Fighting the Tiger!

Ok….since my return from the Ben at the weekend I’ve been chomping at the bit to get out in the hills again. I texted Will on Sunday to see if he was free for some crankage on Monday, but he said he had to work. So it was a mass text session to everyone who climbs in my phonebook to see if they where free and psyched to get out the following day.

Thankfully Guy Robertson got back to me saying that he and Pete MacPherson were planning on heading into Coire an Lochain to look at a new line that they’d spotted last week and were cool with me tagging along; so the plan was made. I headed up to the Cairngorm mountain car park late on Sunday night ready for an early-ish start yesterday morning.

We set off towards the coire under a fairly clear sky with little wind and 3 lots of winter psyche charged and ready to get a new route sent and put to bed! When we reached the bottom of the buttresses it was obvious that everything in the coire was in awesome, if not a bit buried, condition. So it was game on!

We headed off to the base of the classic route of the coire “The Vicar” where our intended line was going to start.

Guy set off up the first pitch which took a direct cracked wall straight up the deceptively steep face to the belay ledge of “The Vicar”. This was a 3 star pitch with every move better than the last. Although the hooks and gear where good, the pitch was pretty pumpy and definitely got the blood flowing.

Guy on Pitch one

Pete swiftly seconded the pitch, with me hot on his heels. We reached the fairly cramped but comfy belay ledge in good time and quickly sorted the ropes and gear so that Pete could get stuck into the very meaty looking second pitch.

Pete set off up the pitch with some very bold and hard looking moves straight off the belay. All I could think about as he was leading off was “I’m so glad I’m going to be seconding this pitch with a nice safe rope above my head”, but Pete showed his experience and pushed on to gain the thin and super technical slab that barred the way to the huge roof. He was out of view at this point behind the arête so Guy and I could not see him, but his comments of “WATCH ME” and “I’M HOOKING NOTHING HERE GUYS” told us all we needed to know!

But before too long Pete appeared bellow the gnarly looking roof where he tried to get some recovery and gear before he decided to give it his all; which is exactly what he did!

He charged up the overhanging flake/crack that was forming the left side of the roof and after some wild axe swings and impressive foot placement changes he was now well above his last piece of gear. One of his axes ripped from the crack but he just powered through with his other arm, unfortunately as he was swinging his free tool to get another placement, the other tool ripped and before I knew it the rope in my belay device was getting ripped tight and Pete was at the end of an impressive 11m fall straight onto the slab.

Pete on crux pitch

Guy and I were stunned, although he was still on the steep ground, he was so close to getting over the roof. Pete said he was ok, shook it off and jumped straight back into action for round two with the beast. He gained the roof above the gear again but this time, and understandably, his head was a bit spangled after the big fall and the pump was still raging through arms after his previous fight with the crux. This was fair enough because if I’d taken that fall, I don’t think I would have even had it in me to attempt to give it a second go let alone climb passed the gear for a second time.

So the decision was made. After an awesome effort from Pete, he lowered back to the belay, pulled the ropes and I tied into the sharp end to go for another round with the intimidating line. All my lovely thoughts of having a nice safe top-rope up the bold and hard looking pitch were soon blown away, and I found myself shivering with anticipation before stepping off the belay ledge straight into the jaws of the Tiger!

I also found the first moves super bold and thin and was thankful to get my feet on the slopey foot ledge below the typical Cairngorm granite slab. I moved up the slab and realised why Pete had made the comments he had. There were sections were I was literally hooking less than half a centimetre of granite/dirt and the gear was defiantly not worth falling on at this point.

I persevered and found myself situated under the roof in the position where Pete had tried to recover. All I did was get more pumped!

At this point all I could think about was the fall that I had just witnessed. I looked up to see if I would be able to get some higher gear before committing to the steep moves. I climbed up and tried to place a small nut, but now that I was on the steep ground my energy was starting to drain and every time I placed the nut it would just rip out. By now I was super pumped, so I clipped the nut and shoved in back in, gave it a very light tug and told myself it was bomber (it was totally useless, as it fell out once I was above it).

Me Starting up the crux pitch

I tried to get psyched but as I peered over at the roof I couldn’t see any way of progressing if I was to commit through the crux. There was an obvious good foot ledge on the lip of the roof which was the start of a second bold looking steeper slab, but above that was a huge overhanging totally featureless wall. This is the downside to trying new routes, you never know if the line is climbable or even if there will be any gear to lower off if you can’t find a way to proceed! But that’s why we do it, for the ADVENTURE!

I fought the demons in my head and decided to man up and give it a shot. I looked down and thought I really didn’t want to hit that slab from any higher than where Pete had got. I gave out the obligatory psyche shout and got stuck in. I made some big steep locks and swung to try and get my axes to stick, my left tool kept ripping but as my arms where losing power my pick caught on something miniscule inside the crack, not wanting to try again in case it ripped, I matched the tool and swung my right foot onto the ledge that was at shoulder height. At this point I was above Pete’s high point and knew that a fall would probably result in a helicopter ride! I scraped with my left frontpoint and got it to stick on something out of view, I shouted “WATCH ME” and the calls of encouragement were a blur behind the thumping fear and desperation in my head.

Somehow, a second later, I found myself standing on the tiny rounded foot ledge, and the feeling of success was flooding through me. After regaining my breathing I focussed all me attention on finding some much needed protection. As I was now what felt like miles above the piece that was situated on the slab under the roof.

I looked around and the first thought that came into my head was “what a stupid idea that was”. I was now stood dangerously far from my last useful runner and there were no hooks, gear or an obvious way of progression to be seen. I scraped at what looked like cracks under the snow on the slab, but these turned out to be the usual Cairngorm useless fooking seams!

I eventually found a collection of hideous looking protection and forced myself to continue to what looked like a good gear placement on the far right of the slab and what appeared to be the only way to gain the easier ground higher up the buttress. I balanced my way across the terrifyingly technical and tenuous slab, where at points I had no hooks and both feet were on tiny rounded smears on the boldest section. It felt like the Hurting all over again, but unlike when I climbed the Hurting, we did not know if this line/route was even climbable, as no one had ever been on it (the joys of ground up/onsighting).

After some shouts from Guy and Pete to see how I was doing, I replied with “I’m nearly at the easier ground” and then with one long span I reached the good gear and much better hooks that I had set my focus on for the time I had spent on the scary slab. After a couple of techy moves, this time with bomber gear, I reached the much easier ground and charged up the last 10m to the belay.

After bringing Guy and Pete up the pitch, I was pleased to see the big beaming smiles on their faces. Even though we were all tired, drained and the route had made us give it our all, there was still a huge amount of enjoyment in the climbing and I personally was super pleased to get up the route clean.

And yet again the Northern Coires deliver another amazing line. From what I’ve done in Lochain and having climbed most of the hard routes at this venue including the highest graded lines, this was by far the most serious and the hardest line I had done there! Guy commented that the route was comparable to “Crazy Sorrow” which is a grade IX/10 in Lochnagar that he did last season. So it was a good addition to this awesome and super accessible venue. Hopefully there will be many more!

We called the route “Siberian Tiger” *** and gave it the hard grade of IX/10.

Check out Guys blog for his take on the days events

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