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An Idiot's Guide to Curved Ridge
by houdi » Sun Dec 05, 2010 9:10 pm
Munros included on this walk: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), Stob na Broige (Buachaille Etive Mor)
Date walked: 08/06/2009
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This is a route to put hairs on your chest or so I was told all too frequently before I attempted this classic scrambling route up an equally classic mountain. To be brutally honest, I had nightmares about Curved Ridge thanks to over-exaggerated reports of its difficulty. Make no mistake, it is no route for hillwalkers but, as a scrambling route, its bark is definitely worse than its bite.
The hardest part about Curved Ridge is finding it. You can make it out quite clearly from the road but once you’re up there amongst the ridges, walls, and buttresses it causes quite a bit of head-scratching. Finding the Water Slab is the first obstacle. Approaching from Rannoch Moor, there is a car-park immediately after the Glen Etive turnoff. For the past couple of years it has been closed to the public and gated off to enclose some plant equipment (although it may well have reverted to being a car-park again, I’m not sure). I would say this was once the preferred parking point for climbers doing the Rannoch Wall and other climbs in that region because a pretty substantial path goes out the back of the car-park and heads in a straight line across the River Coupall and directly to the Water Slab. Obviously, no one will want to use this path (even if the car-park is accessible again) unless they plan to do Curved Ridge and descend the same way. Instead, park at Altnafeadh and take the left fork in the path after the white Lagangarbh cottage which rises gently as it contours around the bottom of Stob Dearg towards Glen Etive. You cross a couple of wet gullies which could be mistaken for the Water Slab but you can ignore these as you already have a foolproof marker in the path coming up from the car-park I mentioned earlier. Simply keep following the main path until it meets the other one coming up from that car-park on the main road to your left. You are now at the Water Slab. Easy, eh?
The way ahead now continues up a wide scree gulley of cream-coloured stone, but there are paths going everywhere and it’s difficult to know which one to take. Avoid going left. At the Water Slab you are already past Curved Ridge so going left will only lead into difficulties. Keep going up the scree until you find any decent path which goes to the right and back over the top of the Water Slab (although at a higher level) then keep following this route which should take you steadily up and to the right until you are at a point just below and to the right of the Rannoch Wall which is easily identified as a sheer wall of rock detached from the bulky North Buttress. Curved Ridge is to the immediate left of this. However, you have to bear in mind that you are looking at both the Rannoch Wall and Curved Ridge almost end on and this makes identification more difficult. Now make your way up towards the Rannoch Wall and things will become more clearer. Before you reach it you will notice a gulley separating it from the next ridge of rock on the left. This is Curved Ridge. The gulley is easier to cross higher up. When you stand on the edge of the gulley you will see a small scree path on the other side which ends at the start of Curved Ridge. The rock is shiny through lots of boot and crampon wear and is quite unmistakable.
You start climbing Curved Ridge end on by following a line directly up the edge of the gulley which is now on your immediate right (having crossed it earlier). I have heard it is possible to ascend the gulley but I can’t see the point of this as the rock on the ridge itself is sound with really good holds throughout. This gulley separates Curved Ridge from Rannoch Wall of which you now get a close-up face view. People have reported being able to chat to climbers on the wall, but I have done Curved Ridge several times and never seen any climbers on it. I did encounter a party of elderly gents ascending Curved Ridge roped up and I was forced to step over the top of them. They probably thought I was marginally insane!
When the gulley ends in a narrow vertical channel (avoid this channel as it’s invariably wet) step off onto a flat ledge to your left. In front of you is the so-called ‘crux’, a vertical wall, which is only vertical on the right hand side nearest the gulley. Go left until you can pull yourself up through a cleft in the rock. The holds are pretty good, although I had to use my knee at one point. Bear in mind that the crux is not particularly exposed as there is a decent platform below you. Yes, it will hurt if you fall but you will not go plunging down the mountain despite what some people might have you believe. Above the crux is the final part of the Ridge, similar to the lower part with lots of good solid holds. At the top of this final section you step off to the right onto a scree path. The path splits a bit further up. The main one goes up to a col on the main ridge below the summit and this is the most popular route. It is not the best route, however.
