Interesting Route on No. 4

The left side of No.4 Buttress in Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. From left to right the routes are: Red 67 -Deep Throat (V,6), Pink – Aqualung-Gaffer’s Groove-Bulgy Combination (V,6), Yellow - Swallow-Tail Pillar (VII,8), White – Gaffer’s Groove Winter Variation (V,5), Red – Bulgy (VII,7), Yellow 74 – Savage Slit (V,6), White 75 – Prore (VIII,7), Red – Fallout Corner (VI,7). The route When the Wind Blows (VI,7) mentioned below, starts up Bulgy to below the double roofs, and then traverses left to finish up the upper section of Gaffer’s Groove. (Topo Andy Nisbet/SMC Cairngorms guidebook/Martin Hind)

Last Sunday (December 16), James Edwards was tempted away from his beloved Northern Highlands to climb in the Northern Corries, with a surprisingly prominent new route in mind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but I’ll let James tell the story:

“I have always found the area of No. 4 Buttress near Gaffer’s Groove and Aqualung a bit confusing.  For example, I thought the route When the Wind Blows went up the groove-line parallel to Bulgy. When the new guidebook came out with a very clear diagram of that section of the cliff, I was surprised to see the groove-line untracked, and seemingly nothing to do with When the Wind Blows. I thought this was a bit strange at the time, but gave it no more thought, as I had other routes to keep me busy for a while. However last weekend fates conspired for a short Northern Corries day, so Martin Hind and I went to have a look at that bit of the cliff.

Martin started up the corner of Aqualung, and after clipping an in-situ peg whilst crossing Gaffer’s Groove, he decided to continue on rather than belay there. He continued on up the ‘unclimbed’ groove, which was a funnel for the spindrift making for very unpleasant insecure moves on God knows what, with eyes closed due to the snow blowing around.

Martin soon completed a full 60m of climbing and reached the easy ground that joins the top pitch of Bulgy. I stripped the belay and wore two sacks to climb, as neither of us fancied descending the Couloir. I recognised the moves on the start of Aqualung, but the powder swim up the groove-come-chimney was new to me. I led through and climbed an easy pitch to gain the plateau, where I must have looked like a very strange genetically modified snail, with my two large sacks on my back! When Martin came up he met an old friend Ewen Todd, and partner Rab, coiling their ropes after topping out to Western Route. Martin told me that he hadn’t seen Ewen since punching him at a party in Glasgow in the 1980s, and thought that he had better apologise, as Ewen looked a bit bigger than him now! It’s funny, the old friends that you bump into in the Corries.

It turns out that of course, that the groove had been done before, probably first by Rab Anderson and certainly by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Es Tressider. It all stemmed from a slight error in the original SMC guidebook where the summer line of Gaffer’s Groove (the one we climbed), was never marked, but the winter version of it was, which takes a different line. The combination of Aqualung, Gaffer’s Groove and Bulgy does take a very strong natural feature up the cliff however, and could be worth noting for those No. 4 Buttress aficionados who are running out of things to climb at a mere mortal grade V,6 or thereabouts.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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8 Responses to Interesting Route on No. 4

  1. Hi James, sounds like a fun day. The detail of this area has always perplexed me a bit too! Isn’t the line you climbed (marked in purple) as you say, the bottom of Aqualung, but then once you’d crossed Gaffers Groove you were on what the SMC Scottish Winter records as route ’25a, Gaffers Groove Summer Finish VI,7′. ?? … or am I still perplexed?? Cheers, Simon

  2. Michael Barnard says:

    I also find this area confusing. Does anyone know which route goes up the obvious roofed corner between the yellow and white lines? I’m guessing nothing goes up the steep groove between pink and red (Bulgy)?

  3. John Lyall says:

    The roofed corner between the yellow and white lines is the upper part of Aqualung (the crux). When the Wind Blows climbs most of the groove between the pink and red lines. If you read the descriptions of the routes you will find they are pretty good, it is just the topo that has confused folks. Cheers, John

    • sorry John, dont follow… on the photo there isn’t a roofed corner between the yellow and white lines which could be the UPPER part of Aqualung. Do you mean the ‘lower’ part of Aqualung… or (as I thought Aqualung went), the ‘roofed corner between the PINK & white lines’?

  4. John Lyall says:

    Sorry Simon, I was answering the question from Michael and didn’t check the colours! See how easy it is to make a mistake in a guidebook.
    I should have said Aqualung follows the roofed corner between white and pink in the upper rocks.

  5. John Lyall says:

    The lower roofed corner between yellow and white is the winter variation of Gaffer’s Groove.

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