A New Route for Ian's Birthday
We've found the great wee hill to end all great wee hills.
My hunt for the Hill of the Hunt started years ago when the then- new Glencoe climbing guide was published. Tucked away at the back was an odd addendum about it. I guess at that time no-one knew which guidebook to include it in.
Our first attempt many years ago at reaching this semi-mythical crag was not auspicious. There was no six-figure grid-reference, and cold damp clag swirled around obscuring any view. Strontian gala day had been a big success, but the excesses of the night before had turned to hangover-induced motion sickness on the long drive westward. Jim had watched with disapproval as I deposited my stomach contents at the side of the road. We ended up bouldering on a little wall near the Achnaha road junction.
The next possible occasion was several years later, but seduced by the glossy image of Wheesht! In the Cubby climbing calendar, and the revelation of hundreds of new routes in a new guidebook, we were drawn, star-struck, to the ring-crags. On the routes we did the gabbro was a bit friable, and the routes over-starred. I was a bit disappointed.
Cut to the present (or near past for the pedantic.) Mhairi and I had decided to head to Ardgour for a weekend of hillwalking, climbing and canoeing. The weather forecast had suggested that it was going to be too cold for mountain rock climbing, and a super day’s walking on Sgurr Dhomhnuill amidst the snow flurries had confirmed that analysis. The next day was my birthday- we would head west to the great wee hill.
In the morning, the sun burned in a sky of unblemished blue from horizon to horizon. It had been chilly overnight, so we had a leisurely breakfast and packed our climbing gear unhurriedly for the fifty minute ascent to the crag. We left our parking place beside Loch Crannoch and made our way across the high ground between the bogs to the north ridge. As we climbed, the two-tiered Eigg Buttress beckoned from the skyline. Despite being of clean sound gabbro, there were no routes recorded here. However, as the sun had not yet touched this north-facing section, we scrambled around to the west. The long steep Cuillin Buttress towered above, then we climbed a grassy slope below Rum Buttress to gain a little chimney leading to a grassy neck. Below lay our intended destination, Hebrides Wall.
After the usual peregrinations, we set off up a V diff called Faradh Dubh. In the guide it had three short pitches, but I just climbed up until an obvious belay appeared. The rock was perfect, the protection excellent and the climbing fun. The views were unbelievable: the SMT NW Highlands guide mentioned being able to see at least fifteen Hebridean islands. No exaggeration. A second, easier, pitch followed and we descended the SW ridge to the base of the wall.
The next obvious route was a VS named Unknown Warrior, with a steep little start to good cracks. Mhairi looked a wee bit dubious, so I looked at the next line along, which was less steep, but perhaps less well-protected. Fancy this one? I asked. When we discovered it wasn’t in the guidebook, the idea of a first ascent on my birthday appealed. I set off up a groove, steeper than it looked, surmounted the initial wall and toddled up easy but poorly-protected slabs to belay on the ridge. It was really rather good.
In keeping with the Unknown Warrior route name (there was an ancient overgrown cairn marking that route’s start) I thought of the boldness of the original pioneers. Given my advanced age and the lack of gear we settled on Oldenbold (HS4a) as the route name.
We ate some lunch and raked about. We were feeling lazy to the extent that I didn’t even rescue some decent-looking crag swag from a nearby VS. We finished our climbing when Mhairi led up the lovely Gabbro Slab (Diff). We visited the west top of the hill, then descended the SW ridge to our rucksacks. In hillwalking mode we ticked the highest Central top, then went over to the Eastern top above Kilchoan. I finished my mountaineering endeavours with a scramble up a beautiful slab on the north side of this top. Our return to the van was quick and easy,
There are lots more unclimbed buttresses to explore, Neolithic remains on the lower eastern slopes, but most of all that unparalleled view of the western seaboard and islands. So that’s it the great wee hill to end all great wee hills.
*This article originally appeared in "Great Wee Hills" column of The Ochils Mountaineering Club Newsletter no. 155
A "Dear Nr Nisbet" e-mail seems to confirm that our route is indeed "new".
Ian's latest climbs are found here.
A good blog aggregator is here, although it's not completely up to date.
Details of a new local sport crag are here:-callandercrags.weebly.com/
I received an e-mail from Andy Nisbet (SMT Guidebook Editor) whilst on holiday in Ailefroide. He said that he'd gone to solo Oldenbold, and backed off, having previously soloed the VS Unknown Warrior to the left. We agreed that the route should go into the next guide at VS 4b.
Beinn na Seilg will in future be included in the Highland Outcrops guide.