Since coming back from our rather disastrous trip to the Alps, I've been absolutely gagging to get out rock climbing and becoming really grumpy after being let down by partners either not wanting to get out as it's too cold or becoming ill. Not grumpy at my partners, just grumpy with the lack of climbing! So after another bail at short notice, I put a post up on the Dundee climbing facebook page and managed to find a partner for the Sunday.
Where to go? I was thinking that I'd be absolutely crapping myself having only gotten out trad climbing once this summer and only a couple of times the summer before. I thought perhaps Ballater and I could lead the V.Diff and the Severe before jumping on Giant Flake Route to see if I could still lead a mild VS/HS. Or perhaps Hawkcraig followed by Limekilns (the tide looked good for the former.) However, my partner had bigger ambitions and suggested Eagle Ridge at Lochnagar. Ooooooooh! It hadn't even dawned on me to go and do a mountain route, so eager was I to get out simply cragging and to see if I still could lead anything without turning into a gibbering wreck!
We eagerly checked the forecast on Saturday and both agreed that it looked do-able, maybe a shower or two due in later in the day and the route might be a bit damp in places from the rain on Saturday. But it was decided. I threw my stuff into the van and drove down to Dundee to pick up Nikolay, the crazy Russian from Moscow. I then drove us up to the Spittal carpark, I dossed in the van and Nik dossed in the visitor centre, which he said was warm and comfy enough. The carpark was mobbed with cars which I found quite odd at after 11pm in the evening and I was hoping that there wasn't some sort of club meet on with loads of folk wanting to climb Eagle Ridge the next day.
We were up at 6am and off by 7am, with only one team ahead of us as they had cycled in on bikes. Can't say I fancy cycling up that path as it's far too steep and rough for me! And the 2 guys weren't too far ahead of us, just approaching the bottom of Douglas Gibson Gully as we were at the first aid box in the Coire. It took 1.5hrs to walk up to the col, but a little slower up to the route, due to the boulders coming down into the coire, although the walk down is loads easier in summer than it is in winter! We thought the 2 guys ahead of us were climbing something different to Eagle Ridge as they had started up a slab and corner further up the gully, a different start to Eagle Ridge I wondered and I was curious to consult the guide once I got home to see. But they ended up bailing after a short while, as it was hard and they had actually thought they were on Eagle Ridge. So that put us first on the route.
I can hear that another team have started on the route and just as Nik appears, the leader of the second team is arriving. We decide to let them past as they seem to be moving quicker than us and the leader carries on up the corner, stopping for a while at the top as he is climbing with big boots on and perhaps the top of the corner is a bit tricky. We wait for quite a while for the leader to set up a belay higher up and bring up his second and then Nik sets off up the corner and then has to stop at the top and wait for the first lots leader to head off. He manages to set up a belay and then I can climb the corner, which is very nice climbing and poses no problems at all. But there's no room for me at the belay and I wait on a ledge below, tied off as we wait for the team above to move on, starting to regret letting them go on ahead of us.
It started off up a short, dirty groove and up to the crest of the ridge, where you peer steeply down the other side. The crest takes you to a steep tower where the first leader was finding it tough going. I didn't find this bit too bad, very steep and committing and you had to trust your feet to a high step onto a sloping ledge but the hand holds were good once you found them. The next bit was brilliant, a very steep wall with massive jugs and not reachy at all. But the next section was horrendous! Looking at pics, I think this was the section that was to lead into the sentry box. Well, I just couldn't do this bit at all! There was a big massive block barring the way and I tried tackling it from all sides and from all angles but I just couldn't get my hand over the top of it at all! And there was nothing whatsoever below to use and nothing to use as a foot hold to reach higher either! Stumped! And the worst of it was, was that there was no gear placed up there and if I fell trying to jump for something over the block, then I'd take a nasty swing rightwards and crash into a wall on the right. I was there for ages trying to figure it out, but in the end I decided to move down and to the right, following the rope which took me to an overhanging crack where I decided that I would either have to shunt the rope or be hauled up. I detest being hauled with a passion so I went for the shunt option. Wrapping my prussic round the rope, I realised that I could use the krab clipped into it as a handle and thus as a handhold so i wouldn't have to shunt or be hauled. I explained what I was going to do and with a very tight rope indeed, I bridged out across the corner, jammed one hand into the crack and hauled with all my might onto my handle, shouting at Nik to pull and take in at the same time. I then had to sit on the rope and repeat the process 2 or 3 times to surmount that overhang and by that point I was knackered and my heart was pumping with adrenaline! Nik was laughing his head off at my panting sound effects!
I could see the team ahead on the plateau waving at us, they were quick to finish, obviously didn't have any problems and we did the right thing by letting them past in the end as although they were very slow to start with, they were faster overall. We decided just to follow the winter finish as time was ticking on and we were getting eaten alive by midgies and I just couldn't face anymore reachyness and thuggery. Even the winter finish isn't that easy and involves a few reachy moves. It finishes up a steep slab, then an easy bit, then a massive reach up onto another slab which I ended up having to aid yet again! And that was it, done and dusted.
Nearly 8 hours on the route all together, with just over an hour of that on sitting about waiting for belays, and then probably half an hour added for me faffing on the second pitch and having to aid several moves. A lot longer than the 5-6 hours I was expecting it to take us! The walk from the plateau back down to the col went quickly, but the walk from the col to where it joins the main path seemed to take forever, with the last being going quickly too though. We were back at the van just as it was dark, sorted gear, drank the best cup of tea ever and ate lots of chocolate on the drive back home (or atleast I did!) Nik was probably eating potatoes which seemed to be his staple diet that day.