clach glas scramble

Fri, Sep 18, 2009

With a few days off and the weather set fair, I decided to take a bimble along the Clach Glas ridge, possibly one of the best mountaineering days to be had in the British Isles. At grade 4, it’s rope territory for some but I’d done it twice before so thought it would be a good day out if the forecast was to be believed. Thursday morning saw the mountains of Knoydart basking in sunshine and a light breeze from the south west but as I came down the road towards Broadford there was nothing to see except clag! Now, the Clach Glas ridge isn’t the best place to stumble around in the mist, what with all that loose rock and very big drops if you stray too far from the route so I just decided to play it by ear and see how the weather panned out.

Coire aChaise

It’s a nice walk up into Coire a’Chaise but the scree at the top is hard work and while I lazed out of the wind just below the ridge, the resident raven swooshed just above me, wondering what on earth I was doing up there on such a day. As well as its trademark “krak krak”, it was also making a sound like a pebble being dopped into water and I could hear the wind rushing through its feathers. What a wonderful bird! Cloud swirled thickly round the crenelated crest and a gusty wind knocked me around now and then. Not an ideal day for route finding. I decided to go as far as Clach Glas as I was fairly sure, from the last time I went along the ridge, I could reverse the route from there but I really didn’t fancy stoating around on top of Clach Glas trying to find the one and only route down the Imposter, which is on very small holds, is very exposed and would be open to the 20-30mph gusts. So plan hatched, I plodded off along the crest.

On the Clach Glas ridge

To vary it a bit I dodged around and found an alternative to the steep descent, coming at it from below, up past a chockstone in the gully. It was about the same grade as the descent, only it was an ascent, having found an easy route into the gully then climbing back up to meet the bottom of the ascent. Just beyond, I saw the bright patch at the foot of the gabbro slab where last time, I’d pulled on a flake and a suitcase sized flat rock came away in my hands, toppled backwards and landed full square on my legs, breaking in half across my right thigh.One half went over the edge and exploded a long way down and the other half is still there. If you go off route on this ridge, you really need to be careful with loose rock. Various knife edges and ledges then took me to the base of Clach Glas, where the real stuff starts. Up the narrow chimney, break out to the right up a crack and along the narrow crest to drop down into the notch below the summit block. I really love this point, where you stand on a narrow bit of flat ground in a small rock notch, with the entire mountain falling away below you, although all I could see was bank upon bank of cloud whooshing up the face and curiously, a plane decelerating somewhere in the clag. The first bit up the summit block is easy, up a small slab, nip right past the overhang and up onto the ledge. Here it was decision time. Should I make for the summit, above 10m above? Or just go exploring on the way back? The wind was gusting, I couldn’t see much around me and I didn’t fancy trying to find the route down the other side. It would have been madness to reverse the last 10m as it’s more or less vertical and no place for a slip, as my water bottle found out. As I went back down the slab, it popped out of the side pocket, bounced once and disappeared into space. After what seemed ages, I heard it bounce again. That’s the problem with side pockets. They don’t work when you’re scrambling.

Clach Glas

So I did some more exploring on the way back along the ridge, climbing up the descent this time on superb gabbro holds, keeping as near to the crest as I could, which was exciting in the wind and with rough gabbroed hands, dropped back down the last gully to the start of the ridge. Some lichen spotting on the way back down the coire and I rounded off a grand day out by relaxing down by the burn and watching the ragged clouds swirl round the jagged ridge. I’ll be back, as someone once said!

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