Friday, 21 August 2009

The ascent of an unrecorded pinnacle

A brief spell of sunny weather, after days of continuous rain: the forecast may not have been good, but at 1pm this afternoon I found myself walking up into Coire nam Beithach nevertheless, to make the best of it. My plan was to try to find a way up the North Face of Stob Coire nam Beith, a very serious place that had defeated me three times before. I had learned that No.4 Buttress could be climbed by an easy route, so this was what I decided to aim for.

The river crossing halfway up the coire proved to be a hazardous affair, as the river was in full spate. A pair of walkers ahead of me lay like beached whales on the far shore after their struggle with the rapids. I elected to find an easier way across, and after much exploring to and fro I managed to wade across a relatively easy section.

Soon enough I was at the foot of No.4 Buttress. I managed to get less than ten metres up the route before deciding it was completely unjustifiable! Even by my standards, the ridge was obscenely loose and vegetated. I don't think I will be going up that way again in summer, but I can see how it would be a good winter climb.

Time for Plan B. On the way up, I had noticed a number of crags on the South-West Face of Stob Coire nan Lochan. Incredibly, this entire face only has two recorded routes--both from 1948! I noticed a pinnacle some way up the hill and resolved to go and climb it.

The approach to the pinnacle involved steep work on loose ground and vegetation, enlivened by an easy scramble up to a 'false pinnacle'. A large squall hit whilst I was on this scramble: the skies turned black, the wind increased to a howling gale, and for about twenty minutes I was pelted with rain, hail, sleet and even wet snow.

Eventually I stood beneath the pinnacle itself. It showed no sign of traffic; the steep front of the tower looked too hard to climb alone, but hosted several potentially good routes for a climbing team.

I discovered a subsidiary arete to the left of the main face of the tower. It was vegetated for the first few metres but soon turned into a fine, exposed arete of good rock with excellent holds. There were a couple of tricky moves, and the final teeter across the knife-edge ridge that connected it with the main pinnacle was very exposed, but all in all it was a fine short climb at Moderate standard. The summit of the pinnacle was an exposed, blocky platform perched nearly two hundred feet above the mountainside, with several worryingly loose blocks! Given how strong the wind was at this point, I was content to crouch and did not dare stand upright.

The descent from the pinnacle was a short Grade 1 scramble down pleasant rocky steps, then a short narrow gap between the tower and the hillside. I decided to descend down Coire nan Lochan, a wise decision I think given the state of the rivers.

The tradition for naming rock pinnacles on this side of the hill is to name them after the first climber to stand on the top, so I hope I am not too presumptuous in naming my unrecorded tower "Roddie's Pinnacle", since I can find no evidence of a previous ascent. Several routes of potential exist here; I am calling the line I took "The Arete", but I will go back at a later date with a climbing partner and a rope, and explore the other possibilities this fine tower of rock has to offer.

Photos from today


  1. It is a big country and I expect you will soon do a new route no one had done before. Come the winter you can push the possibilities on the crags to you hearts content.

  2. To be honest I doubt the pinnacle had ever been climbed before ... that entire face seems to have seen very little exploration, which is just the sort of place I like! You're right, though, the winter is where my heart is and I am already planning first winter ascents of my various esoteric ridges and buttresses on the West Face of Aonach Dubh.

  3. Alex, I'm still enjoying your exploits, especially as they are the more esoteric and unusual. After a visit to the Lake Distrit recently, it was the small and ignored crags dotted around that attracted my attention, so I know what you mean! Keep exploring, as that's the heart of mountaineering.