Andy was down for the weekend and on Saturday we went for a nosey at CragX
There are quite a few very steep lines here and we went over to have a try on one of them (with me gulping in nervousness and questioning Andy as to whether the gear would be good enough at belays etc if I was really struggling. In the end the turf wasn't good enough where it was buried and it was too risky (thank god, I thought, climbing hard stuff in not the best nick was a scary prospect)
We decided to check out other areas of the cliff for future reference and spotted a lovely looking line which looked a good bit easier than the original one we looked at and we reckoned this line would rely on the turf less, so had a go. Andy led the 1st pitch and the gear was non existent in the 1st 20metres. He was going carefully and I was worried that it was hard. There was a steepish wall to start off with, then a traverse going rightwards and then up leftwards into a groove and then Andy was out of sight. The rope was moving quickly which was reassuring but then stopped for a few moments and as I couldn't see, I was imaging some hard moves! The rope moved again, running out of length and Andy shouted for me to move up a few metres, eeeeeeeeeeeek, I really didn't want to have to start climbing without a belay! But thankfully Andy managed to get one in just as I was up against the base of the cliff.
Then it was my go and I found getting onto the cliff itself bloomin' hard! It involved a really big move and much knee action and hauling on my axes was needed. I nervously approached the traverse, shouting for some slack but it wasn't as bad as I had imagined and next came a romp, until I reached a steep and blank looking slab. Andy's footprints went off rightwards and phew, I thought he went round the slab. But no, the footsteps ended and up the slab I had to go! It involved the most wincy hook on a tiny quartz nubbin and using my hand on another wee nubbin to get higher, before hooking my axe over the lip of the wall and praying it would hold as I rocked over onto a high step. Just a couple of moves, but jeez my heart was racing!
The next pitch involved a steep looking wall and I thought I'd go have a go at leading it, but said if it looked too hard/scary then I'd come back down and let Andy do it. Approaching, it looked quite ledgy but as I got to it, I realised that all the ledges were rounded and quite free of any depressions etc that I felt I could use my crampons on. There was one small ledge to fit one foot on however so I moved up on that and thwacked my axes into a big blob of turf. The turf wasn't the best and I was dubious about committing to it so came back down, cleared some snow away to try and find something better for my feet and tried again. My axes felt more secure this time though my feet were teetering on a horrible rounded and smooth bit and as I was going to move my axes higher, one of my feet slipped and gave me a horrific fleg! By this point my heart was thundering and I'm sure there were a few choice words but my axe placements were now good enough to haul on and I managed to swing my leg up high enough and heave over the edge of the wall onto a slope above. One other longer but easier step took me up onto the top of the hill where I flung the rope round a block and brought Andy up.
We're giving the route III4 and calling it Shooglenifty (need to check the spelling on that one!) Hope to get into this crag some other time for the harder routes but it's a hell of a walk in and today (Sunday) we are both utterly knackered, aching like 80 year olds and eating a herd of horses!
Drove back to Andy's later on the Sunday and had much discussion about where to go the next day (Monday) We were thinking about somewhere in the Loch A'an Basin but some posts on UKC and a few emails later we had changed our minds and went North West instead (hurrah, I simply love it up there!) We wanted to go to Sgorr Ruadh as I'd never climbed there before but we weren't sure if it would be too low for the turf to be any good. In the end we decided to go for a look anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained!The walk in to Sgorr Ruadh is really easy going, longish but after a tiny easy gradient, the going is mostly flat. Until you get to the Coire itself when it's a slog uphill and we were moving up on powder over boulders so it wasn't much fun and was hard work! And all the while our chosen route was looming, looking steeper and scarier each moment! Finally, we were there though, and my usual pre route nerves surfaced and I started thinking of all the reasons why it was a bad idea to climb this route, lol! Question Andy about the conditions, question him about the likelihood of it being too hard for me and us needing to bail on crappy gear. I think Andy knows me well enough now to ignore all my wee doubts as simple nerves and humours me, whilst getting on with things.
Getting off the ground was a problem though! The ground was steep and seemed impenetrable in the conditions of powder and semi frozen turf (we hoped the turf would be bomber higher up) so we moved in from the right, going over the top of the overhangs and onto easier ground about 5metres or so above. After the 1st pitch, the 2nd pitch followed a ropes length of quite technical (4maybe) climbing and was pretty sustained and tiring on my shoulders but some of the turf was as sexy as can be (yes, I know that's sad, but frozen and bomber turf is simply delightful!) And then we came to a steepening which had me gulping in fear! We had seen from the approach that the top pitch was going to be steep and the crux of the route and part of my questioning at the bottom was if it was wise to continue as I might not be able to do it. But it looked like we could escape off the route if we had to back off from the crux so that was a bit reassuring.
