I first set eyes on Malcolm Smith's Arete on the Ship Boulder in Torridon on a muggy Sunday in July 2008. Blair, Jenny and I had been midged off a day of trad climbing on Seanna Mheallan and were kicking our heels in the glen, not wanting to call a premature end to the weekend and have to drive back home to start the working week. We ended up strolling round the Celtic Jumble, the chaos of boulders where Liathach falls into Loch Torridon, and straight away were drawn to the most aesthetic feature there: a curving arete forming the righthand prow of a rippled pink block, soaring above a perfect flat landing. It screamed out to be climbed.
Of course, those of you that have read this blog before will probably know that the seed that was sown on that day germinated into a giant's beanstalk that I've been trying to reach the top of for years. I'd love to be able to quantify the energy that I've expended on it - not just attempts on the actual problem, but every time I trained with it in mind, every time I talked about it, every time I tried to envisage success, even the times I dreamed about it. I strongly recall a time while a priest was saying prayers at a friend's wedding (they will remain nameless) when I escaped into my own spiritual reverie and tried to work out a new sequence for the crux. It didn't work.
In those first few years it was clearly an objective that was way beyond me, but for some reason I decided to keep trying. The first breakthrough came when I learnt how to use the sidepull crimp (Rich's advice to face Applecross is right), but then I couldn't reach the slopey shelf. Then we worked out a way to use a heel to lock you in rather than jump, and with two small intermediates I could just about bump to the shelf. Then came the long barren years of reaching the shelf and getting no further. THE MOVE: a throw to the sloping lip at the very apex at the top of the arete, feet popping off, pirouetting backwards. I recall reading a blog from Mina Leslie-Wujastyk in which she described failing on a move almost becoming part of the sequence. That definitely happened for me. For about three years Malc' Arete meant jumping, slapping, spinning and hitting the pads.
|The inevitable pirouette. (Photo: Rory Brown)|
I've always tried to keep going with good humour, but along the way there have been a few black days when I've seriously doubted myself and toys have been thrown around. Why was it so hard?Why was I so weak? What did I have to do to get up this bloody bit of rock? Why had I sacrificed so much time and energy on something that was so clearly beyond me? Who was I kidding? For a while I genuinely thought I'd never do it, that there was something about that move and the geometry of my body that meant it was fundamentally impossible.
However, something kept dragging me back. There are a load of reasons why it's such an enchanting line - the history of the legendary first ascentionist, the prime location in pole position in one of the most beautiful bouldering venues in the country, the holds, the landing, the height, but most of all for me, I think it's the visual appeal of the line. It's just a beautiful regular curve that stands out in a landscape of jagged edges. Added to this, the positivity and seemingly blind faith of the small band of Torridon devotees who kept telling me that one day it would happen. I couldn't let them down.
|Positivity from Anne and Nige|
I guess it would be fair to say that I've been pretty motivated for it this season and I've been trying to be serious with sessions on my board. I'm probably slightly stronger than before and now able to use a slightly higher foot that had been no help in the past, which meant I could push further with less likelihood of the foot cutting. Straight away it felt better and I got a flutter of hope that a new door was unlocking. I set a problem on my board to replicate the move and went from not being able to do it to doing it almost every time - each go learning a bit more about how I was positioning the rest of my body around the holds I was using.
After I wrote my last blog, I had a session in good conditions and had my best go yet - the last of the day as I held the lip for a millisecond, the foot cut and I spun off, missing my pads and landing ankle-deep in the bog.
Well, today it was the end of the road. This happened:
A huge, huge thanks for all that have helped me along the way, but in particular to Rich for the shared psyche (and the video), to Anne and Nige for the note they put on my windscreen when I was going through a dark patch, to Dan for his beta while I tried to onsight the top-out, and to Sarah for listening to my babbling about a little rock in a glen on the west coast for the last six years.