Drinking a mug of tea in the CIC hut on Ben Nevis at the end of the day was a pleasure. Normally after a day on the Ben, Iain by habit needs to go in the hut, relax and enjoy a pot of tea. Easy for him I think. Normally I am chomping to get back due to my slight impatience. Mainly due to the fact I’ll have some arrangement or work at the other side of the country the next day. But this day was different. I took time to enjoy the company and reflect on our day….
Over the years, I have managed to work my way through the climbs in the guidebook for Carn Dearg Buttress on Ben Nevis. A bit annoying really as I love that badass cliff. Iain of course has opened up a few more but the details have only ever been discreetly published. A few years ago I repeated a route of his and Tony Stones up the right wall of Sassenach. A nice steady E6 wall climb. Highly recommended for anyone operating at that grade. Recently we have had a great spell of weather. For the first time ‘Life’ has caught up with me and so I haven’t managed to capitalise on it. I had a day booked with Iain and so we opted for Carn Dearg. He was happy to hold my ropes. His suggestion was the left arête of Banana Groove. It’s an E6 called ‘Calgucus’ he and Rick Campbell established in 2009. I was easily sold.
Leaving the belay at the base of Banana Groove, I clipped the top wire of the belay, placed a cam, unclipped the wire, placed another 2 wires higher… then reversed, faffed. Then clipped the belay wire. Thin moves left, you gain the arête. It’s sharp but satisfying. Airy moves up I gained more wire placements. They seemed solid (Size 5 DMM offset and a big BD micro). More tricky moves and the right wall overhangs. I gained a strenuous undercut and manged to place 2 small C3’s and 1 micro.
The sequence above was unobvious. Strenuous and technical was my initial thoughts. I probed up and down many times trying to unlock something. Iain had no knowledge so I was on my own. I felt a bit of fear so placed another DMM small peanut. Now, I am a pretty calculated climber I like to think… sometimes over cautious. No one wants to die or hurt themselves. So basing it on that, I committed to a sequence. Yes, I was pumped and my sequence was not working out so I went for the lob. The gear at my waist, nothing new I thought. Fuck me, I went for the ride of my life.
That cluster ripped clean out, spinning upside down, the next cluster ripped, I’m still having flashing images of the ledges of Sassenach off to my left. I braced my body having time to think. The next minutes I was on the biggest swing of my life under the big roofs of Sassenach with a pile of gear upside down. ‘Oh bugger I thought’. Correcting my orientation my ribs ached along with 2 rope burns across the inside of my right forearm. Keeping the swing, I got into the wall and pulled my way onto the left rib. Glancing up, Iain was pinned upside down glaring down with the rope pinning him down. I thought I had had the rough ride. No!
|On the Arete (Photo:Iain Small)|
Poor Iain was groaning in pain. He never said too much apart from telling me he smacked his head (he was wearing a helmet), was feeling sick and sweating. He informed me he tied the rope off and to just give him a minute. I was clamped to the rib and placed 2 wires to secure myself to give myself a minute to just take in what had happened. I had a growing concern for Iain. How long do I wait till I climb back up? He seemed adamant to give him a moment… Eventually he partially recovered and I climbed back up with him belaying me fine.
A nervous laughter was exchanged. It was agreed pretty quickly that a pot of tea in the CIC hut was needed. I knew something was wrong. It was 1.30pm, there was still light and Iain wanted to go home!
By the time we had left the hut, Iain was fine, chatting away and felt back to normal. It was good to see the human side of him. He felt content at the fact he has happy to leave, go home and enjoy the weather rather than feel the need to be out. I felt sick to be honest. I was the one who took the 30 meter whipper, but I came away relatively un marked. Iain however took the impact. Hats off to him. He doesn’t remember much. Obviously he was checked out in A&E and was deemed fine. A stitch was required to his chin. His poor knuckles have no skin left and he has a lump on his head.
Clearly a lot of analysis has been happening in my head. Cubby has taken great interest and has turned into Sherlock Holmes carrying out an enquiry. Jules too has given it his interest. I do feel a bit daft but it’s been reassuring speaking with those two as we all know from the history books, they have taken their fair share of rides down the cliff. A few days have passed and I’m pretty keen to get back out (its good to see I am frustrated about the humidity, thunderstorms and midges rather than the fear of climbing). I guess that’s the joy of harder climbing; I sign up for it . Having done lots of hard trad over the years, it’s good to have a gentle reminder that things can be pretty dangerous. We walked away and I have my own thoughts on how to deal with stressful trad in the future. We all get lazy about placing that initial bomber runner. But from this experience, I’m sure you can see its importance. Iain had actually placed a wire at his waist which stopped the upward pull too much. Without, that would it have been much worse? Do we all place wires at belays to take upward pulls? Unusually we were using a single rope that day. That was out of the norm for me. Why do I have rope burn on the inside of my right arm? A lot of things to think about. So take what you want from that.