Clare RATS

Welcome to Clare RATS, the climbing and mountaineering society based at Clare College. The Rock-climbing And Trekking Society (to give our full title) is the place to meet all the other people in Cambridge who are having trouble with the total absence of anything hilly as far as the eye can see.

Whether you’re after spectacular scenery, exhilarating climbs, fantastic weather, or even if you’ve never touched a mountain in your life but want to know what it’s like, drop the committee a line at (or pick someone from here) and we’ll set you up with a lifelong passion for hills. You don’t need much specialist kit to come on a RATS trip: basic essential equipment consists of a brain and beer money, and if you need anything else then we’ll try and borrow it for you—just ask. Oh yeah, and we lied about the weather.

Latest news

Announcing…. the Summer Trip to Skye 3rd-10th July

This is the formal announcement of the Clare RATS Summer Trip 2011.

We will be staying in the Glenbrittle Hut, in the shadow of the Cuillin Ridge, on the fabled Isle of Skye!
We will be there for the 3rd-10th July (the week after graduation), though you can come for as much or as little of it as you wish. Transport will be provided up on the 3rd and down on the 10th (if you want to come and have access to a car, then that will be very helpful), otherwise Kyle of Lochalsh railway station is a short drive away, and there are decent buses around the island.

What does a summer trip involve: Anything you want!

Some of us may (if weather and fitness allow) attempt the legendary challenge of the Cuillin Ridge traverse itself, others will walk the rocky coastline or high into the mist-shrouded uplands of the north of the island. Others will scramble across subsidiary ridges and climb on great crags in echoing corries or breezy cliffs above crashing waves. Still others will be investigating the Talisker distillery or the excellent pubs. Most of us will want to do all of these things at varying times!

Each night we will return to our well-appointed bunkhouse a mere 5 minutes from the sea to swim in the (relative) warmth of the gulf stream, or simply relax on the beach or in the hut with a cup of tea or a pint or two, swapping tales of our adventures and planning the next day.

Don’t worry if you’ve never climbed before, or even walked long distances; there will be something for everyone, and we can train you as appropriate. Last time we went (Summer 2008), Matt Causier put on a harness for the first time ever in order to climb the “Inaccessible Pinnacle”, the only Munro that you need a rope to climb – 40 minutes later, he was on the top of this tooth of rock watching the sun set in fire over the Outer Hebrides!

Whatever you choose to do, you will not regret joining us for this week of adventure and relaxation this summer, and you will create memories that will last a lifetime! The trip will only cost around £120 (based on the experience of previous trips), and this includes everything from petrol to get up there to the food you will eat and the bed you sleep on, together with the use of all necessary safety equipment and advice in its use!

So, how do you book a place? Email me (djp59) to say that you want to come, mentioning if you have access to a car, and place a deposit cheque for £40 (made payable to Clare RATS, with your name and email address on the back) in the RATS pigeonhole in Old Court. There are only 18 places available on this amazing trip, and priority will of course go to those who get their cheques in first!

Posted by David Ponting / 18 Jan 2011 15:56

I am pleased to announce the RATS weekend trip for this term. We will be going to the majestic mountains of Snowdonia, staying in Llanberis, which is one of the epicentres of British mountaineering! From sharp ridges to scramble along (Crib Goch and Tryfan), to great rolling summits perfect for walkers (Carneddau) and the highest mountain in England and Wales (Snowdon), to high crags looming above deep corries, such as Idwal slabs and the legendary Clogwyn du’r Arddu (the Black Cliff). All this, together with roadside bouldering and crags, including the imposing Dinas Cromlech, is contained within one small area of North Wales, with nowhere more than half-an-hour away from our fully-equipped hut/cottage/bunkhouse, whatever you want to call it!

I’d suggest that there is no better antidote to the fifth-week blues than escaping the flatness of Cambridge and heading deep into the wilds of this amazing area – two days of walking/climbing/scrambling/whatever will leave you relaxed, restored and much better equipped for work for the rest of term. However, we can only offer 14 places, since there are only 14 beds in the hut.

When/Who/How Much, I hear you cry!
When – we will leave between 5 and 7 pm on Friday 5th of November, depending on when the drivers can go, and return in the evening of Sunday 7th.
Who – you, yes you, if you reply quickly enough (even if you have Saturday lectures – you should be able to catch up!)
How Much – based on previous trips, between £30 and £35, which includes everything except for lunch!

If this sounds tempting, email me (the 14 places will be first come first served) and tell me:

1) Can you drive?

2) Do you have access to a car? If so, how many seats? If not, but you can drive, would you be willing to hire a car?

3) Do you have any special dietary requirements?

4) What do you want to do – walk/climb/scramble/etc (doesn’t matter if you don’t know, since all plans are weather dependent)?

