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.
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.
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.