Bullroar

An account of a climb on Carn Dearg, Ben Nevis, by former member Ken Martin.

The summer of 1976 was an exceptionally long and hot one, and the summer meet of the club at the CIC hut was to enjoy the same dry spell. We arrived on the Friday evening via the Jacobite, and a little the worse for wear. We could not believe our luck would hold, so a few pints had seemed in order. It was after midnight when we arrived at the hut and found a few others already ensconced.

My climbing partners were Mike Phimister and Jerry Smith, and although we had no firm plans the word Centurion figured largely in the drink induced euphoria during our meander up to the hut. Saturday lunchtime saw us taking a tentative look at the first pitch before we made our excuses and left! A quick look at the Guide book showed a possibility round the corner to the left; a nice Scottish V.S (they were all V.S’s in those days!) and what’s more this route, Bullroar, was currently featured on the tourist postcards.

The Cam Dearg buttress is one of the most imposing cliffs in the British Isles; the base is at the 2000 ft contour and its North face soars in a series of vertical  walls and slabs a further 700 feet to the top. I got the first pitch, a steep groove with a thin section some thirty feet up. The problem was to enter the continuation of the groove above which took me some time to crack, and then only by placing one foot in a sling and so on up to a belay. Mike and Jerry followed without too much trouble and we were all gathered below the second pitch when the first drops of rain were felt. Despite this Jerry led through and up a fairly difficult and unprotected groove which ended up in a magnificent position some 200 ft above the scree, with improbable walls to the left and a seemingly featureless slab sweeping up to an enormous roof which stretched over to the right some fifty feet above our heads and seemed to bar all hope of upward progress.

Carn Dearg Buttress

To our right the slab ended at an aréte some 100 ft away with no further clues as to what lay beyond. The guide book indicated that a traverse up and across the slab would lead to a precarious stance on the edge of Centurion, and after following this route for a few feet the traverse would continue across the spectacular right wall. By now the rain that had threatened earlier seemed to have set in and we decided to retreat the two rope lengths to the base of the cliff, and less than an hour later we were back at the hut basking in afternoon sun in a typical Nevis weather double take! It hadn’t been a total waste of a day and we had cracked what is thought to be the crux of the route in the first 200 ft of climbing. However 400 ft of this magnificent route waited to be explored, with the intriguing prospect of seeing round the blind comer of Centurion, so Jerry and I resolved to go back and finish it whilst Mike was going to explore in the Orion Face area.

During Saturday Ian Ruscoe and his brother had arrived and decided that they were going to climb a route on the Dearg Face also, so after a fairly restrained night alcohol-wise we retired reasonably early and awoke at about 8 o’clock to a beautiful day. Jerry and I were away at 9 am, some half an hour after Ian and Co, and were roped up at the bottom of the climb for about 9.30am. We decided to do the climb each leading alternate pitches and as I had led the first yesterday Jerry got the honours. The first two pitches were quickly behind us and Jerry led off on the first traverse pitch towards Centurion. He had no sooner started than a strange whining noise overhead heralded the arrival of a volley of small rocks disturbed from the climbers above us and made us feel very exposed.

The difficulties of the traverse were not great but we were glad to get onto the rib overlooking the second corner pitch of Centurion. After crossing the latter, our route ascended the right wall before again traversing right to an exposed stance below a series of short corners and walls reaching towards the top of the cliff. We thought the main difficulties were over as pitch followed pitch but there was still a sting in the tail at a particularly nasty crack with an overhanging start that made us wonder whether or not we were still on route. In the end it proved to be a two move wonder after which we were able to climb vertically to the top without further difficulty This was to be short lived as the descent in ultra-tight PA rock boots took a lot of gloss off the climb and a lot of skin off our toes.