The Hurting

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Dave MacLeod - 24/02/2005

The Hurting is a 35 metre summer E4 6a on Fiacall Buttress, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorm which has gained a reputation for being hard even in summer having seen several failures.

After making a winter ascent of Babes in the Wood VIII,8 back in December, myself and Scott Muir wandered up to look at The Hurting thinking it might be a good project to headpoint in winter. I have been considering headpointing something in winter for a while for my own enjoyment and I also thought it would be nice to use this method to redress the view that Scottish mixed climbing is off the pace in world terms by producing a very hard traditional route.

When I first abbed down I started to think it might be possible for me to climb it without toproping so I chose not to. Scott top roped it and on his first attempt he was only making one move at a time before falling off (bearing in mind Scott flashes M10's regularly abroad). We returned another day but as it was out of condition we just abbed it again checking where the gear placements were and hooks on the crux sections. After this I was determined to have an attempt at flashing it.

On Wednesday 16th February we came back up to find it in excellent nick. I went for the flash and came very close, falling 3 moves from the top, on a blank wall with no hooks or torques. A camalot 0.1 held me on two cams preventing a major whipper. I was absolutely gutted not to flash it as I'd really built it up in my mind that I could do it. I also knew that such good conditions (little verglas) and a reliable partner might take a long time to come around again and also that I'd have to climb the death part at the start again. After Scott had seconded, he suggested I'd gone the wrong way and that there were a couple of reasonable torques from which you could just reach the finishing turf.

Steven Gordon agreed to come up on the 19th February and it was still plastered but this time the cracks were full of bullet proof verglas and a raging blizzard was blowing. I abbed down again to see where Scott had gone at the top and to try and chop some verglas out of the placements but that was a waste of time. I wasnt waiting for another day though so I went for it and did it. The protection this time was very dubious using nuts hammered into verglas.

The route is totally sustained from bottom to top, the first move is tech 9 and so is the last and there's very little ground easier than that in between. The first 10m up the groove is very tenuous and unprotected to a small ledge. The climbing is hooking rounded edges, tiny torques, tufts of turf and undercutting. Then a thin hooking wall leads to a roof. The next section is burly laybacking through the summer crux crack followed by a culmination on the last few moves of thin wall climbing.

The main problem on the day was the wind - the footholds are very rounded smears so the gusts kept blowing my feet completely off when I was trying to shake out, leaving me dangling from one tool in a sketchy hook. I felt fairly in control but still had a moment on the last move spread-eagled between the last torque and the turf I couldn't get my tool out because I was too extended to un-torque it and spent five minutes wiggling it. It would have been OK to do the V,6 section above with one tool though so I didn't worry too much!

Although I was very disappointed to miss the flash I'm still happy that I did it without resorting to headpointing. When I headpoint a route in Scotland I want it to be something much harder. So I did make a compromise on style (i.e. not ground up) but I think my abseil inspection is still at least as respectable ethically as some other top Scottish winter routes which have seen pre-ascents in summer, very numerous attempts or preplaced gear. Also while on the subject of the ethics of this route we used no pegs at all and this is reflected in the grade. Hopefully this will encourage more climbers to leave pegs at home.

The grade - Always a tricky one. Its just an educated guess and here is the working behind the sum: Take a series of cruxes each harder than that of Happy Tyrolean's, The Demon, Logical Progression and The Duel, stack them on top of each other and add ground fall potential and that's a measure of what's involved. I will give it XI,11. It's in one of the most popular venues in the country, easily accessible and as often in condition as you get in Scotland. So I expect further grade opinions will come from repeats in equal of better style than mine and not from the armchair. Is this the hardest single pitch traditional mixed climb in the world? From my knowledge of what routes are out there I think it must be. Its nice to have it back in Scotland...

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