North Head Update

Article contributed by Ross

Looking down at the huge and overhung 45m corner in a large slot that cuts into the headland at North Head, I just knew that I’d have to come back and that it would have to be very soon to see if the line in the right hand corner would go. Graham and I had just repeated the fine three star Ockran Corner on the North Wall in early June this year but did not have time to climb anything else that day.

Andrew seconding Mind Wide Open

Andrew seconding Mind Wide Open

Until this year North Head has remained relatively unexplored with a brief visit by Paul and I back in 2007 to the North Wall, when I hadn’t looked down this section of the cliff, and then in 2011 when Adam Wainwright with Paul and Andrew climbed a two star route up cracks on the left side of the back wall of the slot to access the hanging left corner above. The area then drifted back into obscurity with their route never getting written up.

Peter Herd repeats This Timeless Moment

Peter Herd repeats This Timeless Moment

So now seen, the corner sat lodged at the forefront of my mind ….. a simple problem or major sandbag? It was hard to know if the huge hanging off-width crack at the top would readily spit out any protagonist who dared to climb it or be a relatively straight forward affair.

Andrew and I headed out on a Saturday, a week and a bit later, and abseiled down to the ledges that sit beneath this towering section of cliff. The route I’d spied starts on the wall just left of the right hand corner of the slot. Not wanting to give away my large cams too early I climbed a short 8m pitch to a good ledge and Andrew followed up. The second pitch starts up a short groove left of the corner before moving back into the now vertical corner. Harder climbing took me to easier ground on the wall to the left to beneath the capping overhang with the huge off-width hanging corner crack just out of reach. In went some gear, off came my jacket and I conscientiously slung my gear on my left side to prevent it getting caught on my right side in the crack in the next sequence.

Andrew A on a new VS

Andrew A on a new VS

A step down and a large reach out right and I pulled across the void. A change in tack mid-sequence saw me pulled up on the wall to the right and reach into the corner with my left arm as far as possible, wedging my waist and the gear into the crack. With the gear now on the wrong side it took a while to extract my large Camelot 5 from my harness without being spat back out and protect the next section. The next moves are steady above the void below and a Camelot 6 helped protect this section. The whole crux section makes for a fine two star route which is called Mind Wide Open.

Liam and Andrew repeat Andrew Hunter's HVS

Liam and Andrew repeat Andrew Hunter’s HVS

The route completed, Andrew racked up and we headed back down the abseil to tackle a line on the left wall of the slot. The line takes a steep pocketed rib of rock up to a series of overhangs at two-thirds height. Breaking out right from below the roof you pullout on to a fine perfect hanging crackline that goes directly up the wall above to a fine finish and another two star route in the bag.

I went back the following week with Matt where we tackled the large wall capped with overhangs to the South side of the slot. We called the 50m line This Timeless Moment. It covers unlikely ground for the grade and takes a rising leftward traverse from a corner under overhangs to a steep hanging crackline. Above the crackline are hanging roofs that cap the top of the wall. A series of hanging vertical cracks in a niche allow access to an airy pull out onto the final hanging slab and the top of the three star route. We also added a couple of lines to the East Wall in the afternoon.

Ross seconding Halcyon Days

Ross seconding Halcyon Days

Just over a week later I was back with Mark and a team of four climbers from Aberdeen joined us. Whilst Mark and I added two more routes, Reflections and The Otter’s Pocket, in the area of the slot, Peter, Callum, Liam and Andrew repeated Adam’s route first climbed in 2011 and then Andrew’s route to the left of the slot from earlier in the month, before Peter made the second ascent of This Timeless Moment.

This Timeless Moment, first ascent

This Timeless Moment, first ascent

The afternoon saw us climb the remaining unclimbed lines on the West Wall which was bathed in sunshine. Unfortunately a band of not so good rock runs across the top section of this wall. Mark described it with his route Mood Swing which starts off with some superb climbing only to deteriorate higher up, although the rock is much better up the whole of the wall the further left you go.

It is great to see some of the lines now established at North Head get repeated and confirmation that the venue is yet another fantastic example of what makes climbing so great in Shetland.

Database page for the Otter’s Head

One Comment

  1. Callum says:

    Great climbing, and something quite cool about the crag!

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