Just back from Australia – Sydney to be more precise. Awesome place! Sun, smiles and the ladies….ohhh the ladies! Yet another place on the list to go back and properly look at. That little holiday has left me with exactly a week until i head over to the US and A for a 6 month road trip. Exciting eh?
That means 6 months of wishing i was back in the UK making the most of my relatively new found ability to drive and the prime conditions that many crags find themselves in once the unbearable heat of the summer has subsided…..well yes quite! To help stem the tide (King Knut style naturally) of weeping nostaglia i have decided to set my throne at the tides edge and over the next few days take you on a whirlwind tour of my Top 5 favourite crags/areas on the Isle.
First up……Wolfcrag and Cambusbarron – what??
Okay so they’re not the most striking of crags, nor are they imbued with spectacular lines (at least Wolfcrag isn’t) or picture postcard views (actually you can see far into the southern Highlands from the top of Cambu) BUT they more than make up for it with, for the most part, hard and uncompromising routes and problems. For me these venues evoke a special fondness as they are the first places i learnt to climb. Wolfcrag was literally the first! Awwwww! At uni in Stirling at the time, clueless and without a car i didn’t exactly have much of a choice about where to start but the place gives you an appreciation for everywhere else and lets you see the potential in any number of places. Even the shittiest little crags have some gems….surely?!?
Wolfcrag is really all about eliminate bouldering on chipped pockets never more than a few feet above a nice flat landing (pic below from scottishclimbs.com). There are a couple of nice trad lines/solos up to E6 but the cap of crumbly rock on top of the 10m of bullet hard sandstone makes topping out at best, foolhardy, in which case a handy sling draped round a tree at the top is best advised.
The crag is PERFECT for developing finger strength (and injuries) and precise footwork due to the slightly overhung nature of the main wall and conservative nature of the stonemasons! The blocky ‘wing’ to the left of the main wall provides ample interest to beginners and provides more experienced climbers with a good warm up traverse. See Dom’s excellent guide at scottishclimbs.com/wiki/Wolfcrag_Quarry.
It even used to have grandstand seats for viewing the abundant wildlife in the woods around and about the place with….wait for it townies…..the mythical deer and rabbit roaming about looking for humans to feast upon…scary stuff eh? Sadly though the trees that once grew close to the walls, creating a sense that the crag was your own private playground, are now cleared somewhat diluting the place in my opinion. Maybe this is a good thing though? The dog walkers can now see the odd pasty student flailing helplessly on the first holds on the infamous dyno…..like i once did (who am i kidding, still do).
Cambusbarron was the home of my first E1 onsight, my first E3 (sorry kids but Grasp the Nettle is E2), my first E4, my first E5 and my first E6….phew! It’s perhaps easy to see why i like this place so much! The dolerite, away from the deep cracks and inspite of the quarryman’s work, yields very little in the way of natural holds and friction.
There are two main quarries, conveniently known as the Open (or Forth) and Closed (or Thornton’s) quarries, both with their own unique character. The Open quarry provides the easier, more popular and more welcoming lines, with a sunny outlook and some work of real lyrical beauty graffittied on the walls low down. The main focus of the Open quarry is on the crack systems splitting the far buttress just before the crag turns into an unworthy chosspile (though some would argue that it already is….would you kiss your mother with that mouth??). It is at this buttress that the more amenable and better lines are found, with HVS-E1 being the grade of choice. The classic lines of Gobi Roof (E2) and Chisel (E4 – and worth every penny cos it’s bloody hard) standing proud in their own right just nearby.
The Closed quarry is another kettle of fish altogether. Hard, scary and powerful sums up this place. The routes in here only really start at E4 and the lack of meaningful light as a result of the high tree line pushing right up to the base of the crag. Once you get a few of the routes under your belt it’s actually not that intimidating of a place…..much. The lines are a lot more prominent and stand prouder than those in the Open quarry. It’s usually a very lonely place to climb, good if you like to have some time to yourself, bad if you need someone to motivate you. I remember one time working Anabolic Steroids with another guy shunting Purr Blind Doomster (excellent for a first E5 – safe as houses but with potential for many airmiles), after a few laps on Purr he looked over and saw me hanging mid-crux ‘Bloody hell that must be hard, you’ve not moved for ages!’, ‘Yeah it’s pretty tricky’ i shouted back. After an age he got bored and went home leaving me to continue trying to figure out how the fuck you’re meant to get your weight off your shunt enough to attach a belay device to get down without having a prussik!!
I guess what i like most about Cambusbarron, and other dolerite quarries, is the unique nature of the way that you have to climb. The limited friction keeps you guessing for sure and promotes a powerful approach where confidence is key.