Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Flat Lemonade

Sundays objective: Eagle Ridge on Lochnagar (in warmer times)

A rap on my window wakes me on Sunday morning. My watch says its just gone six. A light glares into my bleary eyes and I open the car door, letting in a blast of icy air. It's Sam. He's had enough sleep luxuriously sprawled in the back of his big Volvo and has itchy fingers to get up the hill. Squished into the back of my Skoda I don't feel quite as refreshed, but hey-ho, mustn't grumble. Some hastily swigged flat lemonade and an eccles cake later and we're ready for the off and start the stomp into Lochnagar.

The low-friction path is testimony to the recent thaw and re-freeze, boding well for the climbing. As we get higher, finally reaching the col below Meikle Pap, we worry that the fickle conditions might have gone too far, with every protruding rock covered in a thin film of verglas. The mountain keeps us guessing all the way in, the majestic sweep of buttresses and gullies hidden in thick fog. We reach the traditional gearing-up spot of the first aid box and don our war paint and weapons. Last time I was here with Sam was 2006 and he had managed to freeze 'little Sam' on the walk in. He groaned, he swore and he stuffed gloves down his pants, and slowly he thawed himself out, much to the amusement of the rest of us. Now, three years on, I feel that it's my balls that are about to be exposed, and I fear they may not be big enough for the task.

We find the bottom of Eagle Ridge in the mirk of the cloud, the initial groove filled with useable consolidated snow. As soon as we see this we know it's on. No excuses. Man up. As is often the way with these things, the hardest part is deciding to go for it in the first place. Once you've made the choice half the battle is over. It's time to strap it on and get it done.

Sam about to squeeze into the Sentry Box at the top of the famous Tower pitch of Eagle Ridge, VI 6 ****

And so we did. Five hours and five pitches of tricky, exposed and thrilling climbing spat us out onto the plateau in a strengthening easterly. Relieved to have climbed my first VI 6, and for it to have been the uber-classic Eagle Ridge, I grin into the gale as Sam shakes my hand and we sort the gear. Wind thrown snow stings our cheeks as we stagger off into the swirling cloud. Back to the valley, back to warm dry clothes and soft trainers, back to my flat lemonade and eccles cakes.

The bleak monoculture moors of highland Aberdeenshire - aesthetic and ecological deserts.

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