There can be fewer better places to capitalise on a heat wave than the remote Garbh Choire of Beinn a’ Bhuird – the high elevation north-facing cliffs are dank in typical conditions but provide spectacular routes in grand surroundings once dry. The mighty West Wall of Mitre Ridge is particularly impressive and Slochd Wall (HVS) had been on the list for some time, awaiting just such weather. Jim needed little persuasion and we got an early start aiming to sneak up the Cumming-Crofton Route (S) as well.
The approach from Invercauld is best tackled on bikes but it’s easy to get disheartened by the relentless slog and abandon the bikes too soon in Glen Slugain. With a bit of pushing it’s possible to cycle all the way into upper Glen Quoich, which has the added benefit of ensuring a brilliant descent on the way back!
Hazy clouds kept the temperatures at bay on the journey in but I was still soaked through by the time we arrived at the top of the crag after three hours on the go. We refuelled, geared up, stashed sacks and walked down to the base of the West Wall, marvelling at the wild setting and bone-dry cliffs.
Slochd Wall takes a natural line up a very imposing section of cliff, where giant overlaps and staggered corners serve to create an impression of incredible steepness – the intimidation factor was high! We had the route to ourselves and Jim pounced on the first pitch which leads up an introductory gully before traversing to the base of a crack system on the main face.
The next pitch traverses up to the base of the main corner system which is then followed for most of the route. The climbing was superb – sustained and technical up cracks and edges but never too hard for the grade. Pulling through the overlap and climbing the corner above constitutes the crux and once committed a brief moment of panic ensued before I lay-backed high enough to place good gear and so reach the belay.
Despite the modest 4c grade, the start of pitch 3 is very technical and I can imagine in the wet (which it clearly frequently is) would be utterly desperate. Jim cooly floated up and out from under the roof and was able to link pitches 3 and 4 together to not only save time but create another long and sensationally exposed pitch.
A final easy section up the arete saw us at the top; minds suitably blown and after a quick pit-stop we were heading back to the base of the cliff for classic number two – The Cumming-Crofton Route.
This brilliant climb follows a groove and crack system up the highest part of the face to link with the final section of Mitre Ridge along the airy crest. The steep corner on pitch 3 is a particular highlight but for the full experience, Bell’s Variation must be taken on the Second Tower, providing a dramatic finale to the difficulties. I first climbed it nine years ago and had zero regrets repeating it as the quality moves flowed by.
As the light turned golden we hastily packed up and headed back down to the bikes, feeling fortunate we have the opportunity to experience days like these in such wild places. All that remained was a short walk and a thrilling mountain bike descent, oh and the obligatory photo of Squareface of course…