Friday, 26 February 2010
The Comb showing the line of Anubis, on the day of the ascent
Quite unexpectedly, I managed to complete my long term ambition to make the first winter ascent of my own summer E8, Anubis on Ben Nevis. The number of hours to finish the lead might just be countable on one hand, and completely exhausted me for the following three days. In other words, I completely went for it.
Starting up the initial overhang Photo: Christina Bell
It seems to contradict reason, but it seems clear to from my experience that there are many different states of mind which seem to work well for bringing out the best (or should it be worst?) in climbers for hard leads. ‘confident and solid’ is most consistent, but suffers often from nerves and fear of failure. ‘Invincible’ can produce moments of sickening boldness/recklessness, but always makes for a short career in climbing. ‘Angry’ is only really good for pull-ups. Climbing is too delicate for it’s unchannelled release of energy. ‘F**k it, what have I got to lose?’ was where I was at on the crux of Anubis. Life is too short for caution when you are on the right route, at the right time. So I dispensed with caution.
A small gear ripping fall on the initial wall leading to the main roof helped a lot to relax the body. I had been needing that for about two or three seasons. I started again. This time climbing like I wanted to get higher.
Crossing the crux roof Photo: Christina Bell
Several hours later, with nothing left in my arms, my feet slipped off again on the final headwall, well out from the last gear. I had the eyeball bulge of a leader with three seconds to find a solution or fall. A footless speed-downclimb of about 8 moves and kung foo kick back onto the footledge under the roof saved one more chance to get to the belay. Christina burst out laughing at the sight of it. I laughed as well, after a minute or two.
Next time up was my last strength, so I got there. I pulled through my 70 metre ropes, tied them together and kept going up the comb in a 140 metre pitch, before untying and continuing up the ice grooves, and eventually standing in the quiet of the summit by myself for a few minutes.
Grade in winter? No idea. I’ll have a think about it. I haven’t ever tried or done anything harder in winter. I guess there are worse chores than grading your hardest route. The route started as an idea to see if it was possible today to maintain the Victorian mountaineering tradition of opening a new climb in summer conditions, and progressing to an ascent in winter. Great that it’s still every bit as possible as it was a century ago.
The highpoint of my 2nd attempt, the other week Photo: Andy Turner
Anubis in summer E8 mode Photo: Cubby Images
Postscript: Just before I posted this up I read a timely post on Ian Parnell’s blog with a full list of all the routes of grade IX and above. I can’t say it really helped that much for making a wild and disclaimer-ridden stab at a grade for Anubis. But what did stand out was the consistency of routes which are often reasonably protected HVSs working out at IX in winter. There are of course some E2s and up to about E4s that have been done as winter mixed routes, generally where the cruxes involve cracks. Anubis, although dramatically harder at E8 does have a useful short crack at the crux, but then a section of E5 6a face climbing on small crimps. Bla bla… the long and short of it is I do think it’s a significant step up from any of the routes I’ve done. The crux is not much harder than Don’t Die, but then the rest is like stringing three of the IXs on Ian’s list together. So maybe it’s XII if my other two routes are really XI. Or if The Hurting and Don’t Die are really grade X then Anubis might make it into XI. I’ll keep thinking about it...