Sunday, 1 June 2014

Threading The Needle

When you first see it from across the valley you think

damn that's big

Then you stand underneath it, a monolith of granite towering into the sky

maybe we should just go and have a nice day on Pygmy Ridge!

Looking up the 260m line of The Needle (E1 5b) on Shelterstone Crag from its base
with Caelen on the 1st pitch. 
Shelterstone Crag is a 250m high plinth of rock set in Loch Arn'. Its dissected by several of the UK's most classic extreme climbs including Steeple (E2 5c) and Run of the Arrow (E6 6b). The climb we had planned was the other super classic, Hard Rock route - The Needle (E1 5b).

The Needle winds an intricate line up lower slabs and through overlaps to the steepening headwall culminating with the fine finale of the famous 'Needle Crack'. After a 2 hour walk in from the ski centre car park Caelen started up the first damp 4b pitch, still streaked with water even though there had been good weather in the past week. After that was the 2nd pitch, a long, intricate and serious 5b pitch up blind cracks finishing with a burly pull through a big overlap.

This is where the crag rears up and the slabs are left behind. Caelen led another damp 4b pitch which landed us below the crux pitch. It climbs a steep crack for 10m until the way is barred by an overhang, a teetering traverse is then made across to where some bent pegs can be clipped and then a strenuous pull through the steep bulging wall is made. Another 4b pitch by Caelen then saw us below 'the crack for thin fingers' which is well protected but a serious struggle! One more thuggy 4b pitch placed us on an exposed ledge below 'The Needle Crack'.

Looking down 'The Needle Crack' with all the air below Caelen's feet
This has to be one of the most wild pitches anywhere in the UK, the exposed, soaring corner is split by a huge chimney crack. This 35m 5a pitch is the last obstacle before the top and is quite possibly the best and most intimidating pitch of climbing anywhere.

The second the last pitch of The Needle (E1 5b)
After this pitch the mountain then bars the exit and safety with huge capping overhangs. No matter, as to finish, the last pitch uses a cave system to breach the overhangs and you emerge on the plateau, with the needle threaded and the clutches of the face left behind and a blur in your mind as to the events of the last 8 hours.


'Threading The Needle' on the last pitch

The magnificent Shelterstone Crag and Loch Arn'.The Needle climbs up the prow.
The best big mountain route I've done so far.