5 (V)Diffs to end all (V)Diffs Article

© Tom Ripley

Tom Ripley lists the best Diff ('Difficult') /V Diff ('Very Difficult')* -graded trad routes in the UK...

The phrase - 'the Diff to end all Diffs' - originates from Tom Patey and Chris Bonington's first ascent of the Cioch Nose on Sgurr a' Chaorachain. Patey - a great solo climber - was too intimidated to head into the unknown on Sgurr a' Chaorachain without a partner, so he enlisted Chris Bonington to hold his ropes. The pair were much amused to find the climbing much easier than expected, proclaiming afterward that it was the 'Diff to end all Diffs'. 

Amphitheatre Buttress: a route of two halves.  © Tom Ripley
Amphitheatre Buttress: a route of two halves.
© Tom Ripley

As well as the Cioch Nose, here are four more of the UK's best low-grade routes that deserve the moniker 'a diff to end all diffs'.

*Due to grade inflation, it seems tricky to list five mind-blowingly good climbs graded Diff. Some grades have shifted over the years.

Cioch Nose (S) Sgurr a' Chaorachain

I first climbed the Cioch Nose whilst working for the late and great Martin Moran. I think it's basically the perfect mountain route, featuring rough Torridonian sandstone, which is some of the most enjoyable rock I've climbed on (think gritstone but better). If you park at the Bealach na Bà it's got a relatively short downhill walk in. The continuation scramble is equally good and pops you out back at the car.

The Cioch Nose: the Diff to end all Diffs.  © Tom Ripley
The Cioch Nose: the Diff to end all Diffs.
© Tom Ripley

Commando Ridge (VD) Bosigran

The soaring granite Bosigran Ridge - more akin to something you'd find above Chamonix or in the Bregaglia - however this one is different. It starts in the Atlantic Ocean and was used in the 1940s by Royal Marine Commandos in their training for cliff assaults (UKC Article). It's a simply brilliant climb with huge granite holds and great exposure above the boiling Atlantic. 

Amphitheatre Buttress (VD) - Craig Yr Ysfa

Set high in the Carneddau, Craig yr Ysfa is one of the more remote-feeling crags in Eryri. Amphitheatre Buttress is a route of two halves, with half a dozen or so pitches on perfect rhyolite, followed by an exposed ridge with an exciting horizontal ridge section that leads to the top.  

Amphitheatre Buttress.  © Tom Ripley
Amphitheatre Buttress.
© Tom Ripley

Little Chamonix (VD) - Shepherd’s Crag

I know it's quite polished and close to the road. However, the over-photographed top pitch of Little Chamonix is frankly outrageous for the grade. Thankfully the holds are huge, but it is steep and very exposed - a V Diff that tricks its way into E1 terrain. Just like the Bludgeon to its left - an E1 that tricks its way into E5 terrain! 

Little Chamonix at Shepherd's Crag. It's even been done in boxing gloves and roller skates...  © Tom Ripley
Little Chamonix at Shepherd's Crag. It's even been done in boxing gloves and roller skates...
© Tom Ripley

Squareface (VD) Beinn a' Bhuird

A proper adventure, this one. Slog in by bike, stay at the Howf (if you can find it) and enjoy pitch after pitch of perfect Cairngorm granite, with superb, delicate moves and some jamming too. Savour the solitude before freewheeling all the way back to Braemar.

Summiting Squareface  © Simon Theobald
Summiting Squareface
© Simon Theobald, Jul 2021

Five more belting V Diffs for good measure:

Heaven Crack (VD) - Stanage Popular. I wish I knew how many times I had climbed this one, and that it was 10 times longer!

The author on Heaven Crack.  © Tom Ripley
The author on Heaven Crack.
© Tom Ripley

FM (VD) - Slieve Lamagan. Pure multi pitch perfection in the Mourne Mountains, with a testing crux mantle move.

Sou'wester Slabs (VD) - Cir Mhor. Outstanding granite, worth making the trip to Arran for alone. The rock is impeccable, you can smear anywhere.

Cyfrwy Arete (Summer) (D) via the Table - Cadair Idris - Penygadair. A funky ridge away from the hustle and bustle of North Snowdonia. 

'C' Ordinary Route (Summer) (VD) - Dow Crag. The outstanding rhyolite on this north-facing crag is about as good as it gets. One to save for a hot day, as it is less fun in the damp.

11 Jun

In reply to UKC

Nice article but no Agags groove?

11 Jun

Lots of great routes there but hardly any actual Diffs🙂

My suggestions would be:

Black Slab (Bosigran). Overlapping Rib Route (Tryfan). Giant's Crawl and C Buttress (Dow). Crystal Ridge (Coire Sputan Dearg). Tower Ridge (Nevis). East Buttress (Coire Mhic Fhearchair). Red Slab (A' Mhaighdean). Pinnacle Ridge (Gillean) and the Clach Glas-Blaven traverse.

11 Jun

Throw in Corvus on Raven Crag Borrowdale for good measure!

11 Jun

Is it just me that finds it irritating, but the correct name is "Bosigran Ridge"... First climbed in 1902.

11 Jun

Just to throw in another non-diff: the lovely Dubh Slabs. The actual best easy mountain route in the UK?

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