The Needle, Shelterstone Crag

With all the dry weather we decided we really needed to take advantage and drive up to the Scottish mountains. We’d never climbed on the Shelterstone Crag before, and with a selection of classic long routes to pick from this was to be our destination.

After finishing work on Friday we drove up to Aviemore making good time and parked at Loch Morlich for a night’s sleep. Avoiding as many midges as possible, we managed to keep bite numbers under 1000 per square centimetre of exposed skin!

The moon reflected in Loch Morlich, and if you look carefully you can see the clouds of midges coming straight at the photographer - dinner!
The moon reflected in Loch Morlich, and if you look carefully you can see the clouds of midges coming straight at the photographer – dinner!

On Saturday morning we drove the short distance up to Coire Cas car park. We then headed up the steep path towards Cairngorm. It was very hot with very little breeze, but fortunately the steep path soon eased and we followed the guidebook advice, traversing around the plateau to near the top of Shelterstone Crags. Here we got kitted up for climbing, had our first lunch, and left our sacks, before setting off to the bottom of the crag and our route; The Needle. The Shelterstone Crag faces north, thankfully in the blessed shade.

A perfectly camouflaged ptarmigan we disturbed on the approach walk
A perfectly camouflaged ptarmigan we disturbed on the approach walk
A view of Shelterstone Crags and Loch Avon
A view of Shelterstone Crags and Loch Avon
The water of Loch Avon looked perfect with white sandy beaches, but we were here to climb, not swim, that’ll have be on another visit…

Descending to the base we spied a couple of other teams already on the route. But they were way in front – they’d probably camped nearby. Looking up at the line of the route it was very daunting – so complex, were we in the right place, apparently over hanging, in short – scary!

Laetitia starting up the first pitch of The Needle.  The route aims for the central notch on the skyline - very intimidating!
Laetitia starting up the first pitch of The Needle. The route aims for the central notch on the skyline – very intimidating!
Pete following the first pitch of The Needle
Pete following the first pitch of The Needle

However, one pitch at a time, it was superb! Even the daunting Needle Crack pitch…

Pete climbing the technical crux pitch of the route.
Pete climbing the technical crux pitch of the route.
Laetitia sets off on the fifth pitch of The Needle
Laetitia sets off on the fifth pitch of The Needle
Pete coming across to join Laetitia at the top of the fifth pitch
Pete coming across to join Laetitia at the top of the fifth pitch. There was a great ledge here, so this is where we had our second lunch.
Laetitia looking up the eighth pitch - Needle Crack, the psychological and physical crux!
Laetitia looking up the eighth pitch – Needle Crack – the psychological and physical crux!

After nine pitches, the sun had started to come round and fall on the crag, but we’d finished the route and were happy be back in the early evening sun. We had also finished our water and were parched, plus we were also looking forward to our third lunch.

Laetitia quenches her thirst with much needed cold mountain stream water
Laetitia quenches her thirst with much needed cold mountain stream water

It took a couple more hours to descend back to Coire Cas. We drove a little further down the valley (but not so low to be back in midge territory) and camped at the lower car park giving us great views across to Aviemore while we cooked burgers on a disposable BBQ and toasted a fantastic day out in the mountains.

On Sunday morning the cold that I had been fighting off (I had hoped it was just hay fever) slapped me in the face. So a leisurely stroll around Aviemore, coffee and tea-cake, and an easy drive home got us back in time to harvest our first crop of 2013 black currants (loaded with vitamin C for my cold). With which I made this yummy black currant and mint (also from the garden) tart…

Black Currant and Mint Tart - Yum Yum!
No great adventure goes without cake! :yum: :yum:
Black Currant and Mint Tart

9 thoughts on “The Needle, Shelterstone Crag”

    1. Dude, the pack in the pictures is the same pack, Tish’s. We climbed with just the second carrying food, water, and a windproof layer each. My pack had been stashed near the summit. And unfortunately I have to report that my pack was heavier on the walk in and out! But I suppose I had to make some allowances for her developing cold didn’t I…

  1. Good to know that global warmimg hasn’t destroyed this magnificent route. Did it 30+ years ago. We made the mistake of dropping down to the foot of the crag and leaving our sacks. At the top we got hit by lightning so didn’t hang around looking for water to quench our thirst. Opted out of a night under the Shelterstone, really grotty, and then had snow as we climbed up Coire Raeburn (there was also snow impacted in the back of the Needle Crack). And this was mid June!!

    1. Hi ya Gwyn! Yeah, what a route! Sounds like you had lots of weather to contend with. We didn’t have that, but there were loads of massive snow fields to navigate around on the approach, and Needle Crack was weird in that freezing cold air was pouring out of it! I reckoned, with so many large snow fields still around on the hills, there must be a pile of snow still deep in the crack… An awesome day out!

  2. Brings back memories of probably my best ever day out on British mountain route. I climbed it with Jim Worthington in June 1979. The landscape was still carpeted with snow but the rock was clean and mostly dry. There was however still ice in the back of the final crack. We never saw another soul all day from leaving the chair lift until arriving back late in the Loch Morlich camp site. Brilliant route, Brilliant day out.

    1. Dave, yeah what a great day out it is! But, when you say “chair lift”, does that imply you got a lift up Cairngorm using the ski lift system? These days, with the funicular, ‘access beyond the ropes’ is strictly off-limits to anyone paying to use the lift system and we mountaineers and hikers have to walk! Not really a bad thing, walking, but it sure would be nice to have the option…

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