Another date for your diary. Been meaning to get to the Cliffhanger festival in Sheffield for last few years, but its always clashed with other stuff. However, this year looks like a goer. Loads for the kids, and the Bouldering World Cup as well. Last year they introduced a camp over nearby as well, with access to local crags.
The day started early or late depending on whether or not you consider two hours to constitute a nights sleep. We left the car at dot on four am pausing only for Neil to check the car was locked three times. The path from Achintee was taken at a suicidal pace as we were both too tired to complain and the forecast said the weather would only hold until lunch. A breathless hour saw us at the half way lochan. The sun was burning my retinas as we descended gently down and round to the CIC hut. Neil was managing to keep up a very one sided converstion as I tried not to be sick. Not entirely unusual for this time of the morning in my case. The first sight of Tower Ridge shut him up. I relished the silence and started to feel a bit overwhelmed by my first view of the north face of Ben Nevis.
We made pretty fair progress to the CIC hut.which nestles charmingly at the bottom of Coire Leis hemmed in by the huge flank of the CMD arête and the sombre cliffs of the north face. The CIC hut's wind turbine was reassuringly still. A few bleary eyed climbers were just finishing breakfast looking refreshed after their actual nights sleep.We strode on past the Orion face rounding what we were sure was the Douglas boulder and quickly put on 200 or so meters of height. Neil then mentioned the possibility that we had just walked past one of the most famous ridges in the world, the one we had come to climb.
Closer inspection and a check of the guide confirmed his fears and we embarrassedly headed back toward the CIC hut spotting the obvious 600m high bulk of Tower ridge lit up in bright early morning sunshine. Our cunning plan of being first on the ridge had by now backfired and two parties were scrambling up toward the gap between the Douglas boulder and the remainder of the ridge. A party of two girls shot themselves in the foot by avoiding the narrow and steep looking groove and then for reasons we will never know headed out left across some vertical grass. Until they spotted their mistake and started to climb back down.
Meanwhile back in the massive East Gully I was having my standard pre route crisis of confidence and not fancying the approach up to the ridge at all.Mercifully for Neil it was brief and we started the approach to the ridge. By the time we made the bottom of the groove a second party who were in front of us and the now retreating girls turned it into a stone shoot by kicking down assorted tennis ball sized lumps of granite. To add insult to our lack of injury they decided to dispense with any shouts of alert thus giving a rather random quality to the experience.
The groove was weeping water, rather loose and surprisingly technical with the added excitement of the barrage from above. I stopped being scared and started concentrating, mainly so as not to kick any more loose stuff onto Neil’s head.
By the time we got to the Douglas Gap at the top of the groove a partial explanation of the couple in fronts lack of warning became apparent. They were speaking a language with which I was not familiar but assessed by me to be German. Neil arrived and confirmed them to be Italian and the nickname Mr and Mrs Jonny foreigner was appended to them by us.
Mr Johnny Foreigner was by now setting of up the chimney pitch above the gap and given that he was wearing what appeared to be a pair of running shoes he was making a pretty fair job of his attempt. Mrs Johnny Foreigner was definitely wearing running shoes and a cycling helmet, to go with her three quarter length cotton leggings.
It appeared to be important to try and pass the Johnny Foreigners as they looked likely candidates for a rescue if it rained. As I started the chimney pitch in pursuit of Mrs Foreigner three down to earth gentleman with more than a hint of members of the Fellowship of the Ring about them, emerged from the approach gully and bade us good morning. Aragorn their leader hailed from Bradford and was ably assisted by a bearded Boromir from Leeds with Legolas standing aloof at the rear his eyesight having declined since the books.
The chimney pitch was steep and uneventful. A relief as I didn't want people on a ring quest talking the piss out of me. Especially before what I generally consider to be breakfast time, it was now 7.00am. Neil followed quickly, we then gained the ridge crest proper and had a look at what lay before us. Mostly it looked big and fairly gorgeous in a looming, impending kind of way. The Great Tower the crux of the route looked impressive, steep and a long way away.
The ridge now flattened out and we set off moving together in pursuit of the Johnny Foreigners. Their pasta fuelled and trainer clad legs however proved the better of us and they beat us to the first steepening of the ridge.
We meandered left then right exchanging leads over two pitches which could probably have been unroped in hindsight. We soon arrived after a little more easy scrambling at the base of the Little Tower which is a second more pronounced steeper part of the ridge and definitely something that needed a rope.
Fellowship lite joined us as we sat and waited for Mr and Mrs foreigner to climb the little tower. Then a stroke of look intervened and inexplicably they headed left when the guide suggested right as the route. I pursued the heels of Mrs foreigner noticing the trainers were Reebok as she went left and I broke out right up the back of a flake of rock which I half got behind. This put me back on the ridge’s very top. Neil led on,spending a moment placing a runner and working out a move which from below looked good value at the grade. When I got there I found it pretty straightforward but I probably outreach him by a foot.
We headed on to the base of the Great Tower and climbed the two steep initial sections before the Eastern Traverse. The traverse is important as the tower is a very hard climb without it. It looked very exposed being overlooked by the Orion face with the massive void of the East Gully in between. I decided it was best not to look again. Unfortunately jackdaws kept capturing my attention and dragging it away from the two square metres of rock I had decided to concentrate on.
By now we had gained maybe 400m of height and the cloud was spilling over the surprisingly big summit snowfield what with it being July. The earlier heat of the sun was gone and I put my hat on. The traverse was actually a walk and whilst I didn’t have my hands in my pockets I could have done. I managed to not look into the aching void of the gully and belayed at the bottom of the cave pitch. This legendary pitch was as billed. Both a godsend (no view in a cave) and a great way of climbing half the height of the Great Tower for free. Neil took a stance at the top of the cave and I squirmed up after him.
