“I truly feel that some of the new styles we use and objectives we choose (traverses and linkups, more physical endurance and logistical than technical) are cop-outs to avoid climbing hard” Rolando Garibotti
It felt like the only way to stop Mark going on about his plan to link up all the Classic Rock routes in the Cairngorms in one push was to sit down with him, plan it and prove it wasn’t feasible. As a sign of the times we ended up planning over Zoom – strong coffee, lots of maps, guidebooks and apps in the first week of lockdown. I had wanted to prove that it was a ridiculous idea but as we mapped it out I realised that it was in fact brilliant – great routes on good granite at a feasible grade to move fast, interspersed across some beautiful mountains. Our first attempt at measuring the distance came in at just over 50km and we added in some time for the climbs and it suddenly looked doable in roughly 20hours. Finding no notes of anyone completing this link up online was further fuel for the fire.
Mark and I have done a few days in the mountains trying to fit in a lot of climbing – 4 ice routes on the Ben in a day, 4 routes in Creag an Dubh Loch in 24hrs (with a bivy), Swastika and Agony on Etive slabs in the same day and that one time we went to Eigg to climb scary routes as slowly as possible. This however was going to mean more climbing and covering a lot more distance…..
The routes are (in the order in which we did them) – Eagle Ridge (Lochnagar), Squareface (Beinn a Bhuird), Cumming-Crofton (Beinn a Bhuird), Talisman (Creag an Coire Etchacan), Clean Sweep (Hells Lum) and Savage Slit (Coire an Lochain). We decided to go from East to West starting at Loch Muick and finishing at the Cairngorm ski area car park. The reason for going this direction was to be heading steadily towards more familiar terrain and to get slightly more downhills rather than slightly more uphills.
The night before we set the shuttle and stayed at Loch Muick car park. Early to bed after a wee dram
Packing kit the night before. We carried a lightweight single 60m rope, rack of nuts, rack of super light nuts (not worthwhile), 7 Cams (wee blue to big gold), 8 quickdraws, 2 slings and a micro traxion. We carried a group shelter, a wee first aid kit, a PLB, headtorches, laminate map/topos, phones , a belay jacket each and hat and gloves.
We left the van at 330am. We had planned to be climbing by first light which worked really well as Eagle ridge gets a good blast of sun first thing in July.
Eagle ridge getting hit by morning sun. As the forecast was for it to be 2 degC at dawn I was worried about how cold it would be climbing but this ended up not being a problem. Had it been warmer we could have not carried hat, gloves and belay jackets.
Setting off up Eagle ridge (200m Severe 4b) at 5.12am. We had a micro traxion on the rack to allow us to move together for some mega pitches. On Eagle ridge this let us run the first 100m together with relative safety.
Mark taking over leading for the sentry box move on Eagle ridge. Eagle ridge was the only route both of us had done before – with the rest of the routes being onsight except for Savage slit which I had done a couple of times.
Summit of Eagle Ridge at 6am. I had been worried that Eagle Ridge would be difficult to move quickly on as it can be quite greasy and it was forecast to be really cold. Getting to the top of it was the a great affirmation that the challenge really was doable. Lochnagar to Beinn a Bhuird was next up measuring 26km and 600m of height gain on the map. This is the longest section between routes.
Me coming over Invercauld bridge at 740am. We ran most of the down hill from Lochnagar to Invercauld.
The long section from Invercauld to Beinn a Bhuird (we’re headed for the Sneck – the notch in the skyline). This would be a long walk-in on a normal climbing day and it was hard to not start running. Running up hill at this stage would have knackered us for later in the day.
Squareface (Vdiff, 90m) – started climbing at 1108. We were extremely fortunate that no-one was on this classic route. We had decided to solo this one as its the easiest and is reported to have very little loose rock. It would be possible to solo all of the routes in the Classic rock list but we decided early on that it would look a wee bit irresponsible post Covid pandemic lockdown!
The top of Cumming-Crofton with Squareface behind.
We topped out after 11 mins and nipped down to the bottom of Mitre ridge. There was already one chap leading, his belayer and another party waiting. They assured us they were at the base of the Cumming-Crofton but thankfully they were on a lefthand start with the obvious hanging flake directly above us. One hour on Cumming Crofton (Severe 4a, 165m) saw us back on the summit plateau.
Heading across the summit plateau of the N top of Beinn a Bhuird. After Lochnagar to Beinn a Bhuird it was amazing to be able to see the next destination of Creagan Coire Etchacan (about 9km away).
Mark leading up the top of Talisman. Getting from Beinn a Bhuird to Creagan Coire Etchacan we tried to take a line where we didn’t loose too much height and got to the bottom of Talisman (HS 4b, 100m) to start climbing at 1517. Unfortunately there were already two parties on the route at the first and second belays. Amazingly the lower party agreed to let us climb through and the upper party disappeared. We had a few minutes rest while the party we were to overtake got their leader through the crux before we could pitch to just above them and then do a mega pitch to the top.
If anyone wanted to do the linkup at a more leisurely pace it would make sense to stay at the Hutchinson Hut below the crag.
We started up Clean Sweep (VS 4c, 185m) at 1718 and the first pitch was certainly the slowest with wet climbing shoes and some quite tricky moves (we were determined to do the actual first pitch rather than the hell fire corner start)
Mark still smiling after the third pitch of Clean Sweep. This pitch is what the route is all about and I was surprised how much we were both still enjoying the climbing after quite a few hours on the go.
After Clean Sweep we were headed for the last route of the day – Savage Slit, Coire an Lochain. In the planning stage we hadn’t decided how we were going to get to the bottom of Savage Slit….
We climbed Savage Slit ( in two pitches starting at 1943 and topping out at 2012). I’ve climbed Savage Slit in summer and winter so it was an absolute joy to move swiftly up a great bit of rock.
We topped out into high winds. The forecast had been for it to be windy all day and some showers to come in late in the day. We’d worked pretty hard to eat and drink enough and walk rather than run any uphills so it was brilliant to still feel pretty fresh at this stage for the last run to the car. Our top speed from the whole day was on the path out of Coire an’t Sneachdta – just over 15km/h.
We had allotted 20 hours for the adventure but in the end we were quicker climbing than we had thought and even a bit quicker running. The final stats were
- 62.62 km
- 6 routes – Eagle Ridge (Sev 4b), Squareface (Vdiff), Cumming Crofton (HS 4b), Talisman (HS 4b), Clean Sweep (VS 4C), Savage Slit (Sev 4a) – 28 pitches in total
- Height gain 3532m
- Moving average 5km/h
- Guidebook pitch average speed – 11 mins
- Total time – 17hrs 28mins
- Time from Start of first route to top of last – 15hrs exactly (this is how the Lakes Classic Rock Challenge is measured though I feel Car- Car makes more sense for the Cairngorms)
I had been concerned that we were going to turn some brilliant bits of climbing into a bit of a sufferfest but in fact the whole day was really enjoyable. It probably helped that we hadn’t seen each other in a few months so it just felt great to catch up with a mate and do a lot of really good climbing and running. We would be really excited to hear from anyone else who has tried this or completed it and really hope that others will give it a crack – It would be great to see a few hours knocked off our time!