From ScottishClimbs

Jump to: navigation, search

Nick Bullock - 13/11/2003


Friday, the calm before the storm!

Steve Ashworth grabbed Woody from the shop and raced to Great Gable. The first winter ascent of 'Snickasnack' was for the taking. Given the summer grade of E3, it wasn't going to be easy! Ashworth was a man obsessed, driven to distraction, even attempting the line at night; head-torches attached to each boot. He failed, snapping an axe in the process, confirming the grade as hard! Hunter belayed on this mad cap adventure, shivering the night away, wrapped in duvet, wishing for success or battery failure! It was on Hunters insistence that I drop in, add a little competition, he didn't fancy anymore frozen, night time belaying duties! It obviously worked, Ashworth made the first winter ascent of 'Snickasnack' the day of my arrival, giving it the grade of VIII/9. The line had been inspected though meaning the on-sight was up for grabs!

Saturday, start as you mean to continue.

"Steady grade five until moving left into the finger crack at twenty feet". Hunter promised. Not warmed up, my first winter route of the year, it felt hard! A steep, wide crack-line, well protected and technical, not what the elbow surgeon had expected when signing me off. The instruction "be guided by pain Mr Bullock, if it hurts, don't do it!" Well it didn't hurt, so I was doing it!

Pulling along side the thin crack on the left I fixed good protection and got on with the job. Both axe picks slotted beautifully into the thin crack and by leaning to the right I could start laying back with a vengeance. It quickly came apparent; the secret to success would be good footwork and planning. This was not a climb to rush, and thug up. Hanging around too long, equally, would spell disaster. Focusing on five meter sections at a time, a methodical approach was taken, The full thirty meters of crack line, running through three overlaps, was pushed to the back of my mind. Gear placements spied, hunted, when a rare foothold occurred, the moves made, gear slotted, rest, hanging straight-armed.

Never had I experienced such technical climbing on a winter route. The first overlap passed by. The second overlap was more difficult. Mono-points were placed in the crack. Nothing else was available. Torqued axe placements, and torqued foot placements simultaneously! A couple of moves reaching over the second overlap were tenuous, my feet shot off, but with solid axe placements all I had to do was stay in control and replace the points for a second time, progress continued in the right direction.

Creeping higher, the distance to the niche reduced, where I knew salvation was waiting in the form of a belay stance. A wide, flared groove stood between success and failure. Quite suddenly the thought of failure appalled me! The route was for the taking, fame and fortune would be mine, (well, a mention in the mag's if I was lucky) but that open-book groove looked hard. Pulling into it looked desperate. Several blows at the back of the groove produced nothing. The rear of the groove had no crack to torque, only tufts of frozen moss gave any hope. Hooking a tuft with the point of my right pick, I carefully pulled to test the strength of the placement. It held enough to enable a mantelshelf onto the ledge, which made up the floor of the groove. Holding my breath, and pulling my body into a standing position was the crux, so out of balance and insecure for the first time, but once established, only a few careful moves remained. Safely fixed on, I quietly congratulated myself while Hunter River-danced his way up to join in the celebrations!

Sunday, day of rest, some say!

Dawn broke, turning a moon lit, star filled sky, into dirty grey, then blazing red. The sun rose above the fell, creeping high into the clear azure sky, to give the perfect, clear, crisp, winter day. The wind blew spindrift across the plateau furrowing trenches around the rocks and boulders. The scene reminded me of an Arctic landscape, only penguins were missing to finish the fantasy.

The classic of Gable was order of the day, Engineer's Slab, given the grade of VI/7 and well worth it! Once again, Hunter sandbagged me! " It'll be much better to run the first two pitches together, and belay at the base of the final groove." Ok, who's going to start then?" I say, not wanting to monopolise all of the leading, two days in a row. "You can," says Hunter, a little to quick for my liking! Forty meters later I pull in to the most uncomfortable, hanging belay stance ever, eyes on stalks, calves burning, thighs aching, and nerves jangling!

Superb sustained climbing the whole way. The start well protected and strenuous, followed by an awkward, off-width, which succumbed to unprotected body jamming. An unprotected, delicate, right traverse, with no hand holds, followed by the final assault, up a wide, unprotected, energy, sapping crack, (it was too wide for the minuscule amount of gear I had left) with the hardest move at the top! Shouting at Hunter calmed frayed nerves long enough to reach the stance. The pain and tight confines of my position stopped me from strangling him on his arrival. Dispatching the short crack line on the left wall, I followed him to the top, when the blood returned and the numbness left my legs. The walk back was completed without need of a head-torch. It's a pity I hadn't forgot it, as on the first day! Leaving the Lake's that evening, I continued north to Edinburgh to meet Michael Tweedley, my partner for the coming week.

Monday, an easy day in The Northern Cories!

