Sunday, 29 June 2008

1st VS lead :o)

Well, what a week I've had!

Monday saw me going out for my interval run of 400m fast/200m recovery and at long last I made my goal of running a mile in 7minutes. In fact, I managed a mile in 6mins and 34 secs, doing 5.2km in bang on 21mins. It's taken me 5 months to get there, but not bad considering that at this time last year I couldn't even walk.

Bolt clipping got rained off this Tuesday so Jon, RB and I went down to the wall. I'm forever amazed at RB's climbing. She's not climbed for a couple of weeks due to various factors and neither of us have climbed indoors for ages, yet she managed to onsight a 6b+ on the slab at Avertical World and also got to the top of the featured arete at 6c with just one rest at the crux. I need to feed her up so she's heavy enough to belay me, get her out trad climbing, and have my own wee rope gun!

So, the VS. This is my 3rd season of rock climbing, with the 1st year spent seconding, learning about gear placements and belays etc, leading a load of V.Diffs and my 1st Severe. 2nd year was spent leading lots of Severes and a few Hard Severes. Then it all went pear shaped when my L5/S1 disc ruptured and damaged the nerves in my lower spine right down to the tip of my wee toe. Spinal surgery and 2 summers later sees me really keen to lead my 1st VS. I've never been the most confident and bold rock climber, just taking my merry old time working my way up harder things and to be honest I think I could have happily tootled away on V.Diffs and Severes for a long time, but it's really quite limiting in where you can go and there are so many inspiring routes and venues where being able to lead VS is a must. The route that inspires me to consolidate VS climbing on lead is a 100m route called The Sword of Gideon, on Sgurr A' Chaorachain, in the Applecross Peninsula.

After a monster thread on UK Climbing I decided that Saturday was the day for my 1st VS lead. I had previously led a route graded VS4c, called Gneisser on the Triangular Slab up on Gruinard road side crags but there is no way in hell that route should have this grade as it more like HS4a, so I never really felt it to be my 1st VS lead. Saturday so me up at the Pass of Ballater climbing with Neil, who I had climbed with only in winter before. This was his 1st time out rock climbing and he managed very well to second me and it was my first experience of being the stronger leader in a partnership! Warmed up on Jumbled Block Crack, a V.Diff I've done so many times now that I could probably do it blind folded! Next I wanted to give Neil a taste of chimney climbing on Lime Chimney but there was a wasps nest at the bottom of the route and hmmm, being stung by angry wasps isn't what you want on lead (or 2nd!) So we did Ping Pong instead, a nice wee severe with a tricky start and a fantastically exposed step across near the top. Then it was time for my VS. I had a look at Razor's Crack, at VS4c as it was recommended to me as an over graded soft touch. I was dubious, I've seconded it and didn't recall it being *that* easy! Very steep start (well protected) but would involve me moving up overhanging ground on a hand jam (ugh!) to place a crucial bit of gear to pull over the hard move. I decided against it, the VS 4b called Giant Flake Route seemed a much better choice!

It's a fantastic route. Starts off with me having to go right onto the very tips of my toes to reach up for a good hold that I can only just get my fingers round. I have one hand on this and the other hand palmed against the blank wall below, whilst I get my left foot very high onto a wee ledge to the left. I think most folk just walk their feet up the blank wall, but I can't do it this way as I'm too stretched out to smear my feet. After getting my foot on the ledge, I then get my right foot onto a tiny wee edge on the blank wall, swap feet on this, then get my right foot high onto a ledge on the right, lock off on the hand hold, and snatch for another good hand hold higher up. Then I've cracked the unprotected start of the route and the hardest part :o)
When I had done the route on 2nd I remembered the next bit being straight forward but it felt really awkward and a bit unbalanced to lead! Que me getting in 3 bomber bits of gear! An awkward move sees you being able to reach up for a jugtastic hold and once you've got that, the route is in the bag really. Another move or two sees you onto a big detached block which you have to climb over and down the other side of, then it's a rising traverse rightwards over big blocks with nice big holds.
Poor Neil though! I didn't give it a thought that he would find the route tough but he pumped his arms trying to haul himself up the initial moves. Luckily, Chris, my usual partner of late, had arrived with his partner for the day, Paul, and he was able to second the route for me to remove the gear. It would have been a total nightmare having to 'ab for the gear. It would have involved an initial abseil to get the last bits of gear, then having to traverse across back to the 1st big block, to set up a 2nd abseil and a slip of the foot would have seen me taking a massive swing. We called it a day after that, it was getting on and I felt quite mentally drained, but buzzing and high as a kite! So much so, that I just couldn't stop thinking about the lead on the way home in the car and kept forgetting that I was *actually* supposed to be concentrating on driving!

Sunday, Chris and I went to Clova and got rained on, so went up the coast to Soutar Head instead. Aberdeen sea cliffs, ugh! But I had only been here once before so decided to give it another try. Ugh! Led a pre 1930's Diff chimney called Slab Top Chimney, which involves getting right into the chimney and some awkward and committing moves above small gear. The crux is getting out of the constricted chimney at the top and I really struggled here as the crucial foot holds were at almost shoulder height for me and it was impossible to lift my foot that high as I was wedged in the chimney. There was no way in hell I was being beaten by a Diff though!!! I ended up using a flat hold outside the chimney, layed my body away off that, putting myself into a fabulous position with only a no1 nut by my waist to hold a fall. Then I had to use a tiny edge of nothingness for my feet and just trust my foot to stick whilst I udged up for the better foot hold and a good flake hand hold inside the chimney. Then you could reach outside again, for a fantastic 'thank feck' jug and that's you done it. Fantastic wee route!! And damn good value for a Diff!!! I've never done a Diff that's made me work so much for it!

Chris twisted his back on the route, aggravating a previous injury so he was pretty sore but refused to call it a day without leading something himself. There was a Severe called Overhanging Crack that he hadn't done before so he wanted to do that. I wasn't convinced that climbing overhangs would be great for a pulled muscle in his back but I loaded him with codeine to take the edge off and he went for it in good style. It's quite a committing move to start off and you have to throw your leg up and over pretty high, but there is a fab and juggy flake to use. Another awkward move follows to move up a groove and then it's nice and steady climbing to the top. Lovely route, and one I'd like to go back and lead sometime (if I can bear the blasted seacliffs!)
No VS today for either of us though, and the rain had started anyway.

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