The dawn hours of friday were spent cycling through misty woodland in Glen Garry in search of your friend and mine, Tetrao tetrix. The Forestry Commission padlock was frozen shut, so I had to ride to and from my survey site. A 10km cycle for work? Fair enough.
I was stationed back in the Fort by 10.30, and with my admin completed with the help of a large amount of coffee I decided to head to the Glen. I was out of favour with the Heather Hat - it's steepness was beginning to hurt, so I decided to solo something bigger and easier in the sun. After weaving up to Cavalry Crack Buttress I saw that my objective of Heatwave was damp, so slithered across to Pandora Buttress to see that Flying Dutchmen was dribbling too. "If in doubt...", I thought, and sweated up to Pine Tree Wall for another tick of The Gutter. I first soloed this during my first week up in Fort William and, then as now, it's so much fun. I sat at the top and drank in the spring scene. Deep snow on the tops, dry rock in the glen, buzzards circling on the thermals above and the Water of Nevis shimmering and scattering the sun's rays below. Smug? Moi?
Back down at the car I unpacked the pad and perused the bouldering guide for likely looking lines. The highball Heart of the Sun (V2 5b) on the Heart Stone was a touch fluttery, and the technical Tom's Arete (V3 6a) beneath Scimitar Ridge took quite a while to work out and grated my tips. Mustn't grumble.
Seeing a good forecast, Chris boarded a westbound train on Saturday morning and by early afternoon we were ensconced on Secretaries Buttress Direct (Severe). What a route. Three interesting pitches bringing whoops, smiles and laughter. We had wanted to do the Super Direct, but passing showers shifted us across the slab to the easier option. Just as we coiled the ropes and thought about the next route it started to rain again, so we decided to run for it. Back at our bags the sun came out once more. Harrumph. Spying a good looking line on the left toe of Secretaries Buttress I started up Just Passing (E1 5a). Naturally, the grade implies either bold or sustained 5a climbing, and it provided a bit of both. The gear was good but there wasn't much of it, and with the crux section at the very top and a decent way from my last wires I felt fully immersed. I had got there so quickly that it didn't feel quite real. I wasn't up for a big fall. There was no obvious line to take, no crack to follow or flake to swing up, just the top to aim for. Blindly feeling for crimps in the ocean of schist waves, I found a quartz 'gaston' and with a nervy cross-through of my left foot I stuttered across to a better hold. Relax boy, relax. The top came soon after, and as I belayed Chris up, the adrenalin was just leaving my blood-stream and my shaking hands were beginning to steady. It's definitely the most committed and insecure I've ever felt on a route. Jolly splendid!
Next stop, the Heather Hat. Chris had unfinished business on Maizie Gunn's... (V4 6a) and set to with a will. Last time he tried this it was pissing with rain so he didn't have a chance to try the last moves, this time he got them sorted rapidly. After the excitement of success on Just Passing I decided to have a try on my project, Killer Instinct (V5 6b), and somehow did it first go.... except that I fell from the last easy moves mantling the headwall. NOOOO! What a twat. After almost two months of trying, I fell from the easy finish. Sloppy footwork. Disgraceful. After a minute of loud expletives I had another go. With even worse footwork and lots of foot-off gurning and Chris Sharma-esque shouting I managed it this time round. I had lead this dance so many times I just wanted to do it this time. At long last. Check the vid for an example of how not to do it:
Killer Instinct is a pretty cool problem, I think it's technically harder than the fabled Midnight in a Perfect World, but a bit shorter so didn't require so much of the power endurance that I lack. Nice one. Chris had all the moves down on Maizie Gunn's but couldn't link it. Next time man, next time.