My parents were going to a party at the house of some family friends in Fort William for new years, so I hitched a ride with them up north and met my friend Greg Boswell at the "Green Welly" in Crianlarich on the evening of the 30th. We'd originally planned to head north that night, but with a high isotherm we decided to play it safe and head to the Ben. Greg had told me about a project of his just next to "The Secret", so we called that plan A. The Ben's most brilliant feature has to be its height. As much as people moan about conditions whenever they cross the border, i think its fair to say that there are very few days between mid November and late March when you can't get something done on the Ben providing you're motivated and flexible.
When we arrived at the bottom of the project early in the morning of new year's eve the rock was all very slightly hoared up. There was no doubt that things were solidly frozen, with turf and chock stones welded tight by a consistent glaze of ice. However, when we looked up to the incredibly steep wall our line went through, it was still very marginal conditions. We noticed that the constant wind blowing down the gully was actually hoaring the wall while we watched. So we sat on our bags in the minging Scottish weather for an hour and a half as we watched the hoar grow and grow, so we could justify going up there and scraping it all off again.....Scottish climbing makes even less sense than most types of climbing!!
|Pitch 1, its not quite as nasty as it looks.|
Once the top pitch was white enough I set off on the first pitch; an ice smear on to a steep wall. The pitch was very nice and even had some moves on ice alone. It's maybe worth tech 7, and in the conditions we had was the logical way to go, but there are a great many variations that would all be good. Its even possible to traverse in at a very easy grade. 30 metres later i found myself beneath the horrifically steep cracked wall which would form the main pitch. There was no debate as to who's this was, it was Greg's project and Greg's territory, so off he went.
The next few hours were a fantastic display of stamina and determination on Greg's part. The wall is ridiculously steep, with perhaps half of the pitch overhanging. The crack, although well protected on the whole is too wide low down to climb conventionally, which meant Greg was forced on to thin face hooks. The lead reached a real climax when Greg was forced to make an overhanging mantle on to a small ledge which has a steepening above that tries to push you off. As he started to mantle he shouted "This block's moving", i looked up and teetering on the ledge was a large block, I thought it was part of the cliff but evidently it wasn't, and I was straight underneath it. Unbelievably Greg managed to mantle and crouch on to the small ledge without touching the block. I then dismantled my belay and climbed 15 metres up and left out of the line of fire, carrying the coils around my neck, while Greg balanced on the insecure ledge without a belay! Once I was out of the way Greg kicked the block off, which landed right where i had been and exploded all the way down number 3 gully. After a quick chuckle that we were moving together on a possible grade 9 or 10 Greg swiftly despatched the overhanging top moves.
|Starting the fight with the crux pitch.|
While seconding i was shocked by the steepness of the route, and even more shocked by how the hell he managed the mantle without knocking off the block!!
It was a super impressive lead. Greg gave the pitch the somewhat conservative grade of IX 9. Who knows? Its almost certainly the hardest onsight on the Ben to date. Its called "To Those Who Wait" Nice one Greg!
|Myself topping out, after having a couple of fights with stuck wires!|
|Main pitch takes the barely visible crackline on the overhanging wall left of the arete. (not my photo)|
After a drunken and very late new year's eve, we slept until late on the 1st before driving north to Torridon. Originally we had our eyes on one of Martin Moran's new things. But after some thought we downsized to the classic "Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears" VIII 8 on Beinn Eighe.
It turned in to a rather funny day. Mainly due to Greg's watch being about 4 hours late (don't ask), and us not realising until we were on the route!! Also, we managed to bring the wrong map which meant we took an educated guess at which one Beinn Eighe was, got it wrong, and traversed some munros and a classic Scottish ridge to get to the mountain! Once we found the cliff we discussed the rap descent and both came to the conclusion that the guide was unhelpfully vague. We just rapped down the general direction of the route and luckily located it pretty easily. After the first pitch i looked round at Greg and said "is it getting dark?!" we thought it was about 11 in the morning, but it turned out it was 2.30pm and yes it was getting dark! - MUPPETS!!!
With this in mind we sped up the rest of the route, topping out in the dark and heavy snow, before carefully feeling our way back down to the car. "Blood Sweat" was an incredible route, each pitch fairly sustained but never very hard. Amazing quality climbing, and great to finally climb in Torridon. It maybe felt 5 grades easier than the thing on the Ben though!!
Unfortunately our photo's are pretty terrible, as my camera broke and Greg's got very wet......
Check out Greg's thoughts here- http://gregboswell.blogspot.com/ .