Patience Is A Virtue

 5am. I’m in what seems like a shopping centre, a familiar tune plays along in the background as I casually walk the isles of a relatively innocent setting. The music gains in the distance, no longer a drone of background noise but now beginning to resonate all around me. Slowly I’m transported from the ether of imagination and dreams back into reality. The shopping tune – my alarm, rings sharply in my ears as I turn in my sleeping bag, battling to block out the sound and return to the effortless world of dreaming. It’s always the most painful part of my day, struggling in that awkward limbo between sleep and consciousness. Not oblivious to the world yet not quite awake and active into the forthcoming day.

The alarm always wins
I open my eyes and the reality is harsh. It’s dark all around apart from the dim glow of morning light that seeps in through the only weakness of the tunnel which we’re bivvied in.
We’re inside the Stollenloch. A famous waypoint on the north face of the Eiger. It’s used as a doorway to access the north face from the train tunnel that runs through the mountain from below in Grindelwald up to the tourist viewing point up on Jungfraujoch. The hatch has grown a reputation from the many climbers that have clambered through it in desperation to escape whatever disastrous situation or conditions that they were dealing with out on the face in an attempt to survive. Now though it’s more commonly used by climbers to base themselves in before attempting routes that tackle the Rote Fluh, the largest and most intimidating headwall on the face that lies just a few hundred meters above the hatch.

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The hatch of the Stollenloch from inside the tunnel

I unzip from the comfort of my warm cocoon and instantly apply all my synthetic and down layers to avoid the bite from the cold, damp air. This is our fourth day on the face and the routine that takes me from my vulnerable position inside my sleeping bag into the geared-up, armoured suit that makes me battle-ready for anything the north face can throw at me, has become second nature.

I get another brew down, as much muesli and biscuits as I can stomach, and take a second to appreciate having enough food to fuel my body for another hard day on the wall. Our first attempt on the wall quickly proved futile when we got stranded in bad weather with only the bare minimum to survive. We approached this route the same as the others on our big alpine adventure – fast, light and carrying the bare minimum. We were quickly shut down by our lack of preparation for the severity and unpredictability of the weather and the seriousness of the Eiger. Looking back, we’d been foolish to think this route would go down as easily as the others had. We spent an entire day descending the ten-thousand meters on foot back to Grindelwald only to have to reascend it with heavy packs full of food and supplies but it meant being able to avoid that situation again and is the reason we’ve been able to hold out this long.

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A view above the clouds from the safety of the ledge outside the Stollenloch

Bags packed. Equipment checked. Need to relieve bladder. A simple task, that like everything up here, becomes complicated. Struggle to arrange oneself past several layers of thermals, harnesses and protective equipment. Finally relieve bladder. Much better. Ready to go.

It’s odd stepping through the Stollenloch. Every human element of yourself is telling you to turn around and get on the next train down to safety. You rationalise that the only reason you’re here is to step onto the north face and so force yourself to continue out into one of the most hostile environments on the planet. Opening the hatch, the pressure between the tunnel and outside world battle to equalise, creating a vacuum across the hatch and sucking everything that lies between the portal back into the tunnel. It’s as if a last-minute attempt to pull whoever is exiting back to rational thought.

I step through to balanced pressure and the rushing air stops. I turn and clip myself into the fixed line that’s secured to the ledge, tracing it’s path up over the small roof that protects us. I bring my gaze up and the giant wall of the Rote Fluh comes into sight, golden as it bathes in the morning light. It’s a surreal place to be as a climber. You’ve sat at home spending hours reading books and gazing at photos of this great alpine face, dreaming of it. Then you arrive in Grindelwald. You wonder around the usual tourist shops, perhaps stop for a beer in one of the many bars, but you spend every spare second staring up at the mile high face on the horizon. You study it, identifying all the specific landmarks from afar. ‘Death-Bivouac’, ‘The Traverse of the Gods’, ‘The White Spider’. All named and brought to fame through one historic tragedy or another. It might be my fourth day on the wall but I still have a moment of awe every time I actually stop and realise that’s Grindelwald down there. Below me. I’m on the north face of the Eiger! It’s surreal.

