Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Keeping Up Appearances

Jones on Pitch 1 of The Gutter, Polldubh

Back to holiday mode in the Fort. I’ve managed to wangle myself another short RSPB contract starting next week, so Jones and I are being lay-abouts in the Crucible in the interim.

I’ve been trying hard to get out and about on the rock, but it’s been proving tricky to juggle contracts ending, moving back to the Fort, the weather, the midge, and maximizing time with Jones before she ships off to Madagascar in a month, so it’s been a case of snatching opportunities as they’ve emerged. Even so, I’ve kept up some mileage.
I suffered from a spree of Munro bagging last week, after a run up Stob Ban in the Mamores Jones and I did the Ring of Steall a few days later. Five Munros in three days. Check it.

Then, on Wednesday I dabbled in an aspect of climbing that’s entirely new to me: head-pointing. Upper Scimitar Buttress in Glen Nevis is a steep 10m slab with an E6 6a, an E5 6a and an E4 6a, and not one of them musters a single runner. Sweet Little Mystery is the E4, taking a line on the left of the wall. Since it has no gear I thought that even if the climbing was OK it would be pretty committing, so some head-games would remain. A likely option for rehearsing the moves and seeing what happens.
Jones gives some scale to Upper Scimitar Buttress.
I climbed straight above Jones, to the left of the dirty streak in the middle of the slab.

With Jones swaddled in midge nets, Skin So Soft and Deet, I top-roped the line a few times, worked on some of the moves and cleaned some mossy holds (ecologist, moi?). After the initial surprise of finding the climbing do-able (maybe it’s not E4? Maybe I was on the wrong bit of rock?), I pulled the rope and waited for a lull in midge activity. Before long the midges settled down and I was faced with the mental struggle. Was I ready?

From what I’ve read about this kind of thing, and my own limited experience of working boulder problems and the odd sport route, the time when you eventually succeed on something you’ve worked on feels great, the mind clears and the climbing takes over – it was the same this time too. The difference was that the price of a mistake was a large amount of pain, so as I sat at the top and took it all in, the adrenaline started to course, my hands started to tremble and my grin began to widened. So, E4? Obviously, I have no idea what an E4 feels like. All I know is that it would have been a very scarey onsight solo, and wasn’t even sure if I would go for it after the first top-rope. All the moves were within my limit, but would have felt much harder and more precarious without prior knowledge. What ever it was, I’m chuffed.
Jones' view of me on the solo of Sweet Little Mystery

Last Thursday was another day in the Glen. Chris and Katy were up from the Burgh/London and we met them at The Alp. Jones lead the great Gutter (Diff***) on Pine Wall, and I climbed Tear (Hard Severe**) and SW2 (HVS 5b** or E1 5c if you ask me….) on SW Buttress. A rare low-midge blue sky day and a real pleasure.

The next time I put chalky fingertip to rock was on Sunday. Jones and I were down in Edinburgh to chill with city-folk, drink expensive beer and laugh at the Fringe, but Steev and I managed to escape the bustle and head to North Berwick Law for a brief session. I had hopes of red-pointing Fogtown (F7a**), which I had tried before. This time I made the tactical error of spending all my energy cleanly top-roping the route, and never got the strength back for the red-point attempts. Bummer. Steev got involved in a fair few routes, including onsighting Anarchic Law (F6a+/6b), top banana.
Steev sending Anarchic Law

Back up in the Fort, Jones and I got out yesterday (Monday) and climbed the Heatwave/Vampire combination (Hard Severe 4b,_, 4b, 4a**) on Cavalry Crack Buttress in the Glen. This climbs the first two pitches of Heatwave and the last two of Vampire, making a much more logical line than the two on their own. It was a really windy day, so when we broke through the arboreal verdance above pitch 1 the midges were blasted away and we were left to enjoy the great climbing and amazing rock on our own terms. At last, a route completed on Cavalry Crack Buttress! Afterwards we headed across to Road Buttress and, inspired by Gary Latter’s new Scottish Rock guidebook, I got on The Web (E2 5c**), only to be repelled by the crux a few metres from the top. Despite having a nest of gear, I just couldn’t make a huge span round a bulge and it was sickening to see my chalky prints just centimeters from a good hold when I abseiled down to get my gear. Some you win, some you lose, and some are just graded by lanky bastards.

Jones seconding pitch 2, linking Heatwave into Vampire

Maybe next time…….

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