Wednesday, 2 May 2012

"West is Best" (posted by James)

Looking down during the first ascent of "West is Best" (V.Diff*), West face Aonach Dubh

It's been a very, very tiring week for me this week. During the last few hours of my shift yesterday I was feeling a strong need to get and totally clear my mind of all work-related thoughts. And I don't know any better way to do that than to go and climb something that is going to be a challenge.

E Buttress, dry as a bone

There's an amazing mix of conditions in the Highlands just now - whilst Cairngorm is enjoying deep snow and superb skiing, the crags of Glencoe are turning dry and warm in the hot sunshine. The West definitely is the place to be for mountain rock climbing just now, something that was confirmed by a quick scan with the binoculars of the West Face of Aonach Dubh yesterday evening. It looked unusually dry.

Coire nam Beithach

The West face has a way of focusing the mind and engaging you better than nearly anywhere else I know. It's where I needed to be this morning.

After a rapid ascent and traverse of the Upper Rake, I climbed the beautifully formed areté of "Shrike Ridge" (Difficult) en route to my objective for the day, the un-named pinnacle on the far Southern end of the face.

Looking down "Shrike Ridge"

A few weeks back I made the first ascent of "West Wall Route" (Difficult) on the pinnacle, but ever since I've been bugged by the idea of climbing a more direct, harder and higher quality route up the West Wall. Today I was in exactly the right frame of mind to go and solo something hard, and that I didn't know that I'd be able to climb.

First of all though I found a more direct route up the East Wall, following a steep line of cracks and then finishing up the final corner of "East Wall Route". It was brilliantly refreshing to be climbing on such warm rock in hot sunshine. But when I topped out I didn't feel like my thirst had been quenched.

"East Wall Semi-Direct" (Diff*), the first of two new routes today

So after psyching myself up for a while, I moved round to the base of the West Wall. The route that I had in mind looked intimidating - steep without obvious holds and with a blind corner at the top. It was going to be a test of nerve indeed to solo.

But if I was ever going to climb it, it was going to be today. So I went for it. The first moves were steep, climbing a thin crack up a corner…and my heart was beating a bit faster than it should have been. But after a few deep breaths I felt amazing, on my best form and very confident so I climbed it smoothly. 

The line of "West is Best"

Onto a small ledge, and then a superb, steep and clean crack up a near-vertical corner. It felt like a hard few metres to climb without a rope, every handhold a question mark. It took me a few attempts at different positions, but after a while I got it right and teetered my way up the corner crack with a rising sense of euphoria.

It didn't end there though, the blind corner above the crack baffled me for a bit and it was all rather steep and unsure. I very nearly lost it at one point, but a hidden hand-hold to my left saved the day and I topped out from the route into the sunshine.

The top move follows the thin crack in the middle and then up left

I sat on top of the unnamed pinnacle for a while, elated by the experience. It's pretty magic to find an unrecorded route, climb it on-sight without a rope and to find that it was a very good route indeed. It's amazing how different my state of mind was from this time yesterday.

I decided to call the route "West is Best" (V.Diff*) due to the West Highlands being the place to be for rock climbing just now and the fact that it's a grand route up the West Wall. Here's the descriptions.

"East Wall Semi-Direct" (Diff*) - 15m. FA James Roddie 02/05/12
 - Start at the base of the East wall and traverse across to a large moss patch.
 - Climb a sharp block to gain a thin crack leading straight to a narrow ledge.
 - Climb the broken corner above to gain the top corner of "East Wall Route".

"West is Best" (V.Diff*) - 15m, FA James Roddie 02/05/12
- The middle corner system up the West Wall of the unnamed pinnacle.
 - Climb a steep crack in a corner up to a recess filled with blocks.
 - Go straight up the wide crack above that splits the broad corner with a smooth wall to the left.
 - Finish up by the awkward blind corner with a slightly overhanging move and a hidden left handhold.


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