Last weekend me and Annie parked up on the Laggan road at Ardverikie to take a wander to a classic multi-pitch HS route that hides around the back of Binnean Shuas: Ardverikie Wall. The SMC guide gives it four stars, and seeing as Annie’s been raving about it since she did it last year I was pretty excited to have a look for myself. We had been into Ardverikie the week before on an ML assessment and seen the clean, arrow-straight streak of slab from the opposite side of Lochan Earba. It’s an awesome natural line, and one that Tom Patey, having missed it while exploring in the mist, described as “the best climb I ever walked past”. We knew exactly how long the walk in was up the estate track, which had us seriously regretting the decision to leave bikes in Aviemore.
Two other teams had left the car park before us on bikes, and when we caught them up at the base of the crag there was a bit of a queue going on. Luckily though, the breeze was up and the midges were hiding, so the wait was more of a picnic with views down Lochan Earba to Glen Bogle and Loch Laggan.
Copying the teams ahead of us, Annie took advantage of the 60m ropes and ran the second and first pitches together now that the flake has fallen from the traditional first belay. The start is the steepest section of the climb, although the holds are good and so is the gear, and despite pausing for a second to drop a nut on my head Annie was soon up at the ‘second’ belay, hanging out with a guy from the team in front. I followed up, and realised just how run out the end of the pitch was when I looked up from her last bit of gear to the belay 10m above. The slab was absolutely pristine though; the blank rock was punctuated with small ripples in the micro-granite that gave secure but exposed climbing.
My first lead was the ‘flake’ pitch, a beautiful hanging flake that gave you no choice but to head onwards and upwards, with a few interestingly blank sections in terms of feet, but plenty of gear and always improving views. Annie then took over again to lead up a short, awkward wall to easier ground below a large hanging scoop. The climbing was just as good as I had hoped – the exposure and occasional lack of gear makes it earn the grade, and the interest was really sustained. Although we were pausing occasionally to wait for the team above, the views and the excellent rock made the time fly by.
I took the final pitch, leading rightwards up the scoop on minimal holds and the occasional, small piece of gear. It was an exhilarating and airy finish, but the scoop finished all too soon to give way to a short grassy ledge followed by some 30m of easy slabs to finish. Fighting the rope drag, I reached the grassy top out and belayed from a scoop. The panorama from the summit of Binnean Shuas matched the expectation given by the climb, and to top it all off I hadn’t felt a midge bite me all day. We wandered down to retrieve the bags and started the long walk back out, dreaming of Newtonmore chippy and feeling even more jealous of the folk with bikes to sweep them back down the track in swooping turns to the bridge and the cars.