Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Raeburn's Buttress Direct

Raeburn's Buttress Direct (Difficult*), Sgorr Ruadh. The steep and obvious crest.

Is a hollow victory in fact worse than failing altogether? This was my thought as I stood alone beneath Raeburn's Buttress Direct…the head-games had started.

I'd been weighing up the idea of soloing this route for months, totally inspired by photos of its imposing and dominating profile. Now I was stood underneath it, and the temptation to take the easier non-direct route to the left was pretty strong. My first attempt to start up the initial steep wall had not been encouraging, I couldn't seem to find a way to get established on the sloping holds of the wall…and doubts about soloing it were rapidly strengthening.

An impressive and beautiful route.

I could have gone left and joined the upper half of the route above the crux. It was so tempting. But after thinking about this route for so long, did I really want to "cheat"? The lower half of the route looked superb, clean and dry rock everywhere. Was the route under-graded? Or was I just not finding the holds to get started up the wall?

The first wall. Down-wards sloping rock everywhere.

Something clicked in me, and I realised I would rather turn around and walk away altogether than climb the route by the non-direct and easier option. Failure did indeed appeal more than a hollow victory. I wasn't here to come back from the route feeling disappointment…the climbs that have become personally significant are the ones which you should do in the best style, or maybe not at all.

The stunning Sgorr Ruadh. Raeburn's Direct is the right-hand skyline.

Mainreachan Buttress.

So I tried again. I tried left and right at the base of the wall, rejecting a few different options. Eventually I worked it out and found the way, and climbing a move than felt above the grade got me established on the downwards sloping holds of the cliff.

Then all the doubts and conflicting thoughts evaporated, and moving upwards was all there was. 50ft up and I was so relieved I had committed to that move off the ground…this felt fantastic. After a ledge I reached a slanting ramp and crack line that looked unlikely, and again I was forced to look twice.

Getting established on the first wall and committing to the direct.

 The ramp and crack that gives access to the second tier of the buttress.
But this time I was looking with confidence, and the ramp turned out to be a really enjoyable bit of climbing on brilliant rock. Above here I reached the first tower, and again I felt so relieved I'd not let doubt get to me and climbed the easier non-direct route instead. That first half of the route was one of the most enjoyable pieces of soloing at the grade that I've done.

It is a climb of two halves, and the upper towers and ridge are far looser and more vegetated, and I was glad I waited for a heatwave to climb this route. On a route with such a presence and noble shape, it doesn't matter if the quality of the climbing itself isn't consistent. These are the kind of routes that really inspire me, the ones with great lines and character. If this was Ben Nevis, this would be the North-East Buttress.

A grass ridge leads to the upper towers

 The second tower
The third tower

As someone who always solo climbs, I regularly ponder what drives me to repeatedly put myself through the stresses, doubts and dangers that can be involved. Sitting at the top of Raeburn's Buttress Direct yesterday, I wondered if is really all just about experiencing the total and unique calm that comes after soloing a route that you have longed after, had doubts about, been scared by. There is no feeling quite like that.



  1. Nice one James - i had the same moment on Monday on Flying Buttress - i'd up and down climbed the first section a few times before and have always been happy with it but never done the entire route on my own in my modified running shoes until that day... I had a little talk to myself much the same as you described on committing to the steep wall and the chimney - that what the hell was i doing talking about doing fast attempts like the Cuillin Ridge if I was going to wimp out and convince myself I didn't need to continue and complete the whole route that day!!

    To get myself over that - toughen up to my own promises on goals and get the job done was as you have described - there is no feeling quite like it :-)

  2. That's a really good read Sarah! Good to read about the similar experiences of others. :-)