Friday 2 March 2007

BMC international winter meet

The Comb on Ben Nevis in FINE condition yesterday

I just got home from a week at the BMC international meet at Glenmore Lodge. It's a Biannual event where climbers from the UK act as hosts and invite others from all over the world (23 countries this time) to come and sample the trials and tribulations of Scottish winter climbing. It was my first time at the meet and It was quite awesome! 80 psyched climbers meeting up, going out climbing every day with lectures by some of them every night is very inspiring to be around.
Who has first dibs on the belay? two toolers about to collide at Birnam Quarry

The Scottish weather gods lived up to their reputation and gave us a bit of everything. The first two days involved swimming in mush in the Northern Corries. Then, storms on the hill sent us to Birnam Quarry for dry (wet?!) tooling where everyone got pumped and struggled with Fast and Furious. The next day the warm weather and more gales dictated a bouldering trip to Cummingston where many problems were dispatched in the sunshine and rain. I was climbing with 2 Japanese 'hotshots' Manome and Yokoyama. They bouldered until everyone else was stood around with arms folded and tapping feet waiting to leave. It was cool that they were so psyched. Every time they came off they just giggled and gestured to eachother or me "now you try!". We tried and tried and possibly did some new things? There were many nodding heads on the minibus back to Glenmore.

Mano happy to be celebrating his birthday with a perfect day new routing on The Ben

At 5.30 the next morning Stu powered through driving sleet all the way across the Laggan road and we arrived at the Ben to find it iced up like a big birthday cake for Mano. We headed into Coire na Ciste and as almost every party was starting up routes of grade VII or harder, I pointed to several unclimbed routes and left it up to Yoko and Mano to decide which looked the most fabulous. They are ice masters so opted for a potential new thin neve route I knew about from a picture in Ken's Ben Nevis book. Above The Good Groove I had seen another couple of parallel thin ramps that get well plastered up there. The Good Groove is VII so I reckoned this one could be a bit harder? The guys wanted a VII but it was obvious from Mano's performance on the first pitch of the Good Groove that this would be a bit easy for them really!

The CIC turbine - nae shortage of breeze up there like!

Mano and Yoko get the battle armour on outside the CIC while the smell of Bacon Rolls eminates from the hut.

Mano batters up the first pitch, eating up the thin Neve like it wasn't there (so to speak)

So when I led through I took a peek at the Good Groove off the the right and the ramps in the headwall above. Hmmm, bugger it lets go up there and see what happens. After a long pitch of snaking between ramps I took a belay at the base of the top ramp which ran out into two ominous looking overhanging corners to my right. They looked blank. Woops, maybe I'm going to make the guys abb off on their last day before going all the way home to Japan??

Yoko watches as Mano gingerly scratches across the ramp. Someone get this man a new helmet.

Mano starting up the crux pitch, about to head into the second overhanging corner, only to come back across that horrible slab to the belay!

Mano worked his way carefully across the ramp which was very thinly plated and a little bit scratcy for all our liking, especially as good runners didn't come quickly above my dubious belay. But Mano was pretty hardcore, and dismissing the first blank corner he got established below the second one. An hour passed and me and Yoko agreed it was getting a little chilly as Mano scratched and grunted in the base of the corner before announcing it was too hard and devoid of hooks and reversing, ushering me to have a try. I was baltic and for abbing off, but they did come from Japan for this so I moaned about cold hands and gibbered into the corner myself to confirm Mano's verdict.
But then I found a scratchy flake hook on the right wall, dropped into a deep egyptian (always the secret) and next thing I had a runner and a thin hook above. I came down for a caramel log and a word with myself and had a proper look. After six more repetitions (only one caramel log though unfortunately) I got a few moves further and used up a lot of forearm juice failing to get anymore gear in. I retreated down again and hid in the base of the corner to think about it. I didn't want to lean out and see the guys, they must have been getting really cold and waiting for some sort of outcome.
The next time I really went for it as I knew the time had come to either commit or admit the abseil was inevitable. I got really pumped and scared the higher I got and felt a little ill when a really bad hook broke and I almost took the fall. A bit of shouting to re-focus and accept I was commited and I flailed into the groove above, so pumped I had to shake out before I could even open the krabs on my harness to place a much needed runner. Soon I was hanging from a sound belay and thinking it had been a long time since I felt ill at the prospect of a likely bad peeler. The guys had a nasty time with the corner and tested my belay a few times each on the way up. But still were beaming and proclaiming a "great great route".

On the plateau Mano asked "this grade VII?" He hadn't realised that I'd quit the good groove and headed onto new ground!
"second ascent?"
"No this was a new route and definitely not VII! more like VIII,8"
"AHHH! Great birthday present - new route on Ben Nevis - great!"
Many thanks to everyone at and behind the meet especially Becky and Nick - it was ace!

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