I zone back in to the present situation and put the daydreams aside, time for action. I load the heavy pack onto my back and check I’ve got everything I need, there’s no second chances up here. Ascenders onto the rope, backup lanyard on, detach from the ledge. Start ascending. We have several hundred meters of ropes to climb to reach our high-point from yesterday’s climbing.

On large routes like this the ethics are slightly different from your usual sport climbing crag. On an attempt to climb the route all the pitches must be climbed clean without falling. If a fall does occur, that pitch must be repeated from the start. Once free climbed cleanly, a pitch can be reascended via ropes back to the high point, kind of like a checkpoint of saved progress. This allows you to go down to a ledge or bivvy below then return to your high point the next day.

Over the last three days myself and Robbie have been making progress up the route in a ‘ground-up’ style, effectively trying to climb from the bottom without having previously worked any of the pitches, only moving up to the next pitch after completing the current one. Yesterday we pushed the route out all the way to the crux pitch at around the half way point. This pitch is graded 8a and is notoriously tough for its grade and made even harder by the lead up to it being several pitches of significantly hard climbing. When we arrived at the base of the crux yesterday we were both exhausted after having been climbing hard for the last 14hours. We had made frustratingly little progress on the crux pitch before we finally admitted defeat and called it a day, returning down to the base. It had been the closest we’d got to a real chance at completing the route, for after this pitch, the grades ease and you reach a good bivvy ledge. This would have been a significant turning point on the climb as once here, you can move your base and supplies up to your high point. Rest and recovery are guaranteed as you wake, ready to tackle the next pitch fresh without having to ascend from the lower bivvy.

We were so close.

We returned last night to the Stollenloch, exhausted both physically and mentally and decided we’d catch the first train down in the morning as it returns from dropping off tourists at the top station. We’d sat distraught and in silence as we impatiently waited on our dehydrated food packs to cook through. Few words were exchanged between us as we tucked into our sleeping bags, both of us dealing with the frustration of the situation individually in our heads, uncertain of the future of the project as its fate hung by a thread of sheer desperation and determination.

 

As I reach the next belay I switch between ropes. Passing the connection point between them, always keeping to the book as I make the transition, double checking everything. There’s no second chances up here. I step high in my foot-loop and start the laborious motion of shifting my weight between each ascender as I repetitively slide them further and further up the rope. Step by step. Meter by meter. It’s the same with all intensive and repetitive tasks, the mind cuts off from the current suffering like a coping mechanism, escaping it all by reflecting on something else. Sometimes it’s to something as simple as a song, especially one that’s tempo matches the motion. Sometimes, like in this case, it’s a memory. My mind tracks back to waking fatigued and aching all over this morning. A rough night in a bivvy is never pleasant but our motivation was so low after yesterday’s battle it made everything feel worse. The easy option would have been to throw all our gear in the bags and take the first train down the tunnel as we’d planned to the night before. I genuinely don’t know what moment of insanity or determination convinced our minds to ignore the agony and force ourselves out onto the face for one last push on the route. So here I am, grinding myself down to the limit on the last rope length to go before reaching our high point. I’m almost there.

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Me looking like I’m actually enjoying it all

We’ve rested on the ledge below the crux pitch for the last hour or so, trying to recover whatever little strength we can for the upcoming pitches. I know the crux pitch is beyond me so feel slightly more relaxed as we sort through the ropes, knowing Robbie will be dealing with this pitch and I will be able to bypass it to the next. I watch as he ties-in and can almost see the pressure on him to get through this pitch before the weather comes in. With the current azure skies above us it’s hard to believe that rain was forecast for the late afternoon, but the risk of the wall becoming wet before we can climb through to the safety of the next bivvy, is enough to make us desperate to get through this pitch as quickly as possible. Little did we know what was really coming our way.

