Childhood Dreams and Destiny - Curved Ridge
by BobMcBob » Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:28 am
Munros included on this walk: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mòr), Stob na Bròige (Buachaille Etive Mòr)
Date walked: 08/08/2012
Time taken: 8 hours
Distance: 14.4 km
Ascent: 1615m13 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).
When I was a kid I used to have trouble concentrating in lessons at school. One of the things I used to do was doodle in my exercise books, and sometimes in the textbooks too. Mostly I'd just make abstract shapes that grew to encompass the words and diagrams on the page. My old school may well still have copies of textbooks with pages rendered incomprehensible by gallons of blue biro ink. But one theme kept cropping up in my doodles. Every now and then I'd be hit by the urge to just draw a mountain. I always drew the same mountain, a child's idea of what the ideal mountain should be - a perfectly pointed cone, riven with ravines and gullies and with lines of rocks leading up from the base to the summit.
I'm sure a lot of you have seen Close Enounters of the Third Kind, in which Richard Dreyfuss gets annointed by aliens and becomes obsessed with making images of a mountain. He makes them out of mashed potato. He makes one from papier-mache that fills his living room. And then, driven by some urge he drives out to the desert and climbs up a slope and - in one of Spielberg's genius reveals - the camera cranes up over his head to show us the exact mountain he's been obsessing over. Well, my Close Encounters moment happened on July 4th, 2011. I was driving along the A82 across Rannoch Moor towards Glencoe and I rounded a bend and there it was right in front of me. MY mountain. Most of you will have guessed by now I'm talking about Stob Dearg, at the north-eatsern end of Buachaille Etive Mor. And I'm not being overdramatic here, the resemblance between this and the doodle I used to do was truly uncanny, right down to the gullies raking up the face and lines of scree at the base. I was so stunned by it that I pulled over and just stared at it, stared at it for twenty minutes. I could not believe what I was seeing. I knew right then and there that I had to get up it. I took a photo of it a few days later and processed it into black and white in an attempt to make it resemble my doodle as closely as possible. This was the result:
Another thing I used to love as a kid was scrambling. I didn't know it was called scrambling then, but I knew I loved it. It all started on a family holiday in North Wales. I was about 8, I guess. We climbed up Moel Siabod by the north face and near the top was about 30 feet of super-easy scrambling. I absolutely loved it, that was the day I got hooked on mountains. From that moment on every chance I got, on the beach, in a park, wherever, to clamber up some rocks, I took it.
Although I was tired after a long drive and was booked in to a campsite in Glencoe, I drove straight to Fort William and bought guidebooks and maps from the tourist information centre. 2 days later I was stood on top of Stob Dearg, having come up the side by the "tourist" route. And although I was happy to be there, there was something niggling me. And it was brought home when 2 guys popped up over the crest of that seemingly invincible face that I'd seen from the road. They told me about Curved Ridge - the way to scramble my mountain directly up the face I used to draw. My destiny was set.
I didn't climb it last year. There was too much else to do and I knew it could wait, for the time to be right. And today it was right. I was back in Glencoe with only one real objective, and I'd been waiting nearly 2 weeks for perfect weather. It was on. I was parked at Altnafeadh at 7:45am, that's how keen I was.
Maps are pretty useless for route-finding on a scramble like this, so for directions I had scoured the internet and no link proved more useful than jwramsay's excellent report on this very site:
His report includes a photo of the face with a red line drawn to show the route. I'd printed it out along with several textual route descriptions. Of all the info I had, that photo turned out to be the one piece of paper I wouldn't have wanted to be without, it was utterly invaluable. Thanks for that mate, it made my day. Although, a word to the wise, I'd gone on a recce a couple of days earlier to view the face from a distance, because as we all know it looks very different from close up:
As most of the reports I found said, the hardest bit about Curved Ridge is finding where it starts. There are a lot of ridges on this face and choosing the wrong one could be very dangerous. Again, the photo was worth a million words. There was a very good and obvious path up to what is known as 'The Water Slab'. From here the route ascended the face up steep, loose, and unpleasant scree. Route finding here was difficult and having the photo meant I knew where I was aiming for, but it didn't stop me getting into trouble,
The two geordie guys I'd met last year had told me, when I quizzed them at length about the route, "No problem mate, nothing to be afraid of, just don't go up anything you can't get down again". I forgot that advice almost immediately. I was struggling up the scree and the opportunity to get off it by means of a scramble presented itself. I launched myself up some rocks, got halfway, and really didn't like the look of the next bit - it was vertical, and thin. I looked down and although I wasn't very far up the rock, I hadn't realised how far up the face I already was and how steep the face was. The drop below me, although not vertical, would have meant I'd have bounced down several hundred feet if I came off. I was alone with nobody in sight and no phone signal. The way back was impossible. I tried a traverse to the right, but came across some very wet and slippery rock. I traversed to the left but simply ran out of holds. I tried to reverse my moves but simply didn't have the reach. I was stuck. I hadn't even reached the start of Curved Ridge proper and I was in severe difficulty and very scared. What made it worse was that I could now see the path I was supposed to be on, a tiny but impossible 20 yards to my right. It was time to push myself up a level. I attacked the route I hadn't liked the look of and climbed it with ease. It was then I realised that it was only the exposure that was the problem. This face is very steep, the exposure is enormous, but the scrambling isn't actually all that difficult. I'd gone through one fear barrier, but there was another to come.
