Thursday, 28 December 2017

ARRAN: Bharrain Ridge (II), & new route: "Starvation Gully" (I)


It was time for a recovery day.  I've ran every day for the past 7 weeks; my body needed a rest.  Last week alone was 143 miles.

Looking to make the most of the recovery day, I headed over to Arran for a short one.  

For a while now I've planned to document the NE face of the Bharrain Ridge (Western Hills) - and the ridge itself.  

As anyone reading this will likely know, the guidebook(s) describe the ridge as "a rough scramble... rather fine in winter".  

The Islands of Scotland Including Skye elaborates, adding:

"...of particular interest and character as it is narrow, and provides exposed scrambling for several hundred metres.  (First known ascent by W Naismith and partner, July 1910).  Under snow this ridge gives a splendid ascent (Grade II)."

Personally, I think Naismith had a body double/body doubles.  There's no other way to explain his prolific nature!  The man was everywhere.

I'll split this article into three sections:

  • Bharrain Ridge (II)
  • Documentation of the face - great winter potential.  Could one of Arran's most technical winter lines lie dormant here..?
  • New route (Starvation Gully (I); FA Kris Lennox 27th Dec 2017)



Relatively unknown, this ridge is a fine outing - especially so in winter.  I assume from the guidebook description that it has had at least a few winter ascents.  I couldn't find any documentation of this online, hence adding detail here - the info provided should help those considering it (as an aside: 'Bharrain' is pronounced 'varren'; like 'barren' but with a 'V').     

If the ridge is strictly adhered to, there are some tricky spots - the trickiest involving an exposed move on a slab @ VDiff/Severe (more details below).  Difficulties can be avoided on the R (you'll see traces of a path breaking off to the R avoiding certain buttresses) - but there's really no point of going to 'do the ridge' then 'not doing the ridge'!!  Far better to keep it direct.  

If anyone has been along the A' Chir Ridge in winter: the route is similar in nature, but not as sustained or exposed.  It feels 'friendlier'.  I plan on filming the A' Chir ridge either this winter or next, adhering to the crest, but first I need to sort out my camera game.  Or get a GoPro.  I doubt either will happen anytime soon!

Approach is from Pirnmill.  Get off the bus just after the Village Stores, walk back (i.e. N) a little, and on the seaward side you'll see a car parking area.  Opposite this is the access point to the Western Hills (green 'Footpath' sign at car park).  

Head up the track, breaking off shortly thereafter at the Footpath marker post:

Turn off here, and cross into the forested field at the double stiles
Follow the path, eventually crossing the burn just before the small hydro (where you'll see a track coming in from the R).  From here, make your way to the base of the ridge.  It should take you about 35-40 minutes to reach the ridge.

There are two beautiful waterfalls en route:

Lower fall:

Upper fall:

Hidden by the sun (and facing N) - but at a low altitude, it really would be a Once in a Lifetime if either froze!  One can dream.


Bharrain Ridge

Coire Roinn.  From L-R: Bharrain Ridge, Eagle's Castle, Beinn Bharrain

Approaching the Bharrain Ridge

Looking across to Beinn Bhreac

Start of the ridge

There are no difficulties at all in ascending the first tower.  But life can be made interesting.  Below and to the R of the first tower is a steep wall (obvious when there) - ascending this direct gives some good sport for about 30ft:

No snow at this point.  But still good fun (note the ice off to the R)

Yip - up this wall

After this it's a walk to the first tower (and start of the ridge proper).

Easy going to the start of the ridge proper.  But head L on to the rocks and make life interesting

Looking down from the rocks on the first tower

Now the ridge proper begins

Adhering to the true line

Large drops on the L into the corrie

Looking back along the ridge

Another quick look back

The most difficult move is near the end of the ridge (just after the drop before the final buttress).  

I'll be honest - I imagine some may prefer the reassurance of a rope.  There's an exposed slab followed by a short chimney.  Tackling it direct, I was questioning the description of the route as a II !!  

However, it is never a sustained route - and doesn't deserve the III grade for the sake of a few avoidable moves.  

But take note: a fall from here would likely be a death-fall.

