Just back home from Andy's. It is 2 o'clock in the morning and I'm too wired to sleep until I've sat for a while, had a cuppy and chilled. It's been a tiring weekend, but a fantastic one!
I didn't really have any plans in mind when I drove up on Friday evening after a bouldering sesh at AVW, but we decided to go to the Ben on Sunday due to it being forecast for frost Sat night/Sun morning and the weather was really better for cragging on the Moray Coast on Saturday.
I'd been talking about leading 'Centre' for quite some time and I also really fancied leading 'Left' which is a tad harder, HS4b (or MVS) for Centre and VS5a for Left. I was also taken with the route Stegosaurus. All fine and well talking about it, but in the morning I was getting so nervous, the butterflies in my stomach were making me feel sick! I don't understand why I get so nervous and work myself up into such a tizzy, but having climbed for 5yrs now I've just come to accept that I need a few grades in hand at the start of the day to get into the swing of things and get my head in the right place.
We started off with me leading Doddle Deidre (Sev) and I didn't half wobble my way up it. I had to give myself a stern talking to about half way up for being such a wimp and thoughts of, 'pah, you're struggling on a severe, you can forget about VS today!' were on my mind.
Andy led (well, soloed and dragged a rope up for me!) a Severe called Bombproof which was a lovely wee route up a steep wall on humongous jugs, oh jugs are fab! And that was it, time for Centre. I remember 2nding Chris on it last summer and finding it a struggle to reach the nose that juts out the corner, but then finding a hold that allowed me to reach and then struggling to get across and finally shaking my way up the rest of the route, so I was a bitty nervous about leading it. But I knew the gear was good and Andy convinced me that you could fling a sling around the big nose, though I was dubious and thought that once you were holding the nose you were kind of committed and wouldn't have time to faff.
But it was fine! And as it was, I managed to fling a sling round the nose before making the move and once you grab the nose, if you bridge out and lean right out, well you could hang there all day! Dunno why I struggled so on it last year as it really was a doddle! And once you're across you can bridge up the final corner in balance all the way and bung loads of gear in.
Andy then led Right, HVS5b. I wasn't sure I'd get up it as it had wee cracks that looked minuscule to me! But I didn't have anything to worry about and although it was strenuous, my fingers can fit into those small cracks quite nicely and even though the route is steep and the holds small, everything is very positive and the friction on the rock is superb, god I love sandstone!
Right, I'm gonna do it! I'd been staring at Left for ages, working out where I was going to place gear and remembering that when I top roped this route with Chris last summer I totally flew up it without a care in the world. It's a tad harder on lead though! Bung in a couple of bits of gear lower down and then move up to the bottom of the crack and you can grab a handle jug (oh yes!) at the bottom of the crack, bridge your foot out on the nose of Centre and fling a bit of gear in the bottom of the crack. Aaaarg, that bit's not fitting! Shite! I've clipped that cam onto my krab with the nuts on it, I need those nuts NOW!!! Sort my faffing out and my arms are feeling it! Gear in, move back down, shake out. Oh no, dunno if I've got the energy for this now! C'mon! You were laybacking a 6b+ at the wall just on Wed, surely you can manage a couple of similar 5a moves on rock, with bomber gear at your waist? I go for it, layback one move, back step with the left foot reach up the crack, sink my fingers in nice and deep, bridge out, reach up again for a jug, bridge up higher, and that's it done! Woooooohooooooo! The rest is easy, easy enough to pose for the camera. Chuffed as hell! Feeling really good about my climbing at the moment. Only my 3rd trad day of the year and I've already led my hardest route ever, happy happy!
We set up a top rope next on The Prophet and have a go on that. Andy gets it on his second go, but I just can't get over the roof and am falling off all over the shop! Jeez, how can folk be good enough to lead this kind of thing?! But after seeing how Andy got it clean, I will know if we ever try it again. Tide is going back out now, but I want to leave Stegosaurus for another day (good to have something to go back for, and after only managing around 5hrs sleep last night, I'm knackered.)
Sunday. Andy suggested going up to the Ben. I knew if I wanted to winter climb then the Ben was pretty much the only option for tomorrow. The though of crowds was making me feel grumpy, but what the hell, I decided to try and be chilled out about it, and just put up with other people being on all the routes (I knew there was no hope in hell of getting Andy to agree to a mega early start! And the forecast looked to be better in the afternoon anyway) It was a lovely drive over. I was tired, having had another bad night's sleep, waking in fits and starts and my mind was in pondering mode. The light shining over and reflecting into Loch Laggan was calming and again I fall in love with our beautiful country. It just doesn't matter the things that go in, in day to day life, simple moments of reflection and beauty will always take my breath away and make me feel so lucky to be able to experience our lovely hills.
We figured that if we actually had a late start, then folks would be well on there way up the routes. And Andy didn't think it would be all that busy, convinced that the majority of folk have given up on the winter.
And he was right. Compared to the last time I was up the Ben 3 years ago, it was deserted! I was assuming there would be queues upon queues for any of the more popular routes, but there wasn't that many teams out at all.
