Friday 25 May 2018


On the lower quarter of Hyperlipid 8c, common to my other route Testify 8b. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

Last October I bolted two 50m new routes, sharing the same start, at Loch Maree Crag. I knew they would be among the best sport routes I’ve been on anywhere. The variety of climbing, quality of the rock and moves, length, exposure and setting are all pretty hard to beat.

The easier one ended up being a soft 8b and a nice introduction back to climbing after separating my shoulder in July. The left hand line looked much harder. After the 8b lower section, although there are good rests, there is a further 8a+ section leading to a brilliant but tough boulder crux, right below the last bolt. The holds on the crux are amazing but tiny edges. I couldn’t really imagine them feeling like actual holds after nearly 50m of climbing to get to them.

I’ve visited Loch Maree crag as often as I could during the last month. First I completed another nice 8b first ascent called Rainbow Warrior, and an escape left from my project just below the boulder crux to give Spring Voyage 8b/8b+. These were really great climbs but also useful to build a little fitness.

I was feeling low on power though, after getting a bout of food poisoning on holiday at Easter that took a little while to recover from. However, every time I went on the project I seemed to chip away at the beta, finding several big improvements that lowered my initial estimation of hard 8c+ to more like hard 8c.

I felt I’d left it too late though. The crag is very sheltered and so its best just to avoid it in midge season, not just for the midge, but because of the difficulty in getting a good breeze for the hardest routes. The season there is really March-May and late Sept-early Nov. I had one more visit booked with Murdo yesterday before I leave for 10 days on Shetland. When I return, it will be time to hit the trad for the summer.

At the car park there was little wind and strong May sunshine even at 9am. Maybe I’m just not used to warmth on my face after a long cold winter shivering under boulders or icicles? But as we entered the shade of the crag, the air was actually surprisingly cold and dry and there was a fair breeze. On my warm-up I found another wee tweak on the crux that took the edge off it, and the intimidation of that crux, so high on the route, waned just a little more.

After a rest I made the long voyage through the lower wall, stood on the rest for an age, attacked the 8a+ power endurance part above and arrived at the pre-crux jug. This is a great place to hang out. I stay here for well over 5 minutes, relaxing, recovering, focusing, letting my body cool down after the work done below and also just enjoying the spectacular position up on that headwall.

Hanging out at the rest before the crux of Hyperlipid 8c. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

All this, followed by a brilliant explosive boulder crux. The key moment of the route is really taking the first of the two ‘tinies’ with the left hand. If you are even slightly tired, it just doesn’t feel like a hold and your momentum evaporates in an instant. But I got there and thought ‘I can pull on it!’ and so gave it everything to match and then throw for the good edge above. I woke up with a shock when my body, starting to fall, stopped and maintained contact with the good edge. Time to keep the effort level up!

The following moves are easier, but a little delicate for the feet. If you stood a little too hard on the smears, and one slipped, you’d be off. I was acutely aware of my shouts and grunts echoing round the crag, adding to the sense of being super high on the route. What follows is a rest and then just a little 7c+ crux to get to the top. It ought to be easy if you can get to this point, and in the end it was. The north west of Scotland has several excellent sport crags, and it’s nice to finally get an 8c on one of them.

I know I often say it, but I was not expecting this project to go down so quickly, even taking into account that it had started off as an 8c+/9a prospect until I found better beta. I suspect that I am feeling the benefit of being injury free for a sustained stint. I’ve not had more than around 6 months of continuous climbing since 2012! I’ve either just broken ankles/legs/shoulders, or just had surgery on one of those. I managed to climb most of the projects I had lined up for the winter/spring. So now I can turn thoughts towards summer projects with a good vibe of confidence. Top of the summer list is the E9 project on Binnein Shuas I started cleaning the day before I separated my shoulder last summer. 

For now though, I just want to say that Loch Maree Crag is well worth a visit for long, high quality sport routes in a lovely setting, many of which stay dry in the rain. The 6bs are just as good as the 8bs. I would recommend visiting in the spring and autumn ‘windows’ rather than summer though. I will miss day trips up there. I guess I’ll just have to get myself to Carnmore at some point soon - something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

On the FA of Rainbow Warrior 8b. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

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