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Magic Crack, a real Cairngorm Classic.

I’d heard people talking about climbing on warm rock in Scotland and guessed they were just really good story-tellers but weeks of dry weather meant that the routes were dry, the rock was warm and just waiting to be climbed. I have to admit there were a couple of wet weekends but then the sun returned and Britain was baking in temperatures more like those found in the Sahara.

So with the evenings still light until after nine o’clock, Ron and I headed into Coire an t-Sneachda late one afternoon to climb Magic Crack on Aladdins’ Buttress. The route is graded HVS and looks very elegant – a narrow crack slants directly up the rocky face of the buttress. It became well known as a winter climb, grade VII, when it was climbed for the TV programme, The Edge. Since then it has become a popular route amongst those with the technical and mental ability to climb at such lofty levels of winter difficulty. This has also meant that the rock is heavily scarred by crampon scratches. The crack stands out as a brown streak against the darker grey granite. Footholds are more obvious and the cracks, a bit clearer of moss than they would otherwise be.

The first pitch was good climbing on grippy granite with a bit of wet stuff around the bottom but nothing to cause problems. A huge flake gave a brilliant belay and above us, stretched the first 5a pitch. This is also a slanting crack, perhaps an introduction to the harder one above but it is pleasant climbing with good holds in the crack and little ledges for the toes to balance up on. Evidence of winter climbing was to be seen all around, old pegs, slings and bits of gear and the next belay was there in-situ – two pegs and some relatively new cord. It was almost a hanging belay but not quite as there was a good ledge for my feet as I sat back into my harness to belay Ron.

The main crack was directly above our heads and Ron started up. He could see a piece of gear jammed higher up so already had something to aim for. The moves are tricky relying on balance, smearing the toes up the rock and the ability to keep calm! Move by move, Ron climbed steadily up the crack to a large ledge. Above were large, broken rocks through which he started pull up towards but he was concerned about the number of extenders he had left to use higher up and chose to come back to the ledge and belay.

I found the crack tricky at the start as I edged up with one foot bridged against a little corner to the left of the crack, the other, balanced on a knobble of granite backed up by strong thoughts of “stay put”! Inch by inch, I edged up the crack enjoying working out each move – testing toes on little bumps, fingers pulling up the crack to reach the belay with toes nipping.

Then Ron was off again pulling up through the broken rock above. This was balancey again but the holds were there until the last move! The rock was rounded, the holds felt horrible and I could understand why Ron had been cursing so much as he pulled up onto that last ledge. I’d have slipped off if it hadn’t been for the rope above me and I scrabbled about until some sort of belly flop landed me on the ledge beside Ron.

We abseiled back down, two straightforward abseils which didn’t quite reach the bottom but near enough that we could scramble the last couple of metres.

The evening was still warm and the light just beginning to fade as we bounced back out of the corrie, happy with the pleasure of having climbed an excellent route.


Route info - Aladdin's Buttress, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorm, HVS, 100 metres


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Copyright Fiona Chappell 2003-2012 (updated Wednesday, 10. October 2012)