Moonrise Kingdom (E9 6b, 6c, 6a/b) rises up

15 May, 2017

James McHaffie and Dan Varian have climbed a major new multi-pitch route on Skye’s Coir’-Uisg Buttress. Moonrise Kingdom (E9 6b, 6c, 6a/b) turned out to be a much stiffer proposition than the pair had envisaged. “It’s immaculate but serious climbing. Similar to the E9 Indian Face in my mind. A mental game,” says McHaffie.

The pair had spotted the line last October after climbing Birkett’s brilliant Skye Wall (E7/8 6c). This time joined by Ben Bransby, Adam Long and Ray Wood, the team caught the boat into Loch Coruisk and camped at its head below the Skye Ridge on Sunday afternoon (7th May). Early next morning McHaffie set about trying to onsight the route.

James McHaffie nearing the end of the serious main pitch of Moonrise Kingdom during the first ascent. © Ray Wood

Things looked to be going well after reaching the obvious white groove at the end of the first pitch and he made steady progress to reach what turned out to be a ‘disappointing ledge’, where the only longed for good protection turned out to be a nest of skyhooks.

“The slim groove out left I’d planned to head to from here also didn’t look as promising for pro as it had from the ground,” says McHaffie. A few more committing moves on small edges up the wall and McHaffie found himself on dusty holds with no obvious decent kit to aim towards. After a few nervous minutes, he fiddled in a poor Offset that proved to be enough for a careful lower-off.

After a quick abseil inspection, the way ahead was clearly still sustained, not obvious and lacking protection. “It had definitely been one of my pushiest onsight efforts,” commented McHaffie. Leaving the crag unsure if the line would go, the walk back to camp gave him a chance to reflect on the route and he decided he’d return the next day to take another look.

After a closer assessment, the route started to come together and the discovery of an “okay” Offset wire 12 metres above the skyhooks was encouraging. However, tired from the previous day’s efforts and ropework shenanigans in the sun, a lead wasn’t on, and with a boat pick-up arranged for the Wednesday morning, it looked like the project might have to be saved for another Scotland trip.

Checking the weather in Broadford on Thursday there looked like there might be a chance the following day (12th May) before the weather properly broke.

Once More Unto the Breach

Dan Varian onsighting the top pitch of Moonrise Kingdom. © Ray Wood

Returning once more but dropping the tents off straight away at the landing jetty, Varian and McHaffie made the just over two-hour walk back up to Coir’-Uisg Buttress.

It had clearly rained a bit during the night but hadn’t made much impression on the route since it had been so dry previously. A shower passed over as they reached the crag and a further shower delayed starting. “One more shower and that’d have blown any chance of doing the route. It was quite humid and still, which didn’t help,” says McHaffie.

Varian smoothly led the first pitch to a semi-hanging stance at the base of the groove. Then McHaffie boldly headed up the gabbro shield once again, taking care to extend the skyhooks on the ledge, to ensure they didn’t lift off. Passing his previous high point the only real option was to keep going to the “okay” wire. Rope drag made the final 6a/b moves to reach the break feel harder than they should have done. That and the pressure of not blowing it with success so close at hand.

Varian took over to onsight the final pitch where a cam four protected the tricky moves just above the belay. Easier but poorly protected ground led to the grassy descent terrace. No return trip was going to be necessary.

Moonrise Kingdom gets its name since on both occasions McHaffie and Varian have been into Loch Coruisk, a full or nearly full moon has risen over the Loch.

The gabbro shield of Coir'-Uisg Buttress (left) below Coire an Uaigneis on Skye. © Ray Wood

Camp site at the head of Loch Coruisk on the first attempt at Moonrise Kingdom. © Ray Wood