Shortly afterwards I arrived at the start of Curved Ridge proper. Here I stopped to get a few photos:
And then I set off up the first proper scrambly section of Curved Ridge. The actual climbing wasn't all that hard. The holds were big and positive (although I'd suggest checking any handhold you intend to pull on as there is a lot of loose rock) and the route was marked clearly and obviously by a myriad of crampon scratches. Just don't make the mistake I made of looking down. It's not vertical, this route - that would be a rock climb - but the fact that, when you've scrambled up 30 meters or so and you look backwards and you can see the bottom of the face 300 meters below and you know in that instant that a fall would kill you, that's exposure. I looked down once. That was one time too many. I know now, after this, where my limits lie in terms of exposure. I had to push through them to get up this first section - adrenaline gushing through me, heart pounding, internal alarm systems sounding every warning they coud - I had to ignore it all and concentrate on the rock right in front of me, on doing to relatively simple moves on excellent holds with great friction, all with the knowledge that if I fell off I was probably dead.
Let's put this in perspective for a second. Anyone who's been this way will no doubt agree with me that a fall from here would be very serious indeed. But what are the chances of falling? 10%? That's probably too high. Maybe 2%. It's only slightly more dangerous dangerous than climbing a ladder. A 1000 foot ladder, but a ladder nonetheless. But try telling yourself that when you're pulling yourself up a rock on your fingertips and you glance down and between your legs all you can see is Rannoch Moor. Today I truly learned the meaning of exposure. The feeling of pure elation and relief at topping out that first pitch was extraorinary. I was so hyped I started playing camera self-timer roulette. It's a fun game. Put the camera on a rock, pointed roughly where you think the view is, set the self timer, and try to get into position without looking stupid or falling off
There was more scrambling to come, but now I was psyched and my Mojo was working. It was probably the adrenaline, but from here I could have scrambled to the moon.
I set off up the next pitch, still scared but now with confidence running high. And looking back I saw the thing I really wanted - company. 3 people were coming up behind me. Now if I fell, at least there was someone to tell the authorities where my body was
The company gave me confidence, as well as arousing my competitive instincts. I soared up the next section like a man with wings on his shoes. I came to the crux of the route - it looked hard and totally committing, with no chance of reversing if I got into trouble part way up, but I just sailed up it without a thought. And by now I could see the Crowberry Tower ahead.
And shortly after that I was at the top of that section. Some very easy scrambling brought me across and onto a good path at the base of the front of the Crowberry Tower, where I settled down for a sandwich. Shortly afterwards two of the three people behind me appeared over the top of the scrambly section.
There followed an amusing 5 minutes. The other two remained where they were, occasionally looking at me. I looked at them. We took photos of each other. It was a couple - a man and a woman. The man was avidly studying what appeared to be a guidebook and I figured they weren't sure where to go next, which was fine by me because I wasn't sure either. I decided to wait and see what they decided to do, but they had also decided to see what I was going to do , so we all sat in our positions in a kind of Mexican guidebook standoff for several minutes Eventually I got out my photo and studied it. From it the route seemed obvious - to go up behind the Crowberry Tower, but I was having trouble tallying up the photo with any of the textual descriptions I had. In retrospect I should have thrown the textual descriptions in the bin before setting out. In any case, my studying seemed to shake some life into the other two because they set off and called over to me "Do you have a good route description?" They turned out to be German and although their English was excellent they were struggling with their English guidebook, which to be honest may as well have been written in Arabic for all the use it was to any of us. We all studied my photo and agreed that the obvious route was up behind the Crowberry Tower and that the Crowberry Tower was indeed the big tower-like thing right in front of us. And so it proved. After a short and rough scramble-cum-slither up a gully we arrived at the Crowberry Gap. The Crowberry Tower was now on my right and the route to the summit was to my left, but I was determined to get up the Crowberry Tower - I was, after all, on MY mountain and I was going to do it properly. This was supposed to be an easy scramble - up the tower then back down the same way. There was a short and wide chimney in the middle of the tower and I started up it. First I went to the left but didn't like the look of it in terms of getting back down. Then I went right and liked it even less. Then I tried again, went right again and then reversed the moves to make sure I could. It was death-defyingly exposed but possible but I still wasn't sure of the route ahead. I went left again and found it easier to reverse but still no obvious route onwards. I climbed a little way up the other side of Crowberry Gap for a look. To the right the onwards route was clear from here. I went back and found the route - on some horribly dangerous grassy ledges above a huge drop and made the top of the tower.
