A ramble on the Loch Avon Slabs

Loch Avon Slabs, looking down Glen Avon, Cairngorms

Cliffs, tors and loch from the Loch Avon Slabs

You won’t find the name in any map or rock climbing guide book, but Loch Avon Slabs is a name that deserves to be heard more often.

It’s an easy scrambling route described in Ronald Turnbull’s excellent Cicerone guide, ‘Walking in the Cairngorms’. He himself describes it as possibly the best route in the book and I’d meant to do it ever since reading the book.

I knew of the area, between the Garbh Uisge and the Feith Buidhe (or between Garbh Uisge Crag and Hell’s Lum Crag for the climbers amongst us) but, other than a twilit ascent of the easyish ground to its left (as the ludicrous but logical-at-the-time conclusion of an attempt to cross the Garbh Uisge at its foot) had never actually been there.

So on Saturday past I remedied my neglect and, after carrying kit from Scottie’s up to the Hutchie, I walked over to the Shelter Stone with an old friend, leaving him there to explore (and have a snooze by the loch as it turned out) while I headed up for my route.

Shelter Stone Crag, Loch Avon Slabs and Hell's Lum Crag, Cairngorms

The area of the slabs can be seen between the Shelter Stone Crag on the left and Hell’s Lum Crag on the right, just to the left of the clearly visible waters of Feith Buidhe

Of course, I’d forgotten the guide book and couldn’t quite remember how Mr Turnbull said to start, not to mention being hazy about some of the detail higher up too. But it turns out Loch Avon is less of a prescribed route and more of a ramble-scramble.

Instead of starting up the side of the Garbh Uisge and then crossing the slabs, I started below them and climbed from the bottom – which did lead to a couple of interesting moments, one of which had more in common with the Etive Slabs than the Avon Slabs. But that was just what I got for playing around: there are plenty of easy choices too.

Loch Avon Slabs in the Cairngorms

Looking up into the slabs from below

Once the easy-angled slabs were climbed the tiers of steepenings offered no end of choices and rather than trying to remember what the guide said, I picked my way, traversing to get an easy bit here, to opt for an interesting-looking bit there, detouring to get some photos through a snowbridge and, I admit it, backing off one bit that turned out considerably harder (and more exposed) than it looked.

All the time, though, it was an absolute delight: continuous, clean rock; an open, unserious feeling with all the time a choice of routes, and, always, those tremendous views that kept me turning around to look back. In one direction there was Loch Avon stretching into the distance, with the tors of Beinn Mheadhoin, the massive grey crags of Carn Etchachan and An Sticil (The Shelter Stone Crag), and by looking to the north, a side view of Hell’s Lum Crag, looking straight into Hell’s Lum itself (totally free of snow at this time of year) and over to Stag Rocks.

Reaching the plateau and the end of the rocks was almost a disappointment, though the gentle upper waters of the Garbh Uisge and the ptarmigan chicks I saw there were some consolation, as was the always welcome sight of Braeriach and then Cairn Toul peeping over the crest of the plateau.

A familiar place, Ben McDui, but this was as good a reminder as any that there’s always more to see here.

Shelter Stone Crag, Cairngorms

Looking back at the Shelter Stone Crag from below the route

Hell's Lum Crag

Looking across to Hell’s Lum Crag, with the ‘Lum’ visible on the left

Beinn Mheadhoin and Stacan Dubha, Cairngorms

Beinn Mheadhoin, with the cliffs of Stacan Dubha clear in the foreground

Loch Avon and Stag Rocks

Looking back on Loch Avon, with the Stag Rocks on the left

Zoom shot of Shelter Stone Crag

Zoom shot of the Shelter Stone Crag from high on the slabs

Shelter Stone Crag through snow bridge

A novel view of the Shelter Stone Crag see through a snow bridge on the slabs

split granite slab with quartzvein

A curious slab of granite which has split along the line of a quartzvein

Colourful mosses at a spring on the Cairngorm plateau

I love the vivid colours of this mossy spring on the plateau

Braeriach over the cairngorm plateau

Photos never seem to portray the excitement I feel when I first see Braeriach peeping over the crest of the plateau. I think it’s the sense of scale

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11 Responses to A ramble on the Loch Avon Slabs

  1. John Watson says:

    Great wee story neil it makes me want to get up there.The photos are excellent making me realise how little of the area I’ve actually seen.

  2. Sinbad says:

    Great story Neil. Keep them coming.

  3. Marjory says:

    You must’ve been in a papoose when you first went up there 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    Excellent article Neil. The last I saw those views they were covered on snow.

  5. areteroute says:

    Your love of the area always shines through! Great blog always enjoy them.

  6. Ailsa says:

    beautiful photos! The research I’m doing for my Geography A Level suddenly got a lot more exciting, and the landscape seems much more real! Thank you

    • Glad it was useful, Ailsa. Geography is one of those subjects where pictures really do have value (if you can’t get out there at first hand, of course). Good luck with the exam when it comes, too. The great naturalist (and Cairngorms fan) Seton Gordon attributed his success in gaining a degree to his wanderings in the Cairngorms and getting up close and personal with the mosses etc he was studying.

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