Hammer and Spartan Slab, Etive Slabs, Glen Etive.
The Etive Slabs are described as “magnificent
sheets of smooth granite” in my guide book and I can think of no
better description. What I would add is just how much fun the climbing
can be on the smooth granite sheets when the sun is shining and there
is just enough of a breeze to blow away the midges.
The weather turned fair and promised to be
settled for two days so we decided to visit Glen Etive. On the way we
had a bit of a diversion to Binnein Shuas to climb The Keep before
driving on down to Glen Etive for the night. Glen Etive has always
been a favourite place of mine for wild camping but it has been a few
years since I last stayed there. It was a pleasure to wake up that
morning in such a beautiful setting with blue sky above and the sun
sparkling on the river nearby.
I’d heard various comments about the Etive Slabs
and the climbing had been described to me as everything from fantastic
and balancey to downright frightening with no places for gear. Also,
given that the easiest route is VS, this is not a place I could have
really considered going to before now or at least, not if I wanted to
enjoy the climbing rather than being scared out of my wits.
|The walk in is pleasant, just forty minutes up grassy slopes from
the car to the Coffin Stone, a huge block which sits at the bottom of
the crag. There are two huge corners that run almost diagonally up the
slab. The first one as you look leftwards along the crag is route
called Agony (E2) and the second is Hammer, the route we wanted to
The first two sort-of-pitches went up
through broken slabs and vegetation, lots of bushes and grassy tufts.
I led the next pitch rightwards up a cracked slab to a ledge and a
convenient tree belay. The next pitch looked interesting – a smooth
scoop on the slab rose gradually leftwards towards the huge corner.
The scoop is almost a slanting ledge that crosses the slab rising
diagonally to the left except that it is slightly angled outwards and
down and there is nothing specific to place either hands or feet on
except for the smooth rock. Ron padded gently across and acknowledged
that near the top was a tiny, little knobble of rock that made a
perfect handhold. After having nothing at all, even the slightest,
smallest, tiniest hold felt positive. He continued up the corner to a
comfortable niche on the wall about halfway up.
My turn! I enjoyed climbing the scoop and
it really is all in the mind as I kept telling myself that if I stood
on the slab, my feet would stay put but if I leant forward, they
would slip. Hands were just for balance until I found the knobble of
rock higher up. Then after reaching the safety of the corner, I began
to move up using the crack at the back of the corner, hand over hand
with my feet just walking up the slab, the soles of my rock boots just
catching on the little ripples and bumps in the rock. The climbing was
not strenuous and it felt like each move just flowed. I had to keep
reminding myself to stop and take out the gear.
|The niche belay was quite fun for me as second as I could lie back
against the rock looking up the slab and watch as Ron led the next
tricky pitch, a delicate traverse to the right then a pull up over an
overlap. He made it look easy,
|I felt uncomfortable about it as I had to climb up to
unclip an in-situ wire runner, then down climb a little before
traversing across a smooth slab which had nothing for hands or feet,
again! Inch by inch, encouraged by shouts to keep on my feet, I
reached the better holds. I was relieved to get across, to begin
climbing upwards again, upwards to the steep wall of the overlap and
onto the slab above.
One pitch left and easier than the previous
two. Ron went up the slab and pulled through the last overlap on rock
that had a huge handle at the top! A meandering route through grass
and heather brought us to the descent path, an interesting experience
in itself with little scrambly bits and a huge amount of exposure as
it runs along the top edge of the crag!
We drove back to Aviemore that night but the slab
climbing bug had bitten and four days later, we were back, this time
to climb Spartan Slab and The Pause if the weather allowed us two
climbing days. We arrived in Glen Etive on the Sunday of a bank
holiday weekend. It was a bit busier and on Monday when we went to
climb, we found there were a few more climbers than before and by the
end of the day, most of the classic routes had been climbed by one or
more parties. One thing that was more noticeable on this trip than our
previous one and something that made me feel very sad was the lack of
respect some people have for the countryside. As we drove along the
road, we saw four wheel drive cars that had been driven off the road
onto the grassy areas churning up the ground and causing lasting
damage, rubbish, albeit tied up in bin bags, had been left lying in
the lay-bys, toilet paper, bottle tops, cars parked in the designated
turning area at the end of the glen and more.
Spartan Slab, the route has two stars and is
featured in Bill Birkett’s Classic Rock so it is very popular. We were
lucky in that we were first onto the route. Later in the day, we
watched from above as two, maybe three parties started up the route
and some even turned back from the crag as the climbs were so busy.
The first pitch, Ron’s, was a bit vegetated in
places and the belay was tricky because three climbers on another
route, The Long Reach, were there sorting themselves out and
preparing for the pitch above. This meant Ron had to belay further to
the right than he would have preferred.
||I led up on a lovely, clean slab to a little overlap and a very
obvious belay tree in the ideal position for watching out how Ron was
going to tackle the tricky bit, the pull over another but bigger
|First he traversed to the left along the lower slab to a notch in
the slab above. These overlaps occur as one granite slab sits on top
of another but the upper slabs are progressively shorter so the slabs
appear to have occasional steps or walls which often give physically,
the hardest moves of the routes. This notch had a good slot for gear
so the move was protected from above but it is still awkward. Ron
seemed to heave upwards, then somehow get his legs up the right and
onto the upper slab. When it came to my turn, I could see what to do
but wasn’t too sure about the hand jam in the crack on my left and the
lurching move onto the slab above on my right. There are times when it
is good to be the second! Getting my feet high up below the overlap
seemed to be the key and gave me enough lift to gain the slab, phew!
That wasn’t the difficulties finished for that
pitch as above is a traverse which can be done either as a hand or toe
traverse depending on one’s ability to place gear at their feet! We
both traversed along placing our toes into the crack to reach a fairly
good ledge and belay. Now this is where the guidebook gets a bit
misleading as it describes the next bit of the route leading off from
the right end of the ledge after the traverse. Following that
description, Ron went up a slab only to find hard moves and no
protection and not what he was expecting. something was definitely not
right so he climbed back down and moved further right to find ground
more like what he was looking for. It became apparent that there was
another ledge quite a bit below where we were belayed and it was from
there that the next pitch was described. Confusing!
Anyway, back onto more amenable ground and some
more lovely slab to climb on until the top section which got a bit
vegetated at the top. After the earlier, harder sections, it was just
fun to climb. This penultimate pitch had a flake crack to the left
which gave a couple of places for gear. One piece, a small wire which
Ron thought was dodgy had become jammed in behind a tiny crystal. It
came out eventually but only after a lot of fiddling. The last pitch
was mine across the grass and up a blocky chimney but Ron was getting
fidgety as I fixed gear before pulling up the blocks, so much so that
I became unnerved and backed down to fix up an intermediate belay so
he could climb the chimney quickly. That took us back onto the descent
path and the scramble back down.
The climbing was very different to Hammer, in a
way more varied as there are more flakes, lots of different cracks to
follow for short sections rather than one huge one and the move up the
overlap is great though I’d like to go back another time and try to
get up it a bit more gracefully!
We went back to the tent for supper and to make
plans for the next day but the weather took over the planning as it
started to rain, not just in drops but in bucket loads. Everything was
bundled into the car so we could head back. Our other intended
route, The Pause, remains to entice us back.
Route info - taken from SMC Guide to Glencoe
Hammer - HVS***, 150 metres, 5 pitches 4a, 4b, 5a, 5a, 4b
Spartan Slab - VS****, 190 metres, six pitches 4a, 4a,
5a, 4c, 4b, 3c.