5) How much climbing/scrambling experience do you have, i.e. scrambling/lead grade/seconding/indoors…? [It’s fine if you’ve never climbed before, we will show you how we do it]

6) What [climbing] gear do you have/need, and if you need rockshoes [beginners, this will include you], what is your shoe size?
In terms of other kit, you need walking boots, sleeping bag, waterproofs and a rucksack, but we may be able to scrounge some of these for you to borrow.

Come climbing!


Posted by David Ponting / 28 Oct 2010 11:05

I am pleased to announce the first RATS trip of term. We’ll be driving up to Stanage Edge in the Peak District for a day of climbing (or walking if you want) on Sunday 24th October. It will be excellent!

Stanage is called the “Queen of Gritstone”, a long ribbon of a cliff covered in legendary routes that stretches high above the rolling valleys of the Peak district, yet less than half an hour from the car. There are literally hundreds of routes of all grades, on a rock-type that many describe as “God’s own rock” due to its incredible friction and quality. The trip will cost about £10 (normally it has been less than that).

If you’d like to escape the flatness of Cambridge and the fens, hit reply now (places will be first come first served*) and tell me:

1) Can you drive?

2) Do you have access to a car? If so, how many seats?

3) How much climbing experience do you have, i.e. lead grade/seconding/indoors…? [It’s fine if you’ve never climbed before, we will show you how we do it]

4) What climbing gear do you have/need, and if you need rockshoes [beginners, this will include you], what is your shoe size?

If you want to find out more about the crag/see lots of pretty pictures of it/get keen, then either ask me or have a look at

Also – keep your diaries free for the weekend of the 5th to the 7th of November – the Snowdonia trip is shaping up to be amazing!

Come climbing!


*unless you have a car that you can bring, in which case you will be guaranteed a place and allow another 3 or so people to come!

Posted by David Ponting / 15 Oct 2010 15:05

Tuesday 12th October: Fresher’s Curry (location tbc) – we will meet in a pub at 7, then head to one of Cambridge’s many excellent curry houses.

Sunday 24th October: DAYTRIP – Stanage Edge in the Peak district

Friday 5th November (6pm) to Sunday 7th November – WEEKEND TRIP Join RATS in the wild mountains of Snowdonia for a weekend of climbing, hill-walking, and anything else you want to do there. The perfect break from fifth week!

Sunday 21st November or Saturday 20th: DAYTRIP – a mystery crag of awesomeness!

David (Trips Secretary)

Posted by David Ponting / 7 Oct 2010 12:28
Summer Trip Report 2009

Lagangarbh Hut, Glencoe – David P (scribe), Matt C, Clare S, James R, James F, Teanie, Louise Russell, Shona Gibson, Matt W, Jess T

After an eventful journey by train (if you find a green sleeping bag with my name on in Edinburgh Waverley, I’d quite like it back) from Cambridge up the stunning West Highland Railway to Bridge of Orchy – a journey I can highly recommend if you need to go to that bit of Scotland, but make sure you pick a seat from which you can look out of the window! – where I was picked up by Clare and Matt. We got to the hut and all the memories of the RATS trip three years ago came flooding back instantly, and I knew that we would be in for a wonderful week, though hopefully without needing to call on the services of Mountain Rescue (see the report of that trip (summer 2006) for details!).

The next day we awoke to a cloudbase at about 2000ft, but forecast to stay dry and gradually rise. We therefore decided after the traditional porridge and faff to go and scramble Curved Ridge (Mod 2*) on Buachaille Etive Mor, just behind the hut. After a few route-finding difficulties, which included Matt climbing into the very same gully out of which Glencoe MRT had pulled me (three years ago to the day!), we were following the crampon scratches (It’s a winter descent route) on the ridge and climbing towards the clouds. A nice airy scramble on good holds followed, and we only needed to get the rope out once, for what was probably the crux of the route, a small chimney-type section of polished holds. Eventually we got to the top of the ridge, and, now enveloped in cloud, moved through scree-y and grassy gullies up to the summit (Stob Dearg). After a few close calls with loose stones, we were able to have lunch in the circular cairn at the summit.

As we were walking towards the southern peak, Stob na Broige, the weather suddenly cleared and the day was transformed. We now had a (somewhat warm) ridgewalk with the sun in our faces and the wind in our hair. Looking back to Stob Dearg, we could see the red granite that gave it its name shining in the summer sun, and looking ahead we could see the sun glinting off Loch Etive. The intervening tops fell rapidly behind, and we were soon at the col at the foot of the second Munro. Matt, James, Teanie and I then pushed on to the top thereof, and were rewarded with stunning views over Loch Etive and the surrounding mountains, before retracing our steps to the col and rejoining the others to descend into Lairig Gartain, the valley between Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, the only practical return from where we were.

