Monday, 5 July 2010

One special climbing trip - Part 2

The next stop on our wee tour was Achmelvich and one of the most exciting routes in Scotland (I reckon). The weather was rotten first thing in the morning and we sat around thinking we'd just go have a look. The more we sat around, the better the weather got. "Shall we just go do it?" "Yeah, might as well. If it's wet when we get there we can always come back tomorrow." So we went.

The Old Man of Stoer looked pretty manageable from the cliff-top approach. How hard can it be? Famous last words! The trek down the cliff was pretty hairy. There was already a rope across the channel but Diff went first and came perilously close to getting soaked, even at low tide. So he rigged another rope for us, especially having seen the state of the in situ rope at the other end!

Diff set off on the traverse pitch with me watching, feeling a bit anxious. When it was my turn I flipped. The rock was greasy and salty and green, my feet were tucked somewhere underneath me where I couldn't see them. I wasn't happy. But we couldn't go back. Not now we were here. Diff willingly agreed to lead every pitch so that we could carry on. I was clearly having a bad head day.

Adventure was definitely the theme for the day and I'm very glad we did it. It wasn't windy, but the swell was pretty big and the noise of the waves crashing around below us was intimidating to say the least. The climbing was harder than I expected, with some pretty airy moves. Although they weren't as hard as they seemed at the time, the exposure made a significant difference. Ironically, the supposed crux was just a matter (for me) of working out how to get my leg up that high!

We watched the gulls riding the wind level with us, peering at us with beady eyes and suspicion. We were lucky that there seemed to be only two nests along our route and both only hosting eggs rather than chicks, so we avoided any nasty encounters with the contents of seabirds' stomachs.

Abseiling off wasn't so bad (after we convinced ourselves that the million layers of salty tat at the top would be ok!) but we did end up in the water...high tide! I had a near miss abbing down between the two nests. Since I am not heavy enough for the tope to slide freely through my belay plate, I have to feed the rope through. This doesn't make for a smooth abseil. Aside from the potential safety issues there, the other downside is that I can't move down very quickly. Just as my feet ceased to reach the rock, the wind was blowing me sideways, straight into the sharp beak of a sitting fulmar. How I managed to avoid swinging straight into it in a Milk Tray style rescue effort, I have no idea, but I was mighty relieved to be well below the nest and hanging in space.

Hannah by the Stoer Lighthouse

It was a bizarre experience standing in the water and coiling a sodden abseil rope. We managed to keep all but the end of one rope out of the water, with some crazy-fast coiling. The other rope was soaked. Despite a shaky start to the day I felt fine and confident sorting everything out and making sure we were not standing in the water any longer than necessary. I was super impressed by my Mountain Equipment Combin trousers. Although the water went up from the bottom, it didn't go through them and they were dry within minutes of being out of the water. Superb.

Poor Diff struggled to do the last, and sixth, tyrolean traverse. Clearly, he was exhausted, and he was carrying all the gear, so was hanging much closer to the water than I was. I felt quite ashamed of myself for not pulling my weight more. Going back up the cliff was infinitely easier than going down it, and at the top we looked back at what we'd done. Definitely a Type 2 experience for me.

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