Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Full Immersion

The leaves are coming back, greening the hillsides and clothing the Polldubh crags in their shady blanket. The bracken is starting to stretch and unfurl, flooding the slopes. What's more, swifts, cuckoos and swallows are flitting and singing their way around the glens, the coo of pigeons floats on the air.

It's back. A new Lochaber season, and with it the new buzz of excitement and activity. Back in November and December there was an air of expectation about the oncoming winter season, the routes to climb and the new crags to explore. Now, spring is giving way to summer and the psyche is back among the Fort William flock.

Rob Jarvis, Blair Fyffe and myself took another wonder up to Tunnel Wall on Friday afternoon, Blair on Axiom (F8a), Rob and I on Uncertain Emotions (F7b). Rob was feeling inspired, so instead of working the route on top-rope he tied in and got on the lead, initially bolt-to-bolt (resting on the rope at each bolt), but linking progressively longer sections on the next go. He claimed he wasn't ready for the redpoint attempt, but decided that on his third and final attempt he would simply tie in and climb as far as he could before taking the lob (basically a redpoint attempt). He flowed up the initial groove, and despite a small error on the first crux, got up to the second crux just below the 'almost, if you're brave, hands-off-ish, rest' before succumbing to the relentless pump and took the lob. With nothing to lose he pressed on to the top, only for the pump to catch up with him again on the final moves. He was about to back off and rest on the bolt but yells of encouragement from below spurred him on and after a desperate throw and a blood-curdling yell he took the pisser. Good effort.
Rob Redpointing
Meanwhile, the Fyffe machine was bearing down with a combination of small holds and fancy footwork. He almost got Axiom in a one-er on toprope, boding very well for the inevitable redpoint attempts. I remained on a toprope on Uncertain..., but am definetely getting to grips with the final crux, and made my biggest link-up to date. As we strolled back to the car, feeling inspired and happy, the timeless view of the Buachaille soaked in evening sunshine reminded us of what a great place we're living in.
Me Toproping
Jones made her way to the Crucible on friday evening, and with a dry forecast for the weekend we went for a wee foray into the Glen on Saturday morning. We had planned to do the long mild VS called Autobahnausfart on High Crag, but Jones struggled with the damp first pitch so we headed over to Styx Buttress and she kindly belayed me on the classic Damnation (VS 4c***). As the guidebook says, it looks improbable for the grade, but it's all there with great gear, so get on it!
That night we decided to go for a spot of bothying, so armed with sleeping gear, instant noodles and wine, we made the short walk in to Glen Pean bothy. Despite being only a few miles from the road-head at Loch Arkaig this area feels pretty remote. Cooking up Morrisons Chow Mein instant noodles as the sun set was a real treat, eating them was less so, and the less said about the £4.99 Chardonnay-Viognier the better.
Glen Pean Bothy (Photo: Sarah Jones)

Bank-holiday monday provided Jones with another day in the Fort, and we headed down the Glen again, under hot blue skies. Blair and his lass Jenny Munro were getting involved with Pinnacle Ridge (Severe) while we headed up to Pandora's Buttress and climbed Flying Dutchman (Severe) with the excellent, if a tad short, VS 4c finish. Despite her grumblings about the vegetated and damp first pitch, Jones made light work of the exposed and unprotected traverse on pitch two and the tricky 4c finishing pitch. Proof that it's all in the head....mostly.

After a period of paddling and sunbathing on the banks of Nevis, Jones offered her belaying duties once more and I climbed Tip Toe Direct (E1 5b*) on the foot of Pinnacle Ridge. Although the E1 bit is only the top 7 or so metres, this was a fun route, combining a heady gearless slab (only Hard Severe? Blimey!) with some bomber cams for the crux overlap. It felt pretty easy too. Am I getting better or is it overgraded?

Me on Tip Toe Direct
(Photo: Sarah Jones)

So, after a 3.30am start to look for grouse this morning I teamed up with Blair at mid-day. The plan was for him to have a rest day while I climbed Plague of Blazes (E2 5b***) on Gorge Crag, but the top wall was wet so we headed for Travellin' Man (E2 5b, 5c***) instead. Gulp. Blair lead the short introductory pitch (no push-over itself) and I got ready for the crux pitch. It takes a slabby groove system on the arete of the crag, with spaced but good gear, as I soon discovered. With the sun beating down and the sweat beginning to drip, I gingerly started the crux section about 8 or 9 metres up, stepping left, transferring from one groove to another. As I smeared with my left foot and tried so hard to bring my weight over it, stabbing with my right, I was well aware that my last runner was a good few metres below, and that my fingers were greasing from the rock, unable to chalk up. "Fuck" I thought, "This isn't going to be pretty". Trying to breathe, my full body shaking as adrenaline surged, minutes, hours, days passed. "FUCK, I'M OFF" I yelled, as a let go. Darkness and blurred motion flashed and I found myself hanging upside-down, a few feet below and right of Blair on the belay, one rockshoe on, one off. Somehow unscathed, and laughing. My first ever trad fall, and a 25 footer too.
Blair on the belay of Travellin' ManMe on pitch 2. I fell from above where the crack containing the runners ends
Me off pitch 2, note the missing shoe!
Despite being annoyed with myself for falling off, I'm pretty chuffed to have finally taken the lob that has been inevitable for a while now. I think it's a natural part of becoming a better climber, so I refuse to feel negative about it.

After lowering-off and abbing to clean the gear, we decided to do something less serious, so made a bee-line for the Lower Falls to make 'the jump'. From the ledges upstream of the road bridge it's a 20-25ft jump into the pool. I had never done any river jumps like this, and despite trying to be the big man and trying to slay some demons from Travellin' Man I bottled the jump twice, before Blair showed the way and I rapidly followed suit, three times. We attracted a bit of an audience on the bridge, but it was great to hear the tourists enthusing about the natural beauty of the area and we were only too happy to extoll the virtues of living round here. Mind you on a day like today, just take a stroll down the Glen, look up towards Ben Nevis or across to Sgurr Mhaim, to Steall Falls or Polldubh crags, and that's all the extolling you could ever need.

Here is a rather rough video study on the effect of gravity on the body:

1 comment:

Stevious said...

You lost a shoe?!!?

Good effort.