Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Avoiding a second lashing from The Vicar

As much as everyone is grumbling about this poor winter, I’m actually loving it.  I am facing my weakness of bouldering head on and am now actually making the odd dynamic move.  In saying that, I did in fact wet myself (you may wish to refer to my last blog post ending) on January 2nd 2017.  Whilst Ben Nevis remained black, the Cairngorms were blasted from a Northerly which resulted in the crags being plastered. 

So my good friend Guy Steven and I ventured into Corie an Lochan to see what was happening.  Well, it was certainly wintry and it was certainly cold.  We opted for ‘Hookers Corner VI,6’ which was ‘good fun’.  It took me a day to thaw out.

Guy near the top of 'Hooker's Corner VI,6'

Me on pitch 2 of 'Hookers Corner' (Well technically Hoarmaster top pitch) (Photo: Guy Steven)

Of course on Tuesday the temperature had to go up to 12 deg Celsius with rain at all levels.  But in keeping with this winters theme, the temperature plummeted again Tuesday night.  Having my doubts that Wednesday would be any good, I sacked it off.  But, I packed my bag just in case I changed my mind.  8 pm on Tuesday night, I thought I might as well go with Guy and at least have a walk with a heavy bag.  The FOMO would have killed me if it was good.  Well, bugger me, into the approach to the corie, it was actually looking quite wintry.  However, the product from all these temperature fluctuations was a nice coating of verglas.  Anyway, it wasn’t as windy so we decided to have a look at ‘The Vicar VII,8’.  Now, this route has haunted me for the last 5 years.  I could write a whole blog post on why, but I’m not, I’ll give a summary.  Please refer to Jim Higgins blog as he wrote a great account at the time.  Since that day, I have climbed numerous winter routes of similar standard or harder.  My memory of it was getting onto the little ledge by the arête was tricky, then standing on the ledge, I was unable to commit to the arête.  It looked mental.  Admittedly the weather that day was pish so that never helped a tired unwell Murdoch.  So I bailed left into 'Nocando Crack' so I never felt that I completed to route properly. 

So Guy nicely dispatched the first pitch.  We used the new direct pitch that Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell and Pete Macpherson used for 'Siberian Tiger'.  I’m sure it’s well known but I would like to re emphasise that it is a superb pitch and well worth doing.  Arriving at the belay, Guy was quite happily strapped in and reminded me that he has done his bit.  Dick.  I did voice concern about how icy it was.  I think I also mentioned that this was a stupid route choice for today.  But I only have myself to blame for that. 

Guy breaking onto the wall on  Pitch 1

Guy on pitch 1

Guy still on pitch 1.

So, I try and leave the belay ledge.  Normally there is would be some ‘up and downing’ going on.  Not today.  Just standing unable to move up.  Eventually I found a placement and a way I went.  Happy, not really.  But as many of you know, you become absorbed into the climbing.  Once I moved onto the ‘wall cracks’ I was a bit more in the flow.  Gear was hard work but satisfying when secured.  I found myself making the tricky moves onto the little ledge.  Not as bad as I recall.  By this point you are a fair bit out from the last good runner.  I gazed left at the Nocando Flake.  It looked so tempting.  But I couldn’t.  So, you clip a shitty peg, tap in a size 1 wire which only went half in and a pecker in a shitty icy crack which looked more pretty than useful.  I looked up at the arête above and thought ‘for fuck sake’.  Clearing off the hoar, I was still thinking the same.  There seemed nothing obvious to pull down on.  It’s all just rounded and sloping.  Eventually I made a move up and my right tool was on something good.  Making another move, the next minute both feet popped (poor technique, I know) and I’m hanging straight armed on just my right tool. Shit! I twist and eyeballed the corie floor between my legs.  The ropes were waving in the wind, my last bits of kit were not the bomber wires I previously had and I couldn't be arsed anymore.  So I managed to untwist match my left tool on the placement that was obviously good, haul myself up, get my right foot on a ledge by my face and began to mantle up.  Searching desperately for something with my left tool, I found nothing.  Just bald slabs glazed in verglas.  It was precarious one legged stand up.  Eventually I could stand comfortably and took a moment.  Above lay a sea of stepped  glazed slabs separated by tricky mantles.  Obviously there is no gear and Guy was out of sight so I was on my own now.  Eventually turfy ground was met which took me to the top.  Phew.  Certainly not ground breaking news, or setting new standards in winter by any means.  But, a great experience on a great route.  Well, I think it is anyway.  So in the end, after 5 years, those demons of mine have been laid to rest.  It wasn’t nearly as hard as I remembered it, but certainly an Icy Vicar was testing in places.  To the modern climber, its fine.  Hats off to Greame Ettle who did the first ascent of this pitch this 'back in the day' with his fancy dual points, straight shafted tools with leashes and a rucksack I believe?!

Me on pitch 2. (Photo: Guy Steven)

Of course, it thawed out again and I was back prepping for rock 2017.  I thought I would finish the week of with a cheeky run up An Caber on Ben Wyvis.  Normally I can run the start then brought to a fast walk.  This time I could barely run to the starting gate from the car park and felt knackered.  Ok, let’s just walk to the big boulder then… I talked myself in going to the top of the hill.  My slowest time ever.  I woke the next day in a world of pain and shivers, followed by a night of sweating buckets of sweat.  The following few days were toned down versions.  The rug has been pulled from beneath my feet and I have been floored for once.  It certainly reminded me the value of good health.  Resurfacing today has been gold.

Roll on spring, I want some French Sport crags

St Leger

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