A few weeks ago, while sitting on the belay ledge below the top pitch of “Omerta”, I witnessed Andy Turner top out on the 2nd ascent of “The Hurting”. This route had been in my thoughts for a while, but the bold start had made me hesitant. However, seeing Andy top out was so inspirational that the psyche was building to a sufficient level to give me the final push. So I decided to give it a try.
Last Saturday, with a good weather forecast and a willing belayer, Ken Lacey, I headed into Coire an t’Sneachda and up to the base of the big imposing wall. On the way into the coire I was hesitant and nervous, not for the upcoming climbing but worried whether or not, due to the recent thaw, that I would find the route in condition. Thankfully when the wall came into view, I could see that the route was in good nic, with neve on all the ledges and a good dusting of the white stuff….. It was game on!
|Trying to warm up my hands on my first attempt.
Photo Credited to EcosseImages
After a long drawn out battle of mind and stamina I had finally figured out how to reach the mid way ledge under the roof and started to make the thin moves high above my last runner. Unfortunately the ledge was sloping and I couldn’t seem to figure out how to get any higher, the fear soon set in as the prospect of falling from this place was not high on my list of things to do. My last runner was good, but it would not have stopped me from bouncing off the lower ledge on my way down. Thankfully, using some very thin ice hooks and some dodgy smears for my feet, I managed to get under the roof and find some well needed good gear placements …..Ahhhh……And Relax!
Even though I now had ok runners, my mind was still running wild with the prospect of the steep overhanging crack that loomed ahead. Not wanting to get cold, I gathered my psyche and swiftly set off up the head wall above. This was very short lived, as when I pulled over the lip of the roof on a thin hook, I got my feet high, but then my axe ripped and I ejected myself backwards into the air. My next words should not be repeated before the watershed!
Thankfully Ken offered to rapp off and retrieve my gear. I was very grateful of this, as I really wanted to get this route ground up. On the walk out I had decided in my mind that the route was too scary to try again anytime soon. I then made the slow drive home with the moment of the axe ripping, playing over and over in my mind.
The next day I checked the weather, and saw that on Tuesday the sun would be shining and there would be very little wind. All my previous thoughts about not getting back on the route went straight out the window and I swiftly made plans to return for day two on “The Hurting”.
|Eying up the ledge under the roof on my first attempt
Photo Credited to EcosseImages
I had arranged to climb with someone who I had not met before but he sounded cool and I’m always psyched to meet new climbers. When I met Erik in the Cairngorm car park, it was obvious that he was psyched and keen, but the weather forecast was very wrong and the 80mph winds and snow did not fill me with confidence for the upcoming days climbing.
Starting up the route, I soon realised that all the useful neve and ice had now gone from the ledges and the starting moves felt even harder and scarier than two days before. Now having to rely on very small rounded edges and smeary feet, which was made all the worse by the strong wind gusts buffeting my feet from the tiny placements and on one occasion left me hanging from only one tiny pick placement with no gear between me and the ground. I soon regretted getting back on the route in that weather, but it was too late to retreat. I pushed on and eventually found myself at my previous high point, but this time I got my pick seated a little better and managed to yard my way onto the headwall and into the hidden crack.
I soon regretted this, as I was now well above the gear below the roof and I couldn’t see my feet due to the roaring spindrift that was shredding my eyes and face. I fought as hard as I could to place a cam in the iced up crack while bracing myself against the strong gusts. I moved up the crack not knowing what my feet where on and reached into the blind seam above. As I reached up with my right axe, my left bicep was cramping from the cold, at this moment an almighty gust of wind hit me side on like a truck. Then the inevitable happened, gravity took over and I was falling through the air. Down again……….
|Looking for the thin hooks in the windy blizzard
Photo Credited to James Dunn
Erik swiftly offered to retrieve my gear and I gratefully accepted. He did this, then we high-tailed it out of there, back to the car.
Now knowing that I was in with a chance of the prize, I was very eager and psyched to get back on the route as quick as possible. I checked the weather and it looked like Friday was going to be the best day (if the weather was correct). So I rang round some mates and arranged for my very good friend James Dunn to give me a belay.
So yesterday I made the journey from Fife to the Cairngorms for the third time, hoping to get the route done. As we approached the bottom of the ski road hill, the trees were swaying furiously back and forth. My stomach sank, it was clear that the forecast was wrong again and the mountain was a mass of spindrift and wind as we arrived in the upper car park. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to get back on the route and fail again because the spindrift was freezing up my eyes!