Steeple (E2 5b) 247m Shelter Stone Crag.
Climbers: Araceli Segarra & Barry Blanchard
Running the full height of the awe-inspiring Shelter Stone Crag is ‘Steeple’ – a superlative rock climb. The exotic international team of Catalan climber Araceli Segarra and part-Native American Canadian Barry Blanchard is likely to find its world-honed rock skills tested to the full against an especially fierce traditional Scottish climb!
Steeple begins up a striking groove line near the base of the enormous cliff. Although intimidating, it is actually one of the easier pitches on the climb, an unusually benevolent introduction provided by this fearsome cliff, furnished with generous handholds. Then reality starts to bite; next comes a smooth groove requiring balance and poise and wide bridging moves if the climber is to succeed. Some easier ground then leads to the middle of the cliff – and the crux of the climb.
A wide fault in the rock leads up before a stretch right to a smooth groove can be entered. Veteran Cairngorms climber Martin Burrows Smith has described the key to climbing this as having ‘confidence in what lies above’, since the climber will find the solution to the puzzle of the pitch to be ‘devious and bold’. Sloping ramps and overhangs poised above a dizzying drop will need to be cunningly outflanked – or simply tacked head-on in a no holds-barred approach before the prize of a safe haven is won.
Above, a more relaxing pitch on bigger holds lead up to a large, blocky ledge below what must seem to many climbers like a meeting with climbing destiny: a huge, soaring corner looming above. There is no way out but up, and it is far from easy. A technical crack can be tackled by jamming or lay-backing, but either approach is hard. Below, the jagged boulders of the belay ledge wait to visit painful judgement on an inadequate leader. Once above this test, a series of sustained technical bridging and layaway moves are required to reach the sanctuary of a bilberry ledge.
But it’s still not over. A final, phenomenally exposed traverse rightward ‘above all things’ is required to reach a strenuous crack. This will need to be fought all the way to the top of the crag before the climber can reach the abrupt flatness at the top of the crag and revel in the awesome panorama of the Cairngorm massif and the emotion of succeeding on one of Scotland’s toughest classic routes.