Nailed by Midges on Hammer, Etive Slabs

22 Aug

Rarely does a climbing trip planned in advance coincide with good, let alone exceptional, weather but this time the stars aligned and we plotted a course for classic venues in the West Highlands. First up was a visit to Beinn Trilleachan and the notorious Etive Slabs. Over a year had gone by since our ascent of The Pause and much like childbirth (probably) we had forgotten the painful bits and were ready once more for a delivery of scary, slab padding. The chosen route was Hammer and we were psyched!

Ric nonchalant at the start of The Scoop – innocuous, bold, brilliant and surprisingly straight forward

 

The route starts easily enough up the big corner system near the left end of the slabs but getting there was trickier than expected, with the “scramble” to the start of the first pitch being anything but. I enjoyed the mellow intro as I linked pitches 1 and 2 together, which despite first appearances are climbed mostly on rock, rather than heather, which is nice.

Next up was The Scoop, one of the defining features on the route and a pitch which had Ric written all over it.

The sanctuary of the corner provides both holds and protection; how conventional

 

Delicately padding up The Scoop, enjoying the friction and the added security of being on the blunt end of the rope. Photo credit: Ric Hines

 

The Scoop acquiesced with little drama and twenty metres of enjoyable lay-backing up the corner followed. The climbing is more conventional here but the relatively shallow angle means it can feel strange to lay-back and teetering up the slab would no doubt be possible, if much harder. The meat of the corner is split by a superb belay stance from which to watch the action unfold above…

Looking back up Glen Etive from the slabs. I never get tired of this view – it’s almost worth the approach and descent, almost

 

Steady corner climbing on pitch 4 leads to a very unsteady traverse across the bald wet slab above

 

The crux pitch begins with more of the same up the corner but then changes dramatically in character with an abrupt (and quite frankly desperate) traverse across the blankness to a line of flakes and flanges on the right. Throw in a wet streak which had soaked crucial nubbins and divots and both of us could scarcely believe we managed to adhere to the rock. Small steps are key on slabs but the wetness necessitated a committing step and big rock-over to the ramp of alluring slopers; exciting stuff!

Crux traverse safely dispatched, Ric moves up easier ground towards the overlap as the midge situation intensifies

 

Seconding pitch 4 and enjoying the continuation of the corner crack before the short sharp crux traverse. Photo credit: Ric Hines

 

As the breeze dropped and the humidity rose, the dreaded midge timed their arrival perfectly with Ric’s lead of the crux pitch. By the time I was seconding, the midge-storm was approaching category 5 and the situation rapidly became unbearable. I climbed as fast as possible and we quickly changed over at the belay for the final pitch to escape the slabs.

Made it! Gecko skills fully deployed to barely stay attached on a wet friction traverse – totally oblivious to the grand surroundings. Photo credit: Ric Hines

 

Midge-pocalypse Now – a cult classic filmed on location on pitch 5 of Hammer. Photo credit: Ric Hines

 

I battled wet lichen, grass, heather (and some fine rock) on a rising traverse out right to finish the route, all the while hounded by clouds of the biting bastards. Ric attempted to outrun them but as we reached the terrace above the slabs we resigned ourselves to our fate and suffered through the awkward exposed descent back to the coffin stone.

Majestic vistas, beautiful evening light, quality slab climbing – all ruined by the f*#&ing midge

 

Elated to have climbed another classic on the slabs and to have completed the trifecta of Spartan Slab, The Pause and Hammer we were left wondering if and when we would be back. Crucially, whatever the target, we vowed it would be in spring when the vegetation, ticks and midge would be much less of an issue!

3 Replies to “Nailed by Midges on Hammer, Etive Slabs

  1. Swastika is next for you Dave! Katie and I did it last year, E1 5a until the last two pitches where the normal free crux is well protected and the last pitch we aided. Would go E3 6a free I reckon but we ran out of beans.

    • Thanks Joe, I was worried that would be the case haha! We toyed with trying it the day after actually but the conditions were more suited to going high on the Buachaille rather than sweating it out with the midge again. Ric and Andy are keen for it so once the memory has faded enough I’m sure we’ll be back…

  2. Hi Guys
    remember it well , did it in the 80s my mate had tonsillitis and was detreating fast so i did the scoop was a bit apprehensive but it went , loved the pictures brought back so many memories , and even now i feel i could do it again at 72 , keep going lads , brilliant .

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