The right fork in the path goes uphill behind Crowberry Tower which itself rises up in front of you and cannot be mistaken. It is possible to climb Crowberry Tower from the front by taking a route which slants up diagonally from left to right (I have indicated an approximate route on picture Curv7 but this is only from memory and is not very accurate), although it would make more sense to go across the bottom of the Tower and tackle it from the right hand side. I haven’t actually met anyone else who has done the front route and most people climb the tower from the back. Follow the path behind Crowberry Tower and go right up to the end of the path until it ends at a small rib separating it from a gulley on the other side. There is a sort of narrow ledge (with good hand holds) which starts from here and, again, goes up diagonally to the right until you can scramble up on to the top. A word of warning here – when descending this way make sure you follow the ledge all the way back down until you can step off safely on to the top end of the path. Do not be tempted to step off early as the ledge is not so easy to follow coming back down.
It is also possible to climb up the end of Crowberry Tower instead of going behind it. This looks relatively easy but the rock becomes loose about halfway up and more care is needed if you fancy an attempt at this route. Again, I have never heard of anyone else trying it this way.
Even if you do not do Crowberry Tower, I can thoroughly recommend taking the path behind it as a way to the summit rather than the traditional scree/col route. When you reach the rib at the top of the path behind the Tower, turn to your left and, with Crowberry Tower now directly behind you, there is a very easy scramble up to the summit. There is a clear path up through the rocks and, after the first section, you will not even have to use your hands as you can step up the rocks directly to the summit shelter and cairn.
Curved Ridge is a fine scrambling route, although much shorter than I had imagined. You are already halfway up the face of Stob Dearg before the scrambling begins. On my last ascent I went from the start of Curved Ridge to the summit in 40 minutes and that included climbing Crowberry Tower. Don’t be put off by the horror stories. I met a girl climber going across the Aonach Eagach with her boyfriend the day before I first did Curved Ridge. She seemed to regard the crux as a major obstacle. All I can say, is if she had problems scrambling up the there then she would be better sticking to her ropes and pulleys and leave the serious scrambling to us amateurs. Believe me, the crux is something and nothing. And there are definitely more challenging scrambling routes than Curved Ridge. Very enjoyable though and it does have a real ‘free climbing’ feel to it. Do it and enjoy it as it’s a pretty impressive way to reach a summit cairn!
Thanks Houdi for bringing the memories of several years ago flooding graphically back - brilliant guide!!!
by Milesy » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:11 pm
For anyone fancing going up Curved Ridge here is a picture I took from the North Buttress which makes it easy to identify (line of people exluded haha)
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by houdi » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:16 pm
Milesy, I think you should have kept that photo to yourself. I don't even fancy going up there looking at it from that angle
by skuk007 » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:32 pm
by houdi » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:45 pm
by houdi » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:47 pm
houdi wrote:Technically, it's very easy and does not require ropes. As always, it depends on the individual's confidence in this kind of situation. My mate Stu needed roped up twice - once on the first stage beside the gulley and then at the crux. Can't understand why, to be honest, but he is a soft Southerner
Just noticed you're from Bristol, skuk. Best take two ropes in that case
by malky_c » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:54 pm
Definitely worth approaching from the east though so you can try and spot it before getting to the foot of the hill. On my first visit, we went in from the west, and were so far off it was ridiculous.
We ended up following the line shown below. Nice scramble and all, but
Apologies for butchering your picture!
by houdi » Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:10 am
As well as the route finding problem for Curved Ridge I am trying to cut through all the hype. I hardly slept the night before I did Curved Ridge (first time) worrying about it. I couldn't belive how easy it was. People who are not as confident should use a rope for reassurance. However, they shouldn't worry about the technical aspect. The crux is no more difficult than the 'Bad Step' on Crinkle Crags and the rest is a pretty easy scrambling grade. I nerver take any notice of the hype now. I heard the same stories about the Liathac pinnnacles and they were a doddle.
by Milesy » Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:09 pm
- Posts: 1519
- Joined: Jun 12, 2009
- Location: Airdrieland.
by over2u » Mon Dec 06, 2010 4:19 pm
by houdi » Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:33 pm
by LeithySuburbs » Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:45 pm
by skuk007 » Mon Dec 06, 2010 9:40 pm
houdi wrote:Just noticed you're from Bristol, skuk. Best take two ropes in that case
...and an army of climbing buddies.
- mountain coward