Stob Dearg via Agag's Groove and Crowberry Tower

Munros: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor)

Date walked: 27/02/2019

Time taken: 8.5 hours

Distance: 6.1km

Ascent: 788m

'Midwinter spring is its own season', wrote T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding. As we walked out of the Lost Valley on Tuesday 26th February, it seemed that this strange season of Eliot's poetic imagination was literally upon us. The warm stillness of the early evening, caught between the shadowed mountainsides and pierced by occasional birdsong, gave a sense of being suspended outside the normal course of time. In this rarefied atmosphere, a cunning plan for the next day began to form in my more prosaic mind :shifty: . It seemed an outrageous idea, given the time of year, but this was not your usual February. From a climbing point of view, the downside of the unseasonably warm and dry conditions was the absence of suitable snow. The upside, however, was that summer rock climbing became a distinct possibility. And what better classic climb in the area to choose than Agag's Groove on the Rannoch Wall of the Buachaille? Quick-drying and catching the sun for most of the day, it was quite likely to be in condition.

All that was needed was to break the suggestion to Karl. Fortunately it wasn't long before he broached the subject of what to do next day, which provided my opportunity. I suggested we treat the climb as a mountaineering route, wearing big boots and rucksacks, so we could continue up the Crowberry Ridge to the summit of Stob Dearg. Never one to shirk a challenge, Karl warmed to the idea after I assured him it was no more than VDiff and that I'd brought all the climbing gear. So it was settled - provided the weather held its promise, of course.

The next morning was as clear and sunny as one could wish, if a little nippy. No need for an especially early start, we arrived at the Altnafeadh car park just before 9am and were off down the Lagangarbh track just after. There were still a lot of puddles along the path, edged with a little thin ice in places, but it was a glorious, if rather hazy, morning. :)

We took the left branch at the bifurcation and followed the rising traverse around the north-eastern flank of Stob Dearg. Eventually we reached the waterslide - a slabby outcrop with a spring flowing over the top of it, useful not only as a source of water but even more so as a landmark on the route to the start of Curved Ridge.

View towards Ben Nevis from the waterslide

The waterslide

Just the other side of the waterslide the route goes straight up the steep, heathery hillside, when the Curved Ridge and Rannoch Wall come into view high above.

Central Buttress (left), Curved Ridge, Rannoch Wall (centre) and North Buttress (right)

The path is clear enough to follow up the stones and scree. There was a lot of water running down, draining from the crags. Above us we noticed two parties of scramblers, helmeted and roped together, at the foot of Curved Ridge. We passed the first group who were assembled on a ledge to our left, and caught up with the second group who had started the scramble proper, traversing right across the first steep section, under instruction from their guide.

Scramblers on the first steep section of Curved Ridge

Fortunately it was easy enough to bypass the group by a line just below. More scramblers in guided groups were encountered further up the ridge. We never used to see this sort of thing back in the day; seems to be the fashion nowadays.

More scramblers further up Curved Ridge

Crowberry Ridge topped by the tower on the right.

At the steep section another party were being belayed from above by their guide. I don't like scrambling over other people's ropes, but we couldn't afford to be held up for too long, so we carefully climbed through. The guide at the top was very good about it, actually, and we exchanged comments about the remarkable weather.

Looking down the steep section of CR

The Rannoch wall was looming closer and the line of Agag's Groove was prominent. We noticed some other climbers around the start of it.

Agag's Groove beckons above

It was time to quit Curved Ridge and cross Easy Gully to reach the foot of the climb. When we got there a team of climbers were traversing into Agag's from the first platform on Crowberry Ridge, which seemed odd. I called up to ask which climb they were doing. They explained that they'd tried to go up the corner of Dingle (HVS), but it was wet, so they were settling for Agag's. In the meantime the second man had dropped his sticht plate (belay device), which, luckily for him, was retrieved by another team who'd come up behind us. Clearly I was far from alone in conceiving the ridiculous idea of climbing Agag's in February! :( :lol:

Looking up the first pitch of Agag's, which follows the groove line on the right

We had our rope uncoiled and were soon tied on and set to go. The team behind us still had their sticky rock shoes to put on (cheating, surely! :lol: ), so they handed the sticht plate to me to take up to the first stance, where its owner was by now ensconced. So off I went up the slim groove of the first pitch. The holds were good and so was the protection, though I had to be sparing with the latter as I only had a pared down rack. I was soon out of the shade and into the sunshine, which warmed the rock nicely. My Scarpa Charmoz boots worked a treat on the positive edges. After 30 metres I reached the first stance and handed the sticht plate to the guy who'd dropped it. He was very grateful, and set off up the second pitch, belayed by his leader on the second stance. Meantime I set up the belay and called down for Karl to climb up.

