I am at the moment down at the RAF Scotland Mountain Rescue Reunion at Newtonmore and the forecast was pretty wild high up with snow. I have a busy few days ahead so I wanted a shortish day on the mountains. I had an old pal Terry contact me that he was also coming to the re union saying he fancied a walk but would not arrive from near Carlisle at 1030. Terry Moore is a friend from my days in RAF Mountain Rescue and was happy to meet me at Newtonmore. I said that th fine hill that overlooks Newtonmore Creag Dubh would be a nice short day and out of the bad weather, a bit wild in the Cairngorms with snow on the tops and high winds forecast.
Terry arrived on the dot at 1030 and he had a quick turn round. I wanted to go past the the famous winter climb “Wee Wee” which forms when the waterfall freezes and is a great roadside ice climb in a hard winter. This is not the usual way up but you pass the main cliff an wonderful place and a wild place. I have been pretty scared here in the past with getting dragged up a few wild routes in my climbing days. The cliff is is one of Scotland’s biggest and finest ‘roadside’ crag.
Creag Dubh (A’ Chreag Dhubh — the black crag), 2350 feet, is a picturesque hill cut off from the rest of the Monadhliath (Am Monadh Liath — the grey mountain range) by Glen Banchor. It is prominent from Newtonmore and its name is the battle cry of the Clan MacPherson.
On its sheer slopes towards Lochan Uvie is Cluny’s cave where the chief of the MacPhersons hid safely for 9 years after Culloden in spite of a reward of Scots £11,000 offered for his capture, which in those days was a huge sum of money.
From all points of the ridge there are extensive views enhanced by the hill’s isolated position. Red deer, roe deer, sika deer (a species introduced from Japan) and wild goats are likely to be seen on the hill. . Note that there are some very steep cliffs (giving excellent rock climbing) on the south face.
It is worth noting that the SMC refused to publish outcrop routes until the 1970’s despite this being a major crag.
The schist with horizontal strata offers some wonderfully steep routes on big holds. Many of these routes are up to 3 pitches and can be intimidating, as they are very exposed and protection may be spaced. The crag faces south and dries quickly, but weeps. Generally the rock is sound but sometimes blocky. Creag Dubh is not a good choice for the beginner as there is little below Severe. However, from VS upwards the routes are good and the choice increases with the grade.
I have had some fun here in the past and used to take the RAF Teams doing stretcher lowers and crag rescues sometimes in the dark for training. It was nicknamed “Creag Death” by the team. It was also a place where my great pal Pam Ayres had a huge fall on a route called “the Hill” in 1983 and was lucky to miss the ground by about a feet as his runners held. He was pretty badly injured when his harness cut through his shorts and he had a huge gash that just missed a main artery. It was a mad dash to Raigmore hospital in my old Simca car in 1983 a still remember that day.
We parked the car below the cliffs near the lochan, the sun was out and it was a beautiful place to be. It was hard work going up to the main cliff the rock was slippy and we soon reached the waterfall and then headed up a ramp and short scramble through the outcrops. This is an area I know well from training the team on steep ground evacuation and the odd night exercise. Terry and I had a great chat when I got near enough to him. We caught up with things and it was hot in the sun and we were soon up on the ridge after a bit of as Terry said Lord of the Rings ledge and steep heather scrambling. Then the wind hit us it was cold but on a good path along the ridge to the summit and we put on all our gear.
It is a superb walk along the ridge great views of the Mondaliaths with snow now on them and blasts of snow showers passed us by as we enjoyed the views. We caught up with 3 pals at the summit they had waited for us and with no break I continued on along the ridge with Yeni while Terry went back with Meggy and Gus to the car. It is a great path a bit muddy at times and there was ice on the path after the summit as the wind was by now bitter.
The last bit of the walk is through birch trees fading orange ferns and we were soon down at the road where a quick text as we waited in passing storm for Terry to pick us up. It was then back to Newtonmore for a shower and a coffee in the village. On the way back from coffe we stopped at another pal Laurry Skuodas and had a brew meeting an old pal from the avalanche service Wes Stirrett we had a great chat. After this is was back to the hotel and a chat before dinner by Spike Sykes and then the dinner that 120 attended.The current RAF Mountain Rescue team visited and gave us a chat on their busy year and they are going well and it was great to see them.
It was a great night and I had a few drinks and a bit later night than I expected. It was fun to catch up with so many and great to see such an attendance and so many pals. There were troops from 1951 and they had come from all over including Australia and the USA, what characters.
It is now off to Glencoe for a few days, so busy times ahead and the snow is now on the hills. It’ s winter out there be prepared for a winters day.