The Clean Sweep - classic Scottish rock climbing
After three months away in the Alps where we had been
climbing on lovely, sunny, granite slabs, we were back in Scotland and
hoping we would get the chance of climbing at least one more rock route at
home. Already, it is October and there has been a dusting of snow on
Cairngorm so maybe it is time to put away the rock boots and dig out the
winter boots, axes and crampons in anticipation of some early winter
climbing. But first, a forecast for a sunny, dry day has us packing up the
rucksacks for a trip over to Hell’s Lum Crag in the Cairngorms. Hell’s Lum
is south facing so gets the sun and we hope that it will be dry enough to
climb one of the classic routes, The Clean Sweep.
The day turns out to be very sunny but there is a
strong wind as we walk up the Fiacaill a Coire Cas to the big cairn at point
1141. Then down towards Windy Col where we expect the wind to pick up but it
is unusually calm! Onwards to Coire Domhain and down along the stream
towards the Loch Avon Basin. This whole area has such sense of remoteness
and with the steep crags surrounding the loch, it must be one of the most
beautiful areas of Scotland and certainly one of the most scenic places to
be climbing. Before reaching the Loch, we turn away from the stream to
the bottom of the crag hoping that it is dry enough for us to play on.
The start of the route is described as following “a
green whaleback buttress” and it is only in the new SMC Scottish Rock Climbs
guidebook that it is clear where the actually goes. Ron had always
climbed the slabs to the left to reach the belay stance below the obvious
corner above that is pitch 3. I start up the slabs to the left of the
whaleback buttress then move into the groove as it says in the guidebook.
Then a nice little foothold out on the edge of the buttress for my right
foot helps me upwards so I can bridge my left foot on to the far side of the
corner. So nicely balanced, my next challenge is to find somewhere to place
some gear to protect the next move. A crack to the right seems promising but
it is tiny and filled with earth. A crack higher up looks hopeful but it is
a good few moves above me and the dampness of the rock lower down has not
exactly filled me with enough confidence to go for it! An interesting,
wobbly move gets me back down to the corner and this time, I go up the slabs
to the left.
The slabs are certainly easier and a flaky undercut
hold higher up gets me back to the corner then up to what is probably the
wettest belay stance I have ever had the pleasure of paddling on to! When
Ron arrives, he manages to keep his rock boots dry by perching on the top of
the pillar. Little does he know though, just how wet the pitch above is!
The second pitch is the most damp probably because it
is less steep than the pitches above and a bit more lichenous. Ron finds he
has to carefully work a way up on the steeper, more positive holds rather
than using the easier angled but damp slabs. Normally when it’s dry, the
moves would feel fairly easy and secure but in the damp, the pitch becomes
rather thought-provoking! I follow up to join him on a dry belay ledge below
a most fantastic looking corner.
There is a little blocky pillar to heave up on to begin
with then up the crack which offers so many places for gear, Ron has warned
me not use all my gear in the lower section but to remember to keep some for
the upper part of the route above the corner. There are also a couple of
rusty pegs but with so many other places to put nuts and friends, the pegs
can be ignored.
The first part of the corner is good then it became a
bit trickier. Deep in the crack are good holds and with my foot smearing
against the slab on the left, I get into a position where I feet in balance
and can stand quite comfortably. More smearing with my feet and with my
hands still deep into the crack and it all felt like it was starting to fall
into place. The climbing becomes a bit more straightforward after that with
a pull up over a little overlap which Ron told me was the crux. Rubbish…it
has good holds and it all feels very positive as I pull onto the top if it.
The climbing continues for a good long way after that getting easier but
still it keeps me thinking. I only just have enough gear and even have to
use the karabiner from my nut key on the last runner!
Ron climbs up to join me and prepares to head up the
fourth and last proper pitch. The rock changes here and the holds become
rough and rounded in contrast to the slabs below as these were rocks that
were not smoothed by the glaciers so many thousands of years ago. It is
still quite steep but gives good, balancey climbing all the way up to a
flake belay on a sloping ledge just short of fifty metres. We have one
little pitch above this to the broken rocks and blocks of the plateau.
After collecting our bags from the bottom of the crag,
we have a pleasant walk back across the plateau. The wind has dropped and
the sun is just disappearing as we drop down the ridge back towards the car
park. A sharp light appears as a rescue helicopter buzzes into the coire
alongside us and hovers over the Finger’s Ridge area then whirrs upwards to
land just minutes later in the car park. The helicopter takes off and
shortly after, we see the lights of car leaving the car park too. We can
only guess that folk had got stuck on a route as darkness descended and had
called in to be rescued.
We carry on down the hill
towards the growing glow of light that is Aviemore by night!
Hell's Lum Crag,
VS,4c, 160 metres