Wednesday, 21 July 2010

One special climbing trip - Part 1

Diff and I recently had a two week tour of the north west, doing a bit of climbing and a lot of eating. We had a fabulous time and some fabulous weather (as well as some not so fabulous weather - we didn't get that lucky!). It was a trip we can never repeat, but we would love to explore further the places we found and certainly to do some more climbing. It's too much to write up in one post so this is just the beginning....

We hired a vintage VW campervan, a bright yellow splitty called Hannah, from Classic Campers in Carlisle and after the party in the Lakes, set off on our 30mph adventure. Aiming for Glen Coe, we got as far as Gretna on the first night. Well, we were tired, not in a hurry and it had been an exciting two days. Having realised that 35mph on the hilly M6 wasn't going to get us to Glen Coe that night, we relaxed into a slower pace of life on the road.

Everyone thinks they know what needs fixing, even if nothing needs fixing.

From Gretna we aimed for Glen Coe, deciding that the safest route (with our maximum speed) was right through the centre of Glasgow. We had a lovely (if hot) drive past Loch Lomond, stopping for tea in Inveruglas, with lots of other drivers waving and tooting at our trusty mechanical steed. A van with 1967 hydraulic brakes certainly brought a new meaning to the phrase "exciting to drive". I had to leave my seat to make her stop. I definitely need to eat more pies. Accidentally over-filling at Dumbarton, meant that we drove to Glen Coe with a strong smell of petrol in the cab. A concern that she was over-revving had us calling the AA man to the Red Squirrel campsite the following morning. I don't remember what he twiddled with but it worked and we did the next 900 miles without any trouble.

The weather was holding for us, so we headed across the Corran ferry for Ardgour and Garbh Beinn. Our objective was Butterknife, a 4-pitch VS topping out at the summit of the hill. The guidebook gave us two approach options: the 2-hour scenic stroll or the 1 hour brutal slog. We opted for the scenic stroll.....but it was more like 3 1/2 hours than 2! Finding the bottom of the route was pretty hairy. The guidebook instructions didn't make much sense to us once we were there and looking up at the massive wall of Garbh Beinn. We ended up scrambling up some steep slippy grass slopes above sheer drops in order to reach the bottom of the right terrace. We felt more secure once we started climbing.

Diff did pitches 1 and 3 an I did 2 and 4. This means I got the crux corner pitch and the last one. The corner was pretty good climbing, but things moved in it! Having not done much trad (ever, let alone recently) I was probably concentrating too hard to really enjoy it properly, but it was good. The top pitch was a bit random. It started with a big pull over a little roof - an unusual move for me at about 200 feet up the route! After that, the gear and the holds got very thin and I continually wondered whether I was going the right way or not. Eventually the rope drag was so bad I had to find somewhere to belay. What I didn't know was that instead of going 15m I'd gone 50m and there was no rope left anyway! I'm sure I set out in the right direction, but where I lost my way, I'm not sure.

Cooling off on the hot walk in to Butterknife

When we reached the top, the whole of Scotland was laid out before us. 360 degrees of clear skies and sunshine. By this time it was about 8pm. We thought we'd go down the quick way, rather than the way we'd come up the hill. Mistake. It wasn't quick. No path, craggy, steep....it was 10.30 by the time we got back to the van. And then we had to fight the midges over dinner!

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