Flogging thigh deep powder snow for two hours made our arrival beneath Bulgy anything but easy, but apart from two or three moves leaving Savage Slit, the first pitch of Bulgy was straightforward. The powder and hawe covering the rock was a tad disconcerting though! I sensed a battle of the Bulgy was about to commence. The following fifty meters covered steep and technical ground, two large roofs and an off-width crack! VII/7 in this condition wasn't going to be easy!

Floundered my way up the steep blocky corner, my suspicions were confirmed. Everything was hidden under ice. It was like climbing in the dark. Not one crack was visible. Moves were made without knowing what I was pulling on, moving too or where the next gear would be. Scraping, scratching, and brushing my way up, I reached the off-width below the first roof. I cleared three inches of ice from inside the crack and placed a Camelot 4, the largest cam I had brought.

Bridging the corner below the first roof I looked at the void dropping away, past Tweedley, to the snow slope. My helmet bumped into the overhang, as I tried to lift my head, I reversed! I wanted the camalot for the off-width higher up, but couldn't find any other gear to replace it. I moved up the second time and managed to make one move extra before down-climbing. I climbed up a third time, two extra moves, legs burnt, bridged wide across the corner. I hooked blindly around the overhang trying to find a good placement, to pull myself onto the left wall, escape from the clutches of the roof. There was nothing. I cleared cracks on the left wall for feet and possible gear; they were flared, useless. "This is mad, why am I trying this climb when it's obviously out of condition?" Back off, it makes sense. One move reversed, I look down and gauge the fall. It will be horrible. If the cam holds I will smash into a shelf and rattle down the corner. If it pulls I'm going the distance.

"BACK OFF," screamed the voice in my head, my heart wouldn't allow it though!

Two teeth of the left pick hooked on a tiny edge around the side of the overhang. Stretching, straddled wide across the corner, I placed the pick of the right axe on the same tiny edge. My feet cut loose. I barn door left, both axe picks swivel on the edge. Feet search out a crack in the wall, the void drops away dramatically. Carefully reaching high into the flared crack, I pray for a bomber hook, there is nothing. Eventually, I wedge the bulbous, plastic head of the axe into a constriction and gently weight it. The rough granite bites into the plastic and holds. I find a marginal placement higher for the left axe, between the two, I might just be able to hang around long enough to find some gear. Squeezing my body into the off-width, I set about my task. Placing a useless hex and cam, while constantly changing axe placements, trying to relieve tension from flagging-forearms. Straining, I constantly push into the off-width, it saps the remaining energy from my body. Eventually the time comes to move. A combination of squirming and thrutching take me slowly higher. The gear improves, and luckily, the climbing is not as difficult, or as scary. Reaching the end of the pitch, I promise myself a day off tomorrow!

Tuesday, the rest day, what rest day?

My legs were letting me know this was the fourth day of climbing, the weather-man was telling me of minus twelve and fine weather, my legs lost. Stob Corie Nan Lochan is a magnificent place to climb, the crag sheer and unforgiving. Snow slopes protect the base of the cliff dropping steeply to a large snow amphitheatre and frozen lochan. The cliff is home to some of the finest mixed climbs in Scotland. Crest Route is one of them, and at V/6, more amenable than its serious neighbours. Tweedley cruised the first pitch, and half of the second, so wrapped up in the beautiful, but safe, technicalities. The steep, third pitch, fell to me. After the previous days of mental and physical torture, it proved an absolute joy. Gorgeous torques up the steep pillar on the front of the buttress led to the airy position, near the top of the pillar. A short technical traverse left, with the whole of the Corie dropping away hundreds of feet below, found me standing on a large ledge, with wonderful gear placements to belay.Tweedley dispatched the easy final pitch and pulled in the ropes as I climbed to meet him on top of the crag. We ate chocolate and enthused about the climb. On the knee-wrecking return to the valley I wondered what tomorrow would bring, hopefully a rest day!

Wednesday, patience is a virtue

Central Grooves, just the name taunted me, teased! Years had passed since this compelling line had burrowed into my brain. Bad conditions, the wrong partner, no partner, crap weather all had delayed the inevitable confrontation. Would it live up to the hype? The fifth day of climbing, jaded? No chance! The first pitch was tenuous. The smallest of flat-top edges to pull on time and time again. The steep corner forced my body out of the tight confines it craved to crawl. Single crampon front points rested on even smaller edges. Control was essential, slow, careful climbing, the only way. Protection was spaced, barely enough. On the occasion it presented, it was generally a good, solid wire, enough to steady nerves and keep momentum.

The quality and difficulties never relinquish. Each pitch is different in nature. The second, more secure. A crack to follow in the left wall of the corner for the whole pitch. Hanging out of the corner from a perfect torque my eye is drawn to follow the steep corner all the way down to the snow dusted boulders, a hundred feet below. The third pitch has real attitude, a really difficult insecure move thirty feet above the belay causes a few worrying moments, before reaching steeper, but safer ground. Finally the broad ledge is reached. "Tomorrow will definitely be a rest day!"

