The final prong of the preparation fork (weird metaphor, dunno where that came from) was just getting out and climbing big routes. I had a list. I didnt make it very far down that list, because again life intruded. Work, weather and family obligations combined in unfortunate ways. I did manage a few significant outings, though, which deserve mention.
On the way home from a great trip with Will to Rieff, I decided to jog into Ardverikie Wall on Binnein Shuas (Hard Severe 4b, 185m, 6 pitches). This would both help my hill-fitness and also allow a quick solo of this classic route. Ive been soloing a fair bit over the years, but it had been a while since I did a multi-pitch, so this was ideal for getting my head back in. The climbing is straightforward, with beautiful ergonomic hold-features. I wished it was twice as long. Here is a picture I took of a party that kindly let me pass, with Alex focussed on the crux moves of the route, a thin holdless tiptoe straight from the 3rd belay to reach a slanting crack, which apparently can be either hand or foot-traversed. Beautiful day, although I wished I had a bike for the trot back to the van.
Soon after, I finally managed to get up to the Ben with Vicky the ever-psyched. We were going to do Centurion, but decided on the walk-in that we might as well take advantage of being able to swing leads comfortably, and go for something harder. So it was Torro (E2 5b/c, 225m 8pitches)
Vicky got both crux pitches (4 and 8), which were tough but short-lived. For me the most enjoyable climbing was the first – steep fingerlocks, splitter cracks and all good things granite-like. The traverse on P2 was also quite spectacular. Scrambled back down the side of the snowy gully and back to the van in time for Vicky to hitch to Glasgow.
After climbing at Diabeg with Cecille, and a party-stop on Scoraig, I tried in vain to find a partner for the sunday, on my way back south. I had a good long hard stare at the omens, and decided that it was time to take up my long-desired solo of The Needle (E1 5b, 260m) on the Shelterstone. It was well within my abilities, and I had been told it alternated tricky pitches with easier ground, so would be a good soloing prospect. I told myself that it was a sunny weekend, so there would be others around and it would feel fine. After the slog in over the plateau, however, it appeared that despite the good conditions and the weekend, I had the whole Avon Basin to myself. Spooky. I would just go and have a look, I thought. Its daunting from below, with the headwall looming over you.
It was bone dry though and stable weather. I would just do the first easy pitch in my trainers so see the friction. Hmm, next thing I knew it was too much fun and felt great, and I was above the second 5b pitch (a bulging crack). Looked like I was doing the whole thing, since I was about half way already and didnt fancy reversing that crack. All went well until the ‘crack for thin fingers’. I found what I thought was the stance, and there were two thin cracks. One went directly up, and had nuts stuck in it, but looked hard! Should be 5a. Off I went up the right hand crack, but then this too blanked out in holdless lichen. Off to the right I could see easier ground which fit the description of “blocky ledges” so there transpired a wobbly traversing down-mantle around an awkwardly overhanging bulge, palms sweating somewhat on the flat holds, to grab a jug and a ledge (with pegs) with considerable relief. Turns out I missed the correct crack entirely (it started further right, just round the corner!). The rest of the route went much more smoothly. I sat and soaked up the sunlit view down the loch, more pensively satisfied than full of the ecstatic whoops I had envisioned. I still had the mountain to myself all the way back to the Coire Cas col, crossing meltwater streams in bare feet, it all felt rather otherworldly.
Back on Ben Nevis, I found myself in the good company of Dave and Cecille. After a fne day cragging on Anoach Dubh in Glen Coe, we had enjoyed pints at the Clachaig and decided to go for either Centurion (which was well within the comfort zone of all) or push it a bit and do King Kong, depending on the conditions and whether other parties were on the route. After a gloriously sunny walk-in we found two parties starting up Centurion, so King Kong it was (E25c, 275m, 9 pitches).
The first party had a bit of a struggle on P2 so we sunbathed for about 2hrs waiting for both groups to clear the first section, which is shared by both routes for a pitch and a half. Frustrating to see the sun disappear from our route. Finally the way was clear. Cecille led the first pitch, and Dave the second, a spectacular traverse across a hanging slab which he declared to be the best pitch he had ever climbed.
The next two pitches were mine, the first being the technical crux and the second being described as ‘only adequately protected’. The crux is devious and insecure – slippy feet, undercuts, downward traverses to single fingerlock mantle over an overlap. Dave and Cecille both pulled a little extra out of the bag to follow cleanly – well done to both! P4 was a joy of cracks and delicate face-climbing which flew by. The best pitch for sure, and lands one at the top of the Bat chimney and the first comfortable belay for a while. By this time the day was truly getting on and we had half the route yet to do. It was decided that I should keep on leading, and speed the passage to the top. This worked out, fighting fatigue, one broken hold, one swinging fall by Cecille and a massive physical and emotional effort by all, to top out around 11pm. So glad of Scottish midsummer days, as we didnt really need headtorches until the path down the glen! Back at the van at 1.30am – ooft, a big day.
I could only hope that these days were indeed big enough to prepare me for the challenges ahead. I knew I would have to up my game by a considerable notch. And while I fear that leaves things like a chapter-end cliffhanger from a Dan Brown novel, I had a lot of van finishing to do and a wee bit of driving, so until next time….