.