Sunday, 17 August 2008

A weekend of midgies, rain, travel, scary seacliffs and VS onsights - 15th-17th August

I'd been hoping for some more mountain routes for my last long weekend of the summer, but alas it wasn't to be.
Thurs saw Chris and I drive up to Torridon with the ever hopeful 50/50 chance of some dry weather. Got a phonecall from Andy as we were approaching Inverness and he said the forecast had changed some and it wasn't looking too great for the NW. I was ever optimistic though (or foolish!) and we arrived at Loch Torridon in the dark and pitched at the side of the road. Well, Chris did, I had forgotten my tent poles, so it was a bivi bag for me. Drat!! Some swearing ensued and telling myself off for being such an eejit! I was quite comfy though with Chris' spare Thermarest on top of my rollmat. Woke at 4 in the morning though to the sound of rain and a little pool of water at the top of my bag where I had left an open bit to prevent a feeling of suffocation. Then woke again some time later to a scratching feeling on my face, midgies!!! Sod the suffocation, the zip got pulled right up and the bag sealed! Woke later in the morning to the pitter patter of midgies bashing off my bag and a loud whirring noise that suggested there were a cloud of them outside. I somehow managed to get fully dressed, get my coat on, put on a midge net and tuck it into said coat, get my shoes on, tuck my trousers into my socks whilst being enclosed in the bag before braving the outside. The net was a lifesaver and I hardly got bitten at all! My jacket and trousers were black with them however! We quickly dismantled camp and set off for somewhere midge free for some breakfast and a brew. Further north there was a bit of a breeze, but some breccy and a brew later it started lashing it down with rain and poor Chris had to do without his morning coffee, oh dear.............
Past Gairloch, past Gruinard, past Dundonall and onto the Braemore junction, where we stopped to phone Andy for a weather report and decided to head down to his house and not risk Ullapool and North of there. We gathered ourselves together back down Aviemore way and checked all the forecasts. The best place seemed to be up on the Caithness coast so off we went! The drive seemed to take forever. Caithness really is tucked away in it's own wee zone and seems to be in the middle of nowhere! Finally arrived at Latheron and went to check out the cliffs so it was all easy to find the next day.

There's a big field full of sheep and about 20-30 Shetland Ponies by the seacliffs and there were Gulls, Cormorants and some kind of bird of Prey hovering too (sea Eagle perhaps?) I was gleefully snapping pics with my brand new camera :o)
We weren't too sure of the Bedrock area as the cliffs were pretty Lichenous and slippy, and the Big Wall Area was tidal and scary looking but the Pinnacle area seemed ok for us. Back to the car, pitch tents, eat, tan some wine and bed.
The next day though, the wind is up, the tide is in and the swell is booming and crashing! Blast! It had seemed so friendly the night before but now seemed too scary for me to feel overly happy. We started off on a VS which wasn't a great idea as I got pumped straight away due to the steep and thuggy nature of the rock. So downgraded to Severe and had an epic on the hardest severe in the world! (Footloose, total sandbag!) Chris struggled on lead and I backed off on second! Chris ab'd down for the gear and we both were pissed off and demotivated. Had some food and egged Chris on to lead the nicest looking VS there, Fancy Free. He led this very well indeed and I managed to second it ok, apart from my arms screaming, again very steep! After some discussion we decided to drive back down the road with the plan to climb in the Cairgorms if dry and head back home to Ballater if not. I was eager for some mountains, I think the last 2 weeks have spoiled me and I pine for the hills if I can't get out into them!
No joy though, so Ballater it was. We had discussed what we wanted to climb whilst camping the night before and enjoying our tea, chocolate and more wine sat at a bench where we had parked up. I would warm us up on Ping Pong, the severe, then Chris would lead Original Route, a VS5a he had wanted to lead for some time, then I would have a try at Convoy which I had been told was a soft touch VS for a first lead and Chris would then have a look at either Brute or Strawberry Ripple. I was starting to feel nervous about this VS lead and running through lots of excuses in my mind. But I really wanted to do it! It felt like one of those now or never moments and I had to just ignore the negative thoughts and get on with it. We stuck to plan and warmed up on Ping Pong with no problems. Chris cruised up Original Route, his 1st 5a! I seconded the reachy start with no problems whatsoever and actually found the top bit a lot harder! Then it was my turn, shit!
Don't look at the route, you know where it goes.
Don't study it too much or you'll start thinking about all the horrible things that could go wrong!
Just get on it, and get on with it!
Gear up and ready to go.
The start is awkward and I find it difficult to get up onto the big ledge that the route shares with Flake Route next door. Chris commented later that he thought it was nerves, but I did feel awkward and reachy to me and I didn't climb that bit very well and used my knees, putting myself into an awkward position to get back onto my feet again! The next part was no problem and before long I was at the slabby bit before the crux. Got in a runner to the left and got it 2 runners low down on the right. Not happy though, the 2 runners on the right are a no2 and no3 nut and I don't feel overly confident in them and they wouldn't stop me from hitting the ledge below if I came off. I can see the positive, flakey holds on the right side of the roof that I have to surmount but they are miles away! I try various different ways of getting up there but the holds are small, the moves feel unbalanced (ugh!) and I don't feel confident.
I'm up and down like a yoyo trying different combinations but nothing feels right! There are 2 wee flakey edges that I have to use to then reach a flat hold on the right. I need to pull myself in on this and lock off to reach the next wee flakey bit (and I don't know if this is positive or not!) I can't commit! I take out the gear and climb down, away to finish off on Flake Route instead. NO NO NO, c'mon Sonj, you can do this!! Back up again, re place the gear and have a fish about for more. I find a bit that looks like it might take another nut but it's awkward and reachy to place. Get it in though, and yeehah! tis utterly bommer, oh yes! I feel much more confident about these moves now that bit of gear is in! Both hands on seperate flakes to pull myself into wall, right hand on flat hold, feet up, pull in and lock off, left hand to smaller flake. Ooooooooooh it's fecking tiny! Move fast and lunge up for the big flake, oh yeah that's good! Lay back up the flake and get my right leg up high onto a ledge, then move right hand onto a rounded side pull and try to back step with my left leg onto the top of the roof. Can't f*cking reach with my foot, aaaaaaaaaaaarg, c'mon c'mon c'mon!!!! Udge a bit and it's there, heave over to the left and woooooohoooooooooo, I've done it, my 1st VS onsight, hurrah!
I'm shaking like mad and heart is going like the clappers and it takes ages to calm down! Oh I dunno how often I can do this pushing myself malarky! By the time we've got back down to the bags I'm eagerly discussing when we can go to Limekilns to get on some of the VS's there!
Strawberry Ripple. Chris seems tense, he thinks he's going to find it difficult. But it didn't seem to pose him any problems and other than a wee scrabbly leg moment at the top he cruises it! It's been a real pleasure to see the transformation from a tentative beginner to VS leading to the more confident approach he has with them now. Hopefully I will follow suit :o)

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