Monday, 1 August 2011

Skye Wall, Once Upon A Time In The South West & Old Man Of Hoy

Been a long time since i got around to putting down a few words here and its been a busy few months.

After doing Apophenia and hanging out in Arisaig, Tim Emmett and i headed over to Skye to have a look at Dave Birkett's Skye Wall. It was a fun few days and we very nearly got the route done but as usual with this part of the country, the weather had the final word. We spent a day walking in, finding the line and sorting out the moves and gear. That night it rained heavily and so we had to wait most of the next day for it to dry out.Eventually Tim led the 1st pitch (a sandbag at E5 - we thought it more like a bouldery E6 6c) and as he reached the belay it was starting to rain again. I followed up as it was getting harder and by the time i was ready to take on the main pitch it was properly pissing it down. I set off anyway and then found myself about to embark on the crux of an E7/8 in the soaking wet a long way from anywhere and funnily enough had a change of heart. A very very wet retreat ensued and we headed back to civilization to regroup and have a weather check. There was no point in heading back, the forecast was shocking! This route will have to wait....hopefully later this year when the midges have calmed down a bit.

A couple of weekends later, there was a big party down in St Ives in Cornwall in memory of Woody, dubbed 'Woodstock'. A big team assembled and had a great day at Bosigran, a bit of surfing etc before a briliantly messy night in field with some dirty dance music. Goodtimes.
The next day i was feeling pretty rare. But the weather was good and i was keen to climb. Hazel Findlay was keen too and we decided to drive half way home and stop off at Dyers Lookout and have a play on another of Dave Birkett's routes, 'Once Upon a Time In The South West'. Hami had been on it before a few weeks previously and had done all the moves. Her Dad Steve cane along to hekle us for using chalk, and top roping ;-)
Amazingly we both did all the moves on the route that day and got some good links too. I felt sure we would both do it pretty quick considering we had only had a few hours sleep and had had a skin full the night before.

A week later i had some time off work, Hami had finished her degree and the forecast looked ok. I persuaded Hami that it would be best to go down for a 5 or so day and try and get the route done there and then rather than go back and forth a few times. She agreed.
Having had the experience of doing The Walk Of Life the previous November i came prepared. 100m static rope, micro cams, ball nuts, and the super lightweight Sterling Photon ropes which had made such a big difference before.
The 1st day went well. Conditions were good. We did all the moves again, made some great links, sussed the gear placements and where we were gonna place from etc. The top of the route kept shedding holds and gradually kept getting a little harder. This was more of an issue for hazel than it was for me cos she's only marginally taller than a Lilliputian.
We were all set to get on the sharp end the next day, but then of course the rain came.....It pissed it down the next day from start to finish and then the day after it not only rained but the sea mist came in and we sat in a dewy cloud all day. The rock soaked up all moisture into the cracks and all of our beautiful chalked holds and tick marks vanished. (at least Steve F would have been happy ;-))
Then on the 4th day the weaether went to the other extreme and it got hot hot hot! The rock was soaked and we had to wait most of the day for it to dry out, and after that it was just too hot to climb E2 let alone a thin 50m 8a+ slab on marginal gear. Finally at about 8pm we headed down to the wall and had a top rope go each. It didnt go too well. The conditions were terrible. I managed to top rope it clean but shredded my soft tips in the process and Hami was not psyched at all! I finally decided to go for the lead as the sun was setting behind the horizon and it cooled down slightly. It was 9.30pm. I set off and duly slipped off one of the 1st moves onto a tiny cam. this was beginning to get ridiculous. I pulled the ropes and had 1 last go and to my astonishment did the route. It was a fine battle. The top groove was climbed in almost total darkness. Only the white tick marks for the gear placements keeping me on track. An HB1 and an HB2 both fell out because it was too dark to see which way round to put them in and i nearly blew it on a hard rock over in the groove.
The sense of satisfaction though at the top was doubled by the experience. This really is one of the best bits of rock in the country.

Next up was Hami. We returned the next day but surprise surprise it started to rain again. She was under a bit of pressure as she was leaving the country in a week until Oct so she needed to get it done soon. Unfortunately i had to leave that eve to get to London for work, but her dad came down to take over the belaying and she sent it the next day. A truely amazing performance from the lady - The 1st E9 by a British woman. I'm gutted i didnt get to see her ascent, but her dad confessed he'd been rain dancing all week to prevent her from doing it so as he could come down and belay her for her ascent. Swine.

After that it was stint of work and the shoulder was getting better and better. Gilly and I then went up to Orkney for a wedding and took the opportunity to do the Old Man Of Hoy. What a giggle that was. Gilly was 2 1/2 months pregnant and styled her way up it. I can remember watching the televised ascent with Joe & Zoe Brown together with Pete Whillance and Murray Hamilton back in 1986. Ever since then its been something i wanted to do and its a real right of passage for any UK trad climber. The fulmars played their part in the show and dutifully honked their fishy goo all over Gilly's front. It was a grand day out indeed. The locals were so amazed that we had done it we even got a mention in the wedding speech. I would have thought that they would have been bored senseless by the Old Man and the climbers that come and go on their pilgrimage. Surely this would been tedious old news for them? But amazingly we were treated like celebrities at the wedding. And this only a week after dave Macleod had just freed the Long Hope Route on St John's Head....funny old world innit.

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