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Robbie climbing hard. The exposure on the wall is easy to appreciate in this photo

Robbie sets off, passing the first few draws with ease, taking him up to the main body of the pitch and out of sight from the belay ledge. Fifteen minutes go by without the fierce pull on the rope from a fall. A good sign. The only sounds come from a few grunts of effort from above. I feed out endless rope, watching the slack disappear over the roof above me. My neck’s become sore from staring upwards, there’s no reason to bother, Robbie’s well out of sight yet I focus on upwards in the hope it makes me more likely to hear any shout of communication from above. I’m trying to calculate how far he’s climbed from the remaining rope to see if he’s past where he fell yesterday. There’s only a few meters left. He can’t be far from the top. He’s been climbing for ages…
“SAFE!”. A sigh of relief as the call I’ve been waiting for bellows down from the invisible voice above. He’s made it. I shout up to double check the call before physically disconnecting the rope. No second chances up here. I relax for a second before the routine race to pack up the belay and ready myself to climb, before he can organise the ropes, begins. There’s never a winner in this race, only someone that ends up frustrated at the other as they wait for them to become organised so that climbing can commence.

I reach Robbie and congratulate him on crushing the crux all whilst rearranging the ropes, trying not to waste any time. We’re excited as we realise it’s all going to get easier from here, a few easy pitches then we can rest at the bivvy all night and complete the route tomorrow. Our dying attempt just got a breath of life injected into it. Our chances of reaching the summit feel real. It all feels possible again, perhaps all this effort can pay off. We can do this!

“I think I’m getting rained on”.

“I think it’s just dripping from that roof above us”.

We agree that the liquid that irritatingly plummets onto our faces at any moment we look up is only that. A small seepage from within the wall and by no means the start of rain. Ignoring it, we start up the next pitch.

Drip.

I wipe my forehead again while looking around for the first bolt, trying to work out what direction the route takes. I hear a hollow knock on my helmet as another droplet strikes it from above. I ignore it, worried more by the lack of gear spanning the large gap between me and Robbie, only a rusted knife-blade peg that wobbles in its placement to catch a fall. No sign of any bolts. Not a good sign.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The tapping on my helmet becomes a rhythm of constant drumming.

“The holds are starting to get wet, it’s definitely raining now!”

There’s a rushed debate of what to do but the decision is quickly made for us as the clouds close in on both flanks and the rain becomes a torrential downpour. A cam is placed to substitute for the lack of bolts to bail from. Climbers will often wrestle with a jammed piece of protection for hours, even ruining on-sights purely to avoid leaving a piece of gear behind yet we happily abandon what we have to to get down to the belay. This is not the time to be tightfisted about meaningless equipment.

The situation has become serious. Visibility now ranges from thirty to three feet and the temperature has dropped dramatically. The rain falls as if it’s a monsoon and every droplet that hits the face above us cascades down to create torrents and waterfalls all around us. The trickle onto the belay that frustrated us earlier now resembles more closely to a burst fire hydrant, firing directly onto us. Water and cold temperatures create dangerous situations with hypothermia setting in 25 times quicker when your clothing is soaked through. Right now it’s not the water or cold that worries me, it’s what it brings with it. Rockfall.

This whole trip we’ve dealt with rockfall in all sorts of conditions and situations. It’s something you have to accept and learn to deal with if you want to climb large alpine faces like these. Whether its learning the delicate style and technique of climbing on loose rock – where killing your partner by pulling off a hold is a serious possibility – or just as simple as learning to mentally deal with the pressure of being in the wall, whilst experiencing the bloodcurdling sound rocks make as they rip through the air only inches from you. It’s something you never become comfortable with. Up here your fate is determined by where you stand. Yes. Risks are calculated, but a rocks flight path is unpredictable and this uncertainty is something you just have to accept if you want to be up here. Only yesterday one of the cameramen filming us for ‘Finalcrux Films’ was struck whilst filming us from fixed lines. Luckily he escaped unharmed except for damaged camera equipment. Filming was postponed to allow nerves to settle and confidence to recover, the effects of rockfall last longer than just your time on the wall. It’s utterly terrifying.

