Beating the Heat on Slochd Wall, Beinn a’ Bhuird

19 Jul

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 southern corries of Beinn a’ Bhuird unfolding on the long approach through upper Glen Quoich


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!

Jim determined to get the bikes as high as possible on the final part of the cycle approach – we left the bikes at the stream coming down from the Sneck


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.

The routes on the West Wall are easily accessed from a gravely descent track west of the ridge, which also affords excellent views of the crag


A team on the splitter crack of the first pitch of The Fundamentalist


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.

Jim scurrying up the intro pitch to Slochd Wall – a nice warm up in the dry conditions.


At a good rest on pitch 2 with the crux overlap directly above me. Photo credit: Jim Briggs


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.

The impressive West Wall of Mitre Ridge with a team on the second pitch of Slochd Wall, taken later that day


The start of the third pitch contains some of the trickiest moves on the route – Jim in his element after dispatching the traverse


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.

Jim linking the first two pitches of 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.

Exposed climbing on the Bell’s Variation finish to the Second Tower


A fine place for a belay! Jim relaxing in the evening sun after the end of the difficulties


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…

A team on a leisurely evening ascent of the classic Squareface – what a superb way to end the day


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