Northern Highlands Central

Review by planetFear
Thursday 7th June 2007

Northern Highlands Central
Scottish Mountaineering Club Climbers Guide

Most of the attention in recent years surrounding guidebooks has been focussed on Rockfax and the new generation of BMC guides but quietly the Scottish Mountaineering Club has also been making great strides forward.  While still very much a traditional style guidebook the latest SMC guide to the Northern Highlands has a fresh contemporary feel. This is largely due to its clear and concise design, one gradually refined in recent years.  For instance this latest guide improves over the Northern Highlands North with the addition of red page markers highlighting each different area.  The maps are now in full colour and I particularly like the fact that each crag has its page number alongside for easy reference.

The copious photographs are now dotted throughout the text next to their appropriate crag which is certainly more logical and it seems this hasn’t dramatically affected their reproduction quality.  My only criticism of the photos is that some are reproduced a little small and so one has to peer intently to make out the climb’s qualities.  I also think it’s a little bit of a waste to repeat photos on the back cover.  Having said that there are no real duff shots in the guide and many of them have the reader scouring the neighbouring text to learn more.  My personal favourites are Nick Smith’s shot of Poacher’s Prize, a VS at Badrallach Crag opposite An Teallach, which captures the ambience of remote mountain cragging; and also Alec Keith’s view of Ipswich Rib on Torr na h-lolaire in the Carnmore area which captures the exposure of this mountain Diff.  The real major advance however is the use of numerous superb colour photo topos, which I feel are the best of their kind amongst current guidebooks; very clear and taken in either summer or winter where appropriate.   

Its been 13 years since the last Northern Highlands guide to this area and this new addition covers twice the amount of climbing of its predecessor, largely due to the explosion in the numbers of cragging routes at Gairloch and Gruinard.  Originally covered by 2 volumes this new series splits the Northern Highlands over three books, with this central guide covering the mountains and crags north and west of Torridon but South of Ullapool.  It’s an area largely unknown to most English climbers and indeed many of the crags are off the radar of most Scots.  This is largely due to the involved nature of the access here, with most roads until recently being narrow minor tracks and many of the walk ins substantial.  This is of course also part of the region’s charm.

While all of the climbing in the region has a wild feel there’s actually a lot of contrast from the very remote multi-pitch mountain cliffs of Carnmore through to the close-to-the-road crags of Poolewe and Tollaidh, and there’s even some bolted sport climbing there.  In winter the region is home to the some of the most major venues in Scotland such as Slioch, An Teallach and Sgurr nan Clach Geala with climbing ranging from four star grade I ridges through to epic grade VII walls.

The best known climbs here are probably at Carnmore, with its big HVSs Dragon and Gob (both starring in the book Hard Rock), and at An Teallach whose traverse is such a winter prize.  All these routes get the unique SMC accolade of four stars denoting that they’re “The best climbs of their class in Scotland”.  While their quality won’t come as a surprise, how many have visited Upper Tollie Crag for The Bug E2 or Lochan Dubh for Major Domo E6, two other climbs given four stars.  This guide is full of such gems and should lure visitors a little further North West in search of the excellent adventures described.  The writing team of Andy Nisbet, John Mackenzie and Andy Cunningham need to be congratulated on producing such an excellent guide befitting of the area.

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