Charlie says...............I've just led Charlie's Corner on Jetty Buttress up Gruinard way, woohoo! This is a VS I've been wanting to lead for a good while now, happy happy!
While the rest of Britain was under heavy rain and gale winds, Chris and I were climbing up in the NW of Scotland, sheltered from the wind and in sunshine!
I drove up to Chris' on Friday evening but was running very late due to seeing someone I know, at first seemingly broken down, on the Dual Carriageway just before Dundee. It was pelting it down with rain, so couldn't leave them there without going back and seeing if they needed a lift or help. It took a while to drive back round and up, and as I parked into a garage across the road an ambulance which had thundered by recently was just pulling up and the person I know was getting in. Cross the Dual to find out if he was OK, and had to wait for ages for him to been seen to and questioned by the police (some guy had shunted into the back of him)
In the end he didn't need help or a lift, so that was precious time wasted, though a good deed for the day! Zooming up to Chris' already late, a tree had blown over in the high winds and blocked access to the Fettercairn, Cairn O Mount road, aaaaaaaarg!!! Managed to find a way through though by a sneaky drive through the Fasque estate and was soon at Chris' By this point though, it was 9pm, still lashing it down and we decided to stay at Chris' house and drive up NW early the next morning.
It rained and it rained and it rained all the way up North, so much so that we were wondering if we'd made the right decision, but thankfully it cleared by the time we'd hit the Braemore Junction and we carried on up to Ullapool to go climbing at Reiff. Driving down the Auchaltibui Road, the rain started again and it was still awfully windy so we about turned and drove back to B.Junction to head to Jetty Crags at North Gruinard, where thankfully it was dry! Warm too, sheltered by the wind and felt really mild.
Hurrah, time to climb at last!
I went for the first lead of the day on the imaginative Route 2, a one starred Severe 4a. Climbs a groove and then onto the arete of the groove, crossing over the top of the groove and onto the slab. Getting onto the slab was the crux and felt thin and very bold for the grade! Quite thin moves higher up also, generally not the kind of moves I like, so good to test myself.
Chris led a HS 4a called Lilly The Pink which I thought was a pretty crap route with no distinct features and no distinct line. Chris found the route finding challenging and said that the 1st ascentionist Jim Bell was well known for route finding through featureless faces or rock.
I wanted to get straight on Charlie's Corner as it's a VS I've liked the look of since I very first saw it, and it didn't disappoint! Bridge up a corner to a text book jug and then came what I found to be the crux. There was a good hold up on the left but it was way out of reach, gggggggrrrrr!! Took me ages to figure out how to make the move after much palming and high stepping this way and that way, I finally found a sequence that would work for me and nailed it onto the left ledge. Next followed sensational climbing up an arete onto another ledge, up a steep groove and onto an even more exposed headwall. It was the most delightful route I've led, I was grinning and oooohing and aaaaaaaahing as I was climbing the top wall, just brilliant :oD
Chris wasn't sure what to do next, he didn't like the look of the polish on the classic Anthrax Flake (I think Charlie's Corner looks a far better route anyway!) and one of the other VS's looked okay, but he decided in the end to go for an HVS 5a called Batty that the guide had as being low in the grade.
Low in the grade? Aye right! It was solid HVS climbing and Chris led it brilliantly! I reckon if he can lead stuff like this, there aren't many of the HVS's that I've seconded that he'd struggle with on lead. The bottom was steep and awkward with hold which weren't great and the top moves up an offwidth type gap forming a detached block, and a blank wall were pretty technical, but in a way that was impossible to do with any finesse! But I don't think off widths and finesse really go together! It was a fun route though, and even though I wasn't keen on the bottom section, the top was fab!
Belly's were rumbling by now and it was getting cooler, the hour was getting on. Time to find a spot to camp and eat and drink. Unfortunately, the spot on a flat grassy bit beside a secluded beach had already been taken, but we managed to find another flat spot. No view of the beach here though, but a nice spot nonetheless. I had no gas canister, so tried using these paraffin blocks that had been given to me, but discovered they are utterly crap as a stove so ended up eating my tea cold as I couldn't be bothered to wait for Chris to finish making his tea. It was nice sitting chilling and drinking wine whilst camping, I've really missed it!
I slept quite well and woke up to a lovely sunny day. We had decided the night before to go check out the Thorsdale Crags south of Gairloch. I'd climbed at Raven's Crag a few years ago but the grades there were all easy, so we wanted to go to Fruity Crag and Druid's Rock which had plenty of severe's to warm up on and loads of VS's and a few HVS's. I'd also seconded an HVS on Fruity a few years ago and remember being intimidated by the routes there but I was only leading V.Diff at the time and the crag, even though very short at 10m is pretty damn steep! After a short run on the beach we drove off to the crags.
I started off on a Severe called Banana which looked straightforward enough, but gave me a bit of trouble at the crux, mainly cos I needed to do a high step with my left leg which I can flex at the hip well at all because of my old back injury and the op. (this is what had caused problems on the crux of Charlie's Corner the day before and made me think that I need to start doing some hip flexor stretches to try and improve my flexibility in that leg. I had been told that I would never be able to touch my toes again, and have proved them wrong with that one, so sure I can gain more flexibility in other parts where it shouldn't be possible. Not entirely sure if it is hip flexors or my hamstrings which make me unable to do these moves. Must find out!)
Anyway, Chris breezed up the route, finding it a doddle and then jumped straight onto a tough VS! I was surprised he was going for this one without warming up as it looked hard. It was a superb route and he led it really well, figuring the moves nicely (and saving me the bother of having to figure them on second!) The moves were very sequencey and technical and it felt very much like a boulder problem but on a cliff face. Then there was a nice ledge, followed by some delicate slabby climbing. No stars in the guide but we both thought it worthy of a couple of stars. And more of a 5a grade, than the 4c given!
