Monday, 22 February 2010


I think I should stay away from the cliffs near and around Sgorr Ruadh as every time I climb (or try to climb) here I end up having a hard time/epic or conditions are difficult.

The route that Andy and I had wanted to do was as black as the ace of spades so we decided to do a new route near to Postbox Gully instead.  I was finding getting up into the corrie tough going.  I'm not sure what's going on with my leg at the moment, but whenever I start up off steep ground I get a pain in my hamstring that gets worse and worse until it's searing and I have to stop and wiggle it about.  Don't know if it's coming from my lower back, which is also struggling painfully with carrying a sack.  Whatever it is, it's really hampering my enjoyment of getting out into the hills at the moment and I'm finding each day out a struggle of my will against the pain.  Add that on to the pain of my shoulders/neck/arm and I'm getting exceedinly frustrated at my body's weak and pathetic state.

Still, I made it up there eventually and belayed Andy up the 1st pitch of icy grooves.  I wasn't that keen on this pitch and found it hard to start.  There was a really steep section of ice but it wasn't that thick and it was really brittle and dinner plating all over the place.  I still can't seem to get into climbing water ice but Andy gave me a few more tips for next time, like aiming for the whiter looking bits rather than the greyer bits.  Of course, because I was wacking the living daylights out the ice, I was using up strength and energy fast and getting frustated.  Above the ice, the snow/ice was pretty cruddy and I was finding it pretty tenuous.
The 2nd pitch was much nicer.  A rising traverse rightwards saw a bulge of ice, steep at the bottom.  You had to get into the corner beside the ice and sort of swing your axe around the side of bulge, step onto the arete of the bulge, swap feet by a wee hop, before stepping up.  That was quite a nice wee funky move and made it a bit more interesting than the usual thwack, thwack.

We just moved together up the top section into a snowy gully, with me managing to find enough gear to keep us protected, topping out into the most gorgeous day ever!  It really was stunning up there.  The sun was beaming down, the surface layer of snow made up of enormous hoar crystals and sparkling like diamonds.  Liathach was poking up in the near distance and in the other direction, Lurg Mhor and neighbours stood glistening white.  We had a comical moment when I walked round the coire rim, to the edge of the cliff to peer down one of the gullies.  I mentioned to Andy that I had seen footprints in the gully and rope marks so somebody must have climbed it recently.  Andy was curious, realising that Postbox Gully topped out a bit further away than from where I was looking.  Turns out I had simply been looking back down into the gully which we had just climbed, doh!

During that day, Andy had pointed out a possible line for Sunday, on Fuar Tholl.  I was a bit intimidated by Fuar Tholl, it had always seemed a 'hard man's' mountain to me, even though there is easier stuff there.  And the line that Andy was looking at looked scary from where we saw it.  Steep, dark and intimidating looking.  Andy reckoned it would 'go' though at not too hard a grade, maybe IV/V and in retropsect I should have listened to my gut feelings about not wanting to do anything hard or scary for me.  Trouble is, I am forever wanting to climb hard.  I feel inspired by other woman that climb IV's and V's and wish I could be like them, wish I could climb that well.  And it's pride, pure and simple, I don't want to climb these routes for the beauty of them, I simply want to feel that I can climb well.  But the fact is, that I can't.  I'm not a good climber, I'm not a hard climber and I'm not a confident climber.  When I'm going well, enjoying the route and not pushing myself too much, like on II's and III's then I love it, but once I get that bit further out of my comfort zone, my natural aggression turns to fear and stress and I don't cope well with these emotions at all.  I'm simply no good at keeping my cool when things get scary and as it's in my nature to be that way, I'm not sure how I can change it, or even if deep down I really want to change that.   My winter climbing seems to becoming more and more like my rock climbing where I've reached a wall, and I'd need to push out my comfort zone to get past it and get stronger and more confident.  With my rock climbing, that took a long time to happen.  It took me several years to feel confidant and calm enough to lead VS without gibbering like a wreck.  So possibly it will be the same in winter.  Maybe IV will one day happen for me, but it's not happening today.

