Rhyolite my old friend - where have you been?
by basscadet » Mon Oct 05, 2015 8:26 pm
Route description: Bidean nam Bian
Munros included on this walk: Bidean nam Bian, Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor)
Date walked: 03/10/2015
Time taken: 10 hours
Distance: 15.6 km
Ascent: 1793m5 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Drove up to Glen Etive and got there before dark on Friday night, only a few midges bothering me despite it being very still. A nice evening was had in my home from home.
In the morning, I decided to go for No. 3 buttress on Stob Coire nam Beith – a route I had tried before a couple of years ago with Dougie, but couldn’t get started, so we ended up doing No. 1 buttress instead. Surely a couple of years on, I wouldn’t find it so hard? We would see..
So I parked up in the car park across from the Clachaig turn off. There is a cottage there that was a hive of activity. Seemed to be a meet or joint exercise between several mountain rescue teams. Reassuring to have so many of them to hand. Don’t know what your chances would have been if you got into bother in the cairngorms this weekend
I had a bit of trouble getting going, but got my faff done eventually and returned to the road to cross the bridge and get onto the path on the far side of the river.
It’s a decent path, but it doesn’t half go up steeply! I felt good though, and didn’t even get up a sweat as I meandered up the hillside past the waterfall and into the gorge beyond.
The section after the gorge got steep again and I struggled, so I stopped for a refuel. I knew from my previous visit that the path below the face of SCN Beith started higher than expected, but I didn’t see it, so I was forced to traverse over scree at the last minute before the path enters Coire nam Beitheach. It didn’t really matter as the buttress I was after isnie very far from there, and being higher up meant there was less of a plod up screes to its base. I got the book out and looked at the picture of the face to make sure I was in the right place, and had a brief rest. The inquisitive sheep I remember from the last time were still inquisitive.
So it was up onto the rock. The first bit is difficult, as there are a lot of sloping ledges with no real hand holds to speak of, no cracks at all really, but it was dry and friction won out. In the cicerone guide, it tells you to go right, but the picture and the rock say go diagonally up left, so that’s what I did, and I got up to a wall, which was named as the crux. By this time the initial exposure was behind me and the wall seemed like a doddle in comparison. A steepening rib above this was great fun.
This leads to the first notch which I followed up for a bit with some difficulty, onto kinder slopes more suited to the title of ‘a scramble’. I was looking for a ramp going rightward, and there were lots, none looked like they went anywhere, so it was back into the notch for more climbing before I was able to step out left and use ledges to zigzag upward with only a few worrying moves at their intersections.
A good way further up I finally found the slabby ramp mentioned, and followed it round, the book promising fun in the form of ‘an exposed move round the corner with good views of the gully’.
This was a slight exaggeration, and there was no exposure, but there was some slanty rock covered in crampon scratches, showing the way up to the left again, back to the crest.
I stopped at a wide ledge just to take in the silence, and watch various groups of walkers at various points along the ridge. Another scrambler had been going up Aonach Dubh, and I saw him top out and head up the ridge. That was the end of the help from the book anyway, it just says that all difficulties are behind you and there is much good scrambling to come..
This was true for a while, the rhyolite just keeps on coming, and many lines are possible.
Only one short wall gave me pause for thought until I was at the top of the buttress but that was not the end, as some upper summit rocks looked like they would be challenging
I followed the steep scree path toward them and wondered how you were supposed to traverse round to zero buttress from here like the book suggested, as it seemed quite treacherous. I was still going up though, and after a flatter section, and some easy scrambling, a wall loomed ahead, that was quite tricky but satisfying. I think there may have been easier ways round to the left, as that’s the way the path went, and still after that there was another fun wall before the summit came to meet me, only a few yards from the top of the rock
It had been absolutely brilliant, but my alpine lungs had got me up far too quickly and it was only lunchtime, so I decided to take a wander down the ridge, despite the clag making reappearance. The first coll I reached had a good path down to zero buttress which I noted then ignored. Over rocky hillocks I went, sometimes getting a glimpse of Diamond and Church Door buttresses through the mist.
There was a pleasantly narrow section with a scrambly arête. I stopped at a slightly bigger cairn and looked at the map for the first time that day to find its name – Oh I was on Bidean! I thought it was the next one along, but that must have been Stob Coire Nan Lochan – Well well..
I remembered some scrambling just off the summit, but that had been in snow, and on this day I found a very well worn bypass path to the bealach, with very few difficulties.
At the bealach I turned a sharp left – I had seen the scratching of a path going in my direction, and managed to find it no trouble. This started off innocently enough, but I was soon on very steep, loose ground, with what appeared to be a cliff at the bottom to kill off the unfortunate
I edged down very slowly indeed, falling over twice, each time hurting the same wrist, but at least I hadn’t slipped to my doom The path took me to the top of a very vertical face, with just a few ledges jutting out – Only 15 foot down, but an obstacle none the less.
I gingerly picked my way, but halfway I reached a step that was just too far, so was forced to go back upward on wobbly legs– this had to be the ascent route, there must be another way…
So I retraced my steps up the path a few metres, and managed to traverse round the other way, across the face of the crag until I was down on the steep screes below – hurrah! Not for the faint hearted that..