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We’re just visible to left of the large roof. This is just before the storm hit.

We start to pull the ropes through the belay and lower it into the air below us to set up an abseil, tying a knot in each end to prevent the disaster of lowering off the rope. I clip in with my belay device, taking one haul bag with me as I start to lower into the abyss. As I feed the drenched ropes through the device water pours out of them running into my gloves and saturating them too. With the crux pitch being both overhung and traversing to abseil directly back to the ledge below becomes a logistical nightmare. I lower into the clouds with next to no visibility and all perception of distance is lost in the greyness. I look up to see if Robbie is still within sight only to be blinded by the heavy rain. I’m surrounded in a world of grey, no physical material in sight as I hang here suspended above the vast expanse of air. A shiver runs through me as I think about how long it would take to impact the ground below if the rope was severed by a rock. Perhaps ten seconds. Long enough to think about your impending doom. There’s a sudden increase in visibility and I finally catch sight of the ledge that I’m aiming for. Action time.

I lean back and extend my legs infront of me, tensing my core to support the weight of the bag and trying my hardest to build up enough momentum to start a pendulum swing towards the ledge.

Kick. Lean. Kick. Lean.

Finally I get close enough for my foot to reach the edge of the ledge. I give every ounce of effort I have to push from the tips my toes, swinging me out as far as possible. I have one shot to get onto this ledge. I need to release the ropes at the perfect time to drop myself onto it. If I don’t, the stretch in the rope will pull me back off the ledge, leaving me suspended again but lower on the rope and out of reach of the ledge. With a heavy pack and the ropes saturated with water it would be a total mission to attempt to reascend to where I am. This has got to work. I kick as hard as I can to swing forward, the rain striking me even harder as I fly through it. Concentrating, I wait for the perfect moment. Now! I release my grip, dropping myself onto the ledge and throwing my weight into the safety of the wall.

Made it.

I catch my breath and try to calm the adrenaline as I secure the ropes so Robbie can descend. He appears moments later through the gloom looking tired but not too distressed, totally unaware of the battle that just took place. We pull the ropes and coil them in the safety under the roof of the crux pitch. We both start to chuckle, relieved to be out of the firing line of the boulders that plummet all around us, shredding everything in their path. This wall is madness.

Looking over to our right to where the path of the original 1938 route lies a huge waterfall cascades down onto the bottomless face. Suddenly the air around us erupts with sound. A huge section of rock is plucked from the face by the force of the water. We thought we’d experienced bad rockfall over the last few days but that was like child’s play in comparison. This section of rock the size of a 4×4 falls almost as in slow motion. It strikes the face, splitting into a dozen smaller boulders which tumble in every direction, each shattering again and scattering the entire lower face with golfball sized rocks. It’s total carnage. Every inch of the wall is struck. There wouldn’t be a single place to hide from the destruction down there. It’s just by chance that we hadn’t started down the fixed lines yet. There would have been a zero percent survival rate for anyone below.

The next few hours are spent evacuating the face through the most horrendous conditions imaginable, repetitively abseiling through the storm to make it back down to the safety of the the Stollenloch. Nothing but blind luck got us down without an injury from rockfall. It’s hard to describe the fear. You know that you’re in a dangerous situation and when you think realistically, you could die in the next few seconds but you don’t have time to be scared. It’s a deep fear that doesn’t effect you whilst in the situation, if anything it’s exhilarating. It’s when you reflect back on it all that you feel scared! It’s hard to personally understand and even harder to explain but it’s part of what we do. All I know is that when we finally crawled in through the hatch, frozen and wringing-wet. I’d never felt more alive.

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Patience is a virtue

I’m glad we gave it one last attempt on the wall and didn’t give in to the easy option. We pushed ourselves past where many would have turned back. We gave it our all, fighting extreme fatigue, unfortunate conditions and only retreating when the consequences of staying became life threatening. Of course the disappointment of returning down to Grindelwald without having reached the summit was devastating, but a good mountaineer knows when to turn back. You can’t return to climb a route if your dead and let’s face, the Eiger isn’t going anywhere!

