Having thought this weekend was going to be a washout, imagine my delight to find yet again that the NW of Scotland was going to be dry and possibly even sunny! Andy and I had planned a day on Beinn Eighe followed by a day down in Applecross to let me lead my dream VS, Sword of Gideon on Sgurr a' Chaorachain. Unfortunately, the forecast for the higher hills was a bit on the cold side so Beinn Eighe was out, but we decided to bet on Applecross, and it didn't fail to disappoint!
I was more nervous that usual, because I was so psyched to do this route.
'What if it was too hard and I couldn't do it though?'
'What if it didn't look as nice as I thought it would?'
'What if I bottled it?'
Pressure or what!?
The drive across to Applecross is stunning, over the Bealach na Ba, the highest road in Scotland, hairpin bends on an extremely narrow road, surrounded by stunning scenery.
We were there, and there was the buttress, just a 10 minute walk from the car!
I'd asked Andy if he minded if I led the crux pitch and he insisted that I lead the whole route and I wasn't going to refuse! The 1st pitch is a bit scrappy and you can leave it out and traverse along a terrace to start on the route proper above, but I wanted to do every single pitch on the route so we started off right at the bottom.
I'd heard that the 1st pitch was about Severe, but don't know where I heard that from as it certainly wasn't severe, more like scrambling! One bit of gear in the whole thing saw me reach the Terrace and there was the crux pitch.
It's steeper than I had thought it would be! And there's no gear in the initial moves off the ground, 'double gulp!'
There is however a fantastic jug, and though it's a tad on the wobbly side I decide it's good enough to pull up on, and that's it, I'm committed.
It's harder climbing that I thought it would be, a couple of tricky sections, with moves which feel quite committing and gear under my feet. But I'm finally at the top of the groove and faced with a gearless traverse across a slab. There's nothing juggy here! And it's quite committing again, with typical rounded sandstone holds but excellent friction, and there I'm at the belay ledge!
The next pitch is utterly delightful! Laybacking on steep jugs, excellent climbing and the sort of stuff I could climb all day long, so nice! But before long it's all over with just an easy scramble to the top and that's it, my dream route done! I feel wonderful, but as always after doing a route I've dreamed of, I feel a touch of sadness that I can no longer have it to look forward to. Forever onwards onto the next route, the next dream! The thirst is never quenched!
Andy's mate John, had climbed at Applecross a couple of days before and had done amongst other things a VS called Anduril, but they'd abandoned ship after the 3rd pitch and Andy couldn't remember why, but decided to have a look at the route. I can see why the bailed! The first pitch was wet! The 2nd pitch was covered with black lichen and the 3rd pitch was completely and utterly artificial and pointless. In fact, all bottom 3 pitches were a waste of time!
However, the route made up for it, by presenting a quite excellent 4th and 5th pitch. I'd recommend anyone doing this route to traverse along the Terrace and not bother with the pitches 1,2 and 3 as the real and good climbing lies above. Really sustained VS climbing, move after move of it, and I found it really tough!
Back to the sacks and I took some photos of some other climbers on Sword. We were in good time in the morning, as there were 2 other parties that climbed it after us. I didn't feel pressurised though as the party after us was much slower.
We decided to call it a day after that and after finding a spot to camp, on a roadside beach just the other side of Applecross, we went for a meal in the Applecross Hotel, which was lovely. Back to the beach where we drank wine in the setting sun, with views across to Skye and no midgies!
We didn't escape the midgies the next morning though. I wasn't finding them too bad, but Andy was getting bothered by them so we moved quickly. We drove right round the peninsula and across to Torridon to climb at Diabaig. I'd never climbed here before, nothing much worth doing below VS, and the best of the routes at HVS and above has always meant it was a venue too hard for me. But Andy was keen to show me it and said there was a VS I could lead there called Boab's Corner.
I was dubious about the top pitch, as the guide mentioned 'hard for the short'
But Andy couldn't remember it being that reachy so we went to have a look. I really didn't like the look of it! The bottom corner was a bit mucky and then above looked suspiciously like a nasty blank slab to me! AAAARRRRRGGGGGGG!!!! Why does he keep recommending slabs to me, when he knows fine well I don't like slab climbing! I gave the lead to Andy, no way I'm doing that for a warm up, didn't like the look of it one bit.
The start was easy, but the slab above was tenuous, reachy rock overs and tenuous climbing, yuck! I don't' mind slabs so much if there are small flakes and cracks I can hold on to, and if the moves are small, but there seemed to be some big reaches and big, slabby moves and I never once felt secure and was forever struggling to keep in balance.
The top pitch looked even blanker, so I said, 'no thanks!'
And the crux was awfully reachy! There is a big block that you have to surmount and there are jugs on the arete of the block that you can work your hands up, then you have to bridge across and just heave over. Problem though, Andy seemed to think that the reachy move was reaching over the block, but that was actually easy! The reachy bit was actually grabbing the arete as when I was as high as I could possibly get below the block, with nothing left to hold onto, no cracks or nubbins, the arete was still about a foot away from me! I ended up being hauled up so I could reach the arete, then I managed to get the jugs and brutally get myself over the block.
Not a route I enjoyed one little bit!
The descent was horrible too. Scrambling down moderate ground and then down a steep, muddy slope, followed by wading through chest high bracken!
I wasn't happy. This isn't a venue for the VS and below leader. All the really nice looking routes here are really hard and all the easier things are slabby. There is a gorgeous looking VS however that goes up over steep ground,with cracks and overhangs that looks just superb! But unfortunately it starts by having to scramble up a horrible slime covered wall and there's no way to get to the base of the route without getting your feet wet. And I wasn't in the mood for leading anyway. Felt too tired and just not psyched by the place and baffled why Andy keeps trying to get me to lead stuff that I insist I don't like and trying to put me off stuff that I think looks amazing by saying it's really hard! We just seem to get on better with different styles of climbing and I think Andy just assumes, like most people, that because I'm a woman that I will like slabs better because they're not steep. But I like steep! I don't like all this precarious, teetering about and relying wholly on balance that you seem to do with slabs, find it too unnerving.
I was all for giving up for the day and just belaying Andy on something, but I knew Andy was disappointed that I didn't like the previous route, and was getting stroppy, so I made an effort and said I'd try Route 2 to give the place a chance. And I'm glad I did! The first pitch of Route 2 is lovely! (marred by one reachy move, but if I'd made more of an effort I'd have found a good sequence to get the jug before the crack) It's steep, the holds are good and even though sometimes there isn't much for your feet, the hand holds are always good enough to feel that you're not teetering and you can jam your feet in the crack a plenty.
The top pitch is different though, harder! Lots of jamming which was ok, but sometimes you have to jam with one foot, smear with the other, whilst having a hand in the crack on holds which feel polished and rounded and not that positive at all. Very sustained and I found the climbing right at my limit and very strenuous, didn't enjoy it as much as the first pitch.
A couple of blokes that Andy knows turned up and did Route 1 which Andy thinks I might be able to lead. The start certainly looks ok (with flakes!) and the crux is a roof/overlap by a holly bush which looks interesting! But I'm not sure about the next section. I might give it a go if I'm feeling brave enough and there is ok gear as once you hit that slabbier bit, it's not far to the belay ledge. We'll see!
I belayed Andy on an E1 5c called Black Streak, but decided not to bother seconding it as I find 5b a struggle enough and couldn't be bothered with having to fight and dog my way up a route.
We called it a day after that so I could get home a bit earlier than normal.
Final exam today, then free for the summer, hurrah!