Back in the long hot summer of 1995 a young chap called Jules Lines was working at the Landmark Centre in Carrbridge. A keen climber, Jules had spent years cutting his teeth all over the crags of Britain, and had emerged as a leading light in the devious arts of hard slab climbing. For those not in the know, in rock climbing terms, a slab is a wall that is less than vertical, so the challenge comes not from being able to hold on, but from being able to trust the friction of your shoes and to balance your way up on tiny edges.
Slab climbing heaven: trusting the subtleties of friction between coarse granite crystals and modern rubber soled rock shoes. This is me on Hammer, Etive Slabs. (Photo: Steve Crawford)
After work each night, Jules would head up to Cairngorm, cross the plateau, and drop down into the mighty cauldron of the Loch Avon Basin, home to acres of blank granite slabs. And here, like a kid in a sweet shop, Jules set about filling in the blank sections of the crags under the cloudless skies. Among the many routes Jules climbed that summer, the hardest was on the Lower Slab below Hell’s Lum. At E7 6b, Firestone was created; a direct line up the blankest part of the slab. The description in the SMC Cairngorms guide says it all:
“A slab climbing test piece at the right end of the Lower Slab. Climb the obvious pink water worn streak directly up the dark but notably smooth section of the slab. Holdless and protectionless.”
So, why on Earth have I decided that this is a good idea? Well, It’s pretty simple really. First and foremost, the Loch Avon Basin is one of the most beautiful places on this planet, so I’ll use any excuse to spend time there (it’s actually part of the RSPB reserve I work on, so I could claim to be doing ‘work’). Secondly, I’ll gladly confess that I love slab climbing (this is a much misunderstood and maligned climbing style). Thirdly, at E7 it’s clearly sick hard and a tad on the dangerous side, so I have no bones about working the route to death from the safety of a top rope before deciding if I want to lead it (if you’re a staunch ground-up, on-sight climber, you’re more than welcome to come and get the first on-sight ascent, otherwise, no complaining please). Fourthly, I’m in need of a long term climbing project; something to keep me busy; something really hard that I’m going to have to fight and stress and worry to attain.
I’m hoping that as the summer begins and the snow starts to clear from the hills I’ll be able to spend the long evenings and weekends working on the route, so I’ll be updating Soft Rock with my progress and thoughts on the gargantuan challenge that I’ve set myself.
Fasten your seatbelts, it could be a bumpy ride……