As I was getting ready to leave, the third of the people behind me appeared, coming up the tower from the front. I was very surprised to see him.
"I see you found the easy way up too", he stated in a strong Edinburgh accent.
"I don't think so," I said. I think I found the hard way up.
We chatted for a long time, he was a great guy. He'd been up this way 5 times and knew it backwards. I said I'd follow him down off the tower, but first he took a photo of me
I followed him down the front of the tower, round to the left on an obvious and easy path, and... back to the top of the chimney, on the left-hand side that I'd earlier discounted. The descent from here was simple and not nearly as hair-raising as if I'd come back from the right the way I'd gone up. The benefit of experience
From here it was a simple 5 minute stroll to the summit of Stob Dearg. I'm running out of space for attachments on this post so I'll do a part 2 in a mo.
by BobMcBob » Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:47 am
Last time I'd been up here I hadn't had view, so I spent a while taking photos
- Across towards Bidean nam Bian
- The Aonach Eagach
- A visiting raven
I'd intended to go down by the "tourist" route up, having already done the ridge last year. But it was such a beautiful day by now, and this was MY mountain, and I was blooming well going to do it justice. So I carried on up the path towards Stob na Doire.
- Looking back at Stob Dearg from Stob na Doire
This is MY mountain and I want to make a complaint Why is Stob na Doire not a Munro? It's properly mountain shaped, it's high enough, and it's much better looking than Stob na Broige - the other Munro on this ridge. Come on Scottish Mountaineering Club, or whoever's responsible. You may have tables and rulers and maps, but where's your sense of aesthetics eh? I mean, look at it
- Stob na Doire, from the path towards Stob na Broige
I propose a new Munro - number 284 - Stob na Doire. It's not as if anyone who's done this ridge will have missed it out so it won't affect anyone. It's only right
All that said, I still carried on to Stob na Broige just to get the view out over Glen Etive
- Glen Etive from Stob na Broige
So, the ridge done, I retraced my steps and went down the normal descent route and back to the van. I was totally stoked at having done Curved Ridge, it'a the highlight of 20 years of hillwalking. Where does it rate in difficulty? I reckon it's easier than say, Aonach Eagach but the navigation to the start is tricky, and it rates higher on the terror factor than anything I've ever done. But I'd go back and do it again in a heartbeat. Fantastic stuff.
by MarilynMunro » Thu Aug 09, 2012 2:55 am
Awesome story and awesome phots
What else can I say
by Stretch » Thu Aug 09, 2012 3:35 am
by iainwatson » Thu Aug 09, 2012 9:44 am
excellent pictures and a fantastic description of the day,well done!
ps-the B&W picture at the start is stunning!
by Fudgie » Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:52 am
An excellent read which really conveys the sense of enjoyment you got from it and your pictures are top drawer.
by SusieThePensioner » Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:58 am
Some fantastic photos as well Thank you!
by Sabbathstevie » Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:12 pm
by basscadet » Thu Aug 09, 2012 2:32 pm
Well done, looked scary!
My dad has told me that I have to do these by the curved ridge, in a manner that implied I would be disowned from the family if I were to do the tourist route
by BobMcBob » Thu Aug 09, 2012 8:26 pm
by gammy leg walker » Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:22 pm
by bobble_hat_kenny » Fri Aug 10, 2012 3:23 pm
BobMcBob wrote: Now if I fell, at least there was someone to tell the authorities where my body was
All together now: "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Da Dum, Da Dum Da Dum Da Dum )"!
Fantastic report; it almost makes it look do-able . Almost, mind !
Lots of great advice there.
by andreww18 » Thu Jul 13, 2017 11:05 pm
This is a great report with some brilliant photos to help guide me up the CR ascent to the top of Stob Dearg and Stob na Broige which will be numbers 9 and 10. Some scrambling up Stuc a Chroin gave us a taster for something more significant and figure you have to step it up at some point.
Really good description of the Crowberry Tower ascent too - will bear the keep left advice in mind.
by Ben Nachie » Fri Jul 14, 2017 10:46 am
I did find a tweed flat cap in the gully though. slightly too small for me, and smelled funny.
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by BobMcBob » Sat Jul 15, 2017 11:49 am
Ben Nachie wrote:Reminds of my experience of Curved Ridge many years ago. We made the common mistake of climbing D Gully Buttress, thinking it was Curved Ridge, and getting scared at the steep, blank bit. We compounded the error by traversing D Gully to get on to the real Curved Ridge. D Gully, as we were to find out, is a horrible dank place, composed entirely of near-vertical rubble, stacked Jenga-fashion, and held together by wet sphagnum.
I did find a tweed flat cap in the gully though. slightly too small for me, and smelled funny.
I went back up last week and almost made that mistake myself. It was only the fact I'd been up before and it didn't look quite right that made me hesitate. Fortunately a climber came past and I asked him where I was...
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