A Minor Epic for March

From ScottishClimbs

Jump to: navigation, search

Allan Wallace - 13/04/2005

OK, no-one crawled down a glacier with knees resembling a digestive biscuit walloped by a ten-pound hammer and in the end we weren't benighted. As epics go I suppose it was pretty minor and probably had less to do with what actually happened and more to do with what I was imagining could happen. It felt real enough when I was crapping myself on the holds gear and belays, in the dark, in the rain. Struggled like mad on the first pitch with that voice in my head a lot of us know, saying, "I'm scared, what the hell am I doing here, I wish I was somewhere else". Not as scared as the time I actually cried for my Mum on a route but a feeling like it: arse, hero, idiot, I'M ABOUT TO DIE oh my God!

There was a lot of effort to put in to get ourselves into this ridiculous position. A five-mile bike ride from the car to the bothy, with bivvy gear and multi-pitch climbing equipment, is a hard hour. Carry too much stuff and you have to do it twice, fifteen miles of "fun" (Wayne's a mountain biker/pervert, he actually enjoys this kind of thing!) before you're set up in your chosen hovel. Although Backhill O'Bush is a pretty comfy hovel, with two rooms, sleeping platforms, and wood burning stoves. A marshy struggle to the crag next day and it steadily started looking bigger than it looked, which makes more sense than it sounds. How many times do we set off to routes then become surprised when they're further away than they appear, and bigger, steeper and harder than we thought they'd be? But after a load of E no.'s (that's the Extreme grade, although the food additives might have been more useful) the previous year, an HVS didn't sound that hard. Oh Dear. Wayne was set up at the foot of The Colonel's Corner, belaying on what would be for him an abrupt introduction to the world of multi-pitch routes. The Dungeon of Buchan is in the Lowland Outcrops guidebook, but make no mistake, the Cooran Buttress is a remote mountain cliff. After a few bold steep slab moves the route became, yes, bolder and steeper than I thought it would be. The rock was superb, clean and rough but oh no, very little in the way of holds. Going over a small overhang on a thin layback became resting on the best bit of gear I had found so far. Sorry. Not quite ethical is it? Five moves further my arms were protesting and I was quickly becoming desperate. My new Spectra sling was a worrying quarter of the thickness of the ones I had been using for the last 20 years, but draped round a solid spike I was glad of the chance to rest on it. One for the Britney fans, (Oops I did it again). Bloody hell as if things aren't good enough (he, he) it's starting to rain.

We reckoned it wouldn't come to much/would burn off, but my desire for the climb definitely influenced that decision. I pulled and pushed on the good hold, pulled over gasping and climbed to easier ground. Made it to the belay yippee, a great wee seat on a great wee stance. 10 minutes later it was an uncomfortable seat on an uncomfortable stance. I didn't think it was the right belay but it was sound enough so bringing Wayne up I was happy? When he arrived his emotions were hard to decipher, did he realise he was gibbering? I was supposed to be competent, whoops; the belay looks like a Gordian knot. Twenty minutes of fiddling had Wayne on the great wee... The thought of Raymond squishing in beside us was too much so I moved on to a higher dodgier stance, worried about safety but glad of the comfort offered. It felt better but when Wayne came up to start belaying Raymond, I had too much time to look around and too much time to think about the consequences of failure. The views and the isolation were brilliant but when I asked Wayne how he felt and he told me he was totally freaked out, I wished I hadn't bothered. Was I enjoying this or not? I found a flake and stitched it into the belay, and after more jiggery-pokery and Raymond arriving, we were ready to go again. The forecast sunshine had said "Cheerio" by this point and the rain came and went, and came and went, and came...

Raymond led off and a bit later I looked up to the ledge above and saw nothing but his feet waving around. As he climbed I attempted to keep Wayne calm and talk him into believing he was having a good time. It was something to do with the views, the remoteness and the commitment to the task. BOLLOCKS! OK I've got that off my chest, who's having the good time? My turn again.

Two minutes later I realised why twenty minutes earlier all I could see were Raymond's waving feet. An easy groove had led to an allegedly easy ledge but I was rapidly going nowhere till I realised I had to use the basking seal technique perfected by our friend Wee Carol. Now we're rocking. Literally. Seesawing back and forth created enough wobbling in my gut to enable me to "ride the ripples" until I got not one, but two knees on the ledge! My head was up and I had another look around-WHY? It was gloaming and the wide horrible crack to the belay was dripping. I was in the right position so if I had any faith in a higher power I could have prayed. The belay gained, we brought Wayne up, realising "The only way is up" (Yazz this time).

I was to climb the last crack pitch. The guidebook said 30m but it was obviously shorter so I headed off confidently. Halfway up, confidence gone, the guidebook's obviously correct, aaaaaargh! It's getting dark, wet holds and jams, desperate lunges, getagrip. One-step forward, two steps back, if this wasn't granite I'd really have a problem, at a halfway crux the idea of climbing this on mica-schist made me shudder. My foot slipped and a poor jam was the only thing that stopped me coming off AAAAAAARGHG! - again. Raymond and Wayne asked what I was saying but I had no idea, a stream of consciousness was emanating from my lips. As it became darker wetter and harder I knew I had no option. We could all be in trouble, there was no easy escape off this route and the only way out was for me to climb this bloody crack. I dug deep and found my faith in a higher power, the power of fear.

The top of any desperate pitch is usually a time for rejoicing but in this case I wondered why God hates us so much. A hideous wet sloping mantle, again, WHY? A big Friend went in, but kinda dubious so when I pulled on it (ethics had long been defenestrated) I wrapped my hand around the top of it and assisted the camming affect as much as I could. It goes on.

There was a choice of two easy looking short grooves to the top but guess what? No holds. After trying the right hand one and giving up I moved onto the left hand groove. By the time I was moving up this I was totally desperate, using knees oh oh, elbows, arse and even fingers dug into soil behind clumps of grass. I was a big fat hairy human/worm hybrid slithering up the finishing groove. Fanfare of trumpets burst in.

The top! I saw a big flake. Draped a sling over it and told them to come up. After Raymond topped out, we knew that as a beginner Wayne would struggle on the pitch, so Wayne climbed and we hauled. Time to get moving, back to the bothy before it's pitch black. We were prepared with waterproofs and head torches and Raymond had brung up a rucksack. An almost empty rucksack. I'll moan at him later, at least he brought the walking boots, get them on and get off this hill. The compass was at the foot of the crag as well so we had to rely on our sense of (mis?)direction and after a bit of wandering we arrived at our gear. I was going to miss out the second marshy struggle of the day, back to the bothy, but mention has to be made of the point where Raymond went in thigh deep. We pondered his mental condition when he turned to us and stated with conviction that it was "quite refreshing".

So we made it back to the bothy in one piece. It might have been cheeky, maybe even foolhardy tackling a multi-pitch mountain route in March, when a lot of climbers in Scotland were still looking for winter climbs. But we pulled it off and in the end had an excellent early season adventure.

Personal tools