Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Great Expectations

Last Wednesday evening saw Dave Almond and myself driving up to Scotland with big plans.
In my dream world it went something like this: Thursday; Trail of Tears, Friday; Blood Sweat and frozen Tears, Saturday; The Secret, then an easy day on Sunday climbing Neanderthal.
Now when I have plans like that, its easy to come away disappointed, but so what, aim high and you'll always achieve more in the end. Thats my philosophy and I'm sticking to it!

Ok, now for the reality. After arriving at Duncan's house at 1am it was straight to bed and an alarm at 5 for the drive to Lochnagar. We reached the rescue box at 8.30 and stopped to gear up. It was at this point we realised how cold it was. The wind was blowing like a freight train and with the temp around -7 it was bitterly cold. With every layer on it was all we could do just to keep warm, so we decided to go for Parallel Buttress. The easier climbing would mean we could keep moving, but on reaching the start of the route the wind seemed to have completely stopped. Dave made the right call, "lets stick with the original plan" so we moved rightwards to Trail of Tears.
The 1st pitch was pretty straight forward, a turfy groove led to a belay on the left after 30m. The next pitch looked exciting, continuing up the corner to a small overhang and climbing a thin ice seam up the corner above. The ice in the corner was enough to stop any protection going in, but not enough to make the climbing any easier, and it proved to be a committing, pumpy section for Dave on the sharp end.
At the end of the ramp, which was easy with snow, I decided to carry on and make a belay at a turf ledge I could see diagonally above me. This section was the crux. Hanging off my left axe I moved down and rightwards onto a smooth slab and at full reach gained a small hook in a seam that allowed me to pull across, with my right foot pressing into a small ramp at the bottom of the slab, then a hand swap on the right axe and a placement in a crack at the bottom of the groove to my right, meant I could make bridging moves upwards on thin mossy hooks until the good turf was reached. This was a sustained section, and as I had traversed right then up, with no gear I would have been looking at a nasty fall if I'd come off! Although when Dave seconded it he spotted a peg in the base of the groove. I wonder if this was the peg Andy Nisbet placed by abseil? 
At the belay on the 1st pitch, with the thin ice corner above to my right. ⓒ D  Almond
Above the climbing wasn't over, and seconding in the dark I was glad of the rope above me as any style went out the window, but a final steep pull over a short wall and all that remained was easy ground to the top. I say easy, but in the dark, finding the Tough Brown Traverse and climbing the 3 pitches to the plateau with about two runners would not be the place to make a mistake!
We started the route at 10am and topped out at 8'20 so just over 10hours, but it was 10'30 by the time we reached the car and we still had to get to Aviemore, so a long day overall meant we wouldn't be driving to Beinn Eighe without a rest day. The first example of my reality not quite meeting my expectations!
So after a good nights sleep, where my coughing kept Dave awake and his snoring did the same for me, we got up at 4 on Saturday morning and drove north for Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears. The walk in, up the side of the hill was hard work and the head torches ahead of us had me slightly worried, theres a lot of routes you might go this way for but only one that I really wanted right now. Sod's law say's they'll want it too! I was proved right when we got to the ab point and a rope was in place, Neil and his mates had beaten us to it :-( 
We decided to try Maelstrom. I led the first pitch up an ice fall and a steep groove, with some really good climbing on thin hooks, before traversing right to belay below a steep chimney. Dave led this, and the continuation groove above, until he reached a ledge that seemed the logical place to belay. From here the corner continued up to a big roof and we were meant to traverse left across a slab, to small ledges and gain the groove to our left, but after falling on the traverse and eventually getting across with tension, I found myself looking at an unprotectable, verglassed nightmare and with the light fading, we called it a day. You can't win them all. Looking at the picture below, I now think we tried to traverse left too low down.

Neil Adams at the second belay of BSFT, abbing in. ⓒ D Almond
After descending West Central Gully and climbing back up Fuselage Gully to get our bags we headed down and to the pub for a much needed beer and some food before driving back to Aviemore.
We decided on an easy day in the northern corries for Sunday, and with the weather seemingly to deteriorate, we climbed Original Summer Route but by lunch time the weather had improved massively, and I was slightly regretting we hadn't tried something more challenging. Anyway it meant we were back at the car by one o'clock, ready for the long drive back south, until next time...


  1. Simond, I am continued to be impressed by the quality of the writing here and your climbs. cheers, Dane