Natalie Berry on The Original 7B, the classic of the Cave. Pic: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media
I've been meaning to prepare a topo of the Arisaig Cave for ages. I've also made a PDF version of it here if you want to print it and take it with you. Enjoy!
The cave offers a weatherproof medium-hard bouldering venue that is in good condition for at least 6 months of the year. In the dark Lochaber months from October until February, it can often be the only outdoor rock climbing on offer, at least on the wettest days.
There are not a huge humber of climbs, but the ones that are there are good quality, generally long and involved and so provide good entertainment. I opened the first problems in 2009 and still have not quite climbed all the obvious lines. Most of the problems were opened by me and have not had many repeats so the grades may still need adjustment.
The rock is quartzite, relatively kind on the skin, but the climbing is generally powerful and gives a good workout. All of the steep climbs are also sequency and reward a persistent approach, seeking out the crucial toe-hooks, kneebars etc.
Although all the climbs in the cave are totally protected from the rain and there are almost no seeps either, the conditions can be affected by the weather sometimes. If the conditions have been cold and then warm up, the cave can be damp for a day or two with condensation. This is generally not too often, but watch the weather and just avoid going right after a warm front has passed through. Otherwise, you can climb there no matter how bad the weather. Several of the climbs have been done at night, during the worst of the December and January storms. Although the cave comes into it’s own as a place to climb in the winter, it does also remain relatively cool in summer and midges are rarely a problem.
The approach takes around 20 minutes and crosses some boggy ground. Turn off the Road to the Isles into Arisaig Village and then turn left onto the B8008, signposted Rhu. After 1.6 miles, park next to a farmers gate at the back of an open bay, taking care not to block the gate. The drive takes around an hour from Fort William. Cross the gate and follow a feint path across fields, aiming for a holly tree on the skyline. Just beyond this, cross a stile beside the lochan and continue on a better defined path over the brow of the hill. You’ll now see the attractive pebble beach of Camas Leathann on the other side of the peninsula. The path leads down to the right edge of this (looking out to sea). The cave is 100m right (west) of the end of the pebble beach. scramble round some rocks at the right end of the beach and you’ll come across the obvious triangular entrance of the cave. You don’t see it until you are right on it.
The ‘landung’ is flat and consists of dry sheep poo. Once you get over this, it’s no problem and totally dry. But for those who like a clean boulder mat, take a tarp with you. The problems are described roughly left to right, starting with the leaning arete of the steep side.
1. West Wall Arete 6B. Sit Start and layback up the edge of the steep arete, pulling over on jugs. Step left and down climb the buggy slab to descend.
2. All The Small Things 8A. SS at the arete, at an undercut spike. Follow the obvious line of holds leading rightwards into the cave, finishing up Bone Broke, at the jug/hole in the Apex. Sustained and superb climbing.
3. At Eternity’s Gate 8A+/8B. Follow All The Small Things along the line of holds but then reverse the first few moves of The Original and keep traversing right to a welcome but strenuous kneebar rest at a triangular hole. Continue right, avoiding the blocks coming out of the ground. Using tiny holds, gain a heel hook on the ramp of Barista School (crux). Once established on this, shake out at the jugs (bat-hang possible) and finish along Fruit Machine, hopefully without blowing it right at the end! Originally given 8B but that was before the kneebar was found (after the original resting jug broke off). So it may or may not only be 8A+ now?
4. Good Drying. 8A+. Eternity’s Gate into Cowspiracy.
5. Project 8C. Eternity’s Gate into 4th Wave. A very demanding piece of climbing.
6. Triangulation Stand 7A. Right of the arete is a thin crack. Start using a finger lock in this and protruding crimp. Powerful drop-knee moves lead to jugs over the lip.
7. Triangulation 8A. SS away down in the very base of the low cave below the crack, at an undercut and gaston. hard moves lead to the base of the crack, but the crux is gaining the finger lock of the stand start. Fortunately there are a couple of different methods to choose from.
8. The Original 7B. Locate a two-handed, sharp edged undercut at the back of the cave, feet on the steep wall underneath. undercut outwards to the good edge on the ramp feature and continue directly, past a huge sidepull, finishing on edges in the crack in the apex. An extended finish continuing out of the cave on the apex crack has not been done yet (probably 7B+ or 7C). A classic problem.
9. Bone Broke 7C. Extends the fun even more. Follow The Original most of the way, then go rightwards to gain the next undercut wave feature. Undercut this rightwards to a finish on a big jug/hole at the cave apex.
10. Cowspiracy 7C. SS below the kneebar hole. Climb direct with a tricky move to gain a weird finger lock slot. Use this to reach into the finishing moves of Bone Broke.
11. 4th Wave 8B. SS below the kneebar hole. Follow the undercut wave feature with technical and powerful weirdness, finishing on twin edges right up at the apex. Superb technical climbing.
Myself on 4th Wave 8B. Pic Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media
12. Fruit Machine 7B+. Start along the jugs as for Barista School but drop down and shuffle along the good undercuts to where they run out. Reach right for a good wobbly slot and then make a technical sequence to reach across the apex to finish on the big rounded nose on the other side.
13. Barista School 6A+. Start at the base of the huge jug-rail. Layback up this until it’s possible to rock over to spiky undercuts directly above. Slot the good kneebar in, and finish matching the twin slopers above, near the apex.
14. Barista School RH start 6B+. Start right of the jug rail, on the good undercuts. Reach a nice incut crimp above and lock this out to get the edge of the ramp, then the jugs, and a finish up Barista School.
15. Half Apex 7A. SS at the back of the cave at a poor triangular pinch. Make a tricky move up then go hard left, reversing the first part of Fruit Machine. Finish up Barista School.
16. Apex 7C. Start as for Half Apex. Use that good kneebar to rest, and instead of jumping down, continue on the apex and make tricky moves to gain the jug/hole at the end of Bone Broke. From here, use undercuts to drop down onto the Right Wall Traverse and finish along this. Epic!
17. Right Wall Traverse 7C. Start at the big rounded nose at the back of the cave and traverse the less steep side all the way to the slab outside the cave. The first few metres are the crux, powerful and technical on low crimpy sidepulls.
18. The Late Show 6C. Start easily up undercut jugs mid-way along the cave. Reach an L-shaped hold, match it and make a tricky press move to get the jug/hole at the end of Bone Broke. The last two moves are deceptively tricky.
19. After the Race 6A+. Further right is a groove with a shield of rock above. Start on flat holds on the left side of the groove and climb up and round the left side of the shield. Finish on the sloper rail.
20. Lend an Ear 6A. Climb the Groove and swing round the right side of the shield using a spiky sidepull. 6A+ if you continue rightwards and exit the cave.
21. Otter Watch 5. From a low start climb the featured wall just left of the arete of the cave and swing round onto the slab. Various eliminates possible as a warm-up for the harder things.
Dave MacLeod on "All The Small Things" font 8a, Arisaig from peter murray on Vimeo.
4th Wave, 8B first ascent from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Good Drying, 8A+, Arisaig Cave from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.