Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Testing my fitness on the North Buttress of the Buachaille

 North Buttress is the mass of rock on the right, the route climbs the continuous crack line that splits it.

Last September I took on what was at the time an apparently unrepeated Clachaig challenge - to climb Bidean nam Bian (1150m) during the 3 hour break of a Clachaig split-shift. I managed it, in 2 hours 9 minutes and 47 seconds but it felt pretty damn hard at the time.

Since then I've been on a mission to push my hill-fitness up a notch or two. I had a very productive winter climbing season when I was out on the hill a lot, and I don't know anything that gets you fit better than winter climbing. And a few months ago I set about the task of learning to run uphill, an initially painful and totally exhausting pursuit which can seem like a hell of a lot of effort.

But I've persisted with it, and whilst I can by no means call myself a proper hill-runner, it has boosted my fitness to a new and unfamiliar level.

So today I decided to put it to the test. With low pressure forecast to start coming in tomorrow, today was potentially my last chance to get on some dry rock for a while. So I decided to take on a challenge I thought about a while ago…to climb Buachaille Etive Mor via it's North Buttress during the 3 hour break in a Clachaig split-shift.

North Buttress is a long climb, indeed it's probably the longest climbing route in Glencoe. It is a personal favourite, its line of steep chimneys seeming to carry on for  ever and with spectacular exposure and views over Rannoch Moor.

The crux chimney of North Buttress

At 3pm when the first half of my shift ended I ran to my car and hurtled down the glen and reached the Lagangarbh carpark in good time. I started the run along the rising climbers track under the cliffs and felt on good form, I could tell that it was my day.

On to the easy scrambling at the start of the buttress, and I started to breath quick. It started to feel a bit more hard work, but I didn't stop for breath until I bumped into two lost souls wondering where Curved Ridge was. After assuring them that they certainly didn't want to be on North Buttress and pointing them in the direction home I set off again, and was soon at the base of the first chimney.

And then it happened, that wonderful thing feels so great when it happened. I slipped into "machine mode", and I can't remember ever feeling on such good form. I climbed the endless chimneys at a speed that surprised me, moving more fluidly and quickly than I ever have before. The crux went by in a blur. 

My racing heart seemed irrelevant. I was simply looking at my feet and arms and making them move. I climbed hundreds of feet of rock in almost a trance. 

And then 56 minutes later I was suddenly on the summit of Stob Dearg and feeling amazing. I barely even paused before starting the run down Coire na Tualaich, and 1 hour 27 minutes after leaving the car I was back to it again.

It's amazing when hard work pays off. Sometimes my motivation has wavered over the last few months, running uphill can really take it out of you when you are feeling lazy. But the adrenaline high you get is hard to surpass when you exceed your expectations.

Now to have a shower, and start the second half of my shift at 6pm. A good day.


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