Sunday 29 January 2012

Take a Chance

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it" [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]

Sometimes you've got to take a chance. If you haven't stepped up to the plate and given it your all, then how will you ever know what could have been?

Andy and I park the van in Kishorn and settle down for the night. Tomorrow we are going to live out a shared dream to climb The Godfather.


We wake with the 5am alarm, but this doesn't feel like a glory day. Having left a frosty Inverness the previous evening under a perfect star-lit sky, the Kishorn night had been mild and wet. I step out of the van onto the boggy verge and squelch purposefully around the van as I take in the morning air and look to the hills. The sky is still cloudy and the temperate wind wafting over the Loch does not promise optimum climbing conditions. We will not be living our dream today.


A brisk drive up to Torridon lands us in the Beinn Eighe car park at the wrong side of 6am. We are on the move by 6.30am as the sky clears revealing the stars we left behind in Inverness. Our dream may have been put aside for another day, but I am yet to have a bad day on Beinn Eighe. Looking across at Liathach in the blue hue of morning I am reminded of one reason why this is my favourite winter climbing venue.

Andy on the approach slope of Beinn Eighe,
with Liathach behind

Friends had climbed on Far East Wall recently, so I was optimistic that our efforts would be justly rewarded. As we levelled onto the frozen plateau, now glistening as the sun rose over the distant hills, I smiled. Contented. Relaxed. Liberated. Pressure free. Whatever we do today is a bonus. I love climbing here.

Once down at the base of the wall we are on the threshold of freeze and thaw. A flurry of snowflakes are followed by light drizzle.

We can see tantalising icicles in the corner line of Sundance but, before Andy has time to became engrossed in its entry pitch, the dripping ice wards off its suitor. Before too long the routes on this wall will lose their wintriness. We will return.

Eastern Ramparts are holding much more snow. This is where we will climb today. A quick look from a distance, in an attempt to marry route descriptions with the complex and confusing corners and roofs in front of us, and we settle on Rampart Wall. It is a 3 star Davison/Nisbet route and I'm sure it won't disappoint. The third pitch describes a tension traverse. Has it been freed? We do not intend to use aid. I'm sure we're not the first.

We must have started the first pitch a tad far left, but an awkward step down and across sees Andy safely at the belay. According to the guidebook, pitch two is the crux (but this assumes aid is used on pitch 3). Having thrutched through the initial flared crack, the fantastic continuation flake crack yielded to a more elegant style. I'm having fun.  The crux itself involves levering the full head of an axe into a horizontal break in the quartzite wall to the left; pulling round to the left; committing to a thin horizontal torque with the other axe; pulling further round to the left; hooking a crack line before heading upwards once more. Footholds are scarce, but I am soon back in balance and placing much needed protection. I'm pleased with my performance.

Andy approaching the capacious second belay

The belay ledge is capacious. A fine place to be and from which to enjoy the outlook. Two roped hill walkers ascend the snowy slope below and we acknowledge each other's presence with an elaborate wave. The hill is suprisingly quiet today. We have the wall to ourselves.

The walkers below take brief respite and fix their gaze upon Andy as he readies himself. "C'mon lad". Andy, your audience awaits. The initial crack is steep with a precarious "mantle" into a turfy niche. But this is dispatched with some degree of gracefulness and Andy is soon ensconced atop the pinnacle with solid protection in place. Perplexed, he looks up and then a couple of metres to the left, which is where he needs to be. As if struck by a eureka moment, Andy quickly slots the tip of one pick in a thin seam that crosses the otherwise blank wall. His second pick is placed alongside, in the same fashion. Without footholds Andy lets his full weight down onto his tools, the torsion in the picks holding them firmly in place. One needs to be released and placed further left. A precarious and strenuous move with no footholds to assist. The objective is clear - reach the vertical blind crack just over an arms span to the left. Feet cut loose and are swung high and far left. The left foot catches a good ledge. Pushing down and away on the right hand tool, the other is released and swung up and left to catch a shallow hook in the crack. It holds and balance is restored. The tension traverse has been freed. Andy's audience moves on. 

We lap up the remainder of the route which has now eased off in terms of difficulty but is still offering superb climbing. The sky is at its clearest and, on the final snow slope to the plateau, I can look out and enjoy the vista. I am reminded of another reason why this is my favourite winter climbing venue.

The end of another fantastic day on Beinn Eighe

It is just before 4pm when we reach our sacks at the Coinneach Mor cairn and pack away our climbing day. We've made extremely good time and it's a joy to relax in the late afternoon light. The sun is slipping behind Liathach.We stop briefly to picture the scene, then make our swift way home.

Darkness envelopes us as we march into the car park. My phone is startled into life with a text "Been thinking of you all day. Guess you'll be starting the night shift now". But our day is done. Not bold, but pure gold. 

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it"

We will look forward to experiencing the night shift on The Godfather another day.



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