Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Barn Wall

"The East Cliff was a humble and generous cliff, giving freely the sound climbs that are the daily bread of the rock-climber; therefore of more value than many airy severities that I had happened on in the past. On the East Cliff all men may climb."
W.H.Murray - Undiscovered Scotland

With fine weather having at last embraced the Highlands, I decided to make the most of my morning off yesterday. Work at three but a starry sky above: this meant a short day, and although my enthusiasm for summer climbing is not great compared to the winter stuff, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

I decided to visit the East Face of Aonach Dubh. This friendly cliff is one of the most popular crags in Glencoe, for good reason: it is sunny, it dries quickly, it's a short walk from the road, and it has an excellent selection of classic low-grade routes. My three previous visits to this side of the mountain--February 2009 (Quiver Rib with Mike Martin), May 2009 (Bowstring with Isi Oakley and James Roddie) and July 2009 (Barn Wall with Rachael Murphy)--were all memorable events. All of these routes were first climbed by W.H.Murray and friends in 1947, and are chronicled in the great bible of Scottish climbing, 'Mountaineering in Scotland / Undiscovered Scotland'.

It was dark when I began the walk in up the coire, but I used the red bulb on my headtorch to preserve night-vision, and so when I reached the foot of the cliff my eyes were used to the darkness and I was able to find my chosen route. I decided to climb the Barn Wall: graded Moderate, it's the easiest climb on the crag, a huge steep wall broken up by heathery ledges. There isn't much of a defined line, making route-finding critical to finding the easiest route. On my previous ascent last year, we wandered onto a more difficult line by accident and were forced to rope up.

I climbed the lower chimneys in darkness, with only a glimmer of pale light starting to reach out over Rannoch Moor. I was halfway up the steepest wall (at the central section) when the sun fired its first rays across the glen, piercing the veil of haze that lurked far below. All around me, Glencoe boomed and echoed with the roars of the rutting stags, and the dawn turned the entire world golden.

The steep cliff is covered with a surfeit of the very best possible holds, making this climb quite easy despite its exposure. By the time I reached the summit of the crag, the sun was out and the burnished copper colours of the glen were alight in all their glory.

Autumn in the Western Highlands is magnificent--but I can't help wishing that winter would hurry up and arrive!

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