Monday, 8 March 2010
The Tempest, onsight. All photos: Steven Gordon. More photos on Steven’s blog
About 9 years ago I was struggling my way up Crest Route in Glen Coe. Stopping to fiddle with gear in iced up cracks and shiver on belays, I was transfixed my the sight across the Coire on Summit Buttress. I was watching Neil Gresham toprope practicing what was to become The Tempest M9. It looked amazing seeing him in the distance swinging from hook to hook, dangling about working moves before lowering down to the comfort of a belay jacket.
Shortly afterwards Neil’s redpoint lead on pre-placed gear was announced. As is normal for doing anything that stands out in Scottish winter climbing, he was in the firing line of some serious flak for the style of ascent. But Neil had the courage not only to do the ascent, but to defend his own vision that for world class standard winter routes to get done in Scotland, this would the style that would bring them.
Predictions on the future of climbing never quite work out. As it happened, the standard of winter routes in Scotland rose by a good bit in the intervening nine years without redpointing, although by climbers gaining their fitness with plenty of redpointing in other disciplines. And it rose firmly holding onto it’s place as the home of many of the hardest mixed climbs on the planet. While the redpointed routes of Haston and Bubu’s era were repeated often, graduates of M12 and M13 redpoint would still find Scottish IX ground up a considerably harder proposition.
So things move on. And the obvious challenge was to make at attempt at The Tempest in more traditional style. Along comes Andy Turner, with lats that eclipse the low winter sun and the kind of confidence of a trad leader up to the job. The big problem with the Tempest though, was the rotting fixed gear left behind by the redpoint action years earlier. Andy was forced to abseil down and remove as much of the melted in wires as he could. Then, after a couple of sessions wandering about on the open wall, fiddling in wires in verglassy cracks, he committed to the thin overhanging ice finish, heart in mouth no doubt and took the tempest a step closer to the grade X,9 that Neil projected for an onsight ascent.
After Andy broke down the aura of going on the wall without working moves, and proved it was possible to place the gear on lead. I was pretty keen, no, desperate to go for an onsight attempt. And so I set off, washing vast quantities of rime off the wall with my hands to excavate the crack underneath.
After 2.5 hours, I was 6 metres from the top, but had run out of gear. I’d managed to take plenty of gear I didn’t need and not nearly enough of what I did. I didn’t fancy a major peel from the final moves without gear but was desperate not to lose the onsight either. Solution? Downclimb the whole thing taking the gear back out and come back after a rest. A day later I was stuck for a partner but an emergency Tweet and gracious response from Iain set me up with Matt and Nic to finish the job. After the alpine sun of the last month, it was Scottish business as usual, getting lost in the Coire for an hour just trying to find the route through the mist and snow. Various rubbish wires were found underneath the ice smear, as I waited for the constant dousing in spindrift avalanches to let up for just a bloody minute and allow me to gasp through the final moves.
A fantastic battle, the greatest winter of the century rolls on...