Unicorn and Scansor – Stob Coire nan Lochan

These two Extreme Rock routes have been on my to-do list for many years, and fitted the “high and shady” profile that mid-20 temps in Glencoe demanded. Of course, the only problem with the “high” part of the equation was that you’ve got to sweat your way up the 2 hours approach in the first place – grueling but glorious!

The corrie itself is a magical cirque of columnar rock

but there’s no doubting the star attractions, as the obvious tower taken by Unicorn (E1 up the major corner) and Scansor (E2 up the subsidiary groove in the arete to the right and then on up the improbable steep wall) stands out proud from the background noise.

We seemed to have stumbled upon “Get On Big Classics In Scotland” week for our visit (perhaps not surprising given the weather) and there was a team already starting up Unicorn as we arrived. Saska and Ally were clearly not going to be hanging around,

… but impatience and a desire to enjoy the last of the sunshine before the crag entered the shade had me gearing up beneath the first 45m monster pitch of Scansor. I set off, conscious of a guidebook description of “suspect blocks and flakes” and “disappointing climbing” and the damning faint praise of a solitary star – shoddy treatment for an Extreme Rock route that has seemingly fallen out of fashion, with 3 years since the last logged ascent on UKC.

The initial blocky groove is pretty steady, if mildly harrowing, as you climb giant stacked Jenga blocks. This deposits you on a small triangular ledge on the arete right of the groove at around 20m. Relief at being on rock that is clearly well attached to the cliff is tempered by the imposing view upwards: a thin crack disappearing into seemingly blank wall, topped by an overhang where the description has you traversing way rightwards to awkward moves up the arete. Holds are invisible from below, which is more than can be said for the plentiful moss and lichen (but not a hint of chalk), and I briefly ponder taking a stance and ushering up the cavalry. Closer inspection reveals situ gear in the crack (from a previous retreat) and the holds within reach prove to be sharp, solid and free of vegetation, so there’s no real excuse not to press on. The rest of the pitch unfolds in the same vein – holds and gear coming to hand despite the apparent blankness, and the anxiously anticipated traverse proves to be a thrilling but straightforward romp over the void and out to the arete. The pull onto and up this is indeed awkward, but I was soon on a comfy ledge with situ belay / rap point, bubbling excitedly about the fantastic climbing. What a pitch! Worthy of 3* in anyone’s book, (and maybe 5c?).

Andy leaving the triangular ledge
… and amidst the trickier climbing

The second pitch is another voyage into the unknown. Here’s Paul having gained the tricky ledge, before another airy traverse and stiff pull (sound familiar?…) Another great pitch.

Following Paul up P2 I stuck my head around the arete to get this shot of Ally on Unicorn.

There’s a handy rap point up and left of the top of P2 (much care required due to loose rock). 60m ropes required to reach the ground or via the P1 stance if using 50s.

Back down on the deck for a spot of lunch, the teams have swapped routes and Ally is questing up the first pitch of Scansor

Here’s Andy nearing the top of pitch 1 of Unicorn (tricky and involved – whether you bridge, crimp or back-and-foot depending on the climbing era of your choice!) and Saska seconding pitch 1 of Scansor with Ally on the stance.

The climbing on Unicorn is superb, but the stances aren’t huge, so I ended up running the described P2 & P3 together for 50m of fabulous juggy climbing. One of the best E1 pitches in the land.

Andy and Paul following P2 of Unicorn
Stunning views over The Ben and beyond from the top

Two tremendous Extreme Rock ticks in the bag, we wandered down via a cooling splosh in the river. On the walk down we bumped into a couple of lads also heading up for Scansor (an impressive after-work hit!) From no logged ascents in 3 years to 7 in a day. Word spreads fast. Get on it now whilst it’s chalked and fairly clean. Despite what the guidebook might say, you WON’T be disappointed!!!

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