Tuesday 9 June 2009

No substitute

Inimitable E8 6c, Styx Buttress, Glen Nevis

A couple of weeks ago I had a message on my phone from my friend Donald King of Abacus Mountaineering. Donald is always a psyched man and a very positive person to be around; training sessions with him in the ice factor are particularly hard on the abs from laughing too much.

Anyway, Donald was on about a new line in Glen Nevis he’d tried with the steely fingered Ewan of Glen Coe. “Way too hard for me buddy, but it might have your name on it?” the message said. Before I left for a festival in France last week I took a wander past it. A classic hard grit style route, 30 feet of F8a with a couple of wires just too low to feel useful as you slap your way into a rounded scoop, iron-crossed between distant sidepulls.

Last night, bleary eyed after the return trip from France, I rendezvoused with Kevin for a crack at it. We laughed as I abbed down it about how messed up it is that we might think “excellent, the protection is even worse than it looks”.

After some tries the moves came together, but I was a bit tired after an hour or so on it and we hung around, slowly being eaten by the midge as the cool wind dropped and was replaced by midgy warm, still humidity. Just what you need for a solid E8 lead.

I was about to sack it off but on the way back from a wash in the river to get rid of the nasty anti midge cream (together with creamed midges), the wind suddenly reappeared for a moment. All I needed was ten minutes of breeze. 

I threw my harness on, swallowed hard and launched up past the RPs with dilated pupils and Roosevelt’s quote “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself" ringing in my ears.

That was all fine until I got to the crux move, Feet not quite right on the smears, hands not quite right on the crimps, bum sagging and the realisation that I’m probably looking at a broken leg in three seconds time.

There is no substitute for this feeling. Real consequences, right now, no chance to think about them, only to react instantly to your last second of chance to save yourself. This brings out the best in ability, in creativeness, in excitement and in satisfaction. I threw for the hold and arced back, sure I was falling off. Kev was turning to run. In that split second I was able to think and understand what this meant and that I had to dig deeper. So I did. 

That last bit is the crucial bit for me - If it wasn’t for the real consequences, I would have fallen. The real danger was essential to the experience. There is no substitute.


  1. Anonymous10 June, 2009

    Cool, my hands are sweaty. Youve given me the extra few percent to go for my route.

  2. Anonymous15 June, 2009

    Hey Dave, nice one on the route... Is it the blunt rib thing that stops dead then up and right across a blank bit into Ressurection?
    I had a try at that about 15 years ago... no wonder I found it mental hard!!