Thursday, 26 July 2012

The East Buttress of Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Looking up at my route, East Buttress (Difficult***)

I stared into the wild eyes of the red deer, shocked at the absurdity of what I was convinced was about to happen. On a narrow ledge on the Triple Buttresses of Beinn Eighe…and I was about to be charged head-on by a panicked hind who's only means of escape off the ledge was blocked by me. A brief moment of fear as we stared into each other's eyes, and the deer came straight at me. 

I pressed myself against the wet grass and grabbed a heather stalk…my only hope of staying on the ledge and not being knocked 200 feet off the slimy ledge by the hind. A scurry of hooves and noise and I opened my eyes. The deer barely missed me in its full-on sprint for safety along the ledge, and I continued along the so inappropriately named "Broad Terrace".

The view down from the Broad Terrace

That was my (frankly quite frightening) introduction to climbing on Beinn Eighe.

The more friendly side of Beinn Eighe, the climbs hide on the corries hidden behind.

Coire Mhic Fhearchair is an incomparable mountain corrie. Other corries are arguably more magnificent, but where else will you find such a perfectly formed arena as the Triple Buttresses? As a child I would look at photos of this corrie and long to visit it, stuck in the flatlands of Suffolk. As a 12 year old I couldn't have dreamt that one day I would climb one of the Triple Buttresses.

The grey and stony world of Beinn Eighe

Before this morning I hadn't been climbing for about 3 weeks. A minor foot injury had seen to that. But insomnia has made a return as well…so this morning it was time to try and restore some sanity, injury or not.

East Buttress is the left-most of the three buttresses in the centre.

I've climbed many of Scotland's great mountaineering routes, all of them solo, but a route in Torridon is a gap in my experience I've wanted to fill for a while. But the start to my day was not encouraging…low cloud, haze and mist. As I put on my boots to start the approach, midgies filled my ears, my nostrils, my eyes. Drops of rain fell from the sky. 

Sail Mhor from Ruadh Stac Mor

Too long a drive to not try…so after a lengthy walk I was in the entrance to Coire Mhic Fhearchair, finally looking up at the Triple Buttresses, my route the left-hand buttress.

East Buttress from below.

Apart from Quiver Rib in Glencoe it looked the steepest mountain Diff-grade climb I can think of. Steep, and pretty intimidating to set off up without a rope. But it looked good, really really good.


And it was. After my very near miss with the red deer on the (not broad at all) "Broad Terrace" I was soon climbing and really enjoying it. It is a superb mountaineering route…continuously steep with a choice of lines, exposed and in stupendous surroundings. And the crux is at the top, as it is with all great mountain routes -  a vertical corner which looked tricky at first but I soon squeezed up, feeling pleasantly secure after the slimy crux of the North-East Ridge of Aonach Beag.

The crux corner.

Then on over the Munros of Ruadh Stac Mor and Spidean Coire nan Clach and the sharp descent down to the glen. A great route of quality amongst the awesome Torridon landscape…another one to remember.

A stag on Spidean Coire nan Clach.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New book on Glencoe soon to be available

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that the website's founder (and now only occasional contributor) Alex Roddie has been writing about mountains for a few years now. He is currently in the process of getting his latest book, The Only Genuine Jones, ready for publication and it is expected to be available in Amazon Kindle and other ebook formats in early Autumn.

Glencoe features prominently in the story, as do other locations well known to British mountaineers--including Ben Nevis, Wasdale Head, Great Gable, and Grindelwald.

Want to know more about The Only Genuine Jones? Check out the official author website here (, or follow Alex on Facebook here.


O.G. Jones is a climber with a reputation for stirring up trouble. It's 1896 and the conservative British mountaineering community is undergoing radical change, thanks to a handful of bold youngsters who dare to climb the icy north faces of the Alps. Standing against them all, desperate for recognition, the talented Aleister Crowley threatens to sweep it all away and remake the Alpine world in his own image, bringing destruction to Jones and his friends.

It's a new age of heroes, of legendary deeds, of ambition ... but the spectre of death follows those who dare to look to the future, and nothing will ever be the same again for this small band of remarkable men and women.

Adventure and romance, the Victorian spirit of progress, and the savage beauty of the wild combine to make this a tale of the mountains unlike any other. 

All Rights Reserved
Cover design and montage (C) John Amy,
Ice axe original photo courtesy of Monte Dodge

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Pain-barriers, minor injury and a new challenge

Running gives way to hill-walking again, for a while.

A few months ago I made a decision. There was a change that I wanted to make.

Realistically since 2010 I have had a very good level of hill-fitness. But I wanted to boost it to that next level where I could start taking on challenges a bit less ordinary.  I wanted to be able to do things in a couple of hours that would have been a day on the hill for me 3 years ago.

I have stayed true to that goal, and through a lot of sweat and sore muscles I have managed to raise my base fitness to the kind of level I was aiming for.

But do I just stop there? When I know I can do better, possibly much better?

A few weeks back I ran and climbed up North Buttress on the Buachaille, 56 minutes from car to summit. I felt to be going at close to my fastest pace….but I still hadn't even reached the lactic barrier when I touched the summit cairn.

The run down Coire na Tualaich hadn't felt sore, I didn't get jelly legs or the urge to sit down and sleep. 1 hour 27 minutes car to car, a time I couldn't have dreamt of 3 years ago. But…how much quicker I could have been if I'd made myself dig a little deeper.

When I was making my first attempts at hill-running, pain-barriers were a constant factor. There seemed to be a lot of them, major walls that you had to smash through in order to make those first lung-busting jogs up slopes the majority can only walk up.

So I would confront those pain barriers time and time again, and at some point without me really realising, they no longer appeared when they used to whilst I was running up-hill. About three weeks ago then I was getting in the frame of mind to start confronting the next set of pain-barriers, to take it up another level again. But as bad luck would have it I've developed a minor niggle in my left foot which has dissuaded me from running until it has gone.

It's only been about 10 days since I stopped running. But already my mind is a jumble, my mood has lowered and I'm feeling generally un-fit. It always amazes me just how good running makes you feel, and how empty you can feel when deprived of it.

But despite my slight feeling of despondency I have given myself a good-talking to, and I have set myself a new challenge - to try and maintain my new fitness level while I am not running. It's going to be hard, and I doubt I'll entirely succeed. But to this end in the last two weeks I've already done dozens of miles of hill-walking, lots of big 15 and 16 mile routes on rough and rugged terrain.

And there really is a positive to all this…I've got back my enthusiasm for hill-walking for its own sake, something I was beginning to fear had been totally replaced by climbing and running. The Munros have been getting a lot of attention from me again in the last few weeks, and if my re-gained enthusiasm lasts, then very soon I'll be on the home-straight to completing them.