After all the route is called ‘Paciencia’ (patience).
Thanks to Finalcrux Films for all the photos. Check them out for more awesome shots and footage.

 

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Silbergeier

After our well earned rest day yesterday, our alarms rang sharp at 5am this morning to get us going for the long day ahead. We chose to start early to beat the morning sun to the wall so that the conditions for the fist few pitches on the route would be prime and to avoid overheating as we paced up the steep walk-in. We left the van sharply from our camping spot lower down in the valley and headed up to the mountain hut where we did our usual routine of refilling water bottles and and using the local facilities before starting up the steep part of the approach.

getting psyhed at the base

Getting psyched at the base

‘Silbergeier’ is situated high in the valley which to approach the base of the climb you must take a steep but well trodden path for roughly an hour up to the beginning of the scree slopes, make slow soul destroying progress up this and then just when you think your there l, you have 200m of jumaring to do up steep and very loose terrain.

With the approach dealt with we didn’t stop to relax as Robbie wanted to tackle the first pitch, a powerful 40m 8b, whilst it was still shaded by the surrounding cliffs from the morning sun. He tied into the sharp end and before the sun had a chance to warm even the earliest lit rock, he was shouting down that he was safe and for me to follow.

With the next few pitches being slightly lower in the grades and well rehearsed by Robbie they were dispatched with little trouble, I’d even managed to cleanly climb one of the pitches I’d been working on through the week which was a great motivator and kept the psyche high. We arrived at the large ledge three quarters of the way up the route before midday and agreed to stop and chill out for a few hours to let the midday heat pass and to recover whatever strength was left to deal with the last two crux pitches that lay ahead.

Settling in and organising our gear on the ledge we quickly realised the only flaw in our plan to rest there. the cliff is south facing and we were sat directly in the scorching sun!! Quick thinking (more like desperation) had us fashioning a rope line across the ledge with which to hang our jackets and equipment from in an attempt to create a little shade. We sheltered in our homemade ‘fort’ and waited out the prevailing sun, keeping social media up to date with our progress with what seemed like the best connection we’d had in the Ratikon (you only have to climb the hardest route to get it!)

our 'fort'

our ‘fort’

With the heat finally dying down Robbie decided it was make or break time to attack the last two pitches, he didn’t hold back. The first crux in the 8b+ pitch went smoothly with only some minor grunting making an appearance as he battled through the large move at the very end of the pitch, I knew the route was ticked before he’d clipped the chains and he’d look solid all the way up and knew determination would push him through to the top without failure.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

I Jugged the last pitch to join Robbie at the top and we shared an awesome moment ofexuberance and jubilation as I congratulated him on his red-point ascent of the route and our overall success on our first big-wall together, we’d worked so well together and kept a really great presence on the wall keeping each other psyched and in high spirits,
something that I think can dramatically change the experience and outcome of climbing on walls like that.

At the top!

At the top!

So It Begins

Finally arrived in Zurich after an early start from Glasgow and several trains, planes and buses I met up with Robbie in his van to head up to the Swiss Ratikon. We stopped on the way to grab some supplies (Cherry harribo…obviously) for the next few days and headed up the sketchiest road I’ve ever been on up into the valley.

We set up camp by a lovely waterfall, it’s the perfect shower when your roasting from waking up in the tent, it’s been up to 38C here, mad!! There’s a local hut nearby where some other climbers are staying and on our first night we also met some awesome Germans that are here hiking who offered us some German beer and sausages, just to be the perfect stereotype. It’s also a reminder of how cool it is to be travelling and meeting so many new people that are all so friendly.

My first day on the wall

My first day on the wall

We started climbing yesterday on Robbie’s project route ‘silbergeir’. It’s this awesome multi-pitch route that’s goes straight up the headwall of the massive cliff. The wall is all limestone that varies in every direction with jagged blue streaks cascading down through the yellow rock faces. The routes max difficulty is 8b+ which of course, Is down to Robbie to climb but I’m really enjoying climbing the grade 7 pitches and starting to work on the 8a+ pitch. It’s all very technical moves on small holds where one little lack of balance and your off…there’s been a lot of that.