So it was a tricky boulder/scree field next, but nothing out of the ordinary.. Next time I’ll just go back to the other path I thought..
I stopped in a pleasant wee hollow out of the breeze to text Dougie to let him know I was back in the corrie, the clag getting thicker and drizzle starting. It was then a dreary trudge down the 600 vertical metres back to the car.
I was back at the tent to get dinner cooked before dark. Our regular pitch is the site of one of the Skyfall scenes, and I took numerous photos of tourists before they would let me get in. I had a pleasant evening, although it was so still that condensation was a problem, and it was cold in the morning, so it was hard to wrench myself from my cosy sleeping bag.
Eventually I made it to Altnafeidh - no spaces, and with my wrist still sore, I thought about going home, but when I passed back there was a space, and it did seem like too good a day to miss...
So I pulled in, and left straight away, along the familiar track, over the bridge, past the cottage making a left at the fork. Not much further, and I was across Great Gully and off the main path snaking upward toward North Buttress. I could see a couple of chaps up ahead with full ropes, harnesses and helmets.. Seemed a bit extreme to me.
So I went up the initial slabs, and over to the right where a notch in the first wall was evident. The path went up the middle on slabbier ground.
At the top of this wall, I met the climbing guys, who asked me about the route, but as I had never done it before, all I could say was that it was a grade 3 scramble, and that if they followed the crampon marks and path, it was unlikely to be too tricky for them. I let them get on with faffing with their ropes and went up the next section, kind of like a staircase with big steps up.
At the start of the next steepening, I followed a traversing path as detailed in the book, but this did not go round to the notch described, so I went back right and just followed my instincts upward for a good way, although eventually the rock gave way to easier ground – where a path passed the two rocks you can see on the horizon during the approach.
The ground is more vegetated here, and although possible to string outcrops together, the rock seemed a bit lacklustre after the spoiling of yesterday. I could see a crack way higher up the buttress though, which I assumed was the one mentioned in the books. Several steeper walls led up to this, but none with any difficulties at all, plenty of routes leading upward.
The path takes the least challenging, and skips all the good bits in my opinion. Up at the steepening, the path goes left and up a gully on the side, but I made my way to the crack in the middle which I had seen from below, and sure enough there was plenty evidence that others had gone up this way. I paused for a while before tackling it, caning a bag of cashews in no time at all, and getting chilled in the breeze that had got up.
The crack was steep, and after I was up a good way, I still hadn’t seen the fabled step right to the ledge with the jammed blocks mentioned in the book, so just kept up it, at one point skirting quite a bit left before returning to the crack. I think I did find the jammed blocks eventually, and the step right was a tricky manoeuvre, in a steep airy position, but it was all over pretty quickly, and I ignored the book after that, just taking any route that looked like it might be a bit fun.
The angle eased and I got to the top of the buttress, favouring the left side for the views of climbers on crowberry ridge, and the tower itself.
After an initial easing of camber, there was another section of summit rocks, with just one difficult step up – again the path went round to the left, so I can only assume an easier way exists – and I was just a short distance from the summit.
The summit was busy, so I stopped a little further on to text Dougie that I had made the summit. It was calm and sunny, so I spent a while looking out over the Etive ridge remembering days in those hills fondly.
Eventually, it was time to face the long demoralising descent into the corrie. There were less big steps than I remembered, and I took the high path in the gorge for a little entertainment scrambling on the rock there.
It was good to be amongst people, on what had been a fairly solitary weekend. Quite a good 4 hour wander before home – something tells me this will not be the last time my scrambling shoes will taste the rock of the Buachaille.
by dav2930 » Mon Oct 05, 2015 10:13 pm
Ps - Being festooned with ropes, harnesses and helmets doesn't make a climber! Any fool can spend a lot of money in a gear shop.
by gman » Mon Oct 05, 2015 10:31 pm
by basscadet » Tue Oct 06, 2015 9:01 am
No 3 buttress certainly isn't loose, the first bit is grade Vdiff on UKC apparently If you get up that bit, then the rest is a doddle , and route finding would be straightforward for an experienced scrambler. There is a chimney to the left of the initial slab which would give a start if the rock was damp, or if your nerve gave out - wear very sticky shoes
by SecretSquirrel » Tue Oct 06, 2015 2:55 pm
I've been doing the hills around Glencoe recently and its good to see the climbs and ridges away from standard bagging routes. Looking at your photographs, maps and my own pictures ... its good to see how it all links up.
by basscadet » Tue Oct 06, 2015 3:38 pm
There is however a certain satisfaction to putting together a route you haven't seen anyone do before - getting one up on Cicerone could be the new bagging?
by Alteknacker » Tue Oct 06, 2015 10:28 pm
I think we must have done something like the Dinner Time Buttress when we went up to Bidean - we just aimed straight up from the Lochan to Aonach Dubh. And we did the Curved Ridge route on the ascent to the Buachailles - I just hadn't realised that there are so many other quality possibilities here. SiL is now on my bedside table for closer perusal!!!
Really enjoyed this one!