Monday, 8 September 2008

Boys in the Glen... (pt 1)

Sunday 7th September 2008:

I was up before the sun on Saturday morning to get my kit ready for a weekend climbing and camping in the Cairngorms with Neil and Ellis. All my gear was packed, my plan for the weekend was formulated, and the weather looked great, so i was stoked to be getting out with two good mates for what might be the last mountain route of the year.

Making our way up the A9, the clouds were doing their best to hide the sun rising in the East, and upon reaching Glenmore, the thickening clouds started to unleash their load. Not a good start! Once at the ski carpark, we looked at the weather forecast to check for any changes, but it was still there in black and white: A good weekend ahead. Trouble was, the weather wasn't playing ball!

We headed off to Aviemore to get breakfast and give the clouds and rain a chance to clear, with our destination being the Mountain man cafe (very appropriate name!). I nipped out to Tesco to get some cash for the weekend, only for the bloody machine to swallow my card as it crashed spectacularly in error (Do ATM's run windows?). Looking back, i can now see the pattern of unfortunate turns, that did not bode well for a good weekend.

Ellis was good enough to shout me breakfast, and from our perch at the upstairs window of the cafe, we could see the clouds dropping and getting thicker. Not good! To commisserate our misfortune, we went downstairs to the gear shop and ogled at all the shiny climbing and camping gear. Ellis spotted Classic Rock, so we had a good dig through that, all pointing out classic climbs in our 'to do' list. So far, I am one climb down, 49 to go!

On reccomendation of the store manager, we decided to head out West in search of better weather, but still uncertain exactly where on the West coast to go. Neil was up for Reiff (another 2.5hrs away!), Ellis was keen for Glen Nevis, and I fancied Glen Coe, so it was decided to head to Fort William and see what the weather was like. At leas that way, we left our options open.

Lochaber was in great condition, with virtually no clouds in the sky, so we headed into Glen Nevis (Virgin territory for Ellis and me alike!). Neil showed up the start of the tourist track (which we both promised to avoid for our first ascent of the Ben), and then onwards to the Polldubh crags on the side of Carn Dearg. The guidebook pictures do the Glen a diservice, with buttresses littering the glen, and outcrops popping up all over the place. There was so much rock to look at, it was quite easy to lose your way in the trees. Despite this, Ellis found a lovely buttress in the centre of the South slope called Cavalry Crack Buttress, providing interesting multipitch climbing.

Arriving at the bottom, we were met by a greeting committee of bearded elderly climbers and the infamous Glen Nevis Midge. Much Skin So Soft was sprayed, but these buggers seem to be immune, and annoyed us until we got higher up the buttress. Ellis had a quick look at the guide book and decided upon a climb called Vampire (named after the midges?) graded HS. He lead on up a slabby arete, to a horizontal break and moved high above his last peice of gearm, across a desperately thin section of slab up to the Scots Pine tree that was the first belay stance.
Ellis about embark upon the crux slab on Vampire (pitch one), Hard Severe.

Me and Neil were getting eaten alive at this time, so i urged Neil to get a wriggle on, and he moved up to the final slab, where he nearly swore in frustration at the lack of anything substantial to climb on. Despite this, he made it up to Ellis and the belay ledge.

Neil, happy belaying Ellis, before he had to tackle the hard route.

I was desperate to get a move on (it was already 2 o'clock and i was getting eaten alive), so moved up the arete quickly, taking out Ellis's gear before reaching the final slab section. From the ground it looks easy, but once up close and personal, it was like a mirror, with minute imperfections for feet to smear on, and hairline diagonal cracks for hands (purely for stability). I looked around thinking there must be more than this, surely. It was only a Hard Severe after all!
I settled myself and committed to the move, thanking my shoes and the dry slab for not parting ways, before i reached the safety of a 'thank god' hold at the top.

My climb next, so we rearranged the belay and sorted gear whilst i located the direction of the next pitch. Up through a steep corner slab, with a rather large dose of exposure, then a diagonal traverse along fault lines and steps (this time with lots of exposure) and up to the final move up and through a diagonal off width chimney.

Me at the top of the initial tricky slab corner on pitch 2

It was only when i reached this final move, that i discovered how popular the route actually was, with the important final hold being polished like an ancient river worn pebble!!! All sense of climbing grace went out of the window, and i squirmed and slithered through the slot to the belay. Wow! what a great pitch, with an amazing view across the glen in to the heart of the Mamores.

