Saturday 29 January 2011


Launching up the steep headwall.
Photo: Phil Dowthwaite
As reported yesterday by Ruth, I made the 2nd Ascent of The Hurting with Phil Dowthwaite.
Sitting here writing this now I'm still feeling the hurt of the 4 hour ascent.
The Hurting originally climbed by Dave Macleod and given XI,11 way back in 2005 was quickly labelled the hardest trad mixed climb in the world, taking the line of a summer E4 6a. It was said to have poor protection and have ground fall potential from the first 30-40ft, as well as hard steep technical climbing on the head wall.
That's more than enough beta to keep the queues away!
The routes been on my radar for the last couple of years and finally last winter I summoned the courage to walk upto the bottom of it. These dreams were quickly crushed when upwards progression ground to a halt in the first 20ft. Stopped by heavy snow and ice conditions, as well as a less than adequate rack (never trust your mates to pack a rack), I decided to retreat and climbed back to the ground keen to keep the onsight for another time. What it did do was give me some knowledge of the type of climbing involved.
This winter in the east the winter again kicked of with all its might, masses of snow everywhere and once again made hard mixed routes questionable. It was only whilst I've been working up here for the last week for Mountain Equipment and Cotswolds that I've managed to keep a eye on things. So on our first day off myself and Donald King decided to head to the corries.
Standing at the bottom of the route knowing what lies ahead its hard to describe what's going through your head. As it turned out the bottom part of the route was perfect, giving nice neve and ice on all the sloping ledges which you  needed for your axes. Fully aware of the consequences of a fall from any point in the first 30ft I managed to shuffle across the various small ledges making slow scary progress finally ending up on a comfortable ledge. This gives you time to take in your surroundings and comtemplate your fate.
Above here is some wild briding to finally give you some good gear. This was the point the wheels were quickly about to fall off. Looking ahead you can see what looks like a good ledge under the roof which makes a good target to aim for, unfortunately I was a bit to eager to get there and using a poor torque in a crack quickly found myself hanging on the end of the rope. Luckily I'd followed Tim Neills advice of falling off only when it's sensible!
Lowering to the ground you're then stuck with the decision of whether to get on back that day. 20 mins later we were walking out, decision made. Thanks to Donald for abseiling for my gear - not easy with the wind blowing him across the crag.
Feeling really jaded after a few more days work (I'm not used to it) Phil agreed to belay me in return for me holding his ropes the following day. So with a combined age of 85 we headed back to the gorms.
Not feeling the love on the drive over we swung by the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore for a coffee and some breakfast. This gave us the much needed boost for the walk in eventually arriving at the base of the route at 12 O'clock. A definitely continental feel the day so far.
Somewhere in the murk!
Photo: Phil Dowthwaite
Launching off up known ground was not as easy as first expected. Having kicked off all the useful ice the other day I now had to rely on the picks on the rounded granite. It took about an 1 1/2 hours to get back to my high point  and that's where the fear suddenly set in. Not so much about taking the fall again, but wondering whether would I have the balls to climb to this point again if I did fall. Taking a deep breathe I slowly stepped out onto the steep featureless wall. Getting the same torque as that let me down earlier in the week I managed to seat it better before quickly finding another good hook and a small wire. Now totally committed the above ledge beckoned. Hoping it would be flat with good neve I tentatively reached for it only to find a thin layer of ice and a 30 degree sloping ledge. Trying to keep calm I managed to insert myself under the roof. Finding good hooks gave a short respite and chance to gather my thoughts for the steep headwall above. Reaching out on straight arms to get a look my heart sank. The first 15ft all seemed to overhang. I was just praying for good hooks. After what seems like an age,  it was time to confront the thing head on. Finding some good placements over the roof I quickly turned on the boosters and fully went for it. The cracks were fully choked with ice which gave good placements and pushed me on, keen to get through the steepness with all guns blazing. Reaching the next resting place I looked down at the last runner, way down under the roof and the arms suddenly got very heavy. Above it became a frantic digging and chipping mission to find placements. After 15mins I managed to excavate enough ice to try and get a cam in only to for it rip out. The next 5mins were then spent blowing on the rock trying to melt the ice for the cam to seat.
Things all of a sudden felt pretty serious. Thick cloud had now come in and I felt properly alone.
I ended up standing on the same hooks for ages trying to work out where to go. Everytime I thought I was moving for a good foot ledge I hit it with my axes only for the ice to fall away and leave a small rounded edge. All I wanted to do now was fall off, end the agony and go home. But having invested too much effort already things must go on. The top of the head wall was starting to back off now but the way ahead was completely barred by a sea of ice. Not knowing which way to go I decided to follow a vein of ice diagonally left. This eventually brought easy ground and a slump over onto the fiacail ridge.
Shouting down to Phil for a time check I discovered we now had a lttle over half an hour before it went dark. Phil was keen to 2nd so after a quick sprint up the ridge to get warm and hand me a belay jacket he tied in and had the time of his life doing some amazing climbing.
Not bad for a couple of old giffers.
Cheers Phil for hanging out for the belay, for bringing a headtorch which I forgot and for the photos - I owe you several!


gilest said...

Brilliant effort Andy...nice one Phil too. Aye Giles

Luke Brooks said...

Nice one Andy! Inspiring post too.