Thursday, 29 September 2011

Milestones.


I've just uploaded the 150th post to the site which has also just ticked past 6000 visitors. I hope those who follow what I say on here enjoy it, I've certainly enjoyed writing the last 18 months. Below is post no. 1 where it all started and still one of my favorites, and it deserves another chance to be read.


Originally Published 23 April 2010...


“Why did I agree to this?”. This is my overriding thought as I stare up at the neve plastered slabs of the Ben. Black rock and white snow and ice contrast below a brilliant blue winter sky. “This is a daft idea, it’s hard, much harder than anything you’ve ever climbed, it’s bold and the belays are shit. It would have been very easy to say no and then you would not have to spend the next six hours in pure terror”.


I think this is what they call a "Quality Mountain Day" Sun up by the CIC Hut.


The “this” in question is Orion Face Direct a classic ice route that winds its way 300m up the Orion Face almost to the summit of the Ben. Being a climber who is a little geekishly obsessed I know from Cold Climbs and the SMC guide that the route is “Serious as runners and belays can be hard to find”.

It had been Dom’s idea; a late winter trip to the Ben; the good weather, lots of daylight, and reading too many blogs had convinced him that we had to have a crack at either Orion or the even more serious Zero Gully. So in the end after much badgering including the classic "were only young once and will only get more scared as we get older" (Note to Dom I get scared enough now!) I had said yes but only on the proviso that Dom do all the leading and I get to do Tower ridge the next day.

Amazingly despite sleeping in we are first on the route and the first pitch calms the nerves, it’s quite easy and my borrowed axes bite deep into the nevé and feel really solid (there is no way on earth I would want to be up here with my Hornets) . Reaching the belay however the seriousness of our route is suddenly brought home to me. Two ice screws, half in and tied off (note: the next team up managed to find a bomber hex placement a fact I pointed out to Dom at the next belay!)

Dom sets off up the second pitch a shallow chimney moving out onto the face moving slowly and steadily making sure each axe and crampon placement is solid before committing. Ice and snow cascade down as the ropes sneak slowly upwards I try not to think of the monster 40 meter fall which will result from an error.

Then a shout. My turn. I begin to move up the chimney and then out on to the face as the terrain gradually gets steeper and steeper. The exposure is massive, a yawning gulf down Observatory Gully. I now begin to suffer a sense of humour failure and at this point Dom helpfully shouts down to say that the belay isn’t great.


My day on Orion summarised in an easy to follow graphic!



From this point on I’m incapable of coherent speech at all and all that comes out is groans of fear mixed with exertion. The face gets steeper and steeper and my body gets more and more tired as I try not to imaging the void below me and concentrate on making the top of the bulge. I remove and promptly drop an ice screw now convinced this is going to end badly. With a cacophony of noises more suited to mating elephants, I do one last pull and I’m up and on to easy angled nevé and able to stagger up to the belay.

Two pitches through the snowfields allow us to recover a bit before arrive at the crux a rightwards traverse up steep nevé; it looks good but hard. The view is spectacular, a huge drop down the face to the CIC hut in the valley bottom and across to Carn Mor Derag. By now my brain has managed to accept and enjoy the exposure although neither of us can be bothered to fiddle about trying to get the camera out (a poor decision).

The crux proves a bit of a pager tiger, it’s technically hard but physically much easier than the nightmare of the second pitch and I really enjoy the delicate moves up to the belay. Once there I’m rewarded by finding our camelback frozen and the 3l of water I’m carrying is now just acting as a DIY weight west.

The next pitches through to the top of the upper snowfield are a bit of a blur although a particularly awkward belay on an ice ledge about the size of a small paper back sticks in my mind. By this point we are both completely ball bagged physically and Dom is mentally shattered from so much run out leading. The last proper pitch feels really long and hard as we climb slabs and traverse into a hanging corner through which we gain the easy slopes of the summit ridge and an end to the difficulties.

Sitting on the summit ridge we don’t say much just stuff our faces with food and water, and make very yellow snow. The weather has changed, cloud is coming in so we GUFO (gear up; fuck off) up over the summit and down No. 4 Gully the exhaustion turning into a retrospective warmth of achievement.


Dom looking a little tired and strained on the summit.


To celebrate our achievement we destroy a £500 four season Quasar by pitching it in the most exposed place possible and then deciding to take it down a 5am whilst buffeted by 70 mph winds and driving snow (we know what were doing honestly!).

Looking back now over the space of a couple of weeks the experience has morphed into one of those great winter epics that you actually enjoyed. Cant wait for next year to do Point Five and Zero!

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