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The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby houdi » Sun May 08, 2011 9:17 pm

Munros included on this walk: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), Stob na Broige (Buachaille Etive Mor)

Date walked: 29/04/2011

Time taken: 6.5 hours

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Friday, Royal Wedding Day. Billions watching it on TV, apparently, and literally thousands heading for the hills to escape from it, including me. Another clear sky day and the car-parks are already full. I was actually intending to do Bidean this day but when I saw that familiar pyramid shape of ‘The Buachaille’ I couldn’t drive past. Actually, I almost had to as the Altnafeadh car-park was packed to capacity as was the layby opposite. I was pleased the next car-park down the glen still had spaces and this is the better option for anyone doing the full ridge as it sits at the exit to the Lairig Gartain. Far better to tackle the short walk along the A82 at the start of the route than at then end, I feel.

This would be my fourth outing on Curved Ridge and its surprising how little I remember of it from past visits. Locating the water slab is not a problem any longer and has lost its prestige as a route marker now that a restored path has been etched out and trampled by many boots. Just follow the path as it contours across the hill towards Glen Etive. After it passes the water slab it turns upwards into the scree gully. You really can’t go wrong at this stage. I bumped into two lads from Erskine – John & Davie – just above the water slab. This was their first attempt at Curved Ridge and they were studying the rock structures on the skyline trying to pick out the ridge. It was round about this time I realised I hadn’t been paying attention on my previous visits. “I think the high point there is Curved Ridge”, I said to them. You idiot, Houdi, that’s the Rannoch Wall. Everyone knows that. “Okay, I’ll leave you to it lads. Don’t stray to the left or you’ll end up on the wrong ridge”. Pretty vague advice from someone who’s supposed to be a Curved Ridge veteran. That’s me all over though. I’d never be any good at giving out a description to the police as I don’t seem to be very observant.

If you follow the scree up, tending right whenever possible you come to a point below Curved Ridge where the scree gives way to a rock section which requires heavy duty scrambling over very wet rock. I dislike this part of it as I had an accident on wet rock some years ago. However, looking across the top of the scree, a path heads off across the mountain to the right. It looks to be going away from where you want to go, but this is actually the climber’s route to the Rannoch Wall. Once out of sight of here it curves up through a short (and easy) rock section and becomes a standard path again, traversing back round towards the bottom of the Rannoch Wall. It is just a short step across the top of Easy Gulley to the start of Curved Ridge. I left John & Davie at the wet rock section and arrived at Curved Ridge well before them. The path is a roundabout option but there’s very little in the way of scrambling and it is a much quicker access route to the ridge. And it’s safer too.

There were three people waiting to tackle the ridge with full climbing gear. There were also people crawling about on the Rannoch Wall – climbing up the end of it and on the sheer rock wall proper – all young and full of youthful enthusiasm with a touch of craziness about them as you need to be if you’re a rock climber. That’s a bit ‘pot-kettle-black’ coming from me, but you wouldn’t get me up on that awesome rock wall for love nor money. Would I trust my life to those little metal pegs? Not in a million years!!

After the initial short section of Curved Ridge there is a large flat area and a scree path leading to the second stage. The climbing crew had allowed us Scramblers to head up first and I waited for John & Davie to catch up before tackling the second stage. In my four visits this was the first time I had seen climbers on the Rannoch Wall. Didn’t get a chance to chat with them as they were way up high almost at the top. Our little obstacle route seemed tame by comparison. There are several lines you can take on this second section and the middle line is the highest and most challenging. I took this one having stuck close to the gully on previous climbs. At the top of this a small vertical section leads to another flat area at the infamous ‘crux’. Taller people have an advantage as the holds are more difficult in the lower stages. It’s nothing to worry about though as you can get your hands on enough rock to haul yourself up this initial problem. The crux has developed almost mythological status but there is no danger here. Even if you slip back down the lower part you will only drop a couple of feet back onto the platform. There’s very little chance of hurting yourself. Higher up the holds are better and easier. It’s no big deal really. I actually took a photo of the crux this time as I hadn’t bothered previously. Too busy enjoying it. Both John & Davie were loving Curved Ridge and I have to say they were excellent Scramblers, really confident and willing to take any line to prolong the thrill. “So that was the famous crux” I said to Davie “It wasn’t very difficult was it?”. “No’ really” he grinned. They would meet their best challenge at Crowberry Tower.

