Another dark start.
Greg, Will, Guy and I, just a few hours before had sat close together in front of The Kingshouse fire. The history inside these walls would have once been magic. Older now, the trick is to remember younger thoughts.
Another dark start.
I always find the stone stepped walk into Stob Coire Nan Lochan steep and miserable. It’s dark so I can’t look at the savage scenery. There are no animals or birds awake. Or if there are, they are hidden by the night.
The stream flows over ice-glazed rock and chunters its cold complaints at having to leave the hills and join ‘that’ other water.
The path is steep.
Following Guy Robertson in the opposite direction to the stream, I chunter about the rain. We sit on our bags and blather while taking a minute for a drink. This makes me laugh, when oh when did I become so laid back to stop and sit on bags and blather on a walk in?
Greg Boswell and Will Sim catch us. Greg complains that our sit and blather is an excuse now we have hit the snow. He’s wrong though.
Beneath the cliff the boulder field is no longer a boulder field. A field of white welds to the earth and butts against the fortress of rock we have come to climb.
Light now, one line in particular stands out. Greg and Will have also seen it, though to be honest you wouldn’t need the eyes of youth to pick this line.
“Are you looking at the Beyond Good and Evil line?” Will said to me without looking away from the cliff.
“RACE YOU.” And with that Greg runs toward the cliff in thigh deep snow while laughing.
We all laugh. Even Robbo who takes this game very serious.
Entering SC Gully, chocked to the brim with fresh snow, my mind, at times like these always wonders what it would be like being buried.
“Well, best you get on with it.”
The corner is text book. Nearly ninety degrees with cuts and folds a tailor would be proud. A ripple of ice runs directly down, or is it up, the fold. The ice crawls onto each of the walls, either side of the corner … but stood beneath this feature I can see that the rock has no footholds, apart from the thin cold mould of ice.
The friendly ice soon turns nasty once it realises my intention. And behind its rotten heart, the fold is full of muck which a hook is pounded to give the only protection.
Bridged-out, I survey my options.
No footholds until the same height as my axes. Rotten ice. Poor protection.
Repeatedly I pull up, lock off and excavate. Lumps of crud crack and crumble. My mind quietens and a second hook, poorer than the first is tapped into turf.
It would be good at this point to say how I romped, but it would be a lie, because I crawled like a lover begging to be let back in. Half a body length higher, once again I began to excavate. A cam into frozen moss did not give me faith but the footholds now were oh so close.
Willing the lumps of icy crud I hooked to stay in place, I brought feet beneath body, pulled, locked and fished for something…
Stood belaying, while looking down to Robbo climbing the corner, smiling and laughing, enjoying the very good climbing, I didn’t feel jealous of his top-rope. There had definitely been a point where it would have been very easy to back off. Maybe getting older does not affect my commitment, but tempers it and turns it into a more solid, safer thing?
The two new pitches above the corner did not diminish in quality at all, in fact, it possibly improved. The top pitch, a magnificent steep wall veined with cracks, in a fine and exposed position, is certainly the highlight of the climb with possibly the most difficult climbing, but the first pitch is certainly the crux which in similar condition will stop most parties unless their will is strong.
Slenderhead. VIII/8 100m Robertson, Bullock. 13/1/14
1 The Corner on the right wall of SC Gully. 30m
2 The ice line and wide crack above the corner until a line of flakes takes you right to the arête. Follow the arête direst and belay beneath a slim tower to the left of the final corner pitch of East Face Direct Route.
3 Climb directly above the belay up the front face of the tower, difficult to start, to overhanging cracks. A difficult move left leads to a wide crack on the left side of the tower which is climbed. From behind the tower finish direct.