I was going to lead another Severe on a slab round the side (to try and get myself used to leading slabs) but decided to go for a VS 4b instead that I like the look of. It followed a thin flake up to a ledge and then up a huge detached flake. This route gave me a real battle, and is def my hardest VS lead to date! The crux moves are never 4b!!! Much more like a 4c (even 5a) move above your gear and into an awkward position, before flinging in another bit of dubious gear. I wasn't 100% sure about any of the gear on the route, bar one bit at the start and knew if I fell and the gear ripped I was facing a ground fall! So, it made those crux moves feel very committing! I guess that's why it gets VS 4b, as even though the moves are harder than 4b, it is a bold route, but it's no way near hard enough to get HVS 4c, and VS 4c doesn't convey it's boldness. But I think I'd def go for VS 4c, with a bit about bold climbing in the guide description. Mind you, the guide for this crag is way, way out and the grades aren't correct at all! There is a photo of the guy in the guide, on some E4 and he is the guy who has done many of the 1st ascents. I had commented that he had really girly looking legs and we said we should phone him and say, 'hey mate, you can't grade for shit and you have legs like a girl!' lol! All meant in good humour of course.
Back to the route.......... It took ages and ages for me to commit and I was having a bit of a problem with the ropes. You had to layback for a couple of moves and every time I leaned off the big flake and tried to move up, the knot of the higher rope kept getting caught on the bottom of the flake, preventing me from moving up, so I would have to climb back down again.
Tried a longer quickdraw, didn't work, climb back down.
Tried extending the quickdraw, didn't work, climb back down.
All the while my arms are getting tired from each attempt.
Thank god for that ledge to stand and recover on though!
Finally made the moves by pulling a big bit of slack over the flake so the rope wouldn't catch. Of course, if I fell, I would fall longer as there was more rope out, but that couldn't be helped! I wasn't even sure if these moves would work and once fully committed, there's no way I felt comfortable enough to reverse the top moves if it wasn't right! Thankfully it did work, phew! But now I was wedged in to the flake in a very awkward position. I could see the move I had to make next but wanted more gear, the last bit now below my feet. I bunged in a quick cam, no time to faff, too awkward! Stress, stress, stress and it came to mind something Andy and I had been discussing about cams. and ease of placement. He had told me that when I started leading harder stuff I would place cams more often as I'd be in too strenuous a position to hold on and faff with other gear. And boy he was right! I just bunged that cam in quick as you like and moved up quickly, going, 'oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!' But what was at the top of the flake but a THANK FUCK JUG! Oh yeah! WOO FUCKING HOO! It's not over yet though, calm yourself, calm yourself. Do some deep breathing, chill, move up again, get in a bomber nut and it's scrambling moves to the top. Safe! I told Chris that if he flew up this route, finding it a doddle, I'd never speak to him again and as soon as he stepped onto the rock he said, 'god, this is dead hard!' Haha!
He did find the crux hard though and could see why I'd struggled with it on lead and agreed it wasn't 4b climbing.
Chris was starting to come down with a cold and was starting to feel pretty rotten (he did look pretty wiped out!) But he wanted to do one more route, so we went to find Druid's Rock. It's not obvious at all how to find it and it took a while to locate! It didn't look that appealing on approach, so rather than walk down and have to walk all the way back up if Chris didn't see a route he wanted to do, we just decided to go back to Fruity. Chris had spotted a VS5a there that he thought looked okay, so we just did that.
There was much up and downing as Chris placed gear and figured the moves, but he got up eventually, not as straight forward as it looked, as per the other routes we'd done so far! And the crux was VERY bold, which it shouldn't be at that grade! Mind you, once the gear is below your feet, you have managed to get better holds, but it's still not easy climbing until you are up on a ledge and by then, if you fall you will pretty much deck out unless the belayer is nifty enough to pull in some rope quick enough and throw themself down! Chris managed the top with no problems and then it was my go. God it was hard! I really struggled with the starting moves and if felt much more like HVS climbing to me! The top was easier though and very nice and again we thought it was a route worthy of a star.
That was us for the day, it was 4 o'clock by now. Every route that day had been a struggle and given us damn good value so had taken more time than normal. We stopped for a brew, and I realised that there was no tea bags for me :o(
Gutted! Was really looking forward to a cuppy. Chris had mentioned something about teabags in the morning and I though he'd said not to bother taking any as he had some, but he had been saying to take mine as all he had was his (which are peppermint!) So, I was stuck with Peppermint tea! Nice as it is, it's just not the same as proper tea, though it did go well with the chocolate rice crispy cake that Chris had.
It was nice sitting there chilling and admiring the view across to Torridon and basking in the sun. The silence was only broken by a Cuckoo, which had annoyingly been cukooing away all day!
My neck was hurting on the drive home and I had a fast developing headache which was building up to migraine status. I necked some painkillers but didn't take them quick enough and starting feeling really spaced and sick. Once we were back at Chris' and I could get out the car and move about, it started to ease off a bit, painkillers finally kicking in. Must remember to take sunglasses out when it's sunny like that. I did remember to use sunblock and to drink plenty, but think the sitting in the car and the glare of the sun, set it off. Feel a lot better today, just niggling in the background and also pretty tired!
Was supposed to climb with Mel today, but was feeling far to crappy when I got home so just couldn't think about climbing. Weather is crap now, so don't feel guilty anymore about letting her down. Might go for a run later if I can work up the energy.