Savage Slit is one of Scotland’s classic rock routes, high up in the Cairngorms topping out on the summit of Cairn Lochan. For years it was graded V Diff, which in Scotland can mean anything from Diff to VS, usually first climbed by hard men in big boots who didn’t feel the cold…..Recently it has been upgraded to Severe, probably more for the seriousness of the route than for the technical difficulty, or maybe it’s a sign that we’re all getting soft 😀. It had been on my To Do list for years and as I hardly climb these days I had given up hope of ever doing it. But I had a child free week in the Cairngorms and a climbing partner, my sister in law, Sarah, so we went up to have a look.
From the Coire Cas car park we followed the well made path that contoured under the northern corries and then branched off into the corrie below Cairn Lochan. I’d been unable to find a topo online so was unsure exactly where the route went. I knew it was an obvious, huge, corner crack going the whole way up the buttress on the headwall of the corrie, but it wasn’t at all obvious looking up from the small lochans in the corrie. No matter, hopefully it would become more obvious as we got higher as I didn’t fancy climbing the wrong route. We scrambled over boulder fields and up the scree at the back of the corrie to the huge glaciated slabs. These were at an easy angle so we continued up, putting helmets on to protect against rock fall. We were in the shade now and the rock was cold to the touch. It was a dry sunny day, but the corrie faced north, was high up and there was a cold wind. We passed the odd snow patch which gave the approach a distinctly alpine feel. Still no sign of the route which was a bit worrying.
Then I scrambled over the last band of slabs and there on the right was the route. A huge corner crack splitting the buttress with a bit of sun on the upper section. It looked superb.
We geared up at the base of the climb. I was to lead the whole thing and I hadn’t climbed for 12 months. I knew I was physically strong enough but doubted that my head would be in the right place for dealing with the big drops below my feet. That sort of thing benefits from more frequent climbing. I knew there was lots of gear placements though so I wasn’t going to come to any harm. It had got colder and I could hear the wind gusting around the upper part of the climb. I put on my woolly hat under my helmet and wore my insulated jacket with the hood up. Summer in Scotland….
The first pitch was a simple 10m scramble up to a ledge. Not much gear but the climbing was easy enough. Then the rock steepened and the crack reared above my head. I was tense, held on to the rock too tightly and put in far too much gear. I knew this used up energy and I would tire quickly but the steepness and exposure were hard to deal with. Judging from all the gear left behind on this pitch by previous parties I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. I clipped into lots of solid but stuck bits of gear and pocketed a very shiny Grivel screwgate. There was also a pair of glasses right at the base of the crack, someone must have been cursing their loss, although not being able to see the drop might actually help.
I reached another large ledge and brought Sarah up while contemplating the next pitch. It looked even steeper than the previous one. But Sarah was starting to shiver, so I shoved some food down me, blocked the irrational fears, didn’t look down and got on with it. By now I couldn’t feel my hands or feet, but the gear was good so I focused on the task in hand rather than the discomfort. I relaxed, climbed better and started to enjoy it despite getting firmly wedged in the crack once or twice. The route is well named, but it’s probably best for the leader not have a 50l rucksack on their back.
All too soon it was over and we scrambled up to the summit and unroped. I felt the warmth from the sun slowly seep into me and my fingers thawed out. It was then an easy walk down the good path back to Coire Cas.
So that’s my annual rock climb done. These days I prefer exploring the hills by walking and scrambling, but it’s nice to know I can still climb if I want to.
Copyright of all photos and text, Jane Ascroft 2021