Tied to a big block, I couldn't see Karl or get a view of the pitch below, so I didn't take a photo. When Karl arrived at the stance he tied himself to the block and I set off up the second pitch, a straightforward ramp leading in 25 metres to another block belay. This had an old bit of rope tied round it and was occupied by a couple from Glasgow who were re-anchoring their abseil ropes on their descent from the top of January Jigsaw, which they'd just completed.

Next up was pitch 3, the crux. From the top of the block it followed the continuing ramp-line up to an exposed ledge below a steep crack in a blunt arete. Having done the climb before I knew this was the crux, but since my previous ascent was in 1983, my memory of it was somewhat hazy, to say the least. I'd forgotten just how steep the crack is, and it felt quite awkward in big boots. An obvious, big hold turned out to be loose, so alternative holds had to be used. Above this the angle eased off a bit and it was easier going up to the belay. From here I could see a bit down the pitch, if I leaned out, so I took a photo of Karl coming up.

Karl coming up the third pitch

The final pitch remained, giving 20 metres of enjoyable climbing, in a very exposed position, to big ledges on the Crowberry Ridge.

Near the top of the final pitch

Karl soon joined me and we both agreed what a superb climb it was. It had been every bit as good as I'd (hazily) remembered it. As we coiled the rope, Karl told me that the leader of the team below us had been struggling on the third pitch. Looking down, there was no sign of him, though we couldn't see anything of the third pitch. We were pretty sure he'd get up ok - he was wearing sticky rock shoes after all!

We scrambled up the Crowberry Ridge, which was easy for the most part, except for a short section which traversed out on the left side in a very exposed position and went up a steep little crack above (with a piton in it). We wondered if we'd gone the right way, but were soon on easier ground again. The tower above looked impressive, but gave easy scrambling to its top.

On top of Crowberry Tower, looking down into the gap

Kingshouse from Crowberry Tower

To get down from the tower into the gap on the other side, we retraced our steps for maybe a hundred feet to a ledge leading round to the right. A steep step of about 20 ft. then dropped down to the gap. I went down first to check it out; the trickiest bit was the start, after which it was easy. Karl tried the start but didn't like it, so I climbed back up and set up a belay so Karl could climb down safely on the end of the rope. Once we were both in the gap, all that remained was an easy scramble up the other side to the summit area of Stob Dearg.

Looking down Crowberry Gully

Across Glen Etive from the gap

Looking back to the Crowberry Tower

The views, though hazy, were magnificent.

View north from north cairn of Stob Dearg

Zoom to Ben Nevis

Summit of Stob Dearg from north cairn

Bidean nam Bian and co.

Lunch was long overdue, so we found a sheltered ledge overlooking Glen Etive and enjoyed our sandwiches and Eccles cakes in a leisurely and reflective fashion encouraged by the benign conditions.

Stob na Doire

It occurred to us that we still hadn't seen anything of the team that followed us up Agag's Groove. We assumed they must have gone back down the Curved Ridge.

Eventually, and reluctantly, we decided we'd better make our way down. At the top of the path into Coire na Tulaich was a small bank of snow. Once down this a very well-made path took us down the corrie more painlessly than anticipated.

Descent into Coire na Tulaich

Some distance down we looked back and noticed three people at the top of the corrie, making fast progress down. It didn't occur to us that this was the team who'd been below us on Agag's, but eventually they caught us up and we recognised each other. The leader said he'd had a hard time on the crux crack and had been worried by the loose hold. We laughed about it and all agreed what a great climb it had been. They'd obviously got up ok and were in good spirits, which was a relief. They sped off ahead of us, maybe keen to get to the pub?! :lol:

And we followed after them at our slower pace, into the soft haze of the winter-spring sundown. :D


Climb: Agag's Groove, 100m, VDiff
First ascent: J.F. Hamilton, A. Anderson, A.C.D. Small, August 1936

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Comments: 16

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User avatar
Location: Cumbria
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: Clachaig Inn
Mountain: An Teallach
Place: Loch Coruisk
Gear: Marmot Windshirt
Ideal day out: A round of summits with some scrambling thrown in.
Ambition: Complete the Munros

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