We had been climbing at speed all day to beat the weather as the thought of crossing the infamous Tower Gap in the wind and rain didn’t appeal much. The gap is a narrowing of the ridge which sperates it from the bulk of Ben Nevis. It is certainly the mentally the hardest part of the route and is notoriously difficult in high winds.
The final pitch on the tower was steep and brilliant. It pretty much overhung as it is made up of huge undercut blocks. You find yourself leaning right out over the space at your feet to find your way. One hold missing and this would be a tough pitch but the holds are all immaculate. It was as good a pitch of climbing as I have done. I was soon belayed and looking down toward Neil trying not to look at the view. Alas this was difficult and I found myself looking at a now much closer summit and down to the snow filled East Gully. People on the summit were using me as free entertainment after their flog up the tourist path I felt a bit like a goldfish, big bowl though.
We were quickly both on the Tower’s summit, now only the Gap remained. Neil honourably and sensibly decided to lead this as my fear of knife edge ridges would have meant we would still be there if I had attempted it. The ridge running to the Gap narrows to no wider than armchair and the drops on either side are huge. According to Neil that is, I wouldn’t know I didn’t look.
Neil stooped and crawled out to the gap pausing in the now blustery wind to place his grateful partner a couple of runners, until he was above the Gap proper. The wind was gusting quite violently now so it was hard to hear what he was saying but he spent a while placing a sling and the disappeared from my view as he entered the Gap. Aragorn and the fellowship now came into view. As I set off across the narrow crest I again did an excellent job of looking at nothing but the rock at my feet and was soon stood at the top of the Gap.
The move into the gap will stay with me for some time yet . I ended up lowering myself off the in place rope slings. I then swung round and hung in the Gap. I put my fooot down to step onto what I was sure was rock to disappointingly realise the mountain narrows to the width of a toaster at this point. Were my foot wished to go was air and a view down 600 feet of Glovers Chimney which was alas unforgetable. I decided to look away and try and forget. stepping onto the toaster sized lump of mountain available I moved into the gap.
The escape from the gap was up an unlikely looking polished slab with crampon scars, making me glad I wasn’t here in winter. I led up this with by now very cold hands and clipped the rusty but very welcome peg. We scrambled up the final 50m to the summit plateau which was reached by a final steep but easy gully.
As we exchanged handshakes my attention was drawn back to the Gap were Mr and Mrs Johnny Foreigner were trying to pass the Fellowship of the Ring at probably the worst place on the mountain to attempt this move. Boromir just like in the books was quick to loose his temper and as Neil plyed me with surprisingly tasty dryed blueberries. I heard a gruff menacing voice proclaim “Do what you like you prick, but you are not coming past here now.”
Mr and Mrs Foreigner scuttled back along the ridge crest. The fellowship were last to be seen attempting to abseil into the gap, as the wind strengthened some more.
We then began to haul our by now tired carcasses down the trench of the tourist path toward Achintee. The adrenalin subsiding but the euphoria stil very much in evidence. We made it back to the car in some ten hours from our early start. The proposed visit to the Clachaig was abandoned in favour of a very welcome big mac meal in Fort William just as the heavens opened. All in all a grand day out. As to the fellowship and Mr and Mrs Foreigner ask Ben.
Added a few more things to my list: Widened out my tick list to include Caley and Brimham. Not sure if I've added Rabbit's Paw Wall as a route or a highball... Added a circular walk from Thruscross that takes in 3 crags, as well as a pub of some repute.
First chance to get on grit probably going to be next week's full moon. Now, the actual date is weds 19th jan, but Stu is going to the opera so I reckon we'll be going up Thursday evening. Forecast is looking cold but clear, so fingers crossed. Plan is to climb anything we can see well enough, so don't expect any new ticks
The blog should look better on a mobile now but you will see only posts by default. There is a view web version button at the bottom if you want to see your ticklists. I can reccomend blogpress as an app if you wish to post on the go. So that's it the techy bit is done, we just need to get up some routes now.
Another good session at Harrogate Climbing Centre last night bodes well for the year, but it's the rocks that have popped back into my head (quiet down anyone who thinks I always or only have rocks in my head) that concern me right now.
My mind wandered over to Brimham, and to a couple of problems in the Pommel Area, both of which I've tried before, one of which I was surprised to get close to ticking, the other which I feel I really should have ticked by now. The small roof wall was interesting and ambitious to try, and I think it won't take many Brimham trips before that one is nailed. The easy boulder has seen a few successful climbs, including a traverse, but several of the problems on its face remain untroubled by me, which obviously needs fixing. Very much on the list when the weather improves and the light returns. And then, I don't know if I'm getting ahead of myself here, but the germ of an idea can be hard to resist. Fontainebleau is addressed in hushed tones as a mecca for bouldering, and I think I'd like to be a part of that someday. Consider the conversation on the subject opened...
Nothing worthy of a tick - indoor climbing, with its more changeable nature, is still the focus - but three climbs in five days was still a good start to the year. Worth getting the quantity just after the holiday, but the quality was occasionally off. Monday's visit to The Depot featured a mini-tick in the form of an eliminate on a purple problem on the overhanging comp wall - previously having won ten points on the same climb in the Leeds bouldering ladder* - but form elsewhere was average, with no new problems of note being conquered, and a few that had been done before managing to get their own back on me. Wednesday and Friday's trips were to Harrogate Climbing Centre, and saw the breaking in of my new harness - the Black Diamond Bod, as recommended by Dave - and a lead climb on a relatively easy route. Again, form on harder climbs wasn't great, but it was satisfying to expand my equipment collection - belay device and karabiner next - and progressive to take on a lead at last. These things will hopefully allow me to expand my tick last, as more options become open to me.
*And perhaps Bryn will have something to say about this particular climb...?