A smooth glacial valley and a gradually broadening stream, in which hats were often soaked to cool our heads in the now windless afternoon heat, took us gently back to the hut, the perfect counterpart to a day that had started on rocky crags amid gloomy clouds. On the way some confusion arose over what the large white blobs halfway up Buachaille Etive Beag were; sheep, fridges, giant lumps of expanded polystyrene… it turned out (as seen later in the week) that they were bags full of stones from the scree slopes that were being hauled away for path repairs. Large cups of tea having been duly consumed, the rest of the party arrived in time for supper.

Weatherwise, Tuesday started as Monday had ended, and we split into two groups “fast” and “slow” to scramble the Aonach Eagach ridge (4km Easy 3* or Grade 3 scramble of pure awesome). “Fast” group first going to Fort William to top up the food stocks and for yours truly to buy a new sleeping bag, Waverley having reported that they couldn’t find the old one. We then set off at speed up the Devil’s Staircase, with the intention of catching the other group at some point on the ridge. From the Devil’s Staircase the route to the ridge trends uphill over open grassland and the occassional boggy bit, leading to gradually narrowing scree slopes to the south and deep, wild corries to the north, with views of the Bidean Nam Bian massif and the Mamores becoming more and more obvious. The ridge proper, i.e. the 4km scramble with 2000ft drops on either side, starts with an ascent of the first peak (Am Bodach) from a small high col, a good place to stow walking poles and maps, since neither will be needed (it is nigh on impossible to get lost on a ridge that the only way off the side of is straight down). From then a series of pinnacles, subsidiary tops, small chimneys and slabby sections need to be passed, mostly over/up/down though some sections can be avoided (this will normally mean traversing the side of the ridge over a very long drop). We caught the others about halfway along, and after draining our water on top of the last Munro of the ridge (Sgurr Nam Fiannaidh), we headed down rapidly towards the legendary Clachaig Inn with the image of a pub meal and a nice pint keeping us moving fast. The path starts as a section of exposed scree, but gradually turns, through grass, heather, bracken etc. into thick, low-level vegetation, through which RATS plunged, following animal trails, until after a final forest barrier we arrived on the road and marched off to the pub. A cunningly preplaced car allowed us to get back home in good order after we had quenched our thirst and hunger.

Wednesday was a somewhat more relaxed day, and we went climbing on the slabs behind the hut. This allowed us to introduce Matt to leading and Louise and Shona to ropework, harnesses and so on. A series of undocumented routes (estimate between Diff and S4a), varying between delicate moves on unprotected slabs to powerful struggles up cracks the full height of the crag, were climbed, and hard, fingery boulder problems were attempted on top rope, particularly by James F (the setting up of which involved a simultaneous double abseil, one person on each end of a free-running rope, the danger of which should be obvious, fortunately we had some Prussik loops on hand, and it was undeniably fun). Meanwhile James R went for a low-level circumnavigation of Buachaille Etive Mor (i.e. Glen Etive and Lairig Gartain), unfortunately losing his cap in the process (hence the next day he walked through Lairig Gartain again to join the main party who had gone by car in an attempt to find it).

Wednesday evening, the author of one of the area guidebooks was staying in the hut, and he suggested a traverse of Bidean Nam Bian from Glen Etive via Stob Coire Sgreamhaidh. This was therefore attempted the next morning (after moving the cars to make way for the refueling tanker for the helicopter that was extracting the aforementioned bags of scree) by the majority of the group, while Matt C and Clare climbed Agag’s Groove (VDiff 4*!). Those of us who were walking started from Glen Etive in humid conditions with thunder growling in the distance, with, rather memorably, bracken that spat ‘tongues of fire’, i.e. wafts of hot air as we brushed them. The ascent, through bracken and scree, proved very arduous with the humidity, and we had only reached about 800m by lunchtime. Now the weather got somewhat more “interesting”, as under grumbling thunder we headed up to the first Munro of the day, Stob Coire Sgreamhaidh. Standing on the edge of the Lost Valley, the mists below us swirled in the wind, and we were somewhat concerned for Matt and Clare since the top of the Buachaille had vanished into a thundercloud. Nevertheless, we pressed on, deciding not to take the very steep escape into the Lost Valley since it had been turned into a mudslide by previous rain, preferring instead to escape over the summit of Bidean. Unfortunately, our calculations were slightly out and the thunderstorm caught up shortly before the summit, the front of the party crossing an exposed section of the ridge at the time. We ran forwards and took shelter in the lee of a large rock, that would have earthed any strike, and put my walking poles a short distance away, and it turned out, my pack accidentally in a stream-bed! The storm arrived rapidly, and counting the time after a flash soon became impossible. The closest strike was about 40m away, and after that those of us who had not been shivering from the sudden cold that arrived with the storm were shaking from shock.