Andy moved up a rocky, snow covered slab and set up a belay on a small ledge above, just below the crux and brought me up to the bottom of the slab where I tied in to an anchor to belay, Andy turning his belay into his 1st runners. I scrutinized every single move that Andy made so I could try and copy the moves, all the while the prospect of the steep wall above keeping my nerves on edge. Andy climbs so thoughtfully and quietly that I can never quite tell whether he is finding something difficult or not, but he was moving slower than normal so this was a sign to me that things were tough! There were plenty of runners in the 1st initial steepening and one in the steeping above, so that was reassuring and once Andy was up he reassured me that the belay anchors were bomber and that if I fell it wasn't a problem.
The slab approaching the steep wall was hard! And I had to use 2 axes and one foot in a groove come chimney to the side of the slab and the other foot had to teeter up the slab to keep me in balance. A hook out on a side wall to the right brought me up to the little ledge where Andy had belayed from. Then I pondered the moves above. A torque to the right and a hook to the left, arms out wide enabled me to step up onto another ledge and then there was a thin torque in a crack to the right which brought me a little higher where I could finally hook my other axe around the top of a flake. It was all pretty hairy and tenuous! The next problem to overcome was a bit of gear in said crack. I still had my axe hooked over the flake but my right axe was now torqued higher in the crack, above the nut and I couldn't see the nut. So I had to remove that axe, hook it around the flake and try to unclip the gear from the rope with my left hand. But, the gear was out to the side and the rope was tight on it. I got my right axe torqued again and tried with my left, asking for some slack in the rope. As I tried to remove it, I could feel my axe slipping out the crack, aaaaaaaaaaarg, tight rope again please! as I quickly hook my axe back round the flake. I need to really think about how I'm going to hold on and get this bit of gear out at the same time. Eventually manage it but the quickdraw is still in rope and the nut is in my teeth and in hindsight it would have been much easier just shoving the nut in a pocket or something. Spent ages trying to re clip the nut onto the quickdraw and was swearing like a trouper by this point. Then my leashes on my right axe were impossibly twisted and I don't know how it happened, but I'm presuming that my leashes froze open, but my leash slipped off my arm and my axe plummeted through space, f*ck f*ck f*ck!!! What the hell am I going to do now! I've managed the 1st section of the crux but there is still a couple of metres left and I've just really pushed myself doing the 1st bit, there is no way in hell I can climb this hard with one axe when I'm at my limit with two!! Andy throws me down a loop of rope which I clip to my harness but I refuse to be dragged willy nilly up the cliff and try to climb whilst being pulled. I was mortified, it was horrible and I really didn't like giving over complete control. But it was much quicker that way, than Andy lowering me down and me having to climb what I had done already plus the top section. Once I was over the lip of the steep wall, Andy ab'd down for my axe (it had fallen to the bottom of the slab) and prusiked back up the rope.Time was running short and there was one pitch left up a steep groove. The route joined up with other routes on that section of cliff and the top rope length was about grade II, but we decided to traverse off the cliff at the top of our route, rather than join the other route so we could get back to our sacks in the corrie before it got dark.
The last pitch was delightful! About tech4 with amazing hooks and torques, and thin for the feet to add some spice! There was a chimney/depression type thing at the top and you had to move rightwards here to stand on a pedestal and then heave up on more hooks etc above onto the snowy slope above. And that was it, another new route in the bag (if not in the best style for me though!) I was feeling really pissed off at myself for my incompetence and feeling really insecure as a climber, telling myself I was utterly crap and would never be competent and should just give it all up, blah blah blah, haha no way! But my bad mood persisted till we got down to the sacks and wasn't helped by the steep descent, again over snow covered scree and loose bouldery stuff. It got to the point that I was falling over that often that I decided to descend on my bum. That was much quicker, though I got a bit of a sore bum a few times when I hit a rocky patch! And my trousers haven't thanked me for it, damn!
In the end, it was good to try something really hard for me to see how I got on with it. But I think I'll stick to a good few more grade IV's before trying a V again, although we didn't know it was going to be so hard. And I need to figure out a new system for my axes and the leashes and I really need to learn to keep a bit more cool in extremes instead of turning into a spitting fury of wrath and need to learn to channel that aggression and energy into my climbing instead.
I've been enjoying naming our routes so far, but I'm leaving the naming of this one up to Andy cos I'll just call it something evil and nasty, lol!