Near the top of the final (third) section of the Ridge, a path crosses the gully to a col between the top of the Rannoch Wall and the bottom right hand ridge of Crowberry Tower which is really an extension of the Rannoch Wall. This path was created by climbers coming off the wall to descend via Curved Ridge, but it gets little use now that the car park has been gated off on the A82 opposite the Water Slab. All the climbers that day coming off the wall, continued up onto the Tower and then to the summit to descend via the corrie back to their cars at Altnafeadh. However, this path provides one of the easiest routes to the top of Crowberry Tower. By coming off Curved Ridge and using the path to gain the col, it is an easy step up this route on gravel and rocks (no hands required) to the top of the Tower. Or you could always head in the opposite direction from the col and have a look down from the very top of Rannoch Wall first before going to the Tower.

There is another relatively easy way to the top of Crowberry Tower and one which I suspect nearly everyone uses. I have a confession to make here – I didn’t even know this easy route existed. Three times I’d climbed the Tower previous to this and I’d spent all those times taking ridiculously difficult routes, I hadn’t even spotted the ‘tourist’ option. For anyone keen to visit the Tower here is that easy option. After coming off Curved Ridge at the very top, take the scree path which goes behind Crowberry Tower. Go right to the top of this path until a rock wall prevents you going any further (and falling into the gully on the other side). Climb up this wall (easy scrambling) on the extreme right hand side where it butts up against the Tower. On top of the wall there is a path which curves around and across the top of the route coming up from the Rannoch Wall. It gains the top of the Tower at the front left hand side. Descend by reversing the route. This is the sensible way, but we weren’t doing sensible this day.

John & Davie were itching to do Crowberry Tower. I pointed out the diagonal route I had once taken across the front, but they weren’t keen on that approach. Neither was I, if I’m honest, as it was pretty hairy first time round. I then casually mentioned that I’d climbed the vertical left hand end of the tower at the entrance to the scree path which goes up behind it. Davie took one look at it and elected to go up the path and use a less difficult option from the back of the Tower. “Piece of P*ss” John said, looking at the vertical end. He was joking, of course, but Davie appeared to misunderstand. “Okay, we’ll give it a go then”. It was all the encouragement I needed and I proceeded to climb up. Davie followed whilst John delayed to take a few photos of this monumental undertaking.

It’s fair to say that climbing up the end of Crowberry is actually ‘Free Climbing’ rather than scrambling and is only for those supremely confident in their abilities, and those with no fear of exposure. There is a ‘crux’ section halfway up which is only very short but more difficult than it’s Curved Ridge counterpart for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, if you fall here – well, you simply cannot afford to fall here as the consequences aren’t worth contemplating. Also, the rock overhangs slightly and there is only one decent handhold which you have to use to pull yourself up into a sort of ‘no man’s land’ – a limbo situation where you can’t move up or back down. Another decent handhold is required to complete this crux move. And there is one – a nice pointed piece of rock easily reachable on your left. But you can’t use it because it’s loose. John, ascending after us, admitted to having a ‘squeaky moment’ here. It’s a case of grabbing what rock you can and using knees, elbows and anything else to complete the move. Once again, taller people have an advantage. After that it’s a routine climb to the top of the Tower and it really does get easier the higher you go.

Up on top we looked down to see if John was on his way yet. Three people had followed us up Curved Ridge roped and helmeted and were getting ready to tackle our Crowberry route as a proper climb. They were sitting on the ground staring up at us, no doubt wondering what the hell we were doing climbing this thing without ropes. It reminded me of the scene right at the end of ‘Back To The Future’……. “Ropes? Where we’re going we don’t need ropes.” When John eventually joined us he said they’d waved frantically to him when he’d started his ascent, trying to deter him. “They think we’re mad, don’t they?” I said to John. “Yeah, they do” he confirmed.
There were lots of shared handshakes between us and an all-round feeling of achievement. I’d done it before, of course, but it was different this time having shared the experience with fellow enthusiasts. I completely forgot to take a picture of the end of Crowberry Tower. However, I found one online so picture CR13 is not one of mine but I’m indebted to the person who took it as it shows the scale of our route to perfection.

