Sunday, 11 May 2008

We Continue....

Glen Etive: our playground
The blue skies have remained and the Lochaber adventures continue apace.

After logging my airmiles on Tuesday I decided to have a rest day on Wednesday and belayed Blair on his Tunnel Wall project: Axiom (F8a). After a faultless toprope ascent on Monday afternoon he felt ready for the redpoint straight away and, naturally, got it first go. His first proper 8a, and instant membership to an elite club. There can't be too many Scottish climbers operating in this grade, least of all on Scottish crags. Nice going Mr Fyffe. To celebrate we drove down Glen Etive and hurled ourselves down a waterfall a few times. The dream lives on.....

Blair lost in a sea of rock: Axiom

Thursday provided a few butterflies in my tummy as we headed to Whale Rock in the Glen. I wanted to climb Earthstrip (E2 5c***), but after my recent E2 attempts, what would happen? Blair wanted to climb the Extreme Rock cover shot Just a Little Tease (E5 6b***), but as his first trad route of the season, how would he fare?

Well, let me put you out of your suspense. Earthstrip succombed to my advances with a touch of heavy breathing on the crux, otherwise it went really well. First E2 in the Glen, and on a cloudless blue sky day, I couldn't have asked for more. Blair employed proper trad tactics for Just a Little Tease, climbing up to place good gear, down climbing, resting, going up and placing a bit more, coming down, resting and then 'avin it. He took a couple of falls on the peculiar crux sideways dyno/fall so lowered off and then climbed the route 'ground up' (ie. he lowered off after a fall, then climbed it cleanly from the bottom on the next go). I've never seen anyone climb an E5, and was very impressed by Blair hanging on in there on the steep upper cracks to place gear. I know that I would have been off a long time before then! To save a complete faff I decided not to second it (obviously, not wanting to blow my flash). Blair cleaned the gear on abseil and in doing so noticed a bat slumbering away in the upper crack, just next to a cam! Good job he hadn't squished it or dislodged it on the lead, or he might have had a fright!

Me nearing the end of Earthstrip

Blair above the crux of Just a Little Tease, Ben Nevis beyond
Friday ended up being an 'admin day' (mountain guide slang for a day off) so I was stoked for some mountain rock on the weekend. I met Steev, Chris, his sister Rachel and her boyfriend Euan at the Clachaig on friday night, had some ales (man, I'm a light-weight these days) and readied ourselves for a day on Garbh Bheinn on Saturday.

After a pretty leisurely start Steev and I were making the long and sweaty stomp up to the South Wall of Great Ridge by about 10.00 and after a semi-epic approach up a wet gully got to the base of the crag by about 12.30. Note: If climbing on the South Wall, don't walk in from Coire an Iubhair, go up the 'short but brutal' Coire a' Chothrum, as you need to get to the bealach at the head of Garbh Coire to access the routes.
The upper tier of Garbh Bheinn's South Wall
Fortunately a steep, dry 100m gneiss wall was more than enough to sooth the aches from the inconvenient approach. The plan was to start on Butterknife (VS***), a three pitch route that takes both tiers of the wall, taking a steep corner system in it's first half. To look at, you wouldn't think that it was a lowly 4b, and I won't pretend that I wasn't a touch intimidated when I started up pitch 2. However, the gear and the jugs just kept coming and it was a real pleasure to climb. Being fairly steep, this crag gets the air beneath your feet pretty rapidly and with views East up Loch Leven to Glen Coe and West down Loch Lihnne to Lismore and the Atlantic beyond it felt like we were on top of the world. A very aesthetically pleasing aspect of the routes here is that they top-out on the summit of Garbh Bheinn. As we sorted the ropes and drank in the view, the hills of Moidart, Morar and Knoydart poked through a cloud inversion, adding to the high mountain feeling.

We had hoped to do Excalibur (HVS 5a,4c***) next, but time was pressing on so we decided that an easier route would be quicker. Rachel and Euan had to get back to Edinburgh that night so we didn't want to leave them waiting. We plumped for Sgian Dubh (Severe**) on the upper tier and weren't disappointed. Again, the steep, juggy rock and good gear provides thrilling situations for the grade, and as the afternoon gave way to early evening the clouds began to clear and the sun beat down on our exposed skin. Bloody marvellous.

Steev enjoying pitch 2 of Sgian Dubh
Meanwhile, Chris was leading Rachel and Euan up Great Ridge (Diff*), and reported an awesome day out, so I'll have to get back with Jones. After the leisurely start, long approach, long route and regular three-person faffage they were quite late off the hill and we missed the last Corran Ferry - a long drive back to the Fort for us! Could have done Excalibur after all!

Sunday's forecast wasn't so promising so we decided that valley cragging would provide more flexibility than mountain routes and after brunch (ooh er, missus) drove down the Glen. Chris got straight on Maisie Gunn... on the Heather Hat and got it with minimal fuss, his first V4 boulder problem and a fitting birthday present. Things didn't remain so positive for the lad though. We got on Storm (HVS ****), Steev on pitch 1, Chris on pitch 2, me on pitch 3. However, half-way up the beautiful crack of pitch 2 Chris decided that this trad-climbing malarkey wasn't for him, so he came back to the belay. After pulling the ropes and lowering him off it started to rain, so I tied in to retrieve the gear, but it soon dried up and I continued up to the belay, an amazing hanging stance from a huge Scots Pine. Only after bringing Steev up, swapping the ropes and getting into the groove of pitch 3 did I notice that it was wet. Bummer. Not really wanting to commit to the wet crux we ended up backing off from the tree. Arse.

The view down pitch 2 of Storm

Back on terra firma Chris expressed a wish to do Kraut, an E1 5b on After Crag that bears an uncanny resemblance to the pitch he had just backed off, only, it's harder. Hmmm. Odd choice. Oh well. We packed up and headed to the route, but low and behold, he didn't fancy it! (Sorry Chris, but maybe getting lots of mileage leading easier routes is required before jumping straight in at the deep end! As Steev said, you're a bold man on the ground.) It's a line I had fancied, so I got busy in his stead. The guidebook description is bang on, strenuous, well protected and on good holds - the kind of climbing I'm not very good at! Shaking away placing a cam near the top, I remembered Blair's down-climbing and slithered into a rest position in a lower niche. After a good shake out and a spot of relaxation I was good to go and hauled my way to the top. Not the finest style, but a clean onsight none the less, and that's what I'm after. As the other two seconded the pitch the rain began again, and we all dicided it was time to call it a day.

The two E1s on After Crag illustrate two things very well. Firstly, the characteristic Polldubh slabby front face and steep left wall provide very different climbing styles. The former is much safer but more pumpy, the latter being more technical and insecure and generally bolder. For me, thin, technical slabs are much easier than steep, juggy walls. Rubberface (E1 5b**) goes up the front slab of After Crag and I waltzed up it a few months back, Kraut (E1 5b**) goes up the steep left wall and I found it pretty tough. It's all a matter of style, baby. Maybe I should spend more time on indoor walls.

So, with the good weather set to remain for a few more days, let's make sure this relentless climbing continues.


Chris Edwards said...

If I wanted to be told how to think, I'd read The Guardian!

Gaz Marshall said...

Just trying to help....