Tuesday was one of those days that gives your ego a good hard poke... We felt like there would be no stopping us this season as we prepared to slowly crank through the grades, we’d been climbing loads and had found Sioux wall really quite ok. But by the end of the second pitch of Ventriloquist we started to think that we’d been having it easy.
Arrival in Lochain started well, next door to us an American lady (perhaps Canadian though) set about changing her base-layer, displaying her sports bra only to get blasted by spindrift halfway through, screams and laughter followed, she laughed too so totally acceptable!
Anyway back to climbing, Luke got the first hard pitch on our route, barely 20 metres. I arrived at his belay having nearly fallen off several times –not to say this is rare, but this time I felt quite at the mercy of the rope above me.
–An off balance start, climbed with hands for most of the way, and an all on the arms not so positive final section.
|Luke on P2 of Ventriloquist|
I nearly always relish having the crux of a route but my confidence was already shaken by what I’d just climbed. Anyway, I self talked my way up the start of the pitch, unfortunately I was still in “this should be easy mode” so rushed the first bit and thought I’d be able to just stand onto the first pillar that guarded the crack proper, wrong! I ended up committing myself without taking the trouble to place any gear and so faced with the choice between a difficult down climb or a out of balance feeling move with no gear. The third option was to hook tat hanging at the base of the crack, I swallowed my pride and reached for it, bollocks. After placing a couple of pieces of good gear as high as I could find from the pillar I started to get stuck in. An axe hammered into the crack just above my last piece, a high grip on my axe and a high search with the other. Nothing! I tried again this time with my feet a little higher and found a rather thin feeling placement in the back of the crack. Shouting watch me I committed and removed the hammered axe, searching high I found an edge on the left of the crack, committing to this I found another thin placement for my other axe. Now what! I couldn’t muster the effort or the grunt to hang on with one hand to even attempt to find some gear, no real obvious possibilities anyway, maybe if I had a size four or five cam... Anyway I didn’t have one and after a bit of hanging about I decided to weight the ropes, my gear just below my waist.
|Myself on the crux pitch|
I felt a bit silly of course and ruminated that this was what climbing was, if I wasn’t prepared to risk a ledge hitting fall whilst pulling into uncertainty I wasn't really climbing. With a few rational words from Luke and a decision from him to leave it for today as we didn’t have any large gear I moved over to Auricle. Well what an ‘easy’ option, what absolute bollocks.
|Yours truly getting in the groove of Auricle|
Strenuous climbing on thankfully positive hooks led me to an overhang, above which I couldn't find any good hooks so reached and pulled on some tat, my ethics totally out of the window now.
So next and final pitch, entrance Luke.
|Luke on the final difficult pitch of Ventriloquist|
First he headed down to top rope the crux of Ventriloquist to collect my gear, having to resort to fist jamming a substantial portion. I was consoled to see he struggled, weighting the rope several times reassuring me that I’d made the right decision. Now for the final pitch... Luke led off out of sight, I settled into my double belay jacket, arranging the tea and food bag within reach. Quite a while and multiple watch me’s later he was safely belayed. I set off, an initial two difficult short corners, then a heinous pull left and up followed by a paralyzing pose for a few minutes trying to figure out what the beep to do. Then a sheepish shimmy right along a narrow ledge with axes wedged down a crack. Then a shuffle back left once I realized I couldn’t get up that way. Somewhere around here the Americans abseiled past, Nick bringing up the rear. A few supportive words from him at what felt like a trousers round the ankles moment helped a bit and I pulled myself together to make the move onto the penultimate ledge.
I was now about 8 m left and 4m down from the belay, I had a v baffling move right to make. Luckily there was gear to prevent a swing so I left it in and clipped a long sling to it to save me from a monster pendulum. A high axe, high handed, the other axe higher still and I tried to rock over onto this chest high ledge. I tried again and again getting slowly frustrated with it all, eventually I pulled really hard and went for the rock over and I was off, my axe had ripped. The gear held and I didn’t swing far but I was later to find that one of my rope sheaths had been cut through by the granite ledge.
I was the antithesis of an old bag of suds after this but by foul means or fair I arrived at Luke’s Belay. By now the strong warm westerly had arrived and everything was melty, by the time we’d made it back to the corrie No. 1 buttress was black.
Back to the car in the dark via the now v slippery path we bundled ourselves into my trusty Skoda and drove back west, ready for a rest day. Before parting company we agreed that we would have to return to school soon!