Having had enough excitement for one day we took the ‘tourist’ route off the Tower and made our way up the easy scramble behind it to the summit, pausing to view the Tower from above. The three people following us had just about made it to the top on their ropes and suddenly the top of Crowberry was crawling with people. It was the Rock Jocks who had made their way up there from Rannoch Wall. It would have been easy to gloat “Oh, so you took the easy way to the top of the Tower? Yes, we took the hard route of course…….” What am I talking about? These people had just climbed up the sheer face of the Rannoch Wall, for God’s sake. That completely put our little adventure into perspective.

At the busy summit it was time to relax, have a spot of lunch, and reflect on a perfect day on the Ridge & Crowberry. John did comment on the fact that it was too short and he wanted it to go on and on. He’s right of course, the problem being that you’re already halfway up the face of Stob Dearg before you even start the Ridge. You’re just getting into it when you’re suddenly at the top. For all that, it’s a classy way to reach the summit of a mountain for all us non-climbers.

John & Davie were heading back down the corrie for a well-earned pint at the Clachaig, but I was doing the whole ridge. It was easy walking from then on in and a chance to wind down and simply enjoy the views. I had my inquiring head on by this time and started questioning why on earth Stob Dearg got its name when it is pink rather than red. Perhaps there's no word for pink in Gaelic? And I also wondered how Stob na Doire manages not to be the second Munro when it is significantly higher than Stob na Broig. Doesn’t seem right. I decided it’s a con to get you to do the full ridge, but then visiting Stob na Broig is worth it for the views down Glen Etive alone. I was sitting in a sheltered spot looking down Glen Etive and finishing off the lunch I had with me when a bloke arrived in trainers and lycra running shorts to take a photo of the glen. There were three young people sitting nearby and one of the lads showed his girlfriend a picture on his I-Phone. “It’s the wedding dress” he said to her, meaning the Royal one, obviously. The fell-running bloke went ballistic. “Do you think I came up here for these views?” he ranted “No, I came up here to get away fae that and you have to go and mention the bloody ‘W’ word. If you wurnie so big I’d throw you aff this mountain!” Oh dear. Touch of ‘Anger Management’ required there, I think.

The National Trust have done some fine work in Glencoe over recent years. There is (and has been for two or three years) a fine stepped path all the way to the top of Coire na Tulaich, and the descent path from the bealach below Stob Coire Altruim is lined with boulder sacks at this very moment ready for renovation. But the best news of all is that the Lairig Gartain has been extensively renovated – no more boggy sections. You can now walk the 5 miles from Glen Etive to Glencoe (and intervening points) along the Lairig Gartain without getting your feet wet.

Top day, no s**g as Brian used to say in ‘Teachers’. Missed the wedding though. Still, no doubt the missus will buy the DVD when it comes out - if it isn't out already!!

‘The Buachaille’

Close up of the interesting bits

View from Altnafeadh

Buachaille Etive Beag from Lagangharb

On the way

Start of Curved Ridge

Looking down from Stage 1

Stage 2

Looking down from Stage 2

Rock Jocks on the Rannoch Wall

The Crux

First glimpse of Crowberry Tower

Looking down from Stage 3

Vertical End of Crowberry Tower – our ascent route!

Looking down from the top of Crowberry Tower

Rock Jocks arriving on Crowberry Tower

Stob Dearg summit

View towards Bidean nam Bian

Looking down Coire na Tulaich

On the path to Stob na Doire

Looking back to Stob Dearg

And Stob na Doire

Summit cairn on Stob na Broig

Descent to the Lairig Gartain
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby davetherave » Mon May 09, 2011 12:23 am

I think you should hire yourself as a guide, for people wanting to complete the curved ridge.