Thursday, long live Thursday!

The rest day finally materialised, a day of sleeping, eating, drinking, more eating and more drinking, followed by sleeping!

Friday, but what happened to Thursday?

Tweedley led the whole of Scabbard Chimney. A three star V/6 on the Summit Buttress of Stob Corie nan Lochan. Still mellow after climbing Central Grooves, an un-climbed line on the buttress to the right of the gully finish to Scabbard Chimney was too good to miss. We named the climb Celtic Connection, a forty-five meter pitch of V/5 taking in some steep ground, finishing near the summit.

Saturday, again, but what happened to the week!

Grunting hello to the shadowy outlines in the car park, we rushed away first, I wasn't going to be beaten to the final climb of the trip! Losing the path immediately, forced us to hop across icy boulders in the river. This didn't improve my mood at all! The opposition had started, but fortunately, made the mistake of following us. "Come on Tweedley" I hissed, "they're catching up!" We bushwhacked the steep hill on the opposite side of the river aiming for the Lost Valley. The hill we now battled was covered in long tufts of marsh grass and heather, my thighs and lungs burnt. Sweat poured from my forehead catching in the deep furrows on my brow. I knew there was a good path somewhere. "You did this walk last week, where's the path Tweedley?" I spat venomously. He took the lead, but couldn't find it. The opposition out flanked us and sped ahead. I attempted to give in gracefully, then I remembered, I don't do that! A good impression of solders on an assault course got us over the deer fencing. A final bog hop and jungle bash spat us out onto the mother of all paths. Only a pair of idiots could have missed it, but I consoled myself with the fact that it was very dark!

The race was not lost yet! The opposition took the high path, every few minutes I saw their torchlight turn around, to gauge the distance between us. We raced along the lower path and closed the gap. We were nearly running across the massive, boulder strewn, plane. CLUNK, toes would trip against another rock. My imagination worked overtime. Tweedley attempted to pacify my hysteria, "they're probably doing another climb anyway, there can't be that many people wanting to climb the hardest route on the crag." I dispelled his naivete, knowing with the certainty of the obsessed we were racing for the same line. I sensed the opposition considered the race won. I made the decision to slow down, letting them reach our climb first. Hopefully, they would have the first pitch well on the way for our arrival.

Half an hour passed without looking up. When I did, I couldn't believe it, the lights of the opposition were way out to the left, totally in the wrong place. They had gone seriously adrift, and lost the path; they would never make the ground up! I fired up the steep hillside, driving down hard on ski poles; steam would be pouring from my ears if I were a cartoon character! Panic hit the crazed light beams across the crag. I watched in horror as the lights swung in my direction and started to speed over ice covered ground. Each team had 500 meters of ground to cover, ours was up hill but direct. Theirs, a traverse, no height gain, but across serious ground. We closed the distance, 300 meters, 200, 100, neck and neck. I lost at the tape, the opposition traversed in, skirting the base of the buttress on flat consolidated snow, game over! It was still dark, ten meters away, the opposition spoke to each other. I wasn't sure but thought I recognised a voice. "That's not Bracie, is it?" I yelled. "No it's not Nick!" "Who the bloody-hell is it then?" My shocked retort at hearing my name. "It's Allie Cool." It was hysterical, we had been racing friends. This would be a team effort now, no pressure of strangers competing on the same climb, just friendly banter. Cool, started to climb and complained about the knackered state of his legs, "why didn't we just flip a coin on the car park for who climbs first? It would have been a lot easier."

The climb we had raced for was certainly worth it, Neanderthal, the Rab Anderson and Graham Nicoll classic. If the grade of VII/7 doesn't deter parties wishing to attempt the climb, the steep nature of the third pitch might! I stood and watched Cool climb it, while belaying Tweedley on the cave pitch below. Cool is no slouch when it comes to hard mixed climbing, so the angle he hung, and the grunts of effort, made me a tad nervous! Fortunately, Tweedley joined me on the stance brimming with confidence, having a calming effect on my shaken nerve. The heavy snow falling as I belayed had stopped, leaving the way clear to tackle the crux pitch. Although steep, the foot placements and hooks are perfect, allowing relatively straightforward climbing through some intimidating ground. I savoured the situation The good gear placements are comforting, so as I squeezed into the final gap, pulling through a steep overhang I took a look down, peering past Tweedley belaying forty meters below, down to the steep icy hillside now been whipped by spindrift. Swinging around on the buttress skyline, I merrily chatted to myself, loving it!

A perfect belay presented itself on a large comfortable ledge. The wind picked up and large flakes of snow slapped into my face. The settled spell of weather had broken right on schedule. I didn't care! Not even the thought of the long walk could dampen my spirits, I wondered how long I would feed from my Highland fix, enough I hoped to last through one or two weeks of imprisonment back in Leicester!

Personal tools