Tuesday 20 July 2010

Sron Uladail 1, Dave nil

I’ve just done my first climbing session in 8 days after a week long trip to Sron Ulladale. The session was back home on my board! There’s nothing worse than moany blogs and I do try not to post too often about the many many failures I have trying to make Scottish new routes come into existence. But as Claire and I agreed the other day (day 4 of sitting in the car watching the horizontal rain), people often don’t know what goes into opening new hard trad routes in the mountains.
I’ve been to the outer Hebrides nearly every year for a decade, on most of those trips, climbing in the mountains of Harris, namely Sron Uladail, has been ‘plan A’. On all but one trip, plan A has lasted less than 10 minutes off the Harris ferry and we left the Harris mountains to their lashing by wind and rain and headed for the relative shelter of the Lewis  sea cliffs. Although serendipitous, I’ve found many of my favourite places to climb there and the sea cliffs never felt like a plan B once I was there.
This time it was the Sron or nothing - I had a job to do. The brief: find a good, preferably hard and unclimbed route on Sron Uladail that myself and Tim Emmett can climb in under 6 hours on live television and get it cleaned. Easier said than done.
Having studied my crag shots, I did the big load carry from Ahmunsuidhe and abseiled over the big drop armed with a 600 foot rope, brush and a lot of hardware, just before the rain started. My first choice line was seeping copious drools of water from the back of the roof and was out of the question from the word go. Hmmm, what now? I hauled up the line, fed it all back into the bag, moved 30m left and repeat. Option 2 had no protection and being 35 degrees overhanging for a couple of pitches would be nearly impossible to clean and inspect. By day 3 I was at option 5 and still at square 1. 
The live TV issue kind of dictates having at least a fighting chance of getting to the top on the chosen route. For me, anything harder than about E9/10 always involves a remote chance of success for any given attempt. Sure, the ultimate chances of success across many days and weeks of attempts rise to something sporting, but on this occasion we have 1 day, 6 hours to make it happen. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the crag wasn’t so overhanging or so ravaged by the elements. I could absorb more of the potential problems through preparation. 

I was determined not to leave Harris no further forward, so after two days of torrential rain and wind I jogged in as fast as I could in a brief lull in the storm to check out another potential line, some grossly overhanging blank grooves left of the Scoop. As soon as I’d dropped the ropes and headed off down over the first overhangs I found to my dismay that the brief lull was just as the storm readjusted to a westerly, blowing straight across the crag. Pretty soon I was having a right gripper. The tail ends of 3 or 400 feet of my two static ropes that had been hanging below me were now blowing in great arcs horizontally in space despite being sodden from the rain and very heavy.  As the wind rose and rose I realised it could get dangerous to be on the wall quite rapidly switched to ‘escape’ mode. Plan A was to continue back-aiding down through the roofs until I could be sure the ropes would reach the slopes far below and then bail to the cliff base. But it became obvious that even with my weight on them in a free abseil the ropes and me would be blown out away from the slope and If I attempted to go down the rope I’d probably suffer a very spinny-dizzy death being tossed around on the rope ends. So I went back up.
I was terrified the wind would get so strong that things would start to get out of hand - being thrown around on ropes running across crystal sharp rock edges. Every time I released a piece of gear I was thrown sideways into space by the wind, with the sickening sound of ropes scraping along overlaps above. I learned to jumar up rope a lot faster! As the pro-golfers over at St-Andrews bailed back to the clubhouse for a beer due to the high winds, I flopped over onto ledges in a waterfall and hauled up the sodden ropes, cursing the Scottish weather as I staggered off along the ridge to Ullaval into the gale.
The rest of the week alternated between long hours in the car watching the rain, or long hours of the above dangling in it. The upshot was that I have still to settle on an ideal line to attempt. Here’s to the next trip going a little better!
In the meantime, I’ll be trying to gain back the fitness lost on my ‘climbing’ trip...

The lovely outlook from the Sron on the good day - It’s amazing how transformed the Hebrides are in nice weather. More so than other parts of Scotland I think.

An ancient wire battered in by aid climbers 40 odd years ago. I removed this relic (it practically turned to dust in my hands). There wasn’t really a placement for in the seam - I think that fear, a strong arm and a good hammer had a lot to do with it!

4 days of the same view

I thought I was being paranoid about the sharp overlaps of sheared quartz and gneiss until the slightest glance of my hand along one gave me a 4cm gash.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Back to the real work

Richard on Clean Sweep, VS, Hell’s Lum
After the wee holiday in Wales and Glasgow I felt rested up and keen to get back to another stint of training for my projects for the summer. All of them are big multipitch mountain routes that have F8 pitches, bold and in seriously awkward places to get to. The fitter I am, the better.
So I have been trying to get out to the crag every day over the past week and work myself a bit harder. These pics are from a morning on Hell’s Lum with Richard. We drove over and scooted up Clean Sweep before lunch. The plan was to head over for a climb or two on Shelterstone for the afternoon, but the showers swept in, so I wandered about on an E5 at Creag dubh instead, getting lost (I’ve somewhat forgotten how to read a guidebook).
Since then, I’ve been cleaning, bolting and trying various cool routes. Or at least the bits of them that are still dry.
Shortly I’m heading over to Harris to begin preparations for attempting a line on Sron Ulladail for the Great Climb programme on Aug 28th. We’ve got to climb a 5-6 pitch route with a very high E-number, on live telly in 5 or 6 hours. So a week of walking in and climbing on the cliff each day will be essential training and learning for the big day.

Friday 2 July 2010

Video stills from Indian Face

I just got home from Wales after a stop off in Glasgow. Man it’s good to be in my own house after three weeks almost continuously on the road around the UK. Here are a few video stills from our footage of Indian Face.

Micro stopper ready for a quickfire placement. I placed all the gear on lead (goes without saying these days I know, but a few folk are still pre-placing) and getting the RPs seated perfectly and quickly in their placements was one of the biggest elements to prepare for. The route is definitely a tiny bit safer now Black Diamond’s micro stoppers have a much higher breaking strength. My dad’s jewellery files came in handy for filing the micros down to fit the placements just right.

Starting nervously up the hard climbing, not really finding my focus just yet.

Lovely piece of wall, eh?

Resting tired feet at the good hold.

A nasty barn door move, mid crux section. Dawes swapped feet for this move and so could move the left hand in balance. I felt the foot swap was a bit awkward and had potential for a mistake, so did it this way. But I was worried an easterly wind during the move might make the move impossible. It was westerly, so it was no problem.

About to start the crux. Photo: Tom Kirby