God I fucking love the North West. Doing cool and fascinating challenges around the rest of Scotland is all very well and rewarding, but doing them in such a special place has a whole different vibe. For a start it's a bit harder to get focused when you're gazing over Ardmair or Diabeg bays in a mellow autumn sunshine....but then the rock and climbing are so good you just have to...
Out of the many stunning areas along the coastline, the bay around Ardmair may or may not be the most delightful. The austere pebble beach arcs elegantly around from the fun bouldering area, leading the eye past the glittering sea and islands to the soaring ridge of Ben Mor Coigach, forming a mesmerising frame for the coastal beauty. But enough of that hippy bollox, Ardmair would be a brilliant crag in an urban quarry, let alone the serene valley hanging above the bay. It's gritstone with jugs, jams, usually great gear, and a seemingly limitless supply of fine climbing. This time I eschewed the previous mileage and focused on one stunning route - Neart Nan Gaidheal.
I'd got familiar with and inspired by the Beast Buttress back in 2010 - On The Western Skyline and Unleash The Beast both being great routes and amenable enough to want to up the ante a grade with NNG....once I was fit, confident, and determined enough. Actually, it's upping the ante a grade and a bit more - NNG is supposed to be low in the grade (which it may be, if one cares), but nowhere near as much as OTWS which is generally relaxing throughout, nor especially UTB which whilst adequately brutal is tamed by easy, perfect protection and useful jams. So NNG feels pretty proper compared to those - whilst it's not technically hard, it's sheer, continuous, and gives plenty of escalating pump through reasonable sidepulls with unhelpful footholds, especially while placing the somewhat sketchy gear in the upper half. I had warmed up, chilled out, recovered from a long drive from Glasgow and an early coffee, waited until it was in the perfect evening shade, and had enough....something to move up when pumped rather than down or off.
Out of the many stunning areas along the coastline, the bay around Diabeg may or may not be the most delightful. Blah blah peninsula blah quaint harbour ruined boat blah stunning outlook to Skye and even the Uists. Suffice to say Diabeg is almost as good as Ardmair and has the added bonus of SLABS. After last weekend's mixing and matching of Scimitar and Rosey slabs with the opposing Rosey steepness, I had got plenty of syke for Wall Of Flame, just about enough to compensate for the sunny, still, but ultimately tolerable weather. There was one slight issue, my partner Steve (from the mighty Far North metropolis of Bettyhill) had a good time at Ardmair but not got on with seconding an E2 5c warm-up. Of course I'm very happy to abseil to strip gear and outwit all of that "Uh I don't know if we should climb together cos I don't climb as hard as you" bollox, but Wall Of Flame has two pitches, and although the last one is only a minor variant on Northumberland Wall, it's still part of the experience. So....give up and abandon it? Force Steve to haul his way up? Bollox to that. A cunning plan is needed.
Firstly we went to Aztec Tower for him to do a couple of leads on this pleasant crag with funky rock. This left us unavoidably close to Gairloch where the recently refurbished harbour cafe needed to be tested to confirm the coffee is indeed very good these days. Then cruise to Diabeg: I lead P1 of WOF, pull the ropes and chuck them down and Steve seconds P1 of The Black Streak with his rack. I lead P2 of WOF and abseil straight back down to the belay. Steve then leads P2 of TBS and does the same because I'm too chilled and my feet are too sore to follow (despite even more cunning putting voltarol on my toes in advance!), and is mightly chuffed with a fine pitch at his level (and effectively ticking TBS), I abseil down WOF P1 to get out all sketchy micro-gear, he follows down as the midges come out, we congratulate ourselves on a slick operation, I'm back in Glasgow by 11 and he's back in a pub in Bettyhill at 9:30. Ta da! And of course, Wall Of Flame is bloody brilliant, I feel well warmed up after the previous weekend's slabs, but it is still intricate and intense with a greatly committing crux, all on perfect crisp rock.