Sunday, 24 January 2016

West Central Wall

 Andy arrived at my belay.  How depressing for him.  There he joined two rock jocks standing in the dark, too tight to put their head torch’s on whilst mumbling and grumbling about winter.  “That was steep, fun and positive” was his greeting.  “Good, you can take us to the top” was my response.  And off he went, with a little skip in his step.

The day started with wallowing around in knee deep snow, in the dark, with usual negative questions being asked inside my head.  But experience tells me, the painful slog up the relentless slope normally pays off.  After gearing up in the col, there was a silent agreement that West Central Wall was the venue for the day.  The standard inspection of the wall was made from the top of Central Buttress.  Since Iain had joined Andy and Me, he was nominated to rap into the abyss first and scare the sleeping West Central Wall monsters away.  Someone has left some well extended tat from the top anchor so there were no issues (since there normally is) with retrieving our ropes.  Shoot The Breeze (IX,8) had been on all our tick lists, so that seemed like the most suitable objective.  Having done a fair amount of mixed climbing on Beinn Eighe’s steep quartzite myself, I guess I was intrigued to climb it and compare it with the other routes.

Andy walking with a cool sunrise behind.

Andy volunteered himself to get the ball rolling, so quested off up the initial pitch.  A short while later he was at the belay.  Folk who have read my wintery blogs in the past will be well aware, I hate seconding.  But a new pet hate of mine is seconding behind someone else.  Everytime I looked up, I would get a face full of snow from Iain who was doing a good job kicking it in my direction.  Knowing Iain, this was not intentional.  Or maybe it was? Hmmm.  A few steep pulls later, I arrived at a little ledge below Iain and Andy.  There wasn’t any space for me on Andy’s ledge so I was asked if I could stay on my little footledge with an overhanging right wall which pushed me out into the void.  “Eh, no.  Fuck that.”  So I grovelled my way, up and left to a bigger ledge off to the side.  A much more suitable ledge for an impatient Murdoch.  Here I could walk around, do press ups, star jumps, dead hangs.  I was quite content for the next 2 hours.

Iain and Myself following pitch 1. (Andy Inglis)
Happy!  (Andy Inglis)

Iain was on for pitch 2.  This sounded quite exciting as it followed the big arête above and was described as being ‘bold’ in places.  Iain despatched this in good style.  After confirming the description several times at the point of which you commit to the arete, he did.  Iain kept it steady and worked his way up the arête for a while until a little footledge took him left into the groove and down climb to the belay.  A pretty airy pitch I thought.  Once you gain the arête, I guess the intimidated leader may feel the urge to take a few steps left into the easier groove of Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears.

Iain on pitch 2.

Iain high up on the wild arete.

Looking up at pitch 3, it looked rather wild and athletic. I was just hoping that there was going to be some decent tool placements and good gear along the way.  After faffing about at the belay and avoiding pissing on the coiled ropes, I set off.  I was instantly in a cluster fuck.  Iain had put 2 runners in the groove to protect his down climb to the belay.  So these acted like a mini top rope for me to get stood up again on the foot ledge.  My beloved lanyards were tangled all over the place, so a few naughty comments were made. Once, I was on it properly and leading, a switch was flicked.  I was in my element.  Steep, physical and wildly exposed climbing kept me focused.  There might have even been a few smiling moments.  The final bulge on the arête slowed me a bit.  The gear just never felt quite right.  Looking at my last solid pieces way below, I wasn’t fancying the airtime.  Arms becoming a bit pumped, foot holds in the wrong place, darkness creeping in,  I had a few words with myself to hurry up and just commit.  Eventually I did, praying that the flakes and wee bits off turf I was using were solid.

I forgot my chalkbag to tick the foot holds ;-) (Andy Inglis)

Me on pitch 3.  (Andy Inglis)

Done.  I sat back into my harness at the belay, glowing after doing such a cool route.  Shoot The Breeze is outrageous and I highly recommend it.  Hats off to Greg and Guy for opening this line up. 

The following Wednesday, Guy Steven and I headed back to West Central Wall.  Reading between the lines, Guy was wanting a training day ;-) so agreed to get on Bruised Violet (VIII,8) with me.  Now, I was quite keen to follow the line that Ian Parnell and Andy Turner took, and not the bold line that Bullock and Big Tim took.  So I spent a bit of time looking at a few topo’s and reading both descriptions to work it out.

Beinn a'Chearcaill

Guy on the second abseil.

Guy despatched the Chop Suey groove in no time at all.  I went on to lead pitch 2 which I found fairly intense in a few places.  You pull over a roof with not much feet, then need to commit up the groove a bit before some gear is found.  A tricky traverse right was actually ok.  It was just that typical feeling of leaving a good rest, knowing you were unable to reverse the moves back.  I guess falling off would have been a bit nasty as you would swing violently into the groove on your left.  Then there was the arête.  I thought it looked easy, but actually there was a lot more to it.  Pretty technical in places and just keeping in balance on some thin hooks and foot holds was tiring.

Guy following pitch 2

It was agreed between Guy and myself that I would lead the middle harder pitch’s.  Despite a pretty exposed semi hanging belay, our changeover was slick.  I think that’s because Guy is a superb MIC and a trainee Guide (a perfect partner!).  Parnell had suggested that pitch’s 3 & 4 should be linked together.  So I did.  Again, pretty wild strenuous climbing with good kit.  Guy led pitch 4 which was actually pretty hard.  You stand on this ledge with bomber gear up and right.  As much as the quartzite is fairly positive, here is wasn’t.  It was very compact and slopey.  You just had to find something shit to pull on, close your eyes and stand up on non-existent nicks in the rock to reach a chockstone.  Very insecure!

I have been a bit sad the last few days.  Recently I have read a few comments about some of the routes on Beinn Eighe being  "very poor climbing quality, no distinct line and very scrappy"  and “Supposed to be a classic according to the book, but I found it of mediocre moxed climbing quality”.  Also the long strenuous approach seemed to be an inconvenience.  I dare say there are moments of scrappy climbing, but that is part of Scottish winter mountaineering.  When an exceptionally strong dry tooling wad gets on a VI,7, then the mixed climbing quality is going to be far too easy.  I guess I am just looking at the strong line of chimneys on a cool crag.  If VI,7 was your limit, of course it would be ‘outrageous’!  And the approach, yes I moan about it.  But those of you that know me, I fucking love the suffering of flogging up it.  It’s what makes the climbing on Beinn Eighe or any other serious mountain more rewarding.