2nd pitch of Vampire, looks blank, but adequate hold all the way up with significant exposure!

Neil came up next and enjoyed the pitch, with the combination of exposure and better holds appealing to him more than the first pitch. Ellis came up straight away, and was most impressed with the view.

The view from the 2nd belay

I rearranged the belay and Ellis lead on up the next pitch consisting of a section of easy and enjoyable slab climbing, before another hard section of delicate slab. Neil zoomed up and i followed up to the top, where we all soaked in the views and were impressed with the grand scale of things in the Glen.

Ellis heading up the 3rd pitch to the tricky finish slab

Glen Nevis in all it's Beauty

A quick walk down to the base of the buttress and were ready to go get food, but i enjoyed the climbing that much that i wanted one more lead. Right in front of us was a route called Heatwave (Mild Severe) that followed a natural and appealing line up a corner slab, with lovely steps all the way up to the first belay. I started up it and got through the inital highly polished section (seems most popular lines have polished starts here) and made fairly quick progress up the route, setting up the belay and bringing Neil up.

As i started to belay him, i noticed a body moving up the climb free of a rope. A bloody weegie climber had jumped infront of Neil and was soloing the route whilst Neil was at bottom. Not only was this anti-social but put both Neil and I at risk should he slip. Selfish bastard i thought as he approached my belay, where out of conscience i had to lower the rope for him to finish the route safely, meaning Neil was effectively of belay halfway up the climb!

He then proceeded to solo up the difficult corner slab right above me!!!! It was a hair rasing few minutes waiting for him to get upto the next belay and out of my way should he fall. Neil made it up easily, and we felt it was time to go, so we abbed off the nearby tree as the rest of Heatwave was a scrappy grassy gully.

On the way down Vampire, Ellis told us to look out for a nut that had been abandoned halfway up by a party after us. Apparently they got to the hard part and bottled it, leaving behind a nut and a cam. Unfortunately for us, the Idiot soloist had soloed up to the same point not long after them and hit the same hard patch, only to lose his nerve and down climb/slide down in an almost controlled fashion. Despite his apparent fear of falling, his tight wad Glaswegian nature would not let him leave a cam in the rock, and he lifted it on the way down. Bastard!

Anyway, i got the nut out, and we made our way back to the car, heading towards the wee inn at the foot of the Ben for some grub. It was heaving with people after the Race up the Ben, so we expected a long wait, but were pleasantly surprised by our food arriving 5 minutes after we ordered. Awesome service and great banter from the waitressess.

By this time it was getting late, and we still didn't know where were staying that night. A quick trip to Morrisons to use their conveniences, and to pick up last minute supplies (milk and water in Ellis's case, a bottle of single malt in Neil's). Fighting to beat dusk, we headed along Loch Linne and Ellis spotted an amazing promontory of land which looked excellent. It already had one tent up with two girls round a fire, so we bombed in, grabbed the tents and established base campi in ten minutes flat. Next thing was to get a fire going, so we made ourway along the shoreline looking for timber in the dark. Never a good idea after a few pints!

Not much later and we were surrounding a small but warm bonfire, finishing off the box of Tennents that Ellis had brought. Didn't last very long, so Neil got the whisky out. Mistake! We each had two small(ish) nips, and Neil noticed half the bottle had already gone. It was time to cut our losses and we got our bags out to sleep in the open. Neil's experience kicked in, so he crashed into his tent, leaving me and Ellis to sleep in the open air. After a few hours, Ellis had to answer a call of nature, and with the whisky having worn off, he saw sense and dive into my tent. I however, was hard as nails and slept in my bivvy bag, only to wake to a pounding headache around 7 am.

After pretending to myself i could fall back asleep, Ellis made it up and then Neil. Thankgod we didn't have mirrors, our faces would have no doubt broken them. Poor Neil was still recovering from the cold/flu, so he took the brunt of it, feeling like death warmed up. Me and Ellis just had pounding headaches, which we attributed to the day in the sun, lack of water, and copious beer intake. lesson learnt.

Mere mortals would have given in, but we were determined to get the best out of Sunday which was scheduled to be even better weather, but that story is for part 2. Stay tuned....


Ellis informs me that he is now an Extreme climber. Turns out that he lead the Variation route of the first pitch of Vampire, graded at...


Bloody Nutter!!!

Welldone Ellis

No comments: