Monday, 14 September 2009

Light and Dark

Liathach and Ben Eighe from Sgurr a' Mhuilin, Strathconnon
In the same way that Aristotle said that "one swallow does not a Spring make", I'm sure that one high pressure system does not an Indian Summer make. Indian or not, however, this weekend's weather was good enough for me to throw off the oppressive shackles of race training and to go climbing in the sunshine. Yippee. Little did I know it but I was in for two very contrasting days.

Saturday dawned sunny and still as Alex and I hit the road north to Gairloch in search of a day's sport climbing on shiny bolts. Our destination was Grass Crag - a short wall of perfect vertical gneiss, sporting routes from F5 to F7a in a beautiful, friendly spot. In total we ticked 11 routes, included a 6c onsight (my P.B.) and a 7a redpoint, laughed, drank beer and revelled in the jeopardy-free experience that bolted rock affords. By the end of the day were so tired we both fell off a 6a+ before retiring to the wonderful Bridge Cottage Cafe in Poolewe.

Alex ready for another route at Grass Crag

Climb responsibly: wear a helmet.

When I woke up on Sunday and peeked through the curtains it was obvious that a different kind of day was in store. Low cloud shrouded the hills of Strathspey and a fine drizzle fell, saturating everything. I'd agreed to join Kev Shields to act as moral support/belay bunny on his quest to headpoint his first E7. Kev's inspiring story of climbing with only one hand has been written about by many so I won't dwell on the story, but suffice it to say that having moved to Fort William in the summer and climbing his first E5 and E6 in consecutive weeks, his lifeime goal of E7 isn't far away. He'd hoped to get on Firestone at Hell's Lum, but the weather had other ideas, so instead we headed up to Creag Ghlas in Strathconnon fo a look at another of Julian Lines' psycho-slabs, The Unknown Soldier. Paul Diffly from Hotaches Productions was with us too, filming Kev for an upcoming DVD.

Kev working The Unknown Soldier

It turned out that a combination of friction-sapping sunshine, a two-hand specific move on the crux and the trifling matter of a potential groundfall from 15 metres eventually put paid to Kev's attempts and we all walked back to the car in one peice. But, for a short time it was evident that Kev was building up to the lead, entering the dark headspace that dangerous climbing demands, and each slip or mistake on the top-rope seemed to be magnified into the bone snapping reality that it could spell. In the end, Kev realised that now wasn't the time to push the boat out, and sensibly came down unscathed.


I've got very little experience of this type of climbing, but I've done enough to know the feeling of inevitability, both horrible and thrilling, that Kev was going through. As soon as you get on the route and start to make progress you suddenly feel like you've entered into a pact, and you know that at some point, no-matter how distant, you have to climb it. The fact that it's a pact with yourself doesn't seem to matter, in fact, it seems to make it even more unbreakable, and the Damoclean sword just hangs over you until you end it, one way or another....

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