Beinn Udlaidh – Smirk

Went for a day trip up to Beinn Udlaidh yesterday with L’il Pete. After an early start under clear skies, and uneventful three and a half hour drive discussing how everyone else would be on the Ben or tromping into Creag Meagaidh, leaving us with a choice of routes on Udlaidh, we were greeted on arrival to a very busy looking car park. Queuing for routes in temperatures of -6°C? Joy.

After the not-too-unpleasant walk-in, spotting the many parties on the classic routes, and the many parties waiting their turn below, we spied a line on the west face that didn’t have anyone on it, or underneath gearing up for it. With the benefit of hindsight, the sensible question to ask would have been “Why?”, but we weren’t feeling sensible, and headed straight for it.

Looks nice, lets do that...

From a distance, Smirk, as consultation with the guidebook confirmed our line to be, looked reasonable. The closer we got, the steeper it looked, and the more the features showed themselves – drippy thin stuff on the right, less drippy, slightly more substantial, but still thin and blobby on the left. I wasn’t entirely sure how attached the thing was at the top, but we reasoned that it hadn’t fallen down yet and therefore must be fine.


I’m sure we had agreed on the walk-in that it was Pete’s lead, but apparently I had misunderstood. My casual air of looking-forward-to-down-jacket-wrapped-belaying-duty was swiftly replaced with a nervous not-sure-I-like-look-of-this feeling.

Having geared up, we walked up to the base of the route, flaked the ropes out, sorted a belay, and I set off. My nervousness increased.

Smirk - the first pitch

I got a screw in the base of the column to try and make myself feel better, but noting the amount of aeration in what was the most solid looking point on the whole pitch didn’t do much too relax me. Still not having considered the sensible option of bailing and picking something more reasonable, I committed to the first chandeliery section, safe in the knowledge I was heading to a reasonable looking rest and what I hoped would be a good screw placement. Thinking light thoughts, I balanced up the right of the column, enjoying a free shower from the drippy stuff out right, and swung carefully left to relative sanctuary.

Screw placements didn’t look good, but a rounded ice boss provided some reassurance with a sling over it. I lobbed a screw in for good measure, and was pleased when it didn’t fail as I clipped the rope in. I looked up. I looked at the sling. I looked at Pete.

Sometime later, I looked up again, having decided that I didn’t fancy lowering off the sling. I didn’t fancy carrying on either though. I looked at the view.

Eventually, I found a couple of good hooks and left my sanctuary for an exploratory trip upwards. Moving very slowly, much to Pete’s enjoyment freezing his bits off below me, I inched my way, checking every hook and tool placement, trusting as many first time placements as I dare to avoid the unsettling shattering that greeted any attempt to find something better. More laughable protection clipped, more height gained.

I like to think there are three main rules for winter climbing: don’t fall off, don’t fall off, and don’t fall off. I was pretty sure that all three rules were well and truly in operation.

About two-thirds of the way up, a cheeky bridge out leftwards gave some respite, and I managed to get a half-decent screw in and a good wire above. After more internal dialogue, I tapped my way up the last less-featured steep section towards what looked to be easier ground.

The top section was very wet, and I wasn’t convinced I would get good placements in the main flow to turn the lip and finish the pitch. I stepped right to what looked like easier mixed ground, but ended up with a couple of torque moves in a crack and some dubious vegetation. Suffice to say, it was enough to see me home, but not without a brief expletive accompanied wobble.

Buoyed with the news that the belay was good, and keen to get moving again, Pete raced up the pitch. This pleased me greatly, I had spent a considerable time under the drippy stuff and was soaked through, my gloves like sponges. It’s fair to say I have been warmer…

Pete led through, dispatching the second step with ease and running on to easy ground, the top, and sunshine.

Pete romping up the second pitch
Pete relaxing post-route, with the classic Quartzvein Scoop behind

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