Highland Outcrops

Review by Review
Friday 1st January 1999

The final book in the new series of SMC guides is finally out, appearing in late March. This guide, one of the most eagerly awaited and potentially the best-selling of the collection, covers everything from Strathyre in the Southern Highlands to the beautifully situated Duntelchaig Crag near Inverness in the north. There is something for everyone, from traditional classics to state-of-the art 'adventure' routes, and numerous bolt-protected desperates. There is no doubt that the guidebook writers took on a mammoth task in compiling this guide and on the whole they have done a highly commendable job.

In addition to the popular, well-known areas such as Craig-a-Barns at Dunkeld, Glen Nevis and Creag Dubh, Newtonmore there is a wealth of information on such esoteric venues as Creagan Soilleir near Laggan and Sgurr Bhuidhe near Mallaig in the west. On reading through the book, however, there does appear to be a couple of interesting and perhaps regrettable trends. First of all, there seems to be a bias of stars towards very recent additions that have seen few, if any, repeats. For instance, are some of the modern routes at Glen Lednock such as Hormone Warrior really better than say classics at Upper Cave Crag like Hang Out when they are a third of the length and on worse rock? My experience says not but maybe the editors have opted for a crag-by-crag star rating system. There are also a fair number of upgradings to boost the ego most of which are necessary, but some seem a little excessive (is Hot Tips really E5 6c?). There is also still the odd sandbag lurking out there - so beware.

The text is generally well-written and it is good to see that many of the crags have been given their Gaelic names rather than anglicized versions. The style of the Introduction is unnecessarily tongue-in-cheek and does not fit in with the rest of the book. Route descriptions are understandably fairly terse given the number of climbs in the volume. This is probably advantageous, as long-winded passages of text tend to lead to confusion. Kevin Howett's crag diagrams are excellent. I just wish there were a few more. The newly developed Weem Crags near Aberfeldy have none, for example. The History sections are very interesting and the first ascent lists are remarkably detailed. Some of the dates for Weem appear to be wrong. At present the routes at Aerial Crag were repeated before the nominal first ascent dates but these are minor quibbles and a few errors in such an exhaustive list are inevitable. In summary this is an excellent guide, invaluable to both visitors and locals alike. Sure there are some anomalies and inaccuracies but they probably just add to the richness of the experience that climbing north of the border has to offer.

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