Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Andy, Jim and I have all been making the effort this season to get on harder routes. Since these are near (or beyond) the limits of our abilities, this means we have failed to get up our chosen routes on a few occasions. We all accept this chance - uncertainty of outcome is one of the defining features of an adventure, and as long as the failures are the type you can walk away from, they are experiences to be learned from. That doesn't stop them being frustrating though!

A beautiful morning on the Ben

On Sunday, the three of us headed up to Coire na Ciste to attempt Apache (VIII,8), the line of cracks up the steep wall right of Sioux Wall. Greg Boswell had described this as similar in style to Sioux Wall and only a touch harder, although he has biceps the size of my thighs adn balls to match so maybe his advice shouldn't be taken too literally! Jim and I had thoroughly enjoyed Sioux Wall last year and all 3 of us were psyched to get on Apache.

A popular crag!
It was a beautiful morning on Ben Nevis, which brought out the crowds! There were teams on Sioux Wall, Cornucopia, Babylon and Gargoyle Wall, with several others heading for Green and Comb gullies. The crag wasn't quite as white as we'd hoped but certainly wintery enough to justify an attempt. We had a couple of plumes of spindrift come down Thomson's Route towards us which added to the wintery feel.

The steep, imposing face of Apache

Spindrift engulfs Andy and Jim

Andy won the toss for the crux, so Jim led the short first pitch up Thomson's to where Apache steps left while I was on photographic duty, the intention being that I'd second pitches 1 & 2 in a oner then lead P3.

Jim approaching the belay on Pitch 1
The start of P2 is a very tenuous, teetery step up and traverse left into the groove. Andy explored a few other options before committing to this. Before long, though, he was powering up the crack. Something was wrong though - there was a lot of verglas in the cracks so he was having great difficulty getting gear to seat properly, and even from across the gully I could hear the swearing as he kicked out a crucial runner. He replaced it and downclimbed to a rest in the groove.

Andy replacing the nut he's just kicked out
A few minutes later, he moved up again. Returning to his high-point, he placed another runner in the verglassed crack and moved further up the crack in the hope of more solid gear. This time, the pump got the better of him and he fell. Both his high pieces ripped but his upper axe stayed in place, the springer leash stopping his fall.

Andy returning to his high-point

Thank God for springer leashes!

Andy retreated to the belay and I tied on to see if I could do any better. It was a short-lived attempt though - seeing Andy's gear rip messed with my head and I couldn't even commit to the tenuous traverse at the start of the pitch.

This is not the first failure we've had recently and I'm sure it won't be the last, but on this occasion I think backing off was the right decision. We'll be back...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

First Impressions

We were clearly not the first to have walked this way in recent days. To tell you the truth, many others had probably gone before us this very morning. The powder white snow bearing the tell tale signs of a throng of size 10s. At least we now had the luxury of a half light approach on a firm trail, still, heavy legs and a building sweat excused the occasional interuption to our brisk pace. Behind us, the rising sun brought with it a magical south Cairngorm dawn; the clear sky reflecting the colours of its emerging warmth. I'd never before been here in winter.

People, I have heard, wax lyrical of the great north east Coire of Lochnagar. I've been here just once, a summer solo of Eagle Ridge, but it's in winter that the true majesty of this royal coire is felt. Dropping down from the Meikle Pap col I make a mental picture, as my eyes track the length of the Coire picking out guidebook lines - my expression of a first impression that will last a lifetime. It has been said that if the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognise it. I'd like to think there is some truth in that.