Saturday, 6 March 2010


Back in 2001 Neil Gresham caused a controversy by firstly top rope practicing then preplacing gear in a route prior to its first ascent which was to become the Tempest. This has and probably will always go against what Scottish winter climbing is all about. The route soon got another ascent in the same style. At the time I was just getting into winter climbing and remember all the hype and Cubbys' photos of Neil on the final ice smear.
The route has stood untouched ever since then except all the rotting gear that was left in it.
Several people have said over the years that it would be a big leap forward for someone to come along and give it a ground up ascent. Over the last few years this has been niggling around in my head. Last autumn whilst trying to come up with a plan for this winter, the Tempest came back onto the radar. I was hoping I could dispatch some other routes over in the northern cairngorms first for preparation before trying it, but with the way conditions have been over there the route all of a sudden found itself top of the list.
Knowing the route was fully laden with rotten gear it took 2 attempts by abseil to get most of it out; the first time having climbed Scabbard Chimney, the second by Spectre. With every piece of gear I tried to retrive the wire broke when I pulled on it. The last 2 bits of crucial gear before heading up the ice smear both broke but were so deeply welded into the crack that they were impossible to retrieve. This lead to a couple of problems: 1, the onsight was definitely gone and 2, how was I going to protect the last run out section?
The day came to head up there. The hardest thing about trying hard routes is finding someone patient enough to stand at the bottom for hours on end. I managed to convince my landlady Catrin Thomas to do the job.
Having to break trail into the coire that day was the first hurdle. Eventually arriving at the bottom of the route after much wading the enormity of the job lay ahead. With the route under a fresh coating of snow and the ice smear glistening above I set off. Things were slow as they always are. The route never being obvious, lots of dead ends. Wherever the route looked easier the holds were often slopy and unhelpful which made for lots of downclimbing. The route is not steep or very strenuous but has lots of deadends and tenuous holds. After several hours of climbing I arrived a place where I at last managed to get some good gear in. I then had the old problem of leaving this bomb shelter of gear. This was about 3/4 of the way up the route. Looking down at my harness to see only a couple of quickdraws left didnt fill me with confidence to continue. After a couple of forays upwards I bottled it and decided to retreat. Totally gutted I pulled the ropes vowing to return as quick as possible.
Finding another willing volunteer I headed up a few days later. The lower part of the route went smoothly to my previous high point, this time with gear in hand I managed to shuffle upwards into a niche just to the side of the ice smear. After half an hour of trying to weld various dubious pieces of crap gear into doubtful rock I stepped out onto the ice. Eyeing up the 2 broken wires sticking out of the ice I managed to weld 2 of my own in the same crack. After several uncommitting trips up the ice and then back climbing to the niche I eventually took a deep breath and blasted up the ice to what felt a very committing topout. The thought of a tool ripping in poor neve to be sent hurtling backwards onto poor gear in an icy crack wasnt very appealing. After a few nervous swings I was stood on the finishing slopes with only a sprint to the abseil point left.
A very cold Luke followed me up the route, beaming as he came over the ice to join me on the belay.
A great day out.
The hard thing now, what grade? Intially given an M grade(M9) for the style it was climbed in.
The climbing was at no point mega strenous but very tenous. Although a different style of climbing it felt just as committing as Cracking Up down in Wales. At any point high on that route if id fallen i would have gone a fairway. I agreed with Nick Bullock on his grade of IX,9 for that route, so trying to keep things relative I would guess hard IX,9 maybe X,9 at a push for the hard fought for gear and run out sections. As always things always change with subsequent ascents, as people get beta on the route and placements improve?

1 comment:

Ian Parnell said...

Great effort Andy, I remember when we abbed over it after the Duel thinking it was on...for someone with the arms and crucial a patient steady head for the gear. I guess that was you then ;-) Did you get my email re Clkimb Mag article?