Finally, some good weather!
I’ve been out in the mountains a couple of times since my last post, but I’ve had my head set on bigger projects this season that are going to take me a bit longer than usual, so unfortunately I’ve not really had anything worth writing about. Also with the weather being very bad since the New Year, I’ve mostly been putting in multiple hours of training on my board, trying to make gains and stay fit in preparation for when the conditions eventually get better!
But yesterday it all came together and all the waiting and training seemed to have paid off!
With projects put on hold for the moment, I picked Guy up from Inverness on Sunday evening and we continued north. With all the snow on the ground and the very low freezing levels, our psyche levels were through the roof and we were eager to see what the mystical Scottish hills were going to throw at us the following day.
I had no real idea of where we were going, Guy had told me where it was but I didn’t know the area very well, but he sealed the deal with the words “It’s a big unclimbed wall with a huge roof at the bottom”, what more could I ask for!
We set off yesterday morning in the dark and as the sun was starting to shed it’s first light on the surrounding hills, we had nearly arrived at our intended gear stashing spot. It was hard to drag ourselves away from taking photos and actually gear up, as the colour of the sky and the view were completely out of this world! We eventually got ready and trotted down the steep turfy slope to the base of the big and very intimidating buttress that we intended to climb.
We were on Cul Mor, and Guy was pointing us towards a very cool looking wall in Coire Gorm. On our way over to the base of the wall, it was very obvious which line I thought we should focus our attention on. The whole lower third of the face was masked in a wave of hanging icicles and smooth fat columns, then came the roof, which stretched the length of the buttress and my arms started to ache just thinking about trying to get over it!
Our intended line was going to cross the roof not at its smallest point, but at the point where we could reach an immaculate looking hanging turfy corner in the upper wall above. There was an obvious line of hanging icicles and smears, so we decided to try our luck there!
Guy took the first pitch, which was entirely on thick ice and massive frozen turf blobs, which was made more interesting by the fact that we didn’t take any screws with us, to reach a belay below the start of the very steep ground and got nestled in for the long haul. After I had seconded up the first pitch and tried to suppress the nervous butterfly party that was raving on in my stomach, we decided that I might as well have a look, but neither of us were overly convinced that the crazy steep next pitch would even be climbable let alone have any worth while gear on it, however, one can but try. So I did.
After climbing up the initial hanging ice column I was starting to feel a little more in the zone for hard climbing, but I was yet to find any gear. I eventually got two upside-down turf hooks in an icy crack and told myself that if they happened to cam themselves if I fell off, then they might stop me, or at least they’d slow me down.
The ground above me was made up of what looked like big, overlapping semi-detached blocks that I was definitely going to have to yard on to get myself through the steepness. The only gear placements above me looked to be in the back of these blocks, and there was no way I was committing to this type of climbing with my back up gear being two crappy upside-down hooks! But after some up and down climbing and not finding anything, I decided to get a higher runner that might cam one of the blocks to the wall rather than rip it off, if I was to fall. I then retreated down a bit and gathered myself. Back up again and I managed to sling a very small spike on the same block, I then pulled up to see if I could see a way to go over the roof, but as I leaned back and craned my head to look over, a huge plume of spindrift hit me in the face. I heard Guy uncontrollably giggle from below. It was an outstanding day on a huge cliff and the only damn spindrift anywhere decided to come down right on my face at the exact time I was totally pumped and happened to look over the roof, to be fair it was pretty funny!
I frantically retreated back to the semi-rest point and tried to gather my thoughts. I just wanted it to be over, the climbing was tiring me out a lot with every attempt to find gear and through my spindrifty shower, I couldn’t see any way to breach the roof and gain the wall above. Ahhhh the joys of head games!
I opted for one last look as I new I wasn’t going to have many more down-climbing goes left in my arms. I reached my high point and frantically stuffed in a cam, I gave it a tug and it popped out, so I turned it around and the smaller lugs bit a little better on a small flake, I was too pumped to give it another check so I pulled up on a tiny Ice smear over the roof. By now I was well up above the belay and with very little, and all of which being marginal, gear stopping me from zooming past the belay and onto the huge ledge below. Despite this, once I was fully committed and beyond the point of no return, the big fall and dodgy gear left my thoughts completely, I was well and truly focused on the climbing at hand, that was the only way I’d prevent myself from testing Guy’s first aid skills!
I got a little flustered when I couldn’t see a way above the roof and my only axe placement in the thin smear started to slip, but I was committed now, so I had to force myself to calm down, I looked around, took some deep breaths and opted for some very powerful and dynamic moves to get myself out of that situation. Unfortunately all it did was take me further away from my so-called gear and into some of the boldest and most technically difficult moves on marginal placements that I’ve done. All I remember saying to myself was “Breath, just breath”!
I rocked up over the lip of the roof on the tiniest of footholds, praying that it didn’t blow off, and eventually found myself in a semi rest but very off balance position. I struggled to hammer in and clip a turf hook, which surprisingly felt like I’d just clipped a bolt, as long as I didn’t rip the turf off the wall, the hook felt bomber. It’s always funny when you think back, a blob of probably very badly rooted turf to a rock face is your best runner on one of the hardest routes you’ve done, oh the joys of the magical Scottish mountains.
After composing myself again, I slowly teetered upwards and finally felt the addictive rush of joy you get when you know you’ve basically just gone all or nothing and managed to scrape through by the skin of your teeth!
Once at the belay, I eventually managed to get a rope to Guy so that he didn’t need to climb the pitch with the added weight of the rucksack, and once I’d pulled it up, he got stuck into seconding what was, despite the seriousness of it, one of the most enjoyable hard pitches I’ve climbed in winter in Scotland!
The upper pitches of the route were also worthy of four star status and Guy made a good comment; they felt like a reward for all the effort we’d put in to get passed the crux pitch. They weren’t super hard, but more than hard enough to keep things interesting and outrageously fun.
After the harder climbing was over it was a hundred or so meters of easy soloing to the top and eventually the summit before heading back to our bags and on to the van.
It was an awesome day and I had fun climbing in a new area, and to make it even better I managed to onsight one of the hardest pitches I’ve done in Scotland and climb a new four star route with what might be one of the best views I’ve ever seen! (We named the route in relation to the view from the crag)
The weather looks like its staying good this week, so hopefully there’ll be more of this to come!
The Greatest Show On Earth ****
Grade – X/10
FA, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell (onsight)