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The Needle, Shelterstone Crag, Cairngorms

The guide book describes it as “a classic rock climb, long and extremely good” So is that where the “E” comes from then? 

classic Scottish rock climbing on Needle, Shelterstone Crag in the Loch Avon Basin of the Cairngorm National Park

We had been traipsing about the Cairngorms with bivvy gear and climbing equipment for the past few weekends so the sacks felt pleasantly light with only the gear we needed for the day. Approach shoes made the feet feel good and were much cooler to wear than heavy walking boots. Even at eight o’clock in the morning it was hot enough for shorts!

The crags appeared before us, the sun picking out the slabs and highlighting the shape of the rocks. I found it difficult to work out out exactly where the route went as the crag was still fairly unfamiliar to me and had the appearance of a muddle of chimneys, slabs, steep walls and roofs. I could spot the route of The Citadel where we had been the previous weekend.

A couple of folk were climbing above us but they soon disappeared. Two more climbers followed us up to sit and enjoy the sun as Ron started up the first pitch. The route has many tricky sections so whilst the first pitch is straightforward, those above promised more of a challenge. I followed up to belay Ron as he continued up pitch two, This has a steep wall at the top and here we found the guide book description misleading. It described a possible belay below a steep wall with another belay slightly higher up above a steep rib. This second belay should have been at the 45 metre mark but it seemed unlikely that Ron would have enough rope to reach it. He chose to belay below to avoid the unpleasant experience of running out of rope just as the rib steepened.

Now at this stage, I have to own up to a big mistake. We climb mostly with Ron’s gear – wires, friends and all but I usually take along another set of wires. Unfortunately, in my dozy state that morning, I had forgotten to pack them which meant that not only was Ron leading a difficult route but having to be especially cautious about the protection he had available to use.

The two climbers below had now arrived at my belay spot and it was a surprise to find out it was someone we knew so a pleasant time was had chatting about the Alps whilst Ron worked out the problem of the steep rib. At this point, one of the climbers, Jim, decided that if Ron was finding the climbing tricky then perhaps it wasn’t the route for them so they abseiled off to go and do another route on Hell’s Lum.

Soon we were up to a large grassy terrace with the second crux pitch above. This looked strenuous as it meant having to move to the left then heave up onto a huge block. For all that it was the hardest pitch it does not stand out as much as two of the pitches that followed higher up. The first of those tricky pitches was where the only way up is to use a crack which is aptly named “the crack for thin fingers”. Mine were not thin enough and how Ron managed, I haven’t a clue but somehow I got up.

We moved over more broken ground but even then, this had its steep sections. The next big problem was a huge corner with very blank walls either side. By bridging and inching up one foot at a time and with the reassuring feel of the rope tugging at my waist I reached a rather relieved–looking Ron at the belay. Just one more pitch through the eye of the Needle and we were there. This was my pitch to lead as it was huge blocks and I took the guide book literally when it said “thread the chokestone” and wound into and under the massive rocks stuck in the chimney. Finally, Ron popped out of the chimney onto the summit mumbling something about going over chokestone rather than under.

Lasting impressions – hard pitch after hard pitch but brilliant rock and climbing to make you think!


Route info:

The Needle, Shelter Stone Crag, Cairngorm

E1, 264metres

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