Will have to read up on this descriptive report for when my time comes.

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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby HighlandSC » Mon May 09, 2011 12:26 pm

Fantastic reports. Gives a good sense of what it's like to be on the route. Looking forward to doing it one day :D
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby brpro26 » Mon May 09, 2011 1:17 pm

Great report in arse twitching detail....it's on the bucket list. I'll be taking the tourist route up The Tower.
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby skuk007 » Mon May 09, 2011 4:46 pm

Wow, great report and pictures houdi. Another one where the text makes it sound do-able but the pics say you're all nuts! :)

At one point, don't know why, it reminded me of the Tomb Raider walk-through instructions :lol:
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby tomyboy73 » Mon May 09, 2011 7:48 pm

bookmarked ! amazing pics, and report too, well done and thanks for posting so many great pics and such a detailed report, really wet my appetite, can`t get out for two weeks, but reading reports like this make me want to go now ! :)
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby houdi » Mon May 09, 2011 8:36 pm

Many thanks for all the encouraging comments everybody. Much appreciated and I really mean that. I guess I'm at the 'could do it blindfolded' stage now and, yes, I probably know enough to be a Curved Ridge/Crowberry Tower guide. It's the safety helmet thing that puts me off. I'd like to keep what little Street Cred I have (and that's not much).

Tomb Raider Walkthrough, eh skuk007? Don't think I've the right equipment to compete with Angelina Jolie :lol:

Hope you all get round to doing Curved Ridge some day. Go and enjoy it and don't listen to any of the negative stories. It really isn't that difficult.
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby LeithySuburbs » Tue May 10, 2011 8:45 pm

Great well written report of a route I can't wait to do :D .
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby ChrisW » Tue May 10, 2011 10:27 pm

Another fantastic report houdi, how did I miss this for 2 weeks :? felt like I was there with you at some stages....those views down at each stage of the ascent left me dizzy :lol: kudos to you my friend :D
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby audreywaugh » Wed May 11, 2011 10:42 am

Cracking report and photos Houdi, can't wait to do this, only hope we get as good weather as yourself! 8)
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby houdi » Wed May 11, 2011 10:13 pm

Leithysuburbs &audreywaugh, I look forward to reading your Curved Ridge reports sometime. Will be interesting to see if you found the ridge exhilirating or terrifying. Most people seem to view it either as one extreme or the other with no half measures.

Only got round to posting this report the other day, Chris, so you're not in a time warp after all. Cheers for the cool comments mate :)
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby monty » Thu May 12, 2011 8:50 am

Terrific report on a good day. Maybe do this someday so i will give you a shout. :D

Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby malky_c » Thu May 12, 2011 10:52 am

Great report, very detailed. I feel much the same as you did - I've been up here 2 or 3 times now but I wouldn't be able to offer much detailed advice as I can't remember much beyond which ridge it is! Going out these days with my 'report head' on, I tend to be a bit more observant though (and I take more photos).

houdi wrote:“Do you think I came up here for these views?” he ranted “No, I came up here to get away fae that and you have to go and mention the bloody ‘W’ word. If you wurnie so big I’d throw you aff this mountain!”

Some people just let themselves get wound up by stuff :lol: . I'd have thought if he'd really wanted to get away from stuff, he could have chosen better than one of the busiest montains in the highlands!
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby houdi » Thu May 12, 2011 10:27 pm

Monty, I would be delighted to give you some tips for Curved Ridge. Only hope they'll be of help.

Agree with you about being more observant for walk reports, MC. Usually I'm too engrossed to notice peripheral things but I paid attention to every detail this time as I knew I was going to write this report. Yeah, that bloke was a nutter but at at least he gave me a good comic anecdote for the report.
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Re: The Buachaille via Curved Ridge & Crowberry Tower

Postby Klaasloopt » Sat May 14, 2011 9:03 pm

Hi Houdi,
Definitely the opposite of 'boring' wouldn't you say? The report is great, it obliterates the one about Ben Chonzie.
Such a classic this climb is! I was reading WH Murray about pre-war climbs on the Buchaille. Good stuff.
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