Inverness area bouldering update 2020-21

Echoing much of the rest of the country, the Inverness area has seen a fair volume of traffic and development over the recent year. On the easing of the initial lockdown in 2020 climbers local to the Inverness scene emerged from their woodwork; fingerboards and home walls littering garages, lofts and living rooms. The geographical spread of climbers in the area meant that training remotely wasn’t unusual pre-pandemic, but after so long attempting to retain fitness indoors psyche for returning to rock was high and feet were coerced back into rock shoes. Armed with brushes and vision people got out, resulting in new problems being established across the area with some hard repeats thrown in there too.

Immediately local to Inverness, the trees above Scorguie and around Craig Phadrig hide myriad conglomerate blocs, many of which have been through cycles of being climbed on and then forgotten about over the years. Tucked away in the woods above Craig Dunain duck pond are the Zig Zag Boulders of The Mast, a venue popular for biking but often overlooked by climbers, which were unearthed and cleaned in the early days post-lockdown by climbers living locally. Offering burly but technical climbing on a variety of boulders, with problems spanning the grades, standout additions include Bowline (6A), which involves bridging the gap between 2 blocs, and Inspectorate, which climbs the leaning prow of Pink Bloc and is still awaiting a repeat to confirm the grade, but goes at a probable 6C+. Lots of potential for new problems, links and repeats.

In Strathnairn, where several venues are blurring the lines between esoteric and classic, the rock-studded hillsides above the loch at Duntelchaig have seen many of the most recent developments in the area, with new boulders cleaned and new problems added. The hidden nature of these boulders, particularly in their bracken-covered summer state, can make it hard to believe that they’ve been climbed on for the best part of 20 years.

On Black Wall, well-viewed on the right as you approach Knife Wound Wall, Pete Herd added the clean and crimpy Tsurugi (7B+) in May 2020. Above this, prominent but out of view until you’re below it, the An Sgurr bloc has acquired a number of problems across a range of grades, starting with the juggy Welly Crack (4), first climbed by Pete and Murdoch Jamieson in their wellies. Rumour has it that until a problem has been done in wellies it ‘hasn’t had a proper ascent’! Left of this, eliminating the crack for hands , Amy Pritchett cleaned and climbed the delicate Slaboblastic at 6A; her first FA. On the prow, with an airy feel enhanced by the boulder’s breezy position, Pete added the eponymous 3* An Sgurr (7A), with an equally starred 7B SS. Filling in the gap between An Sgurr and Welly Crack, Andy Emery added Eigg Roll at 6C+, before continuing the trend of drawing inspiration from the Small Isles and adding Askival (5+) to the Rum Boulder.

On the clean face of the Over the Top Crags, Pete sent Hyperborea in April 2021. Unbeknownst to Pete when he came across it in early 2020, the 7m wall had seen a lot of time invested by Richie Betts around 10 years ago, earning it the accolade of ‘The Impossible Wall’ . Now graded at E7 7a/ Font 7C+, Hyperborea was a project not without effort or injury, spanning 14 sessions over a year and delivering a ruptured A4 pulley for Pete mid way through his campaign.

The Abbot family have been very active in and around Strathnairn, notably with Ian Abbot’s development of the Kelpie Boulders with his two sons. Sitting above the River Farnack close to Farr village, these are an assortment of SW facing blocs sharing the same immaculate gneiss as Farr boulder, with upwards of 50 problems at amenable grades – some of which are still awaiting repeats. Across the road at Brin boulders, Rhys Langlands continued his solid run of form with repeats of several problems in the area including Chris Everett’s November 2019 addition of the fierce Pitbull Direct (7C).

Above Loch Ruthven, on the Wobble Bloc at Rooftown, Dave MacLeod established Zero (8B) in the spring; well documented on his YouTube channel and giving the venue its hardest problem to date. The problem has already seen its first repeat, quickly dispatched by travelling climber Tim Blake on a trip to the area earlier this summer.  

On the topic of notable repeats, towards the end of 2019 Ted Collins created a list of four 3* classic problems at four different venues in Strathnairn, all initially put up by Mike Lee in the area’s golden era of historical bouldering, all graded around Font 7C. QED (7C) at Ruthven, the SS to Farr Side Facet (7C) at Farr boulder, Susurrus (7C+) at Brin, and The Settler (7C) on Knife Wound Wall at Duntelchaig home to what must be one of the most specific crimps in Strathnairn! In November 2020 Ted sent QED, the last of his list, becoming the first person to repeat all four, having sent the previous three in quick succession through the autumn. An impressive set of ticks, particularly given that he sent both Farr Side Facet and The Settler on the same day, with the latter dispatched in the dark when the top half of the problem was wet.

Written by Jenna Bisset, July 2021

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