A phone call from Andy midweek, asking if I wanted to climb up Torridon had me madly trying to shuffle prior commitments around so I was free, only to be followed by a change in the forecast showing it to be raining on the West Coast on Saturday, aaaaarg, was utterly dying to fit it another mountain route and was gutted to miss out on what would have been a fitting end to a wonderful summer! Drove up to Andy's anyway and we would decide what to do in the morning having looked out the window. Forecast was for a band of rain to pass over pretty much everywhere but just to be showery and Andy had filled me with intrigue with a vague description of the cave pitch on the classic Hard Severe at Huntly's Cave called Cave Route and I was keen to try and lead it (well in my normal nervous, thinking about it too much kind of way!) Huntly's Cave has steep, overhanging walls with huge roofs running up the wall on some of the routes and this means the rock is kept dry from showers. So, off we went. Andy mentioned he usually ab'd down to stop his rock boots getting wet and dirty on the muddy path down but he failed to mention that the ab was a free hanging one from a tree on the very edge of the cliff!!! Aaaaaarg, noooooooo! The ab we did at Beinn Eighe was a stroll in the park (ish) compared to this and my legs felt like jelly and I had the butterflies in my gut so badly that I felt quite sick. As usual, it wasn't as bad as I thought, though it took until my feet were firmly on the ground for the butterflies to calm down!
No time for faff, Andy is straight up the initial slab before I can get him on belay (he's soloed this route loads!) He's on belay for the crux though and he's through it quick as a shot and then it's my turn. The slab at the start is nice and easy and the crux is pretty damn awkward but moves you into a fabulous position! The belay is in a wee cave underneath this huge roof and immediately I can see just how the roof has to be tackled. I'm not going to go into detail and ruin it for anyone who hasn't done this route, but the climbing over the roof and the position is out of this world, simply wonderful and one of the nicest routes I've done (if only all Hard Severes were like this!) Well worth every one of it's 3 stars! The route was made all the more exciting due to the rain which soaked the crucial hold and once I'd committed to the crux the heavens had opened and it was abs chucking it down! By the time I'd set up a belay and brought Andy up I was soaked right through! Back to Andy's to chill for a bit and wait for the rain to pass. And wait........and wait.............until we decided in the end to drive down to Creag Dubh for a walk up the hill. It's not what I expected, I had thought the lowly Graham would just be a wee heathery lump but I was mistaken and we wound our way under the crags and up and it was bloomin steep! It's a very shapely hill with a conical section just before the top and the views are very picturesque. A tad chilly though and we zoomed off down to miss the next incoming shower of rain!
Back at Andy's there was much discussion of what to do the next day. Either climb at Creag Dubh which would def be dry or chance the hill forecast of scattered, heavy showers, wintry on the highest tops, with freezing level at 1100m. We did contemplate walking in to Sputan Dearg but decided it was too far to risk the weather but I was still desperate for the mountains and Andy didn't take any persuasion! We decided on Stag Rocks in the end and next morning were zooming off up the ski road and up to point 1141 at the top of Fiacail Coire Cas. The wind was up (but not too bad) just pretty cold and as we walked over to the descent down to the Loch Avon Basin the wind blew the cloud up and it started to snow. Just a wee flurry but enough to put a big massive grin on my face. I love those first snowflakes of the year, something so magical about them and makes me feel like a wee kid!
We descended down Diagonal Gully which was steep, chossy and wet but do-able with just one steep, scrambly bit where I had to face in to get down. Soon enough we were at the bottom of the cliff, me abs boiling as I'd put my buff and my thick belay jacket on! There was a bit of discussion as to exactly where the route went as the route description was a bit weird and Andy thought the right hand side of a fault line looked like a nicer place to start than the left side which looked a bit more broken. Next I had a heart sinking moment when I realised I had stupidly forgotten my belay plate, numpty! Andy gave me his and said he would belay me with a hitch. So off he went, only to discover he could only get in 2 runners in the whole pitch! And it wasn't an easy pitch either, but certainly easier than what was to come! We traversed over to the left and below the crux 5a pitch, described as a steep wall with jugs. Unfortunately that was pretty wet so we took the easier option to the left. Easier? I found it pretty desperate! There was a point where you had to move up to a huge roof and them move right to get around the roof and I really struggled with this, so sure I was going to fall off and swing off! And it wasn't a lot easier after that either and I got myself into a bit of a mess when I should have laybacked up a crack but I stayed too far to the right and got myself all unbalanced. Last pitch was up a chimney and that was a bit puzzling but easier than below once I figured it out. There was meant to be a couple of scrambley pitches above to the top of the hill but Andy suggested traversing over to the left, crossing a gully and climbing a 2 pitch HS that one of his mates did the 1st winter ascent of. Amphitheatre Wall is graded HS but we found it to be more VS. The 1st pitch is quite awkward and finicky and there is a steep wall above where I got myself into another mess! There was a steep, grassy section and to get back on to the rock you had to take a wide step to the right and onto a wall and up and onto a ledge. I managed to get onto the wall, get my foot over into a groove and grab a side pull on the ledge. Then my foot slipped and I did a spectacular belly flop onto the ledge and then it took some time to figure out how to get back onto my feet by which point I was feeling a tad trembly! Andy was stood on the wide end of the ledge, quite comfortable with his cheeky wee grin, laughing at me with those sparkly eyes!
Next, a bit of a breather and Andy is off again. The next pitch is steep, very steep! There is a big triangular block that he stands on and manages to get a runner in to the right, then a huge step into a groove on the left, leaves me wondering, 'how the hell am I going to manage that wide step!?' Andy must have read my thoughts though as he mentioned that I probably wouldn't have to do it that way. Hmmmm. There seems to be a bit of hollow rock about and Andy is taking no chances, checking to see if things will hold or whether best left alone. Soon enough it's my turn and Andy was right, I didn't need to do that stretch across the way he did. I went across a bit lower with just a dainty step in comparison! Moved up and then, 'blimey this is hard!' I'm trying to get a cam out but I'm on a tight rope and it won't budge! Taaaaaaaaaaaake! Arse! Gah! I shout up to Andy to give me some slack on pink and he gives me slack on both ropes and I go lower and then can't reach the cam. Andy shouts down that he has me on a waist belay and it's hurting his back, 'oh sh*te!' This scares me! I pull myself back onto the rock and try and get at this cam and Andy gets himself into a better, seated position where he can hold me better if need be. But once my weight is off the rope, the cam comes out freely and I scrabble frantically over to the right for something better to hold on too. And wouldn't you know it, there is a huge jug!!! For god's sake, if I had noticed that earlier, it would have things a lot easier! I move up faster after that and without any more problem until the top. There is a chimney, maybe 15foot high, tiny rounded edges on the outside and not much on the inside. Andy tells me that he back and footed it. Uhuh, I can't back and foot, can I? Oh well, no time like the present to learn how to do it and I wedge myself right into the tightest bit of the chimney and feel quite secure. No back and footing at first though, it's too narrow. It's more of a wormy squirm! Then it gets wider and I have my back against one wall, and my feet pushed against the other on a tiny wee crack in the wall. Oh I can do this! A wee hmmm moment when Andy tells me he was facing the other way when he did it, but I manage to move up some more, get myself bridged across, move up a little more, grab the top of the chimney on a ledge on the outside, swing my foot up and hey presto! That was my favourite bit of both the routes and I'm grinning happily. Climbing is so multifaceted, tis ace! And I think we both felt quite cheeky, managing to fit in a couple of routes on a day where it was windy and snowing on the tops!