A 6 hour drive to Skye saw me arriving at just past midnight. Had a blether with John and we agreed to be up at 7am to climb on Sron Na Ciche. Left at 9.20 and got to the bottom of the crag at 11ish. We were roped up and ready to go at 11.20. The first pitch of Cioch West on the Cioch Buttress looked easy enough. Ha! Famous last words. It was seriously grunty, ending in an awkward chimney, made even more awkward by the fact that my stiff backed rucksack kept knocking my helmet over my eyes! I took my helmet off half way up the pitch, it’s not easy to climb when you can’t see a thing! I clipped it onto one of my slings but every time I moved it would swing out infront of me, I was getting a tad pissed off! But I finally made it up the chimney with much encouragment from John. I had foolishly taken too much gear with me, which was hampering progress. John smiled knowingly, ” I told you, you wouldn’t need all that ” Yeah, yeah, rub it in, haha!
We both agreed that the 1st pitch seemed harder than severe. Thankfully, there was a nice wide belay stance and I was able to stuff helmet and non essential gear away ( 3 hexes, whole set of nuts and many slings and krabs! ) You see, being new to the business of leading, my gear still looks rather shiny and I wanted it scratched up a bit. The next 2 pitches provided no more drama, just enjoyable climbing, good holds, perfect balance all the way up – ah, that’s better, I’m enjoying this now! At the next belay, there was a bit of deliberation as to where the route went, heehee, all part of the game! But eventually John led the way up another funky pitch and decided to belay below the crux.
According to the guide book, the crux was a hand traverse. Now having learnt to climb indoors, I didn’t know anything about hand traverses, until John explained the bit about good holds for your hands but not great for the feet. Hmm, I was starting to feel a bit nervous, especially when John traversed around a corner and out of sight. I yelled for him to give me a shout when he reached the end of the traverse so I could try and judge how long it was, my heart rate was starting to rise. “Safe”, shouts John and it’s my turn, go for it girl! There was a little down sloping shelf for my feet and with heart racing and Johns’ usual encouragment, I inched my way across. The ‘hand’ part was the last move. Good jugs, but it involved a controlled swing out for the next foot hold. “Oh %^*% John, this is seriously exposed,” I whimper. John guided me across and I was safe, phew! I hadn’t realised John had put in gear at the end of the traverse and was fearful of falling and taking a big swing!
The next bit was easy enough and after unclipping myself from a rusty old peg, up I went after John to a most glorious belay on a lovely grassy ledge. The sun was shining, I’d done the hardest part of the climb and felt great joy and satisfaction, soaking up the suns rays, smoking a fag and thinking, “ah, this is what it’s all about!”
“Now,” said John, “I do remember a rather thuggy, vertical section on the next pitch.”
“Oh, bugger” I thought, “more of it!” And thuggy it was too! The hand holds and foot holds, for that matter, weren’t great and I screeched and grunted my way up without a hint of grace or elegance and much unlady like language! But that was it, in the bag, my longest climb to date.
Next it was off round to the Cioch Slab which I was going to lead. Did I want to do Slab Corner, a Diff, or Arrowroot, a V.Diff. Well, to be honest I was pretty knackered and unsure. I’m not keen on climbing corners but the corner was well protected. Funky face on climbing is more my thing but I wasn’t keen on the long run outs. In the end I decided, or we decided that John would lead it. We needed to do it in 2 pitches as the rope wasn’t long enough. John went up the 1st 15m and set up a belay. Up I came and decided I was gonna lead the next pitch. Come on girl, you need the practise, be confident! So, off I went. John thought I should veer left for a good bit before going up but I foolishly ignored his advice and went up direct! I did try and place a bit of gear but after a bit of faffing I couldn’t get a nut to fit so I continued up and up. I was loving it, Oh the beauty of slabs! Up and up, no gear, no gear. Starting to tire a bit now, hmm girl, whatever you do, don’t slip! Hear rate rising again. Every move is deliberate, focused and in total control. Look at the rock, pinch that nodule, pinch that flake, foot in that dimple, foot on that notch, again and again. Keep going! It steepens near the top, I rest on a horizontal crack and lean against the slab, shake out my arms and start off again. I am aware of every little movement my body makes and I’m reaching the top and what should I find but the most glorious juggy flake – there is a god!