Back to Fuar Tholl.  The walk up there is horrendous!  First of all we walked along a railway line for a while, Andy insistant that no trains ran on a Sunday, then it was a slog up a heather covered hillside, coated with sheets of verglass.  And where there was no verglass, there was powder covering the heather making the going tough.  Still, I wasn't in great pain today which was good.  It got bouldery near the top and I was inwardly grumbling at Andy for his talk of a short and easy walk in.  Only an hour he says!  Aye right!  I made my discontent known once I had caught up with Andy and he did look a bit sheepish.  But to the cliffs.  Oh my!  There was the route that we'd come to do, towering menacingly above us.  He can't seriously mean me to climb that surely!?  The first pitch looked okay, the 2nd pitch was on ice, but thin, thin ice which looked more like verglass covered rock to me.  Andy reckoned you could use the turf and not the ice, but it looked hellish.  Above, there was a wide crack/come chimney with long bits of turf drooping down.  I hesitate to say invitingly, because it was far from it!  The chimney narrowed and narrowed until it went up a steep wall with just a smear of snow in the crack.  The side wall of the crack looked like a smooth slab to me and I couldn't begin to imagine how you'd climb it.   Andy reckoned the crack was big enough to fit axes and feet in, like a ramp.  But as far as I could see the crack was only about a hand width and it didn't look to me like you could get into it at all.  I grumbled some, didn't like it.  I grumbled some more.  Andy grumbled, knowing I wasn't keen but then finally softened when he remembered we could do a grade II nearby to take us up the cliff, where we could drop down into anther of Fuar Tholl's corries and do another route.  Ho ho ho!  That didn't happen.

Andy headed off to the start of the grade II gully, whose name escapes me.  Instead of starting at the bottom, he traversed in from the right.  But to get up there involved scrambling up little steps and steep powder covered heather.  I wasn't moving confidently at all.  The steps actually involved big rock overs for me and my legs felt shakey and I felt all out of balance on the horrible ground.  Made it up there though and Andy was ready to set off.

He was moving really slowly and this got me worried.  Normally he'd fly up a grade II like it was a walk in the park, but he was moving very slowly and I finally saw him move onto the left wall of the gully, clear a load of snow and make a difficult move upwards.  Gulp!  Is this really grade II?  I was getting paranoid that Andy was trying a different version to make things more spicy and that he was going to go off route onto something harder.  I wasn't feeling up for hard at all, not confident in the slightest and feeling pretty vulnerable. 
'10m of rope left!'  I shout up.  '5m left!' 
'Why the hell isn't he setting up a belay where he's getting that gear in?  I don't want to have to start climbing without a fecking belay!'
I'm getting more nervous at the prospect and I begin inching forwards and upwards to give Andy more rope, but thankfully I'm not at the difficulties before Andy gets a belay higher up.

Conditions are awful! I reach the foot of the chimney at the bottom of the gully, and hell it looks steep!  There's no way in hell that's grade II!  Make a few moves up and I've got my axe hooked precariously around some unfrozen block, my foot on the same side on some nubbin, other foot dangling into space.  Then I can't find a single thing for my other axe.  Oh it's banging off the rock, it's ripping through turf and muddy crud but it's finding sweet feck all.  I'm starting to panic as I'm off balance and I'm weakening, my arm screaming in pain from the overhead swinging.  Andy shouts down that he will lower me off as he doesn't mind not doing the route as it's in awful unfrozen condition.  Only problem is, he is belaying with his Reverso and needs to give me slack so he can sort it to lower me off.
NO FECKING WAY!!  No slack just now!!!  I'm hanging off this awful hook with one foot balanced on god knows what.  I trust my other axe to some crud and quickly weight my foot, praying that it will hold me so I can push up and not weight those axes.  It does, thank feck!  I feel more in balance, get that load of slack in the rope before it comes tight again, ready to lower me.  I hate this.  Not enjoying it all.  Hate being lowered and not being in control.  It takes ages for my weight to come onto the rope due to the rope stretch and I'm half being lowered, half downclimbing and finally I'm back on steady ground.

