Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Zero Waste Micro Adventure - Introduction to Scottish mountain rock routes




I spent a while pondering on what to call this type of mountaineering adventure. Big walk ins, long routes deep in the mountains which always require the full use of your trad rack but also the use of a map and compass and general mountain skills which you develop through hill walking. For some, this seems like hard work and way too much faff but to me it has great appeal as it combines the two things I love - trad climbing and hill walking. 
I came to the Cairngorms for the first time three years ago. It felt so vast and imposing. Back then, just being in that environment for hiking holiday was enough to push my limits. I never could have imagined that three years later I would be walking up to the same places, but this time, the walk ins with a pack would not absolutely break me and instead of stopping to camp after a decent few hours of hiking totally exhausted, my mind would be psyched and my body ready to move up the exciting lines on Scottish granite.


Hot September days don't happen very often in the Scottish mountains but when they do, make the most of it!

I have joined some friends who truly and well love these kind of mountain routes so it was nice to share the experience with someone equally psyched! As with everything in climbing, bring ''the squad'' and you are guaranteed to have a good time- regardless of how much it rains or how much climbing you get done. Climbing is an excuse really to hang out with your friends, right?


                                                                         The Squad

All mountain crags will require walk ins and some are far enough that you need to stay out in a bothy or camp somewhere close by to make it worth while.


                        You need to earn these kind of views- Loch Avon in its full glory

We chose to climb by the Shelterstone crag and stayed at Hutchinson memorial hut. The idea was that there was enough crags within reasonable walking distance for the range of grades within our group and it would make a good base for a couple of days of climbing. The bothy is great but quite small, so I ended up sleeping in my tent and the bothy became a social space for the evening.


                     The bothy makes a good base for climbing around Etchachan

There is a reason why mountain rock routes are not really polished. It is hard work to reach them so naturally the traffic is a lot less frequent than on your easily accessible road side crags. This makes climbing the absolute dream which is why I guess climbers are willing to put in the effort. 



                Ben getting super psyched for the lines on Shelterstone crag 

As with most things, the first time you do it, you end up learning a lot about the process. With this kind of climbing, everything takes ages, from packing your bag, to walking from the bothy to the crag. The logistics of walking off a route is something that I have never considered. Apparently fast and light is what you do in these situations! As always I brought too much stuff in my day pack and what looked like an easy scramble off the top to pick up my bag where I left it, has turned out to be an hour detour. In the mountains where everything takes so long, there is no space for wasting time as it can mean the difference of getting a route done or getting back down in the dark. Climbing in the mountains is definitely very different to your local single pitch crag- both in the scale of the routes and the seriousness of the situation.


Apparently bringing your 70 litre pack to the crag base is not the done thing. I have learned my lesson!

It is proper adventure climbing.

There is the commitment too. You spend so long hiking up to a place with the aim of climbing a particular line, only to find that the conditions are not great. The route can be wet or the walk in has taken too long. It is the commitment that will get you there and motivate you to slog away with your heavy pack and it is the commitment that can also get you injured if you push on when the conditions are not right. So I learned that you need to have the psyche but also have an open mind and flexible approach.


         Unpolished rock on 3* routes makes climbing so enjoyable

When you eventually get on the rock, it is magic. There are some 3 and 4 star routes in the Cairngorms and they flow so nicely. Every move on these routes, although strenuous, seems to have a hold just where you need it. The views are outstanding too and every time you join your partner on the belay ledge you wonder why more people don't come out here to appreciate it.


     Emily feeling happy and content after the first pitch off Talisman (HS 4a)

If you choose routes which are below your climbing limit, it can be a really enjoyable way to spend your day. It is okay if you don't use up all of your energy climbing, I learned. You don't always have to climb on your limit (I do struggle with this concept:). You will need some of the energy on the 3 hour walk back to the car.


For me, keeping a smile on your face as much as you can whilst pushing yourself is one of the most important qualities as it really makes a massive difference to the team morale - here Will demonstrating how it is done

If the climbing isn't convincing enough, the mountain swims should definitely be the deal breaker. Loch Etchachan is officially my favourite swimming spot ever. (I know I say that about lots of places but if I actually had to choose, this would be one). The water is so cold that your skin is red raw when you come out and you gasp for breath when you eventually pluck up the courage to dive in. It is exhilarating.


The swim in Etchachan is freezing/exhilarating depending on how you choose to look at it

Logistics


                Views over the Coire an Etchachan from the camp ground

Hutchinson memorial hut is easily accessible in a few hours from Glenmore ski car park. Loch Avon basin has a lot of good crags around. You can leave your car over night in the car park and pick it up a few days later. The Scottish Rock guidebook covers all of these areas. There is a big range of grades to keep you entertained for a long time! OS map and Compass are essential (or at least view ranger) to cover your walk ins. First aid kit is a must as well as a charged up mobile phone for any mountain rescue call outs. Usual mountain safety stuff like letting someone know where you are going and the estimated arrival is also a good idea.

Equipment


Big packs are essential in order to fit in everything you need for a few days of walking/climbing

We made sure that we had a full trad rack and ropes for each climbing pair as well as camping equipment. Think of it as everything you need for a full day out walking in the mountains as well as for a day out climbing. Yep- get a big pack and get the quads ready by doing some squats at at the gym prior to the trip.

Zero Waste

Like a proper mountaineer, instead of taking light foods, I brought eggs in My Kleen Kanteen for breakfasts for two days. For lunch I fried some veggies and bacon which I picked up package free from the butcher. Due to lack of prep time, for dinner I opted for the next best thing- buying something in tins which I recycled afterwards. It is definitely not an ideal solution but sometimes life gets in the way and so you are faced with choices. I will always opt for foods in recyclable glass or tins before ever resorting to non recyclable plastic. The only rubbish generated and destined for landfill was a butter and chocolate wrappers and a some tea bags. No matter how small your efforts are, they will go a long way!



Anyone else addicted to the post adventure feeling of tiredness and contentment at the same time?

The slog with the heavy pack. The commitment. The superb climbing. The exhaustion at the end of the day. The uncertain outcomes. The friendships. The mountains. The mountain swims. I don't know why but I love it already. I will be coming back for more of this mountain rock routes shenanigans.





















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