The Strathspey climber can split the local crags into a few categories. Obviously, we’ve got the Cairngorms - the big daddy show-offs like the Shelterstone and Hell’s Lum and the more accessible Northern Corries. Then down in the strath we’ve got the schist outcrops. After that come the not-as-local but still accessible crags up in Strath Nairn and round Inverness.
I won’t talk much about the Gorms; the acres of flawless granite are no secret and I’m by no means an expert. The fact that a whole large SMC guidebook is dedicated to them is proof that there’s a lifetime of climbing up there. But I will mention two things I’ve learnt:
1. Despite providing the backdrop to Aviemore life and just because they’re nearby doesn’t mean you climb there much. This year there’s been so much snow and so much rain that there have only been a handful of really good dry days this summer. I’ve only done 4 Cairngorm routes so far. However, last year was much better, so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.
2. The Northern Corries are overlooked in summer. Despite being Scotland’s most popular winter crags, hardly anyone climbs there in the summer. This is possibly because there are very few well known routes, and the cleanest are all pretty easy, but a look in the guide shows that there are actually loads of things to go at, and the crags get sunshine late into the evening. And they’re only a 45 minute walk from the car, so perfect for post-work pleasure.
In a perfect world we’d always be able to climb on pink Cairngorm granite, but cruel reality means we have to look elsewhere for our fun. This is where the schist crags come in. In their own right I guess most of these crags are minor venues with only local appeal, but I’m starting to realise that if you live near to them you might as well use and come to appreciate them.
So, lets start in the South at Creag Dubh, the jewel in the crown. Scotland’s premier roadside crag with over a hundred routes between Severe and E7, etc etc. It does have a reputation for scariness, but there are loads of routes and not all of them are death on a stick. The style is generally steep and positive (not my finest style) and I’ve been a bit soft and not done much there. Time to man up.
Moving North we next get to Kingussie Crag. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Kingussie either, having only been there once. From what I hear, it is worth visiting, especially for the lower grades and is South-facing and open so less of a midge-fest than other spots. In fact, as I write this I’m wandering why I haven’t been more! North again we get to Farrletter, the one people always want to bolt or just top-rope. It's a funny old place but I am quite fond of it. Yes, it’s pretty bold, yes, it’s pretty hard, but I would argue that if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’ve done (or fallen off) 5 routes there, some of which were safe as houses, and I can personally vouch for the integrity of at least 3 of the old pegs. Saying all this, if someone did bolt it it would be a fun, if rapidly exhausted, local sport venue. Finally, Huntly’s Cave. Another ‘nationally’ known crag, steep, positive and safe. It can stay dry in light rain, but equally can get super-midgy, and it’s not huge so you do run out of routes do fairly fast. As an example I went there last night to try a route I'd not done. It was drizzly, warm and very midgy and I ended up bailing from an HVS. Not a fine hour...
Then we've got the other ones – Burnside, The Badan, etc.. If you thought Farrletter was esoteric then you aint seen nothin’. Scattered about the Strath are loads of wee faces and chunks waiting for you and your wire brush, but whether the attention they get will justify the effort is a different story.
One of Aviemore's strengths is it's location. Lots of places are easy to get to, if you're happy to put the miles in. In terms of climbing that is still local (less than an hours drive away) we have The Camel for long, steep, perma-dry pebble pulling on crazy conglomerate, and only 5 minutes from the car. An amazing stamina training crag, which is growing in popularity, and deservedly so. In fact, it's been the saviour of this wet summer so far. Then there's Duntelchaig. From what I hear it’s quite popular but I’ve only been once to climb the classic E3 Dracula. Must do better. Then a personal favourite, Tynrich Slabs for two-teired gneiss slabby goodness near The Camel. It’s quite small so there aren’t many routes, but the ones I’ve done have all been great and the rock is superb. Definitely should be more popular than it is. Finally there's Moy, The Camel’s friendlier cousin, with a few more routes and more in the 6s. Superb, long conglomerate pitches and only 5 minutes from the road.
Well, I think that sums up the trad and sport climbing close to hand, so next time I'll get involved with the world-famous Strathspey bouldering. Prepare to be inspired...