Last minute arrangements as usual saw Mel and I with a plan for Ballater, with Mel picking me up at 9am.
'Ah, I'll get a nice lie in I thought.'
Not to be with a text from Chris waking me up at 7am saying he could manage it out climbing today too. We met up at the car park at 10.30, each with a mission in mind! Chris for Medium Groove, Mel for Lucky Strike and me for Original Route.
Started off with my usual Severe warm up which Mel didn't want to do as she'd done it last time she was there. That's the 4th time I've done it now, but there's not much else there to warm up on and it's a good and easy route to get my head in the right place. There was much discussion as to what to do next. Mel didn't want to jump on Lucky Strike straight away and Chris didn't want to jump on Medium Groove straight away either. There is another VS called Razor's Crack, low in the grade, which I wanted to lead too but was happy to give it over for their warm up as I was more keen for Original Route and it would save time with backwarding and forwarding to different parts of the cliff.
So Chris led Razor's and Mel showed my how to do the starting moves with a bit more ease than I remember! The first time I seconded this route was not long after I started climbing and I remember the guy Pete who led it putting in some gear way out to the left, making it really awkward for me to reach, so much so that I had to heel hook to keep in balance. I then just heaved and rocked over and found it all a bit of a struggle! The next time I tried it was when my spine was injured and I had to rest on the rope, finding it difficult in my weakness. This time I was up it in a flash! And it also means I've got something to go back and lead.
Mel went on Lucky Strike next and did a brilliant job of it! She's dead keen and bold and it's been ace climbing with her. I really like having another woman to climb with, especially one that can climb a bit harder than me and can inspire, motivate and encourage me! Lucky Strike is quite bold to start off, but Mel climbed it confidently, giving an 'oh yeah' of delight upon reaching the 1st jug! I moved back to take some photos and before long Chris was on his way and had found a brilliant side pull that he'd never noticed before at the start of the route. Then it was my go! I was really nervous about trying it. Chris had pointed out the better way to start it, avoiding all the polished and horrible crimpy holds and moving straight up right, before heading over left. When I did this route a couple of years ago, again when my back was bad, the guys I'd done it with had gone left too soon, making it LOADS harder! It's just one small crimpy move to the good side pull, then it's one more easy move and you've got the huge jug!
Then the crux is getting onto the 1st ledge which is quite awkward! Then follows a steep layback and we all used knees to get onto a big ledge with a tree. I struggled with the top crack, unable to find anything useful for my feet and try as I might, I can't remember how I got up that bit, but I do remember there was much grunting!
I was feeling nervous as hell about leading Original Route. I wasn't feeling that confidence that I have been feeling of late, and was feeling edgy and hormonal and full of negative thoughts. But I decided just to get on it anyway, telling myself the thoughts would go away once I was on the route, which they did as usual!
Took me 2 attempts to get the starting move, bung in some gear higher up and then I was on the ledge below the crux, twin cracks. This was yet another route that I'd struggled with on second so it took me a while to psych myself up for it! I had 2 good bits of gear, a bomber nut and a good hex. Found a hand jam low down, but then found an even better and utterly solid hand jam higher up. Moved my right foot onto a rounded edge at the bottom of the wall, moved up higher and got my left foot jammed in the left crack. This position was quite awkward, but ok enough to get in another good cam, get my right leg high onto a smaller sloping ledge on the wall and then try to move up. But aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggggg, that foot jam is fecking stuck!!! I can't move!!! This is bloody annoying! My position isn't so bad that I'm in imminent danger of falling, but my right foot is very high and I don't feel I can reverse the move enough to release my jammed foot! I curse some more and then relax my leg enough, taking the weight more onto my arms and other leg, enough to sink my heel low to untwist the foot jam and it finally pops out! Phew, that was getting a bit hairy! Then there's a crimp, another move up and a rounded but good hold at the top. WOOHOO AND YAY! My second VS5a in the bag, hurrah!
Chris's lead next and after some food we all went down to the base of Medium Cool. Hmmmmm, this looks 'interesting!'
It involves a pull up and rock over onto a slab, then a huge hand traverse, pulling over an overlap, then another traverse back rightwards before climbing up an easier but gearless slab! It took some time for Chris to lead, must have been bold as get oot! The traverse is very delicate for the feet and it's not until half way across that you feel fully secure on the hand holds. The crux is quite committing. There is a rounded crack that you have to walk your hands along, whilst getting your feet high enough that you can throw one over the overlap, trust the friction of the rock and then rock over. Then it's slab padding for a couple of moves, then easy to the top. A brilliant lead by Chris and another route I'd love to have a go of leading!
Next, Mel went to have a look at Pink Wall. It's given VS5a in the guide but has been upgraded to HVS5a. Mel thought it looked not too bad with positive holds. I thought the holds looked positive, but thought it looked bloody steep! Mel got a bit of gear in, then moved up but struggled to find anything good for her left hand and felt really off balance. She came off, landing on her feet, and then over onto the bottom of her back! Ouch! In hindsight, we should have spotted her until she got the first positive hold and got higher gear in, but hindsight is a great thing!
She picked herself up and tried again. Putting in more gear, it whipped out and she smacked her elbow off the wall, grimacing in pain! That was her for the day. She was exhausted. A day of fun competition speed climbing and belaying the day before, having the cold and being up late with a hacking cough was making her feel really rough, and she looked in loads of pain where she's smacked her back!
Chris and I had a wander to look at Flibbertigibbet and Left Hand Crack but neither of us felt motivated and I didn't really think it was a good idea anyway for Mel to hang about for much longer as she was obviously suffering, so we were all happy to call it a day. Chris took Mel's rope so she didn't have to carry it and I offered to take her gear, but she wouldn't let me, stubborn mare!