on the blaven clach glas ridge

Sun, Sep 30, 2007

With the high pressure still going strong over the northern Highlands, I headed out with Dawn for the Blaven - Clach Glas ridge. This is perhaps one of the best mountaineering days to be had in the UK. Top end scrambling with graded rock climbing thrown in. I say graded but it’s only Moderate (Inn Pinn standard) and Diff. You can miss out the Diff section, the classic finish up the 18m chimney onto Blaven, by taking easier but less interesting routes, graded Moderate.

Blaven and Clach Glas

As we wandered up the path, the moon slowly sank over the Putting Green, the pleasant grassy bealach between Clach Glas and Blaven.

The moon over The Putting Green

We walked up the steep heather and scree into Coire a’Chaise and onto the ridge between Clach Glas and Sgurr nan Each, with Ravens echoing round the rock walls of the coire. From the top of the bealach, you can go left, facing the rock step and into a chossy gully with a nice short wall exit, then it’s wandering along the ridge, just below the crest in nice situations, although it can be a bit loose here and there. The first major obstacle that might bring out the rope is the steep descent into a gap. At first sight, it looks almost impossible. A smooth groove to the left or an almost vertical wall straight down. Straight down it is though and it’s surprisingly easy, with all the holds there. Near the bottom, you just traverse into the gap and the difficulties are over, for the moment.

Once you reach the scree gully the real work starts. Nip up a slanting V shaped chimney, which starts down the screen gully a wee bit. It’s easier to exit up the right wall of the chimnney and nip along the narrow arete and jump down into the tiny gap at the foot of the final tower of Clach Glas, or “The Matterhorn of Skye” as it’s known. When you look at pictures of the tower in books you think it’s going to be very difficult and they all say it’s exposed. I’ve done it twice now and I still don’t think it’s either hard or exposed. It’s not a place for a slip or a fall but the rock is excellent and the holds excellent. Having said that however, I managed to pull a huge slab of basalt off, when I was looking further to the right. It landed on my thighs and split apart, leaving a nice scar! So don’t go too far right, just go straight up, out of the gap, reach the small alcove you can see from below and head out right and up to the summit plateau.

Garbh BheinnaAnd Glamaig from the summit of Clach Glas

The next section is the descent from Clach Glas and is known as the imposter. Again, it can look daunting in books but it really is quite easy. Rather than looking straight down from the edge, into the abyss, you traverse down the top of a scoop in the ridge. There are a couple of interesting moves at the bottom though, where you have to link the bottom of the imposter to the main ridge, which is literally a knife edge. Very nice though. From there, it’s just a case of following your nose along ledges and scree paths down towards the Bealach Tower. When you ascend the tower, the key is to find a cleft to the left of the summit and squeeze up it. There’s a considerable drop on the left but you’re soon past that. You can then visit the top of the tower but come back to the cleft. Continuing on past the summit leads you into very awkward ground with an unpleasant traverse over very loose rock and blank sections of rock. Not recommended. So go back to the cleft, down a bit on the Loch Slapin side and pick up the scree path that leads round to the base of the tower, into a gap and up easily to the grassy ridge of the Putting Green.

Beyond the Putting Green is perhaps the hardest part of the ridge. The 4m wall. It’s a vertical basalt wall, usually dripping wet and it has no good handholds. The key is to start in the middle, directly below the dripping ledges, then move left, aiming for an obvious hold, high up on the left. The hold looks like the pummel of a saddle and you can get your whole hand onto it. There’s a good ledge below it for your feet too, although it’s a stretch and a thrutch to get to the hold! And it’s the only good hold on the wall. Once you’re on the ledge and grasping the hold, the difficulties are over and just nip up onto the scree terrace above. Walk up to the right on a faint scree path, sharp left, up a gully, past a chockstone and turn right to look up the final classic finish, the 18m chimney, graded Diff.

Looking up the Diff chimney onto Blaven

It looks daunting from below but it really is quite easy. The hardest part is at the bottom, where the holds and thin and the rock polished. Once you’re past the first chockstone it’s superb! From the top of the chimney, head over to Dog Leg Gully and up to the tourist path on Blaven.

I carried a rope, some slings and a couple of harnesses just in case but we didn’t use any of them. If you’re comfortable leading VDiff the Clach Glas ridge is for you. If you’re an occasional scrambler, take a rope, know how to use it and make sure you read the guidebook as going off route takes you into some serious ground, both loose and exposed.

It’s one of the best mountaineering outings to be had in the UK though and one you’ll want to go back to again and again.

You can see all the pictures from the traverse here.

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