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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Eagle Ridge VI,6**** at night

I was not sure about what to do: Clova was an idea but Saturday was very warm and so that was out of the question. Then Norries but Stuart was there already on Saturday and didn't want to drive all the way to Aviemore again. Brian wanted to do something with Forrest. Then the SAIS Southern Cairngorms blog showed an icy Lochnagar and so I thought 'Eagle ridge conditions', possibly the second Patey classic of the season. To be precise, and to give credit to the whole first ascent team it was done by T. W. Patey together with W. D. Brooker and J. H. Taylor in 1953. Trias - who had sent an e-mail about 'partners for his first winter climb of the season '- was up for it (or at least talked into it) and so we went.

The slog up Lochnagar is quite long. I took all the gear plus ropes as we intended to climb with only one rucksack. Unfortunately there were already two teams on the ridge so we were number three. The first slanting crack was easy under neve and I even managed to place three pieces of gear under all the snow! Good start. Here is Trias finishing the first bit.

While we waited for the other Eagle ridge climbers to move on we saw other teams Black Spout buttress and a team on a hard looking climb on the Pinnacle. I have to confess, Eagle ridge is my first proper climb on Lochnagar, except from one failed attempt on a slushy, thawing Giants Head chimney with Trias and Tim and a hack up the Black Spout after the aforementioned attempt was abandoned by abseil.

Waiting on winter belays is the ideal treatment for hyperactive kids. After 30 min even the most hyperactive one goes into a frigid stupor and shuts up. But if you have a camera (one that can take plenty of abuse) then you can take photos of your route and the other climbers around you. Above is a photo of climbers on Black Spout Buttress and a very lonely climber on a hard looking route on the Pinnacle. Below is one of a team trying the crux of Shadow buttress A. It looked hard and hard for the revised grade of IV,5.

The second pitch was easy but the difficulties ahead, namely the Tower, became appartent. Both teams moved very slowly and one of the leaders fell off at one stage while going off route. Finally it was our turn. The good neve was hacked up, there was little ice and cruddy, sugary neve remained. It covered all the hooks but did help little. Ahead of us was a team from Manchester that not only needed to complete the climb but also the subsequent 6 h journey back home and the crawl into a Mancunian office the next morning. Fowleresque heroes!

I followed Geoff from the Mancunian team in order not to lose too much time. The exposure down the Tower got larger with every move and was at its largest when tip toeing into position for the crux move. Entering the sentry box almost feels like entering an Alpine hut and a good sling and hex mean reconnection with something solid. I put Trias on autobelay in order to take photos of his progress. Here is a photo which gives an idea of the four star exposure...

... and here are Geoff and his partner waiting for their turn on the Tower pitch...

... and this one show Trias climbing up to the Tower...

... and here he is executing the crux move: hook that little round potrusion, step on a tiny edge with your right frontpoints, keep everything in position and then forget about the exposure and move to get your feet up on a block on the left. Done.

The fourth pitch follows snow ridges with limited consolidation followed by another corner and an even more exposed knifeedge. The drop into Douglas Gibson gully is large, the right hand side only slightly better and a tech 6 move, the summer crux and for me as hard or harder as the Tower crux follows. The gear was pretty good but I struggled to find an 'in balance' hook. Again, the neve was all chopped up and with some pump in my forarms I struggled up for a so so high hook that allowed me to pull over and hack my way up to a not very good belay.

By then Trias had discovered that his headtorch did not work, which was lamentable, especially as it got darker by the minute. When he arrived at the crux he had to 'work' the crux in the dark. I was shouting down the dark drop as I was holding his falls. The first time I got off balance but after that I found a better but strenous stance and had to use a lot of strength to hold him while he moved up inch by inch with rests. Finally the rope went slack and he moved up quickly to the belay. A great effort by the by far best Scottish winter climber from the island of Rhodes in Greece.

Thank god my headtorch worked and I climbed the easy but serious pitch to the top and walked onto a windy plateau keeping the rope tight. Trias followed while I was walking on and finally the other end moved quicker. I pulled the rope in, Trias appered in the beam of my headtorch and we congratulated each other.

Needless to say the walkout felt very long but we could see the corniced rim from time to time and we got safely to the bealach between the main bulk of Lochnagar and the Meikle pap. The photo below shows me starting the main path...
... and here is a tired Trias.

We arrived at the car after 9 pm having started at 8.30 am.

And the conclusion? Patey classics put up a fight, beware!


Anonymous said...

Hi Henning, I enjoyed reading your blog. I was the older of the two climbers immediately ahead of you on Eagle Ridge, sorry about the delay!
Glad to hear you got off the mountain ok.
regards Geoff

Ryan & Henning said...

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for the comment, well done for climbing Eagle Ridge and of course no complaints about the delay. It is the price we had to accept for getting up relatively late.

I was not too cold as I changed my baselayer before starting. Definately very much recommended.

Also well done for doing the ridge. As you noted I took plenty of photos and I have some of you on the Tower. E-mail me if you want to have some in large.

I put an autobelay in on the Tower and got some photos of Trias trying the crux alhough I found the summer crux harder as I didn't find good hooks on it.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Well done guys. I remeber doing this route in the early 80s and it still remains in my mind as one of the best Scottish Winter routes ever (and I have done loads)
I like the way you have written up the blog and great pics.... Andre Hedger

Daniel said...

Hi Henning,

Glad you had a great day out. From our view, your route looked awesome. I was the guy repeatedly falling off the crux of Shadow Buttress Route A! Could you email me a copy of the photo of me? Be much appreciated. regards Dan

Anonymous said...

Fun fun fun. Nice pictures, and what a route.
Just for interest, what you would have done if your head torch had conked out too??

Tim (in snowy Milton Keynes)

Ryan & Henning said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Andre, yes, it was a great route, especially the two cruxes. Geoff and Trias were the heroes of the day and they know the reasons why.

Daniel, I'll send a picture once I am back in Aberdeen.

Tim, I actually thought of taking two head torches. I reached the last belay without needing a headtorch and the last pitch was relatively easy and there was a bit of moonlight. I might have got up it OK. Otherwise Trias and I would have a ver cold nice in a lonely but beautiful place and a very worried Ana.

Anonymous said...

I discovered on the train the other day that on my mobile there's an option called Flashlight, which I believe is American for 'torch'. Certainly when you press the buttons you get a little torch out of the end of the mobile. A useful tip for those midnight finishes?

On the other hand, how well does Trias climb with a mobile clamped between his teeth?


Tim (in snowy Dundee)

Ryan & Henning said...

Hi Tim,

Unfortunately Trias mobile also didn't work. He tried to phone his girl friend on top of Lochnagar and the batteries didn't like the cold.



Anonymous said...

Actually it was surprisingly light enough to make most of the snow from the rock and vaguely make the climb line. I couldn't see the moon and it was quite a bit of cloud
But the last pitch was wellcoming easy to climb but short :)

This was my benightment so it was good to have a taste of climbing in the dark :)


Ryan & Henning said...

A route by the great Bill Brooker: