While I was happy to get a long weekend out of it, the royal wedding did not interest me in the slightest. The closest we got to paying it any attention was turning on BBC radio while driving out of town. Several pundits were in the midst of a heated discussion about Victoria Beckham’s hat, which was pretty much what I assumed the coverage was going to be like. After about a 30 seconds the nausea started to set in and I turned it off.
We parked at Keiloch (near Braemar), shouldered bulging packs and started cycling up a long, steadily inclining landrover track.
- Camping gear = kind of heavy
- Climbing gear = kind of heavy
- Camping + climbing gear = heavy!
After a while we were no longer on a nice landrover track, but pushing and sometimes carrying the bikes up a narrow rocky path. We came across a nice, level, tent-sized grassy spot and dropped the bags and the bikes there, but continued on to the head of the valley, just to make sure we knew where we were. We soon came across a ruined stone hut — a distinctive landmark noted in our climbing guidebook. We hiked a bit further just to get a look at the terrain ahead for the next day, and then returned to make camp and have some dinner.
In the morning we packed up the climbing gear and pushed/carried the bikes out to where the path opened up again. The guidebooks say to leave your bikes at the ruin, but we’d been told that in fact the track would open up again on the other side and we’d be able to ride most of the way up the Slugain valley, and it did, and we did. It was a gorgeous ride in fact, up a huge open valley on a nice single track.
There were a few stream culverts to cross – some big enough you had to jump across, which was no easy feat carrying a bike and a big pack full of heavy climbing gear. Eventually the path degraded again and we were pushing more than riding so we ditched the bikes in some heather and continued on foot up another steeper valley to The Sneck, which is a weirdly-named high pass into Garbh Coire, a huge corrie on the northern flank of Beinn a’ Bhuird. Then down a scree slope into the corrie, and across the bottom of a steep snow field, and back up the other side to re-cross the snowfield at a narrow point at the top to get to the base of the wall. Or, at least that’s what Brad did. In an effort to take a more direct route I tried to stay on the near side of the snowfield instead of crossing- and re-crossing, and I ended up wasting at least an hour and scaring the crap out of both of us. ANYway, that embarrassing episode behind me, we eventually made it to the base of Squareface, which is a gorgeous huge square buttress of granite. Amazingly, there were two parties already on the route. Imagine cycling/hiking all that way to wait in line for a route! So we had to hunker down and wait in the windy corrie, in the shade, next to the snowfield. The party in the lead was moving very slowly and by the time we got to climb we were both chilled through.
I led the first and third pitches. The first pitch is 40m and consists of a long, rope-munching crack, and then a rightward scramble up a series of blocks. Brad led the second pitch, which wandered rightward across the face to a corner, up to a horizontal crack, and then back leftward to a three-star belay ledge – a perfect triangular platform jutting out over the valley. The third pitch was just spectacular – high up over the corrie, gorgeous gritty granite – make your way up and right into a lovely layback flake, up the flake and over to finish.
That single pitch alone was well worth the long journey to get to it. I’ve been working on getting more solid on the lead so Brad and I can do long mountain routes more quickly, and this was a good start – it was only VD, but it was very exposed so I felt pretty good about pulling it off with minimal hesitation, especially after the fiasco with the snowfield.
Then the long walk back down to the bikes, and the lovely ride back down the Slugain to our campsite. In the morning we biked and hiked all the way back to Garbh Coire – on a bit of a schedule since we’d arranged to meet our friend Johannes at 10am at the base of a route called the Cumming-Croften. When you arrange to meet someone that far into the wilderness at a pre-specified time you expect something to go wrong, but we could see him waiting at the base of the route as we clambered up the long scree slope underneath. When we finally reached him he immediately showed us his watch — and it was 10:00 on the nose! Not bad timing when you consider we’d left camp at 7:30am. Then we did the Cumming-Croften route. Six pitches, great views, very exposed – but some loose and rotten rock in spots, and very cold in the shade. On the whole it was not a bad route, although quite hard for the grade (Severe 4b). Sadly, we forgot the camera when we ditched the bags at the Sneck, so no pictures of that, although I did get a picture of another party on the route later in the day.
When we got to the top of Cumming-Crofton it was 2pm. Brad and Johannes went back down into the corrie to do the Slochd Wall, which is another, harder (HVS) route near the Cumming-Crofton.
I hiked back down to The Sneck, where we had left the bags and retrieved the camera, which we’d forgotten there, and hiked back up and along the rim of the corrie to try and get some pictures of them, without much success. After a while I gave up on photos and just enjoyed the sunshine. They were still a few pitches from the top, so I headed back to camp on my own to tear down the tent and pack up. The trail back to camp was fun – my bag was light because I’d left all the climbing gear with Brad, so I got to cycle fast and light down the long single-track along the Slugain in the evening sun without a soul around.
By the time Brad and Johannes arrived at camp I had everything packed up and we cycled out. What had been a rather miserable uphill toil on the way in was pure joy on the way out – moving fast through forests and around boulders and through streams under lovely purple hills in the setting sun. I think we picked the plums of Garbh Coire on this trip, but I can imagine going back to repeat them someday. Squareface is a special route – all the more special for being in such a remote and rugged setting.