Friday 20 June 2014

The Wicked

Leading pitch 3 of The Wicked, E6 5b, 6b, 6b, 6b, 6b, Ben Nevis. Photo: Dave Cuthbertson/Cubby Images.

In 2000 and 2001, Gary Latter and Rick Campbell worked on a major new line on Carn Dearg Buttress of Ben Nevis. It took the obvious challenge of stepped grossly overhanging wall pitches, followed by the attractive wall left of the Bat corner pitch high on the buttress.  At the time it was by far the hardest rock climb on Ben Nevis, before much harder routes such as Anubis and then Echo Wall were put up in the years following.

They approached the climb ground up, cleaning the route on aid and then redpointing the pitches. However, they did not climb it in a single push, but rather climbed various pitches on different days (and years) by accessing them from the easier routes, eventually grading the route E6 and calling it The Wicked.

This left the obvious challenge of a first continuous ascent. It was a great challenge too, as the climb has four consecutive hard pitches. I had stood at the foot of it once before with Niall McNair several years ago, but it was wet. In fact, frequent wetness on the first two pitches seems to have helped maintain its unrepeated status for all this time. As far as I know noone else has climbed it.

I went up to the buttress with Donald King the other day with no particular plan. Since a period of fine weather had not long started, I expected to find The Wicked wet and we might go for the other mega E6 on the buttress, Trajan’s Column. But on arrival, the wet streaks didn’t look too bad, so we decided to go up for a look. Donald studiously avoided a few wet holds on the first pitch which was ok. But on closer acquaintance, the slab leading up to the first hard pitch looked pretty wet, and the start of the crux itself even worse.

I went up, expecting to quickly come back. At the overhangs, the holds above looked quite big so I wondered if I could just climb on through the wetness. I knew it would end up in a scrap, but who cares? It’s training. And, who likes starting up a route and not finishing it, ready excuses or not?

 I picked my way through the wet and sharp jugs in the roof and eventually managed to grab a flat jug over the lip. Looking down, there were no dry options for feet whatsoever. Hanging with my feet off, I felt under pressure to make a decision so opted for an overhead toe-hook behind a loose looking flake. This worked nicely to get a runner in and dry wet hands. But with one hand in my chalk bag, the block suddenly flew out, sending me swinging wildly with one point of contact. Instinct kept me on and there was no option but to go up, quickly. Below, Donald tried hard not to laugh. The holds beyond were manky, covered in thick lichen and the odd bit of wet moss. I pressed on trying to clean as I went, but totally pumped, I slid off onto the rope at the last move.

Eyeing up the final pitch of the lovely wall left of the Bat corner.

Why on earth didn’t I put the brush in my bag? A quick clean by rubbing the slopers with my hands sort of worked, and on the next attempt the pitch went down no problem. The next pitch was almost as bad, cleaning thick lichen off most of the holds while pumped, but at least I got up it onsight. The next was even worse and I slid out of licheny jams twice before giving it a good rub with my T-shirt and getting it done next go. The final 6b pitch up the lovely Bat corner wall looked immense. It looked a little less dirty too and I was determined to clean it on lead without resting on the rope. However, as I reached for the crucial crux crimp, my finger tips sank into a fluffy pile of moss which was saturated with water. Damn! Even that one needed a quick garden before releading it from the start.

All in all we got quite a workout. But we got to the top!

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