Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Deep in thought on Aonach Dubh's "Middle Ledge" (posted by James)

The Middle Ledge, the vegetated ledge in the centre

Despite my almost obsessive interest with the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glencoe, dawn this morning was the first time I've ever done the traverse of The Middle Ledge - the horizontal break running across the face that can be seen from miles away.

I don't know why. I suppose I've just never got around to it before. It is mainly an access route to the climbs on the upper tier, but even by itself it is an utterly spectacular place. Huge buttresses and rock walls overhang the ledge so far that you are subjected to a constant shower of dripping water from above…you look up into the air, and the water drops look to be falling horizontally, such is the steepness of rock that overhangs above you.

The scenery and rock architecture you move though is undoubtably amongst the most impressive in Scotland. Yet there is such a feeling of solitude here. On days when the cliffs of the Buachaille and Ben Nevis are crowded with climbers, you are likely to see no-one on the West face.

The Middle Ledge traverses underneath the obvious rock-band in the centre

I climbed the "Amphitheatre Escape" and F-Buttress via "Archie's Ridge" in a state of deep thought. For a while now I've been focusing on the idea of a one-day solo traverse of the Cuillin Ridge this summer… a massive test of fitness, concentration and mountaineering competence, and one which I am finally fit for. The idea has been very inspiring for months, a project to focus on for the summer months whilst I wait for the next winter.

But today on the Middle Ledge I had one of those lengthy periods of clarity that are so rare yet so important when they happen. I'd only be attempting a one-day solo of the Cuillin Ridge during a period of stable weather in the next month or so due to the amount of daylight available. But then…everyone else wanting to do it would be there too. Likely enough I'd be waiting at the base of Am Basteir or the Innaccessible Pinnacle waiting for a queue of climbers to move so that it would be my turn. I've never experienced the ridge during mid-summer, but everything I've read recently suggests it can be a bit mad during good weather.

It's not very often that I've been so inspired by a summer climbing goal. For many reasons I remain very focused on winter climbing, new winter routes in obscure places. The Cuillin Ridge traverse is a world classic, a superb challenge. But…do I really want to focus on a challenge that will inevitably involve so many other people nearby as well?

On Aonach Dubh this morning it all seemed so obvious. At 6am I was staring up at the stupendous cliffs of E Buttress, alone with the knowledge that few others were even awake. My last 3 years in the Scottish mountains have been characterised by solitude, defining moments in cold and lonely places with no-one else in sight. 

The photos of a queue of 200 climbers attempting Mount Everest today clinched it for me. I don't care how big or famous the challenge, how impressive an achievement something is….I want to experience it in the way that I know and love the mountains for. Alone.

So. One of these days, I dare say I will solo the Cuillin Ridge in a day. But not this year. There are so many other climbs I want to see through this year, in only the company of myself and the approaching dawn and with no-one else there trying the same thing. I will invent my own challenges.

Today it is my birthday. Since this time last year I've learnt a lot about myself, what the mountains mean to me and what I really want for them. And the importance of living true to yourself. I wonder what I will post on my next birthday? I guess we'll see in a year's time.


1 comment:

  1. Its good to know that I am not the only one who likes to be alone on the mountains. I always seem to find myself rushing away from groups or the honey pots of some summits to gain that blissful peace again. The six days I spent walking the Pyrenees in December were some of the best ever.