Friday, 24 August 2012

Questing In The Midge-Ridden Wilderness - Part II

After the sunshine at Reiff the forecast was a bit dodgier, with gale force winds promised, but we reasoned that might keep the midges at bay at least and headed for Diabaig. I'd heard nothing but good things about the place, and once we'd negotiated the tortuous windy road from Torridon we were rewarded with a view of The Pillar looking all ace. We were both dead keen to lead this, but there was somebody on it so we wandered past to the Main Wall, where there was a four star HVS to warm up on. There were no gales, but there was just enough breeze rolling around to keep us safe, and the climbing was outstanding; long pitches on beautiful rough Gneiss, with brilliant gear and cool moves. Route Two was amazing, as was The Black Streak, so we wandered back down to the foot of The Pillar, which looked even acer at close quarters. James ran off to get some water from the car, and the second he left the breeze dropped and the midges swarmed. I spent some of the least pleasant minutes of my life lying in the long grass with my trousers tucked into my socks and a waterproof on, sweating like I was in a Turkish bath and feeling generally miserable about the unfairness of it all. Guttingly the wind didn't return, so as soon as James got back we ran away.

Contemplating the crux of The Black Streak
 We had plans to meet Matt (the erstwhile Mr Fiend) in Gairloch that evening, so we managed a quick evening hit on a weird little crag of partially-metamorphosed sandstone (kind of conglomerate-y) called Aztec Tower. We tossed a coin again for the rights to the crag classic HVS, which I won, but was let down by the route being a) not very hard b) not very good and c) not very well protected. James' neighbouring VS was altogether more enjoyable.

After rendezvousing with Matt and spending a night in the ridiculously expensive campsite in Poolewe we had a slow start and needed some caffeine and a giant scone in the frankly awesome Mountain Cafe in Gairloch to get us going. We then decided to brave the gales and pay the craglets around Loch Tollaidh a visit. They were ace (actually I'd been before, but I'd forgotten my rock shoes that time and had to lead a couple of VDiffs in Alistair's giant clown shoes) and much fun was had by all. James in particular had a good day, leading Buena Vista a brilliant E2 slab.

Some pleasant HVS at Loch Tollaidh
That evening we drove down to Skye and set up base camp at Sligachan for a few days. The forecast was still windy and a bit showery, but we took a punt in the morning on Kilt Rock, and we arrived to find it sunny and lapped by a gentle breeze. Perfect. There were a few other climbers around, so I thought it best to get on with the main event as soon as possible before I had time to talk myself out of it, or somebody else got on it. Grey Panther is the easiest route in Extreme Rock, so it was a possibly unique chance for me to get a tick in the book. It had also been top of my mental wishlist for a long time, so I was a bit apprehensive, but a peer down the line from the top reassured me that it looked totally awesome. The route didn't disappoint, with 45m of continuously great climbing, bridging between two jamming cracks. None of the moves felt particularly tricky, and the crux for me was probably trying to conserve my hand-width cams for when I would really need them. I managed this so successfully that I got to the top with them all still on my harness. I even only placed 16 runners, which was very sparing by my usual standards (I'd taken 21 quickdraws). The climbing was actually very reminiscent of routes on The Prow at Fairhead. Mmm, must go back there some time soon.

Afterwards, whilst bathing in the warm glow of self-awesomeness, I tried to egg Oswald into tackling one of the other major E1/2 cracks, but he was afraid. Instead we ticked off a pair of three star routes in the descent gully, an HVS and a VS, which were both pretty stout at their respective grades. This wasn't the spur that the youth needed to get on harder things, so we left and paid a visit to Flodigarry. After hacking over the tedious heather for an age we reached the top of the crag. James had idea that he might try an E2, but we couldn't pick out the line, so we agreed that he should lead the three star HVS I'd been keen on, and then we could run away for a cup of tea, dinner, and the pint that he owed me. The route, Lucy In The Sky, was a little gem, taking a slabby crack with sustained mild interest right to the top.

