A curtain of clouds wraps the mountain inside a white fluff. Somewhere inside that cloud is our vertical path to Cairn Gorm. If only we could see where.
The late summer day is damp and grey but we have decided to climb the Fingers Ridge in the Cairngorms. However, with the mountainside hiding behind clouds and without a proper route description, I am losing my faith. We don’t have a map of the route because “It is easy to spot the fingery pillars on the ridge from Coire an t-Sneachda”. Really?
In case you are wondering, scrambles and climbs are not clear, marked paths like the tourist paths up the popular hills and mountains in the UK. This is why we like them. But they can be tricky to find. I stand on the rocky slope in my wet shoes staring at the clouds, hoping them to lift for a few seconds.
We find a white rope-anchor which we assume to mark the bottom of the climb. The climb is only a VDiff (an easy traditional climb) so we start to follow an easy line up the rocks. Although it is not raining, the clouds have soaked the rock and made it very slippery. The rope and the small rack we took with us give some comfort and we climb the ridge in two pitches, moving partly together.
Up until the first belay we are not entirely certain whether we are on the right route. Then we see the fingers emerging from the clouds above us. Good to know we are heading to the right direction!
The second concern arises soon after: the ridge is about as solid as the Brexit plan. Give a little tap on every hold you plan to use, if it seems too keen to jump off, leave it alone. Blocks the size of microwaves, toasters, and mini-fridges wobble on top of each other. I can see why this ridge is more popular in winter when the ice binds the rocks together.
We leave all the kitchen appliance-blocks where we found them and finish the route after balancing around the finger pillars. A brilliant little climb, but very worrying.
We extend the day by continuing all the way up to the top of the Cairn Gorm and down along the tourist path. As we are walking down, we notice that all the hilltops in the North are clear and dry. Behind us, Cairn Gorm looms dark wrapping more clouds around its peak.
- What: Fingers Ridge
- Where: Cairn Gorm, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
- Why: trad climbing (VDiff)
- Note: very loose rocks
Mini glossary for non-climbers
- Belay: the act of feeding the rope for climber and arresting a potential fall; an anchor/spot where one climber belays another climber in mid-route
- Move together: climbing simultaneously without fixed belays
- Pitch: a section of a climb
- Rack: a set of equipment/gear used for anchors and protection
- Scramble: an act of moving up a hill using also hands; a path requiring scrambling
- Traditional (trad) climbing: climbing with ropes and removable gear/protection