I’m at the top and have to wait to move down to the corner to set up a belay. Not long to wait. John runs up the slab and I can’t belay fast enough! He has a very serious and concerned expression on his face but all went well. Only problem is, I’m completely bushed. Got no more driving force. Think I used it up, effectively soloing that slab. I hadn’t realized I would have to climb up the Cioch. It’s not high but it’s up another bloody, hateful chimney and I grunt, curse and swear my way up! I don’t really appreciate where I am, a bit shell shocked I think. John looks up gleefully at Wallworks route but I just don’t have it in me, I tell him. I think he’s a bit disappointed, but we decide to ab down. But first I have to down climb the dreaded chimney. I’m scared and I don’t like it. I’ve only down climbed 2x before and I’m not very good at all but I make it and John follows past and climbs down a bit of the slab to set up the abseil. Then I have to down climb again to join him. I have serious problems here. John has to hold my foot and guide it down cos I can’t for the life of me see where to put it. I’m really tired, getting stressed and snap at John. John snaps back and tells me to hold the sling if I need to and that makes things a lot easier.
Then we’re off. It’s a straight forward ab and it feels damn good to have my feet on safe ground. We have to traverse around a gully before we can start the descent and I’m a bit nervous about it but John sticks with me and guides me along and it’s not as bad as it looked! Then it’s a long and weary trek back to the hut but I’m feeling much happier now. John apologises for losing his patience with me and I’m a bit shocked cos I thought he was fantastic. I’d acted like a bit of a pathetic, stroppy twat towards the end and John really helped me through those tight spots. I have to get more confidence at placing gear and a lot more practise at down climbing! What an amazing day though, tremendous climbing, with an accompaniment of emotions.
Got back to the hut about 8-ish and that’s me – food, shower, bed and out for the count!
The next day, it was a bit of a struggle getting up for 7 o’clock but I forced myself. I wanted a relatively easy day cos I had to drive home that night so I had my heart set on Sgurr Dearg and the Inaccessible Pinnacle. I felt a bit guilty about asking John to do it as he had already done the In Pin twice that week but he was happy enough to do it again. Now what do I know about scrambling and bagging hills on the Cuillin – nothing! I’d only done 16 munroes at that time and a bit of minor scrambling. What I thought would be an easy day turned into another tiring one. We went up to the Bealach between Sgurr na Banachdich and Sgurr Dearg and I was knackered before we even reached the foot of the ascent. Half way up I had to stop for a bite to eat as my stomach was complaining furiously. Eventually we were up on the ridge. The exertion was worth it, the views of the mountains were breath takingly beautiful. Then it was a short but steep walk up to the In Pin. Wow! It’s much bigger than I thought it would be. We scramble down to the base and are surprised to see no queues as it’s such a fine day. I clamber up a little of the way so John can get a photo of me. I don’t go up too far though cos of the thought of coming back down. We decided to rope up for the ascent because the wind was picking up and I didn’t fancy being blown off! Up the East ridge we go. Easy, peazy climbing, more of a scramble really but the exposure is out of this world and before I know it we’re at the top. I snap a photo of John sitting atop the summit boulder and then it’s ab time. John goes down first and scuttles off to take photos of me abbing down. I’m a bit concerned of overhanging rock but it’s only vertical and I manage it easily enough. We find a sheltered spot for lunch and watch as a rescue helicopter flies in really close. It hovers for what seems like an age over Sgurr Mhic Choinnich but then flies off, wonder what that was all about?
Time to go down Sgurr Dearg ridge, it’s a slippy scree slope most of the way down but I only fall on my backside once! John’s going really well and has to keep waiting for me to catch up. I’m amazed by his stamina, he’s been at it all week and he just keeps on going! What a marvellous weekend! Thankyou Braes O Fife and thankyou John for all your encouragment. Now for the 6 hour drive home – Hell!!!