Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Central Buttress of Coire a'Ghrunnda

 Central Buttress (Diff***), Coire a'Ghrunnda. Straight up the middle between the two narrow gullies.

I can still vividly remember my hangover on the morning of the 18th October 2011. Alex, Mark and I were climbing Ledge Route on Ben Nevis in fresh snow and we all felt like hell. Vast quantities of beer and Talisker had been drunk the night before in the Clachaig staff bothy, whilst we celebrated the early arrival of winter in the mountains. All thoughts of summer rock climbing had been shelved weeks ago and as always winter couldn't come soon enough.

Things felt a little different this October morning, as I am nursing rough fingertips from climbing 600ft of warm Cuillin rock, instead of a hangover. October is always such a question mark - will summer return for a final fling, or will a monsoon set in on the West coast that lasts for weeks?

Since my return from my month on Skye in May, I have waited eagerly in the hope of a perfect weather forecast to coincide with my days off. I've had a really good summer of climbing, but there was one route that I really wanted to solo before declaring the season a success.

A perfect day in the Cuillin

Early morning haze over one of the most beautiful routes in the country, Pinnacle Ridge

Central Buttress (Difficult ***), Coire a'Ghrunnda South Crag. It is not one of the most famous big mountaineering routes in the Cuillin, but it is probably one of the best. Twice I'd chickened out from setting off up it alone, arriving in the corrie in the wrong mood to be soloing, and a few weeks ago I stood at its base only for the rain to send me home empty-handed.

The top third of the route. Up between the two central gullies.


Coire Laggan.

A dark and frosty drive across the Highlands and the promise of the Northern Lights…it felt every inch of an autumn day that was beginning. But by the time I was in Coire a'Ghrunnda I was faced with warm, unbroken sunshine and some of the best climbing conditions I've had in the Cuillin.

Central Buttress starts the way it goes on, steep and sustained at the grade. As is so often the case with these Cuillin routes, lines of holds appeared magically as I climb up features that looked improbable from below. The rock was warm, bone dry, and the sun felt so different to its cold presence on Cairngorm on Saturday.

The arete on the left side of the central tower. Big exposure to the left, unseen in the photo.

The large pinnacle on Pinnacle Rake.

The crux tower of the route is a tease. In the guidebook it is described as "sensational climbing" and from below you see can it is obviously superb. It is also quite intimidating. But an escape is possible just beneath the crux along an easy ledge…so you have to choose to continue.

The superb crux tower. 

I'm glad I didn't go for the easy option. The crux tower was one of the best pitches of rock I've climbed at the grade in the Cuillin, possibly in Scotland. Half way up a golden eagle flew overhead and circled a few times, taunting me as the crux was too steep for any photography.

I topped out, smiled, and waited. Ten minutes later the eagle returned, I got my shot, and descended with the glassy surface of the sea shining below me.


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