I was due to go to Ardnamurchan in 2009. Friends had a cottage booked but the last minute forecast showed consistent showers. I paid for my place and backed out gracefully. Seeing their photos later, it showered pretty much every day. I was also due to go at some other point with the Pylon King, but he begat the Pylon Prince and became fixated with Wye Valley esoterica (worrying even by my low standards). It's taken a long time to actually get there but I finally managed this weekend with a small Glasgow team. It also takes a long time to get there full stop: Easy to Glen Coe, fun across the Corran ferry micro-crossing, endlessly tedious on single track roads until the edge of the Scottish mainland. I'm grateful that Tom was driving. But once you get there, well...
It's pretty rad really. Climbing along the rim of a volcanic caldera, walking through the centre and seeing the crater arcing around you. All ancient and extinct of course??
Don't worry, it's only a heather fire, and it blew out fairly quickly on the second day. Funnily enough, I was in Wester Ross last April when the Torridon fires kicked off and drove through the glen as Liathach was on fire above a highly out-gunned lone fire engine, and now I was in Ardnamurchan this April for a smaller but no-doubt worrying hill fire. Coincidence?? Honestly, guv!
Day 1 was the drive-in day via an alpine start and "tolerable" coffee at the Green Welly stop, so the team decided to go for the accessible Achnaha buttress (10 o'clock on the rim). Shorter routes and a shorter walk-in, I'd wanted to go there anyway. To be honest it was pretty disappointing. The walk-in wasn't too short but the routes often were, as well as some obscure overgrading. Bondi Beach and Wheesht! were more substantial, and despite having a cold and pump-induced wobbler on the latter, I was chuffed to get it done as I'd seen a photo of the first ascent in On The Edge ages ago. Old inspiration being sated once again, which pleases me greatly.
Day 2 was the longer walk-in and longer routes of the Meall-An-thingy crags (1 o'clock on the rim), which require a stomp across most of the crater but are pleasingly adjacent once you're based there. Both the length of the walk and the routes were less than appeared, as a good track and only gentle undulations made the former fairly tolerable for me (I was trying walking poles for the first time and despite feeling like a complete dome using them, I think they do help, taking the edge of the exhaustion), and the curvacious crests of the crags made the routes taper off into easy ground fairly quickly. Not a venue for sustained mega-pitches, but vastly better than the "roadside" crag and a great gabbro experience in a lovely location.
The only downside was the peril of a less travelled venue, at least on the harder routes. I rattled off Up Pompei (above), and Mirka (which is interestingly photo-featured in SMC's Scottish Rock with the wrong route caption "Minky", not even mentioned in the text, and unspeakably bad beta in the photo, bravo), and fancied a sterner challenge so tried The Great Euchrite... This turned out to be only one full grade undergraded, but that grade makes the difference between certain groundfall from slopey 5c crux moves a fair way above an RP0 in a shallow seam even if the RP held which it wouldn't, and, well, not groundfall. I chose "not groundfall" and somewhat embarassingly had to be rescued from a small rest (rest....my feet and calves still hurt today) ledge. Somewhat letting the side down, but a useful lesson about maintaining wariness of such offpiste routes.
And that was that. Another cool venue explored. :)