Friday, 6 March 2015

High Pressure Crack

Starting up pitch 3 of High Pressure Crack VIII,9 Ben Nevis. Photo: Masa Sakano

Returning from a trip to Manchester to speak and coach climbers at the climbing centre, it seemed there were not many breaks in the constant snow storms. But a ridge of high pressure was forecast for Wednesday and Masa Sakano agreed to venture onto the Ben with me. The avalanche forecast was ‘high’ and we’d heard of avalanche incidents the day before. So I thought of an unclimbed overhanging wall on the Douglas Boulder, which can be accessed safely in avalanche conditions so long as you make the descent by abseil.

Last year myself, Helen Rennard and Harry Holmes repeated Nick Bullock and Matt Heliker’s VII,8 ‘Rutless’ here. The crux pitch climbs the first few metres of a soaring overhanging crack and headwall, but quickly scuttles left along ledges and escapes via a corner. Something going right up that wall would be mega!

Approaching the hardest climbing on pitch 3, and starting to feel the pump. Photo: Masa Sakano

Masa led up the icy chimney of Gutless to the ledge below the wall. Watching him, I could see the headwall on the overhanging 3rd pitch. It looked like the crack went diagonally left across a smooth wall covered in a layer of ice and I worried a bit about how I might protect it if I could get there, although I figured the ice might be useful.

When I followed to the ledge, I launched up the overhanging wall without any hesitation so as to get worried. Although the crack was too icy to take more than a couple of cams, good wires spurred on my progress and I pressed on, getting gradually more pumped. Above the lip of the overhang I made a couple of committing pulls to a rest. I was struggling a bit to get gear. Everything was choked in ice. I dug out a big hex placement behind a couple of loose blocks. It was wobbly, so I packed the loose blocks back on top of it with lots of snow to keep it where it was.

The final part of the pitch up the headwall was fantastic on steep cracks on the exposed headwall. The best bit however, was remembering that I’d packed some sweets in the pocket of my Gore-Tex jacket for the belay. Masa led a 62 metre pitch on easier terrain to the top of the Douglas boulder and we headed down into gathering black clouds and eventually rain - it looks like winter is gone for a little while in Scotland. 

 Masa following pitch 1

 Masa in the fun chimney of Gutless.

Masa heading off on the long final pitch

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