At the final wall, most difficult section of the route if tackled direct

Head up the slabs (tricky move), then carefully make your way up the slanting chimney (...not a place to fall from!)

On the slabs.  As can be seen, pretty steep & blank!  A fall from here would be quite nasty.  You'd break stuff, for sure.  Be careful if soloing.  On this move my axes were in not-quite frozen turf.  It made for an interesting soujourn

After this, all difficulties are over.  The ridge peters out and leads up to the summit.  

I didn't bother heading up to the summit as the plan was to drop down after the ridge and document the face.

I filmed the ridge.  Footage is terrible as I'm rubbish at setting a camera on a helmet properly, but some may find it interesting as a document.  Last article the camera was aimed too high, this time too low.  According to the laws of the universe, the next footage I take should be good.  No music etc - just the raw footage spliced together.  See below.



For climbers, this is where things become interesting.

Aside from this article, I don't think there are any shots from the base of the crags.  

Those with the guidebook will know there are three summer routes recorded here.  But this is a winter crag - and therein lies the potential.  

From other visits to the Western Hills:

The crag has three primary buttresses.  My new line also indicated on this shot (more detail later in the article)

Route of new line indicated

I feel there's potential here for a bunch of winter lines (probably 5 or 6 on the buttresses).  The crag faces the right way.

All routes would be two-pitch.  As such, a fast party could come over for the day and likely get 3 or 4 routes ticked.  

It is like a mini Cruachan/Coire Chat - in terms of route length, no. of climbs - and walk-in!  More of a 'winter sport crag'.  Development here would be limited - but certainly worth it.

Shots from after finishing Bharrain Ridge: The Wall to The Overhang, upper-lower region:

The Wall.  If you have the guidebook, Route 1 & Route 2 are on this

Good profile of The Wall, The Tower, and The Overhang

The Tower, home to the VS 'Grimly Fiendish'

The Tower & The Overhang

'Grimly Fiendish' heads up the main buttress.  At summer VS, would this give one of Arran's toughest winter routes?  Yes, it doesn't have the length of climbs on Nuis/Cir Mhor etc - but it looks like the difficulty would make up for it.  That, plus a very short walk-in...

Looking up The Tower

Upper section of Starvation Gully

The Overhang could possibly yield a good two pitch route i.e. pitch 1 the iced-up slabs to the base of the overhang, with pitch 2 breaking through the overhang ( looks difficult!)

I plan on going back with a rope.  If I record anything, I'll post details.



Firstly, the name.

After finishing the Bharrain Ridge I opened my pack for a bite to eat only to realise I had left my food at home on the sofa!  Ah well, can't win them all.

The gullies here all go at grade I (I climbed them last season, but didn't bother recording them). 

Conditions weren't ideal yesterday - but I was there, and wanted to put up something.  The route itself isn't up to much - the function of ascending was purely for the sake of being able to report a new line to create awareness within the climbing community of the face/buttresses.

Often banked up, conditions on the day were relatively lean.

Starvation Gully is to the R of The Tower.  There is a RH and LH finish.  I headed to the L as it looked more interesting, and provided some ice for sport.

Looking up the gully.  I broke L as it looked more interesting.  RH variation was yet more snowed-up turf

At the LH variation.  It takes the turfy weakness shown here

Looking back down.  There were some wee patches of ice that made life slightly more interesting

The route finishes back up on the Bharrain Ridge.  I dropped off from the top of the route into Coire Roinn before making my way back to Pirnmill.

For posterity, I filmed the route in its entirety.  Footage is bad.  But it is better than no footage at all.

A few general shots below.

All best

Slabs on the SW face from the descent into Coire Roinn

Eagle's Castle

There are a few boulders in the corrie - none of any size.  This one is the largest, and is only c.5ft high

Back at Pirnmill

Good sky

Christmas tree @ Village Store

2F's fitted with antibotts, plus a pair of Vertiges.  Clear indication I take the running game far more seriously than the climbing game!  That, and I use stuff until it dies.  Plus I'm not a good enough climber to justify purchasing those new-fangled leashless things that litter the Stob Coire nan Lochan car park on any given winters day 


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