Robbie made some huge links on the hardest pitches yesterday it was awesome to watch him crushing out some crazy hard moves and I don’t doubt that after another session working the route today it could be time to get a well earn rest day before going for the red-point ascent later in the week.

Robbie working the top pitch

Robbie working the top pitch

Just being up there on that wall is amazing though, belaying from your little wooden swing, suspended hundreds of meters above the valleys grass fields with the high snow capped mountains as your backdrop and the cowbells from below as your soundtrack.

I’ll try to keep writing to update our progress but the signal strength out here is marginal at the bet of times!

Psyche!!

Alpine Adventures

Just a quick post to share my last-minute plans for the summer.

I’ve just booked my flights for a six week trip traveling and climbing in the Alps. This will be my second trip to the Alps but this time will be a more focused and specific project climbing some of the hardest big-wall routes around rather than a leisurely holiday.

I was invited on this trip by Robbie Phillips a really strong and well known climber from Edinburgh who’s recently made the transition from crushing really hard sport grades to hard trad and big wall alpine climbs. It’s all rather last-minute as he’d had a few partners fall through on plans for this summer and after working with Finalcrux Films on other projects Robbie heard about my willingness to drop everything to go and climb gnarly big-walls and invited me along.

Our plan is to head to the Italian Dolomites for the first two weeks to climb on the north face of Cima Ovest, one of the three 3000m peaks of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. There are a few projects that we have looked into on the face with ‘project fear’ being the main goal  for Robbie being even harder than the classic line ‘Bellavista’ 8b+ that he made an ascent of last year. From Italy we plan to travel over to Switzerland where I will meet with the rest of the team that are involved in the ‘Eiger Paraclimb Project’ who will be flying over mid July. This project is separate from mine and Robbie’s trip and he’s made other plans for the time with which ill be preoccupied filming the paraclimbing team attempt to climb the west flank route of the Eiger. We have allocated roughly two weeks for this project which leaves us with plenty of time for a good weather window, something crucial for success to a slow moving team. If luck is on our side, the accent might be over and done within the first week so with the ‘spare’ time left over there’s hope that me and Euan might find a chance to dash over to the Matterhorn and possibly attempt a route, only time will tell I guess.

With the para-climbers planning to head home at the beginning of August it’ll be time for me to meet back up with Robbie to head for the main goal of the entire trip. An attempt at ‘Paciencia’ 8a on the north face of the Eiger, the hardest route on the face. I have a lot of apprehension about this route but also a lot of excitement. I’ve wanted to climb the north face of the Eiger since I was a wee boy, since before I even got into climbing, it’s an iconic face that has so much history behind it, along with a serious reputation for being the biggest and baddest. Then to be invited on a trip to climb the hardest route on it… how could I not want to get involved!! We’ve set ourselves two weeks to work on the route and get it ticked meaning my entire trip will consist of six weeks away, I don’t think I can think of anything better.

Anyway, there are plans and then there’s reality and I have no doubt the latter will strike hard with many mistakes being made, unexpected challenges every day with several steep learning curves but we are going, the flights are booked and I’ve never been so psyched!

If you’d like to follow me and Robbie on our trip, follow my twitter where I plan to keep it updated with daily info and pictures.

If you’d like to know more about the Eiger paraclimb project or even donate towards it have a look by following this link.

Training pays off

With the days counting down until I go away to the Alps I’ve been trying to rack up as many hours as possible at work leaving with hardly any free days until I go away. Working chaotic hours almost everyday might sound like a restriction to my climbing but I often find at times like these it motivates me to train more. Finishing shifts in the centre before closing time leaves me with no excuse not to have a session afterwards as I’m already there with little else to do and its easy to be motivated when you’ve been watching others climb all day so even squeezing in an hours fingerboard session between shifts doesn’t feel like a chore when your blowing off steam from the previous shift. With the dramatic change in the weather over the last few days I’ve been jumping at any opportunity to take my training from the fingerboard onto real rock (It is Scotland, it could be raining again tomorrow!)

