Monday, 7 March 2016

Get them in

Getting ready to get extremely pumped and scared all over again on the second pitch of Night Fury IX, 9, Ben Nevis.

The late winter/early spring period is an absolutely amazing time in Scotland. Everything is in great condition. I usually have to do a lot of work in the earlier part of the winter to pay the bills, but I use the time to do a lot of training as well. Ideally, when late Feb arrives and the weather turns perfect in Lochaber, I’m fit and keen.

Liam Fyfe enjoying Fàilte gu clach Cameron Font 7c in Glen Nevis.

It always goes past in a blur. You are either climbing, or at home in a stupor of exhaustion trying to eat, sleep and get ready for tomorrow’s adventure. The day after I was on Beinn Eighe, I showed Liam and Rhiannon the Arisaig Cave.

At first I thought I was too tired to climb at all, but once I got started I decided to have a training session and repeat some of the cave’s classic problems and show Liam the beta in the process. I was fine up to about Font 7c+ but didn’t quite have the strength to repeat 4th wave. Returning there got me inspired to plan a campaign on the remaining project, the link of Eternity’s Gate into 4th Wave. This would work out at 25 moves of Font 8a+ into a hard 8B. The link would very likely be a Font 8C. It’s in condition to work and try 6 or 7 months of the year and nearly always dry. Next winter, you’ll mostly find me in there.

The following morning we were at the Cameron Stone in Glen Nevis. I didn’t think anyone had ever climbed the obvious crimps coming in from the left to finish up ‘The News in Pidgin Gaelic’. If it has indeed not been done, then I call this problem ‘Failte gu clach Cameron’ Font 7c. I headed down to Glasgow afterwards to speak at TCA at a fundraising event for refugees. Good to see this kind of event being organised among climbers - we clearly need to show our governments the way when it comes to doing what we can to take care of the vulnerable.

About to get scared on pitch 2 of Night Fury, IX,9 Ben Nevis. The hanging hexes give an idea of the steepness! Photo: Helen Rennard

The next morning I walked into the Ben with Helen Rennard to try a new route on the walls right of Echo Wall, where we had already added a hard new route here last season. After getting through the initial hard section, I found myself at the foot of a smooth corner choked with ice. I knew it was going to be hard to protect and moved up gingerly, working hard to try and find a crucial runner. I got three psychological-only runners and continued, telling myself I would not go another move higher without finding a solid piece of protection. 6 metres higher, I was still in the same position, having ignored my own ultimatum for about 15 moves in a row. I was gripped, with legs shaking and looking at a 60 foot ground fall if a tool ripped, so I was very careful and kept a cool head. 

After about 25 minutes of excavating verglas, shaking and gibbering, I got a hex in and could relax again. From a hanging belay above I could see that the next pitch had a desperate looking overhang, again looking hard to protect as well as climb. Typical Ben Nevis. I told Helen I’d go up and arrange what gear I could and then make a decision if I should commit to the overhang.

The gear was mostly rubbish, but one sort of okay cam convinced me not to rig an abseil straight away. I hung in for ages, totally pumped trying to place a small ice hook. After countless attempts I finally got it to at least not fall out, but it was clearly rubbish. I was unsure what to do. A fall from over the lip would end up on the slab below the belay and it looked hard, if only for a short way.

Eventually I switched my brain off and committed, arms on the last of their reserves. I am still here to write this, so I didn’t make any mistakes. 

To follow the dragon naming theme from our route Red Dragon just to the left, we called the route Night Fury, IX, 9. My arms were so tired, it was an effort to hold the pen and write the description in the CIC hut new routes book.

Descending back into Observatory Gully with very tired arms.


  1. What impresses me most are your comments about refugees needing our help (rather than Tories sending the Navy in to turn them back, as Kate Hopkins prophesised in her racist diatribe...). I'm sometimes saddened to read, see and hear that this diffuse, anarchic and loveable thing known as the "climbing community" can tend toward being individualistic, inward-looking and content to deal out a rough attitude of 'self-reliance', each to their own, you make your own bed, whilst professing some sort of personal connection with the cosmos. In fact, of course, the lesson of climbing is not self-reliance but that we always rely on others, whether it's those who pioneered the route, or those who wrote the guide, or our belayer, or our partner looking after the kids whilst we climb, or the gear designers who hopefully put together good kit, or the Chinese factory workers stitching it all together...

    Anyway, well done on the climb!


  2. Hey Dave,

    don't know if you remember me from the late '90's in glasgow.

    You saved my life once, caught me upside down on Excalibur in the peak.
    Yeah I was a dipshit on that climb. Learned a lot after that.
    Means a lot to me, for some reason!

    My son absolutely loves you calling this route after Toothless.

    Best wishes,

    Peter Boyle