Thursday 3 May 2007

Northern Highlands Central review

I know that some folks wondered why the SMC had to separate the North West of Scotland areas into even more separate guidebooks. Well the introduction to the new Northern Highlands Central book has the answer loud and clear; 100 routes in Gairloch and Gruinard in the 1993 edition, over 1000 in this edition! Nuff said. If you know the north west of Scotland well you’ll know it’s really a bit ridiculous that it is referred to as a single climbing area in itself – “were going to the ‘north west’ to climb”. Well, I suppose it’s better than Scotland being referred to as a single climbing area of the UK as it often is, with 12,000 routes! When you think of the size and amount of climbing in the NH central area compared to the Peak district, it starts to become more amazing they could even fit it into one book.

Anyway, what about the book. Well, the great thing about SMC guidebooks is that I don’t have to tell you about the quality of the information and presentation; it’s an SMC book so you already know it will be top notch! Predictably detailed, comprehensive, enthusing and now even better with the glorious photo topos and loads of colour photos. Perhaps one of the enduring reasons why solitude is still virtually guaranteed on the north west crags (apart from the remoteness, weather, midges etc!) is that so little is known about them in the climbing-public consciousness. What are the classics? What are the best crags for short days, long days? Westerlies? Wet weather? Dry weather? Etc etc. The photo topos really help you connect with crags which in most climbers’ cases you’ll never have seen before.

So, why buy the book and go climbing in the NH central area? Well, ‘the main events’ in this book are Carmore, Gruinard, Loch Tollaidh, Stone Valley, and An Teallach. This encompasses the area north of Glen Torridon and south of Ullapool. Many of these are cragging venues, I hear you say, and wouldn’t you want to be on mountain crags if you were contemplating a trip to the NW?

Well, you might, but the weather will probably have other ideas. Accessible cragging which often stays reliably dry when the mountains are driech will save your trip. But quite apart from that, the cragging is brilliant! There are absolutely stack loads of routes to go at, at all grades now. All in the ubiquitous stunning scenery with very clean rock.

But when the sun does shine, get those walking boots on and get into Carnmore for a really BIG experience. The photo of Gob (HVS) sums up what North West mountain cragging is all about – pure adventure, with the climber looking small and vulnerable inching off into a sea of rock scenery with a gathering storm brewing up the glen behind.

Climbing in the north west of Scotland will always bring out the romantic element in climbers for good reason. No matter what it throws at you, it always leaves a big impression on you – an infinitely more powerful experience than another forgettable trip to clip bolts in the sun.

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