Today we woke early to try and get the most out of a morning session in the sun before starting work at midday so we headed to the local sport crag Dumbuck. Being notorious For its short, yet aggressively steep routes I was interested to see how my recent level of training would pay off here.

Finding the crag was nothing short of a total mission. The guidebooks approach description say something along the lines of ‘though some fields and up to the crag through the trees’. When in reality it it should say, cross the tick infested fields down the hill to where you will have to battle your way through the overgrown jungle, up the steep mud and scree slope where you will randomly stumble upon some ropes that climb up to the crag…..In other words, we got lost because of Euans fantastic guiding skills!!

Neither of us having been to the crag before we spent the day attempting the ‘must do’ route of ‘Awaken’ 7c+. We both struggled to work out the final few moves through the crux on our first few goes and as time (and skin) started to run out there was some frustration when we finally cracked the crux later in the day only to not have enough energy for a serious redpoint after all the previous attempts. After some serious moaning about skin condition and dehydration We pulled the rope and agreed to come back for the tick another day.

Satisfied with a good session I agreed to go up to get the draws back before leaving, I tied in again and before I knew it I was topping out the route. Clean. No falls…talk about a last minute effort! The psyche was high from the tick after all the demoralising efforts earlier and it was great to walk away with such a high grade having only had just one session working at it, I guess it proves this training malarkey does pay off eh!?

Surface Tension (E5,6b)

With my winter season being called to an early and unexpected end due to an injured ankle I’ve spent the last few weeks of ‘good’ weather getting out to local crags and pulling on some dry rock,getting ready for the upcoming trad season. Last year I’d been convinced to give ‘Surface Tension’ at Auchinstarry Quarry a go on a top-rope to try out the moves. The routes an awesome line that takes the blank wall above the water at the back of the quarry. On my first attempt I quickly realised the route was extremely sequence-y and decided to leave it for another day when I could try all the moves over on a shunt on my own.

My recent attempts have been solo trips to the crag running the tricky sequence and balance-y moves of the route over and over until eventually on my last trip I’d managed it clean (no falling from bottom to top) and started to feel confident with my chances on the lead.

The tricky part about the test pieces at Auchinstarry is not just that they are technically difficult but also that they tend to present a serious aspect of danger due to the lack of protection, most featuring marginal, next to nothing placements or none at all. Like ‘Nijinski’ (E5, 6a) That I’d climbed previously last year, ‘Surface Tension’ has serious moves that are well above the doubtful gear, that most probably come under the category of ‘bodyweight placements’, However it comes with the added bonus of falling into water rather than decking out onto hard ground…

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My serious, deep seas diving goggles… (many thanks to Zuzu for the last-minute ‘save’)

Today The weather was cracking and I’d decided to take my wetsuit down to have a go at clearing away some of the debris and objects that have been thrown over the cliff edge and sit under the surface of the water, waiting to impale a falling climber that has been ejected from one of the routes above. With the water being freezing and only have a comically small pair of pink goggles that were borrowed from a friend last-minute, we rushed through the job clearing out deck chairs, “danger, rock fall” signs, wheelbarrows and logs.There was no excuses now, the lead was inevitable.

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pulling hard on small crimps

I could write a long paragraph here to take you through terrifying lead but I fear I’d do it no justice. Here’s a short video from Finalcrux Films that shows the day in full.

Many thanks to both Euan and David for their support and for convincing me to go for it!

When Morons Do Moronic Things!

23:45pm Sunday evening.

portaledge

No quite El Cap

No explanation except boredom has taken its toll. When there’s really nothing else to do, why not get the portaledge up on the home wall?

On the up side, having a play about has really upped my psyche to start planning a trip to somewhere I can justify taking this beast…somewhere with slightly bigger walls than ours.