Thursday, 2 August 2012

A surprise on Aonach Dubh

Soloing the first ascent of "The Surprise" (Severe), Aonach Dubh, Glencoe.

Usually when I set out to solo a climb that I think is going to scare me, there is a certain amount of mental preparation involved. Visualising yourself succeeding, making sure you are realistic and honest with yourself, and sometimes a good blasting of angry music on your ipod on the approach to keep yourself psyched.

Today was a total exception, and I'm still slightly surprised at my afternoon on Aonach Dubh. Insomnia is still playing its nasty game and I didn't get to sleep last night until after 5am. Waking late, my plans to go hillwalking somewhere weren't going to happen so I half-heartedly set off up to the West face of Aonach Dubh with the intention of a bit of climbing.

As I got to the base of the Un-named Pinnacle, for some reason my attention turned to an unclimbed route which I'd never given much thought to before. A traversing ledge along the South Wall, going round an extremely exposed narrowing and then up a groove to the top of the Pinnacle.

The narrowing looked scary. But the route looked brilliant, all the more appealing in the warm sunshine. So after a brief pause to assess my mood, I set off up the route less than 5 minutes after noticing it for the first time.

I reached the crux of the ledge. It narrowed to only about 3 inches wide, and a sharp bulge in the wall pushed me outwards. I managed to find a good handhold for my right hand, and I set about working out how to get past the bulge and to the wider continuation of the ledge beyond.

With a lot of my weight on my right arm I blindly searched for a left handhold on the other side of the bulge. I started to feel a bit pumped and I stretched further to my left to find anything I could swing round on. At just the right moment I found it, and trusting the hold I swung round through the crux with relief.

After this a nice steep groove to finish on the top of the pinnacle, and I stood on top a bit baffled and surprised at what I'd just done. I think it is the most psychologically difficult new summer route I've climbed, the blind search for a hidden handhold on such a narrow and exposed crux a stern challenge whilst soloing. 

A quick solo of "Nelson's Slab" (Diff) afterwards.

A great wee find and certainly a new route to remember, on yet another warm and sunny summer day in Glencoe. What a summer so far!



  1. Let me get this right. You solo'd a diff yeah?

    1. This particular route was certainly about Severe but yes nearly all of my climbing is solo, usually around the Diff/V.Diff grade.