It’s baking hot and I was on my local beach on my bike I was reminded of some great days in the sun. My thoughts went to a classic Climb in the Cairngorms. Clean Sweep is the climb on Hells Lum Crag. Allen Fyffe that great man writes about the Classic Clean Sweep a superb rock climb in the Cairngorms in Classic Rock. He says “make sure its dry and wear your rock boots”.
The route; Clean Sweep (VS 4c) is a classic rock tick and is probably the most popular summer rock route on the crag if not the whole valley. Clean Sweep Very Severe 500 feet first ascent Robin Smith and Graham Tiso September 1961. Robin Smith was 23 years old when he climbed this route he was one of Scotland’s outstanding climbers with a string of impressive first ascents. He graded is a cheeky severe it’s now a classic VS 4c.
“Sometimes a wave of snow laps the lower rocks until early summer! It can be wet in places from melt water as late as June? “The line according to Allen Fyffe is “superb, logical whole not a collection of bits. It starts up a green pillar, then by slabs and corners, it reaches a the foot of tapered pink corner above and right of Hellfire Corner. This corner fades out into cracks , followed by a rounded pillar of steeper grey rock.”
I have just been looking at some old photos and some great climbs that really stick in your mind one is The Clean Sweep on Hells Lum, what a name what a crag what a place to climb. There are fewer spectacular places in Scotland and at one time these mountain crags were busy places. I was lucky enough to climb Clean Sweep 4 times in all ascents a very different day evolved.
The first time in the mid 80’s was with Big Al MacLeod RIP) who died sadly on the North Face of the Matterhorn. We had a plan to climb the classic Talisman Creagan A’ Choire Etchacan, Clean Sweep on Hells Lum and Savage Slit in Corrie an Lochan in a day. I was working towards the Team Leaders Course and had to work on my climbing and this was the plan get the routes in and get fit. Even thinking about it now makes me worried but Big Al was a machine, my mate and we took a day off , travelled as light as possible and had a long day 12 hours with the routes a mere blast as we were chasing the weather. Al was from Blairgowerie and a keeper before he joined the RAF, he was so fit on the hills. I was given little time to be scared or look about but with the great man you had limited time to appreciate fear and failure. Al found loads of gear on the route left from winter and had to dump them at the top of the crag, we could not carry all the swag. We never found it again so someone did well. He even carried the rope over to the last route Savage Slit in Coire an Lochan as I tried to keep him in sight. I promised to come back and enjoy these routes and I was so lucky to have done.
The next time was with another character Blair Rodgers, I had a pins and plate in my ankle after a football injury where I smashed my ankle badly. I was due to go abroad for 6 months and then take over the RAF Leuchars Team but was now medically down graded. The plaster was off in 6 weeks and then it was lots of work to get fit as the RAF give you little time and I would lose the offer of Team Leader if not fit. I trained hard and used to walk in the sea like an injured racehorse most days as the salt water was supposed to be good for horses with injuries so maybe it would work for me. It did! As soon as the plaster was off it was off to Arran and some climbing on Cir Mhor with a boot and a rock boot due to the swelling? Then about a month later in October Blair wanted to get Clean Sweep done before the winter so we took a couple of days off and walked into Shelterstone the plan was to bivy with the dog. I limped all the way in very slowly. We got there in good time the weather was changing and Blair wanted to get the route done so we ended up climbing it me again with a boot and a rock boot, then it snowed and we managed it but what an epic. Blair pulled of some wild leads and the top was scary on the grass and fresh snow and water. The dog met us at the top of the crag he was some machine and Blair went back for the bag we left at the bottom? I staggered back ahead and we had a wild night in the Shelterstone and a big walk out in a snow plastered Cairngorm. I got a few looks coming across the plateau with a boot and now a trainer in the snow. Crazy days but amazingly the ankle sorted and only gets sore with age as the body begins to feel the effects of the years of adventures. I was ready to pass my medical and the doctor just could not believe what I was up to?
How daft were we?
The next trip was with Dan Carrol a great pal and Kev Hewkin in the 2000? It was a belter of a day and I wanted to get the route done again. It was so hot and we wandered down from the Plateau and drop down by Coire Dohmain it took the full two hours in the sun. There was a “wave” of snow barring us from the route. Dan a man from the greater ranges was sent ahead to get to the rock and we followed on a tight ropes.
Now I had climbed the route before with a good and a bad leg so today in the sun it would be easy? In addition I had delegated that I was the photographer as the eldest in the party. A great day followed with the odd streak of wet rock and lots of sunbathing in the heat it must have been in about 25 degrees and it was baking. The belays were fun the stops long and the views immense what a place, what a situation and great company. The crag was dryish but you still had the odd streaks of wet that kept Dan entertained and while Kev belayed I as always too the odd photo. The rock is magic it was clean and there were still a few old pegs about from another era. It has so many types of climbing slabs, the crack for thin fingers and mountain route finding. To sit on a belay here and survey Loch Avon and the other cliffs is magical You forget how magic this place is and just read the guide book to get the names there is some devilment about them. The views were stunning cleft of Loch Avon and the Shelterstone crag looking magnificent it was one of the best days ever and even a big danger of sunstroke. Normally in winter this can be a wild cliff and I have more memories of these days.
The pitches were superb and Dan made it all look so easy. The history of the Cairngorms and the climbing is all around and it was a day to savour and one I will never forget.It was then a slow wander back we were pretty dehydrated but coped and along the tops it was a day to remember. We were blessed. I long to get back here and have spent a few trips recently walking round the crags away from the crowd looking down the Satanic Cleft of Hells Lum and the other routes and seeing very few climbing on this magnificent crag.
Sadly now I think on the mountain Crags where have all the climbers gone? They may have had enough of our weather and miss the warmth of a climbing a wall, but look what they are missing? I hope some maybe looking at the rock guides and books will go and climb on these great cliffs and share their experiences with others?
Thanks to Dan Carroll, Kev Hewkin, Blair Rodgers, the late Al MacLeod and just noted an ascent in 1984 with maybe Dougie Borthwick in my guide book. 4 trips onto Clean Sweep yet there are so many other grand days out.
Go you will not be disappointed!
I wonder if Peter White (Chalky) remembers our wee epic in the rain on this crag?
An illustrated history from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust of the first 100 years of mountaineering in The Cairngorms – one of the most popular and most famous climbing areas in the UK. Following on from the successful and much lauded Ben Nevis – Britain’s Highest Mountain, this is the second important book from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust to document the history of Scottish mountaineering. “The Cairngorms – 100 Years of Mountaineering” is a comprehensive history which details climbing and mountaineering in the Cairngorms from 1893 to 1993, with a postscript highlighting some of the main developments since then. It is a tale of human endeavour played out among the remote corries and cliffs of Britain’s premier mountain range. The book recounts the pioneering activities of climbers drawn to the high hills of The Cairngorms from all over the country and describes the continuing development of summer and winter climbing on the famous granite cliffs located there, as well as on other lesser known cliffs. This title presents full history of the first 100 years of climbing in Britain’s most important mountain range. It is written by the foremost expert on climbing in The Cairngorm Mountains it is heavily illustrated with 300 photographs, many of which are of historical importance. It is a book which will appeal to all who have climbed, or aspire to climb in one of Britain’s most popular climbing areas. It is a companion to Ben Nevis – Britain’s Highest Mountain.