Bollocks!  I can feel a big lump in my throat.  I feel so incompetent and so useless.  I really don't want to be here.  I want to be down off this hill, I want to be safe.  I want to be home and with my family, my D and RB.  Bloody well keep yourself together Sonya!  Don't succumb to your feeble emotions!   I can't help it though and it all comes out.  And I sit there in the snow sobbing.  Sobbing because I'm so crap.  Sobbing because I want to climb hard but I'm just sh*t.  Sobbing through feeling a failure.  Sobbing because Andy will think I'm an utter idiot and will never climb with me again.  Sobbing because I'm sick and fed up of feeling in pain.  Sobbing because it all feels like so much hard work.  Sobbing because all my drive and passion for winter climbing seems to be drifting away.  Sobbing because it seems a toil rather than an enjoyment.  Sobbing because more than anything I want the pleasure and the enjoyment to come back.  Sobbing because I'm sick of feeling stressed and scared.  What the f*ck is happening to me!

Andy is abbing down the route and I will myself to stop crying, dry my eyes.  It's pretty damn obvious I'm upset though and we have a good talk about things.  Andy thinks I'm not ready for grade IV and that I treat IV like it's going to be a doddle when in reality it's not.  I guess with climbing with him, because he climbs hard and the folk he climbs with climb hard, then IV seems like it's something that must be easy.  He tells me that even III's aren't easy and that John Lyall had said himself that many III's aren't easy.  But my ego won't believe that.  III's are easy, anyone can climb III!   I don't want to be just another punter, I want to climb hard!  But I face myself and the reality, that I don't actually enjoy climbing hard and find it far too scary and stressful.
There are IV's that we've done though, that have been utterly amazing.  But that's because they are amazing routes which have had good, quality climbing on them.  I have forgetten to enjoy the climbing for the climbing sake, forever getting lost in wanting to be up there with the folk climbing IV's and V's.  I've become obssessed with climbing new routes and the problem there is that sometimes we don't know how hard the ground will become so Andy tends to lead the harder bits, unless we can see that they won't be harder than III.  But it does mean that I don't always get a chance to lead.  There are so many long and classic II's and III's that I am missing out on because I'm so het up on climbing new routes, or climbing hard things.

I think for me, that it's time to go back to basics for the rest of the winter.  My pride and ego has taken a severe beating, the hills have a way of stripping you down like that from time to time and revealing your limitations.  I've learned a big lesson this weekend.  Fuar Tholl, trully gave me a big spanking and I need to lick my wounds and get back out there with a different attitude and simply enjoy myself.  That's what it's all about after all.


Lucy Wallace said...

Hey Sonya,
great blog thanks!
Your hamstring problem sounds like something I suffer from on and off: Piriformis syndrome. Its a kind of psiatica that runners/hillwalkers and people that do a lot of sitting get. Piriformis is a muscle in the but/back of leg that when tight pinches on the psiatic nerve. Sypmtoms are tight hamstrings, knee pain and lower back pain. I find it improves if I excercise regularly and stretch and avoid the sofa laptop combo.
Lucy (on my laptop from the sofa).

Sonya said...

Hi there,

Thanks for your comment on the blog (always nice to know it's being read)

Re my hamstring. I do have problems with my Piriformis yes. But it all stems from my lower spine, not the other way around.
I had severe disc herniation a few years ago (which I got surgery for) and it's left my muscle tension permanently altered. All the muscles in the leg that had severe Sciatica are now shorter than the other leg.
I stretch and stretch them, but it's no use. I find that if I forget to stretch then things get worse. Doing Pilates/core work several times a week is very helpful and I've recently gotten strict with myself again as I've been suffering quite a bit with my spine of late (fecked discs in neck too :o(

Still, we battle on (and up hopefully!)