We survived, and after breaking open the emergency chocolate, headed up and over the peak at speed in order to get down before a repeat performance. An airy walk along a scree-flanked ridge awaited us, and eventually we dropped off the ridge into Coire Nam Beith, the hanging valley above Loch Achtriochan. We now felt that we were safe, so were immensely demoralised to find that large sections of the path had been obliterated by the now swollen stream. As we approached the first of these, another thunderstorm came overhead, but safe in our steep-walled valley, we watched the Aonach Eagach opposite get pounded by strike after strike! The first stream crossing, at the joining of a major tributary was avoided by Matt W and James F finding a safe detour upstream to where two boulders had made a bridge, and we then traversed the grassy slopes beyond until we had to cross the main stream as it plunged out of the hanging valley. Matt and James again sprang to the rescue, standing in the middle of the stream as a handrail where appropriate. A few scrambles where swollen waters had crossed the path were then easily traversed, and we sped down to the road and a waiting car. Never in one day has so much of the previously-academic knowledge drilled into me about mountain safety and inclement conditions come to the fore, and I hope it never will be needed to the same extent again!

Meanwhile, Matt C and Clare had climbed Agag’s Groove, though relatively slowly as it was Matt’s first multipitch lead, including such memorable events as watching the thunderstorm we had seen above them from a belay ledge(!), and then made their way down to the hut by Coire na Tulaidh, the large northern coire of the Buachaille, arriving only shortly before us.

On Friday, thunder was again forecast, so we decided to go for a low level walk through Glen Nevis to the watershed. After a somewhat adventurous, but very fun, single track road that felt more like a rally track, we arrived at the high car park under the falls, and headed off. Spectacular scenery awaited us, and despite the lack of exposure, legendary epics (unusually for RATS) or sheer terror, we had a most enjoyable time. The route starts on a well-made path, winding through the woods below the falls with occasional glimpses of rolling waters below and the Mamores across the gorge. This gorge then narrows rapidly, until the path plunges to the sound of thundering waterfalls through a narrow gap. Suddenly the view was transformed as we were greeted by the glacial meadows of Steall, with the Water of Nevis meandering placidly through a flat grassy area, and Allt Coire a Mhail plunging down a high waterfall on the cliffs opposite – this reminded me forcefully of an Alpine meadow in which I had once camped. We sadly left the meadow and started gradually climbing into the upper reaches of the glen, on an ever-shrinking path. Gently rolling slopes underfoot were complimented by the steep, cloud-shrouded cliffs of the mountains around – Ben Nevis, Aonach Beag, and the Grey Corries to the north, and the Mamores to the south. Passing a number of DofE groups, who had obviously chosen this as a wild area that was still low-level, and occasionally losing the path into trackless bogs, we got to the watershed (Tom an Eite, 401m), and looked out east down the Abhainn Rath to Staoineag bothy and Loch Treig. Had we been able to see further, we would have seen Corrour station, made famous by Trainspotting, and the wilderness of Rannoch Moor. Retracing our steps, we returned to Steall Meadows and spent some time playing on the wire bridge that led to the Steall hut, and then walked back to the cars as the first drops of the forecast rain began to fall. Turns out we were just in time, as we ended up driving home through appallingly heavy rain.

Saturday saw RATS heading to Glen Nevis again, this time for some climbing on the Polldubh crags in the better weather that was forecast. So far, so good. However, in true RATS style, we dashed straight for the nearest crag, decided it was a bit naff, and climbed past it in search of some cleaner and less midge-y climbing on the upper tier. Thus began two hours of struggling through steep bracken above and below unsuitable crags, often not 100% sure of where we were because the drawing in the guidebook was less than clear and the scale on the map was less than ideal. After lunch, and taking some high-accuracy bearings, we collected our thoughts rather than continuing to scramble frustratedly around, and headed down to the road again for a second attempt: This time to the crags at the far end of the Polldubh outcrops. This time we struck pay-dirt: A steep wall [Repton Wall] with a series of good climbs. We put a top-rope on Sprauchle (VS 4c) to play around with – most of the group got up, including the stage of “sprauchling” the final move!, though I think that we all fell off, or at least weighted the rope while we hunted the next hold, and one or two people (not me) went severely off-route to green Severe chimneys to bypass the crux. Matt attempted to lead Three Pines (MS *), but fell off due to the plaster that he’d put on the palm of his hand as a result of it being trapped between some of the bridge wires the day before [It turns out that plasters are not loadbearing], so led the VDiff variation very creditably for a third lead climb ever! We all, including Matt, climbed the MS on top-rope afterwards.

Posted by David Ponting / 18 Nov 2009 11:45