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!
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 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…
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!
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.
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.
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!