Sunday, 10 May 2015

Nerve Damage

E6 6a was what Lawrence Hughes lead me to believe in a casual conversation one day.  Then it became ‘maybe its E7 6b’.  There was some strong encouragement for me to give it an onsight attempt.  In the meantime, I thought I would see what the other sandstone technicians in the area thought.   Ian Taylor warned me ‘to be careful with that one’ and Paul Tattersall reminded me that ‘Lawrence is a demon on that stuff’ and ‘would have had it dialled’.    

Time marched on and I was being distracted by other routes.  However, ‘Lawrences Ardmair route’, which is actually called ‘Nerve Damage’, still remained unticked on my scrappy piece of paper.  I still pondered each day whether to try onsight it or rap it to have a look.    Last October, Iain Small paid a visit to Ardmair.  Obviously he showed interest in the route.  All day at work I was suffering from major FOMO.  Then a text from Iain that evening.  In summary, he tried to onsight it, but got shut down.  That was enough for me.  We all know that Iain Small is an onsight weapon and would have dug deeper than anyone else…  He climbed it the following day after rapping it and a play on a top rope.  Comments of ‘slapping for the finishing holds’, ‘its pretty run out’ and ‘you wouldn’t want to fall from the top’ played havoc in my mind.

The winter came and kind of went, this route was still unticked.  We are in the month of May now.  We shouldn’t be considering bold routes on sandstone that require winter friction.  However, we have been blessed by a persistent winter.  Plenty of cold air and fresh snow even to low levels.  Now most of you would think all I would do is moan about how shit this is.  Well you are wrong.  I’m turning negatives into positives here.  These conditions are perfect for working my weaknesses.  Bouldering and considering this route up at Ardmair.

An Teallach looking wintery

One day, I went up to Ardmair armed with everything.  Brushes, bouldering pads, shunt, wires, more wires etc.  You name it, I had it.  Having walked past the boulder problems on Arapiles wall for over 10 years now, I have never tried any of them.  So it was cool to finally mess around on various traverses and up problems.  I think the highlight was ‘Billabong (Font 6b)’.  At the finishing jug, I thought it would be easy to solo on to the big ledge.   I got a bit committed and gripped thinking it would be jugs all the way.  No, just sandy, gritty, licheness rounded holds.  Not helped by the fact the sun came out from behind a cloud and my chalk bag was on the ground.  Ironically ‘Lawrence’s’ crack (Font 7a)’ which actually finishes on the ledge went much easier… I digress.

Rapping down the wall, I spied out various slopey holds and pebbles.  There was a distinct lack of kit though.  I was aware that at ‘the nose’ there was a good cluster of kit.  But that was miles away.  So I played about for a while trying various sequences.  By the end of the day I was spent.  How does a vertical piece of sandstone do that to you?!  Not helped by the fact, the whole thing looks easy from the ground.  Anyway, I left the crag that day feeling psyched.  Late night shopping on a Thursday meant I could splash out and purchase a new Lapiss brush from the shop minutes before they closed.  That’s how psyched I was!

Nerve Damage follows the line of the rope.

Zoomed in.  Good kit at the nose.

Worn out

That night I arranged with Lawrence to go back on Sunday evening as it was forecast to be cold north easterlies .  Everyone told me it was going to rain.  I found a forecast suggesting it wasn’t.  It pissed with rain all day.  

Uisdean Hawthorn had just arrived back from a very successful alpine trip.  I persuaded him up to Ardmair.  I think the main selling point was, the 10m crack of ‘Unleash the Beast’ is more impressive than the Dru Coulier Direct.  Well the climbing will be harder at least ;-)

'Unleash the Beast'.  Much more impressive than...

...This.  Uisdean on Dru Coulier Direct (Photo Guy Steven)

Whilst holding Uisdeans ropes on ‘Totem Pole Crack’, I was busy glancing round the corner at the cool VS called ‘Moondance’.  It just seems like yesterday that I was resting on gear and taking multiple lops of it. 

Giving Nerve Damage a chalk and brush, I played on the moves.  They felt desperate.  What had changed?  Everything was off balance and I kept falling off.  My mind was in turmoil.  Was this going to be another long term thing that I’ll never do?  With a few subtle changes of body position, the sequence was unlocked.  It suddenly felt easy.  However it is still very intricate and one wrong move, you were off.  That was playing at the back of my mind all day.   We stood back and looked at the crag.  ‘What a line’ I said, Uisdean looked at me and just laughed.  ‘Get a grip’ he said.  Playing devil’s advocate with each other all day and winding each other up, beneath it all I could sense his focus on this bigger mountains was beginning to outweigh technical rock climbs.  That boy will go far so keep an eye on him.  Anyway, more to the point, was I going to die if I fell from the crux?  Hard to tell, but you would be taking a ride down the whole crag with 2 ledges to hit.  Without rope stretch you would go miles.  We all fall further than you think.  So it was best not to think about it.  Iain had sent me a reassuring message in the morning, ‘just switch off and go for it!’ 

After some patient waiting, the shade arrived.  Suddenly the fear hit, what was stopping me?  Tying on I could feel a sudden rise in anxiety.  Uisdean broke the silence and said, ‘you’re not falling off, you’ve pissed up it already’.  Wise words from the mountaineer so off I went.  I arranged the crucial kit at the nose then reversed the moves to the ledge.  Suddenly I had that urge which some of you know.  I managed to erase it from my mind by chatting about the Tories and SNP. 

Placing the kit

Ranting about politics.  

Off I went, heel hook in… the next minute I was on the finishing jugs just below the top of the crag.  Yay! I thought.  But I hadn’t actually practiced the top out.  It’s just a typical Ardmair sloping mess.  My Ardmair apprenticeship bailed me out. 

So what do I think?  It’s tough to grade.  I haven’t done much of this head pointing before.  If it all goes well, it feels easy.  But all it takes is one wrong hand or foot position and you are taking the E7/8 ride resulting in some form of Nerve damage…

So here is the route description.  Click on the name and it will take you to an updated guide to the crag along with some cool photo's

E7/8 6c*** 25m 2011

Well named - an incredible pitch up the obvious blank seamed headwall between Cruel World and Colour Co-ordinated. Desperate, insecure and intricate climbing above tricky micro-gear would make this a very hard onsight, the upgrade from E7 may be conservative! Climb Cruel World and swing right to the ledge. Tricky moves lead to the nose and gear (strenuous to place), then more hard moves gain a standing position and micro-gear (blind to place). Powerful and technical cruxes above lead left and up to good holds just below the top. Pull over with a lot of relief.

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