Top Ten Scottish E5's

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By Niall McNair - 28/02/2004

Try this: Pronounce E5 6b, Eeeee fiiiive six beeeee...

Rolls of the tounge nicely doesn't it?

When I started climbing, E5 was always spoken about in hushed and hallowed terms (and not because it sounded nice to pronounce). Ascents of these routes by locals were shrouded in respect and admiration. I couldn't understand what the fuss was about as I had just climbed a 6c down the wall and heck, I could cruise 6a! I then found out that French grades and British Technical grades are not the same thing to my eternal embarrassment...

And so began the steady slog through the apprenticeship of trad climbing. I dropped my nuts on v.diffs; a shoe fell off on a v.s; my gear popped out on h.v.s.; I crapped myself on an E1; then I leant to place gear. It wasn't all plain sailing in my quest for that magical elusive grade: I did hospitalise myself on several occasions, learning quite a few lessons along the way. But by this time I had developed a taste for Es and started to relish the challenge of moving through the grades. It always seemed that E5s inhabited the steepest or blankest bits of the crag, I got pumped and scared just looking at them and vowed to train harder the coming winter...

I didn't realize it at the time, but my first E5 was the surprisingly tricky Physical Graffiti at Dumbie, scuffling and lunging over the top above an ankle snapping landing (it's probably only font 5+ with bouldering mats...). Suddenly the grade opened for me and I set about throwing myself at every E5 in the vicinity. Since then I have climbed all over Britain and it has always been the Scottish routes that have held the most pleasure for me. This list (in no particular order) attempts to gather the best of the best and hopefully inspire you rack of traddies to oil your friends and fondle your nuts in anticipation of the coming season...

Chemin de Fer, E5 6a, Dumbarton Rock
FFA D. Cuthbertson - 1980

Style: Pumpy overhanging crack (Fr 7a+)

As you walk round the path to "The Rock" and it's assorted boulders, you cannot fail to be impressed by the overhanging headwall of quite possibly the two finest cracks in Scotland. Leaving aside the mighty Requiem, Chemin de Fer assaults the left edge of the headwall with three distinctly hard sections: it is not to be taken lightly. The crack itself, is succumbed only after a devious sequence is worked out and then there is the infamous traverse that your forearms will hate you for... Indeed, it has scalped many a prospective onsight including MacLeod's and myself, so be warned...

If you liked this, why not try: 'Morbidezza', E5 6a, Upper Cave Crag, Dunkeld. (Scotland's first E5, also a pumpy overhanging crack but in a completely different setting).

Surface Tension, E5 6b. Auchinstarry Quarry
D. McCallum - 1980s

Style: Thin technical slab (Fr 7a).

Climbing above the pond at Auchinstarry offers a unique objective danger: if the shopping trolleys don't ensnare you then you will certainly need a Biohazard Team to de-toxify you! Anyway, the aptly named Surface Tension creeps it way up the centre of the sheer black slab at the back of the pond, with a thin perplexing crux above a good peg (but which sticks out a mile and seems to threaten to snag a sensitive part of your anatomy in event of falling!) slightly easier but bolder crimping to the top remains.

Tip: As you ab in give the line a brush as it catches dirt from the top.

If you liked this, why not try: 'Blade Runner' (direct start), E5 6b, Auchinstarry Quarry

Lady Charlotte (Direct finish), E5 6b. Upper Cave, Dunkeld.
D. Cuthbertson - 1987

Style: Technical stamina wall (Fr 7a)

The original Lady Charlotte gives a pleasantly bold outing which escapes leftward to a ramp and avoided a blank looking upper wall. However, if you've got plenty left after doing the original crux then go right at the flakes and tackle the absorbingly blind but well protected second crux (Br 6b) on the headwall. Why not do it as a warm up before redpointing Marlena or Silk Purse? Look, It's only Fr 7a... This definitely adds to the quality of this classic rather than being a poor and pointless variation, indeed the original is for wusses!

If you liked this, why not try: 'Saving For a Rainy Day', E5 6b, Weem

Just a Little Tease, E5 6b. Whale Buttress, Glen Nevis
D. Cuthbertson - 1984

Style: Dynamic, technical crux & pumpy cracks (Fr7a+)

Glen Nevis has to be one of the most underrated climbing areas in the UK; chock full of 3 star routes that cover almost every spectrum and style from technical slabs to desperate walls to roofy cracks. it has something for everyone. OK, so the routes can be short and the rock is very rough but that sounds suspiciously like a certain popular rock-type found in the Peak and Yorkshire... The celebrated JaLT offers a unique juxtaposition of techniques from the initial dyno/fall (?) with the subsequent balancy crux to the raggy, pumpy tramlines above. A true modern classic and if you've done it, you can proudly point to the front cover of Extreme Rock and say "I've done that!"

Tip: Visit Glen Nevis in the spring or autumn, otherwise the midges will eat you alive!