The forecast the next day seemed more stable, with clear skies in prospect, so we took a gamble on being able to find something out of the wind in Coire Lagan. Our first objective, The Klondyker, seemed to be just about out of the gusts, so we set off. James lucked out and got the two good pitches, whilst I had the easy link pitches, but the route was ace. The crux pitch was a long, sustained 5a wall, with a touch of rather 5b-ish spice thrown in pulling round a small roof. The gear was excellent, but it felt worthy of an E-point. This was later confirmed when we bumped into Mike Lates, who literally wrote the guide but admitted to never having done the route, and he told us he'd heard from reliable sources it was worth an upgrade. The route wasn't over after the second pitch though, with the fourth offering "Space walking on buckets". We had harboured ideas of climbing Vulcan Wall afterwards, but by the time we'd made it back to our bags we were pooped, so we scuttled off to the Sligachan in time for a few (very incompetent) games of pool.
The spacewalk on The Klondyker
The next day brought another dodgy forecast, but I put my faith in the magical microclimate of Neist, and lo, we were rewarded with more sunshine. I led a lovely VS called Midas Touch, and silly E1 direct start to a classic HVS which involved a couple of sketchy moves with only one good RP2 between me and the ground. James led the classic E0 Security Risk, and then set off up a really good looking E2 - Wall Street. He took ages, which was unfortunate as the base of the route was out of the wind, so I started to get quite badly midged. I had a windproof and a midge net, but my ankles were taking a beating, so I improvised some socks by coiling the rope around my legs. I can't recommend this as a course of action. I ended up with slightly numb, but still midge-destroyed feet. Boo. Anyway, the route was brilliant, up until the capping roof, where things went all wrong and overhanging. I managed to get as far as lurching at a jug, but then couldn't find the arms to pull up into the final groove. So I rested on the rope. Except I was in an awkward position whereby I couldn't actually take much weight off my arms without taking a swing and smacking into a wall. Fail. Eventually I got sufficiently uncomfortable that I laid one on and pulled some heinous manoeuvres to reach the finishing holds. A fine lead by Mr Oswald.

After that I couldn't take any more, and it was getting on a bit, so we jumped in the car and motored over to the CC hut in Roybridge, where we availed ourselves of the delights of an oven, and comfy beds. Whoop. The next day was showery, so we took a punt on the "Lethal when wet" but allegedly quick drying Creag Dubh (also known, ominously, as Crag Death). Sitting at the bottom of it eating our lunch it was clearly going to need a bit more time to dry off, so I persuaded James that a visit to the distillery at Dalwhinnie was in order. On our return to the crag it was actually dry, so I racked up to have a bash at Inbred, a steep HVS and apparently Dougal Haston's finest new route. It didn't take too many brief ventures onto the holds to decide that there was the potential to get myself into a dangerous position, as the moves were steep and the gear fiddly, so I handed the baton over and belayed James. He made it look fairly easy, and the moves were OK on second. Not that I regretted backing off for a second, especially since as I was part way up the pitch a rain shower started looming ominously. I just managed to beach myself on the belay ledge when the heavens opened and the rock turned to soap. So we sacrificed my sling of irritating shortness and beat a hasty retreat.

The next day found us climbing at Dunkeld. I did a spot of VS bambering and James led another E2 through some roofs. The climbing wasn't too hard, but the gear for the first roof was pumpy to place, and for the second was a bit weird and uninspiring, so it was just about worth E2. After enjoying my Aunt's hospitality we spent the last day of the holiday climbing at Auchinstarry - Scotland's answer to a Lancashire quarry. It wasn't actually that bad, although my three star VS was a bit underwhelming, and the 2 star VS 4b arete I soloed was quite terrifyingly sandy. And then after one more route it was over and we had to drive back south again. In the rain. Bah. Still, it was an awesome fortnight, we got loads done, and saw loads more that I want to go back for (especially The Pillar). Next on the agenda is Lundy in September. Bring it on...
Promontory Direct at Auchinstarry - A refugee from Wilton in the central belt

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