Wednesday 16 August 2017

Summer of Shuas

The first crux of Dun Briste E8 6c during the first ascent. Thanks to Cubby Images for these pics. Cubby, when are you doing your book?!!

 This summer I’ve tried to make up for last summer’s wet weather and broken legs and have picked up where I left off, trying to do some of the superb new routes just waiting to be climbed on Binnien Shuas. In this effort, I’ve been following the lead of the amazing Iain Small, who has made a great effort in developing the crag over the past year. Let me take a moment to underline just what he’s done here. Although I can barely keep count, Iain has added one E8 and five E7s to Binnien Shuas in the past year. And, having repeated a few of them, I can say that they are brilliant routes. Not only that, but Iain has done a very thorough job of cleaning them, turning three star routes into four.
Having broken my leg trying to make the FA of Stronghold, E8 6c last autumn, I was playing catch up with Iain this year. I kicked off by repeating Siege Engine E7 6c which takes a soaring diagonal ramp on the left side of the crag. It’s ridiculously steep and a long winding pitch but well protected and about 7c in difficulty. This for me was a pre-requisite before trying the obvious project cutting through the roof above the ramp.

Nearing the top of my own route Stronghold E8 6c, which was very satisfying after breaking my leg on an earlier attempt past September. Pic by Cubby Images

My first abseil down the project was an exhilarating and nervous experience. The headwall above the roof has this amazing flake in it. It’s hard to describe, but sort of like a ‘slice’ out of the granite resembling the cut you would make in the top of a mound of bread dough about to go in the oven (not that I bake any bread these days ; )). It’s such an amazing feature, I was really nervous that the stretch across the roof to the flake from the undercut flakes below would be too far and the line would be impossible. As it happens, it’s perfect - 8a+ with good gear and excellent, athletic climbing. You start by doing most of Siege Engine to the perfect cam slots in the roof. What follows is a huge powerful reach to the lip from here, some toe-hook trickery and another piece of gear before the culmination - a powerful slap to a perfectly placed side pull right below the top. 

I’d just had a week off climbing for my birthday fast (blog on this will follow) so on my first day up there with Iain I opted to top-rope it in its entirety to see if I could actually get through that top crux. This is something I don’t often do these days on headpointed trad routes. I usually tend to mess about on the moves on a shunt and then just go for it as I’ve got a lot of experience at knowing when I’m likely to succeed or fail. I was glad I did on this occasion though. Although I did manage to link it, I really needed the extra training burns before adding the effort of placing the gear on lead. I also seconded Iain on yet another great new E7 just left of my route Stronghold.

A couple of days later I was back with Iain and Cubby and after a bit of faffing decided to get on it. I felt really good all the way but was still full of apprehension for whether I could power through the crux with a bit of a pump on. I could feel that pump starting to kick in just a wee bit on the first crux, so got pretty fired up and let out a battle cry on the final slap to the side pull. It was an exhilarating surprise to stick it and a few moments later find myself standing on the ledge above with another classic new route in the bag. 

Setting up for the final crux on Dun Briste E8 6c, during the first ascent. Pic by Cubby Images.

Between Iain and myself, we eyed up a possible direct entry to the line from below. The following day I returned by myself and spent a long afternoon cleaning it. I think this could go but it’s at least another grade harder and will need a bit of work yet. With the sun staying out I was back again the following day with Murdo and Cubby. After the hardcore cleaning session the day before, I was pretty exhausted and at first wasn’t sure if I could climb anything. But after checking out Iain’s Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c on the right side of the crag, it was too good not to lead and both myself and Murdo dispatched our repeats with great enjoyment. To really finish myself off, I started up Isinglass E7 6c on the proviso that if I could manage the wobbly initial slab, I’d just try my best to keep going. I’m sure you’ll understand that after decking out and breaking my leg on the next route to the left, I’m a little nervous of Binnien Shuas starts now. I was a bit tense, but the start went fine and I pressed on. It was kind of cold and windy and I was really too tired to be on a big E7, so I didn’t hesitate and blasted on. Isinglass is another climb with the crux right at the top and I’ll admit I had to do a pretty committing slap on the key move onto the top slab.

Nearing the end of an intense and bold crux section on Iain Small's Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c, Binnien Shuas. Pic by Cubby Images

Enjoying Iain Small's excellent route Isinglass E7 6c, Binnien Shuas. Pic by Cubby Images

This really is an excellent crag for accessible mountain trad that dries quickly and is often in condition even in fairly mixed weather. The two E8s I’ve added myself are both brilliant, but I really do want to see an E9 on this crag. So I’ll be back as soon as I have the opportunity to get on the direct entry to Dun Briste. Although the E7s and E8s in this post will not be targets for most readers of this blog, it’s worth pointing out that the classics at the other end of the grade scale are highly recommended too. Ardverikie Wall probably gets twenty ascents for every one of any of the other routes. But there are plenty of other great ones too. The place is really other keeping in mind as a Lochaber mountain crag to visit. It’s in condition earlier and later in the season than many of the other mountain crags in the area and you can easily get in there and climb many pitches even with a half day and often when the higher mountains are catching the showers. See you up there.

Training with Freida after getting back from holiday last week. She insists on doing her rings workout to Katy Perry. I now know all the words to 'Roar'.


  1. What grade is she climbing Dave!
    I'd say Cubby could make a fine book!
    Nice climbing

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