Andy wanted to see if Indicator Wall was in nick. I was highly dubious! Me on grade V ice, yer having a laugh right?! I've seen photos of Indicator Wall and in my mind it's a steep cliff with vertical ice from head to toe! Driving up, and yet again I'm feeling sick with 'the fear'
Forgotten what a slog it is up to the Ben, but we can have a stoppy in the CIC hut for drink, a bite eat, get more clothes on etc before we go on our merry way. I was also pretty excited about the prospect of Indicator Wall and trying a gradeV and was questioning nervously about just how safe it was for me to be there. Belays, good enough if I fall off or need to sit on the rope (not that I'd dare! Can't seem to bring that wall mentality to winter! It's a good thing though I think?) And it's another slog up Observatory Gully. There are 2 teams on Point 5 Gully and the gully looks to be in good condition from what I can see of it. Further up, there is a team on Tower Scoop, a team on Smiths and a team going up Gardyloo Gully, and quite a few folk on Tower Ridge. We can't quite see Indicator Wall until we are in line with the bottom of Tower Scoop, and rats once we can see, there is already someone on it! But, it's not a gully and I'm not too fussed about climbing under someone. It looks amazing and not as steep as I thought it would be (though still steep looking!) so no way do I want to go to our fall back plan of Good Friday Climb. Looking across, there is someone on that already! So, our plan of folk being a long way up stuff if we had a late start, didn't quite work out as planned. But we figured that, by the time we'd geared up and gone up and traversed across to the base of the cliff, the teams would have moved on. Didn't happen though. The team in front were taking a bit of a while and the lower team had to wait for them to move up. Andy, in a rush as ever set off though and joined the 2nd of the lower team at the 1st belay before you could shake a stick! Turns out it was somebody he knew, so it was all very sociable. And secretly, I didn't mind in the slightest! It was quite nice nattering away to folk while your climbing, though I wasn't as keen on the shower of ice that fell down my neck when I was climbing pitch 1, and the bloke above pitch 2. Still, I tucked my head down and thought it could be worse if it was all windy and spindrifty!
The 1st pitch is nice, steep in places but with plenty of gaps between and the ice was so thick that you could often get your foot sideways to rest the calf's.
The 2nd pitch I found hard though! The crux was the steepest ice I have ever climbed! I was convinced it was vertical, but Andy tries to convince me that gradeV ice isn't vertical and the crux was only about 80 degrees. But but but it was super dooper steep and bulgy! Nothing technical though, and I come to realise that there is nothing to this ice climbing other than brute strength and stamina but I'm rather lacking in the strength department and I'm grunting a bit by the time I reach Andy at the second belay.
We don't have enough rope to reach the summit in one more pitch, so Andy leads out 15/20m of easy snow slope (bout grade II angle) and takes a belay there, as I've taken a fancy to leading the last ice pitch. It's nowhere near as steep as the crux and it's much shorter than the 1st pitch. It looked about grade II again from below, but approaching it I can see it's steeper than that! Still, if I can get up gradeV ice, then I can get up this step and hah! there is a perfect nut slot and insitu peg just below the step. Placed a couple of nuts and clipped the peg and the rest was fine and dandy, just pay attention to where you put your feet, the axe placements I don't worry about, they just sink into the ice it's so good! Then it's up a steep snow slope, skirt around the cornice and traversing underneath it on soft and wettish snow is pretty freaky, but take it slowly, making sure each foot step is solid. Snow gives a little and my heart jump out my throat for just a second! But then I'm there, poking my head up and onto the summit. Man it's surreal as anything! There LOADS of people up there! Walkers and tourists and other climbers all milling about taking pics. So weird, being on steep ice one minute and then thrown into public the next!
We decided to traverse around and down to Coire Leis, there was ice all the way up Moon Walk but I can't testify to it's quality! It probably wasn't the best of ideas going down that way as it seemed to take forever. Andy bumslid right down to the Col but I wasn't as brave, what with rocks peeking through (and me remembering the rock incident on Beinn Dearg at New Year!) and a drop down to the left! The snow was quite slippy and slushy and it's that kind of ground that I find horrible descending. Dunno why it is, but my legs can handle normal downhill, or gradeI downhill, but any kind of in between steepness and my legs don't seem to like it! It's like my hips and core/centre goes all weak and taking a step downhill feels all wobbly, and it's only been like that since my back got knackered a couple of years ago. Anyway, I got down to the col eventually where Andy was waiting with a rope.
'It's steeper than I remember it,' he says
I peer down, not too steep, but I'll take the rope for the top bit cos my wee leggies are tired by this point, and going down, my arms hurt as usual from the repetitive motion of plunging my axe in. It doesn't take long to get to the less steep ground again and Andy is off in shot on his backside again! (no wonder he's wearing a hole in the seat of his troosers!) I decide to try and bumslide too, but only do it in fits and starts. Find myself careening down out of control, try to break, can't get enough pressure on my axe so lean over it, which of course twists me round into full on axe breaking position! So, I half walk, half slide down and once past the snowline I tell Andy to carry on as I'm utterly boiling and need to strip off some layers. Off with my trousers (with leggings on underneath! Not running round the Ben naked, honest!) jacket and fleece, bite to eat and drink and a call of nature, find a wee track through the boulders and down to the CIC hut where Andy has made me a cup of tea (perfect boyfriend material :oD Can take me up grade V's *and* make me a cup of tea at the end of a long day!) and is chatting with Simon Richardson (the real one! That dude that Chris, John and I met down in Northumbria (see Northumbria holiday posts) last year wasn't SR as he isn't about 80 looking and is still def much climbing!) and Robin Clothier about this and that. I'm too knackered to chat much and sit feeling a bit drained, nursing my tea. Down in the car park, we are approached by a couple of folk, one guy who was on Tower Ridge, saying he had photos of us and another guy who was out on his own doing Ledge Route.
Stop off at Roy Bridge for a bar meal (and we're utterly stuffed!) then it's a long drive home for me over the Lecht, trying to dodge all the local wildlife who seem bent on suicidal missions this evening!