If you liked this, why not try: 'The True Edge', E5 6a/b, Glen Nevis

The Ancient Mariners, E5 6a. Pink Walls, Pabbay.
P. Thorburn - 1998

Style: Looooong pumpy cracks (Fr 7a)

Pabbay and Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides stand as a remote outpost in the UK, achieved only after a boredom inducing ferry and a nausea inducing boat trip. However the climbing is far from backwater standard with it's immaculate gneiss and BIG, steep characteristic lines. Standing on the Pink Walls ledge 60m above the North Atlantic Ocean, it hits you: there are no emergency services this far out... mercifully the routes provide an abundance of protection but punch your forearms hard. The cracks offer rounded laybacking and stemming type climbing, which never seems to ends. Finally you reach the belay and you realise you don't look straight down at your partner but down and forward of your feet-yes, it really is that steep!

Tip: carry two sets of cams.

If you liked this, why not try: 'The Raven', E5 6a. Pabbay (Shorter but just as pumpy and steep)

Stone, E5 6a, Strone Ulladale, Lewis
FFA: M. Fowler - 1981

Style: Overhanging corner and groove crux pitch (Fr 6c)

If you want multi-pitch adventure in an uncompromising situation then this is your bag. Don't forget the 2.5 hour walk in and try not to feel sick as you start off under the overhangs and roofs of The Scoop and other crazy looking routes... The first few pitches of Stone weaves it way elegantly, taking the line of the least resistance through some sickening steep ground to arrive at the foot of the crux corner pitch. You will need to use every trick in the book to ascend: full on splits-bridging; off-width squirming and pumpy laybacking before having to battle the "Hanging Baskets of Babylon" to the belay ledge. The final pitch contains a stunning, bowel loosening traverse onto a hanging arete above the whole crag-all 200m of it!

Tip: If there are eagles in the area, Do not climb this route.

If you liked this, why not try: 'Kismet', E5 6b, Strone Ulladale. (Haven't actually done this, but it looks brilliant with 7 pitches of Br 6a/6b climbing).

Tweetie Pie Slalom, E5 6a, Dalbeg Bay, Lewis
D. MacLeod - 2001

Style: Cracked sustained wall (Fr 6c+)

The reason there are so many routes from the Outer Hebrides in this Top Ten is the gneiss. It is a sheer pleasure to climb on, with its rounded but incut holds; the steep lines; the bomber protection and the grit like roughness. TPS is actually a continuation of the original (and now defunct) route, Neptune-a-Calling, which inexplicably traversed right, 2/3 of the way up after a technical wall, into an existing E2. In doing so, it avoided the soaring cracklines which the Tartan Terminator soon spotted and subsequently created one of the must do routes on the island. The route itself links together a series of challenging grooves and cracks straight up the middle of this fantastic wall, before culminating in the final headwall providing a well earned pump.

If you liked this, why not try: 'Limpet Olympics', E5 6a and 'Mercury & Solace', E5 6a, Dalbeg Bay (Aye, aye I know... both my own routes but they offer a similar standard of climbing).

Agrippa, E5 6a, Carn Dearg, Ben Nevis
P. Whillance - 1983

Style: Bold technical arete (Fr 6c)

Another mountain route with a big walk in... not for the Alien 2 punters out there-your legs might snap with the effort of getting up to the Ben! A three pitcher up the side of the alarmingly precipitous Carn Dearg buttress with a fantastic middle crux pitch. First teeter up and above your belayer and start clamping the arete before a pod flake is reached and some welcome gear. Relax and realize you are probably on the highest E5 in Britain- hey no one else in Britain is pulling off 6a moves at this altitude! On you go, turn the arete, up the wall, watch that lichen! And wobble to the belay... Of course, any mountain route worth it's salt has to have a wet and loose section, just as well your belayer's gonnae have to lead the next pitch.

If you liked this, why not try: 'Purr Blind Doomster', E5 6a. Cambusbarron (Err...definitely not a mountain route! But if necky aretes are your thing...).

Celtic Dawn, E5 6a, Tunnel Wall, Glen Coe
G. Livingstone - 1987

Style: Bold, necky wall (Fr 6b+)
Just to show how easy some E5s can be, wander on to this one, perhaps as a warm up to the Risk Business (which I've yet to do!) or as a good start to Romantic Reality... The ryholite on this part of the wall feels quite quartzy and consequentially offers fairly small and incut crimps. Unfortunately there is a liberal spread of lichen on this route, but as the climbing is so easy it actually lends an air of adventure on the lead. Probably best soloed cos what's the point in carrying a rack to place some sparse, crap rps? Floating up before the final bulge feels quite pleasant but then reality jars as you hear the high notes emanating from the crucial flake...

If you liked this, why not try: 'The Singing Ringing Tree', E5 6a. Glen Nevis (better to solo this one as well!).

Running Wild, E5 6b, Craig Stirling, Aberdeenshire

Style: Technical wall and steep bold arete (Fr 6c+/7a)

Proof that small is beautiful can be discovered on this delightful crag which contains a fair smattering of hard-ish extremes. Approaching the crag feels disappointing but once the bay is turned and Running Wild is found, you will want to climb this stonking arete. A puzzling start off a platform soon yields with application of your biceps and the arete is gained... now storm up!... don't stop!... forget the gear, too pumped!... oh, big funky moves, er... phew! And a worrying top-out is gained among the weetabixs.

Tip: Be aware that even if the rock looks dry it might actually have a filmy layer of moisture from the seaspray.

If you liked this, why not try: ( Er... why not ask local climbers Mr Rankin or Mr Reed!).

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