DMM Climbing Trip to Arran
Ryan Pasquill flashing the main pitch of The Great Escape (E8 6c). Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Saturday, 28 May 2016
The ‘Vertical Kilometre’ challenge starts from the iconic church in Chamonix’s town square, just above the main street. It climbs steeply, leaving the town to zig-zag under the Brevent gondolas, before finally finishing at the Plan Joran lift station, 1000 metres higher. Thin men and women with short shorts puff up the path in impressive times, matching themselves against the challenge to gain a vertical kilometre in height.
During my time in Chamonix this winter, Pete, Uisdean, Will and I spent many days on this endless treadmill. We’d walk up the famous path before riding the gondola down, all the while quoting Steve House and dreaming of alpine routes. We aimed to improve our fitness and vent frustration as the intermittent weather forecast continued day after day. It was always enjoyable to start in the sunshine of Chamonix and then disappear into the clouds, damp mud and granite crunching beneath our boots. Walking and walking, the path went on for hours. Gondolas rumbling overhead, the curious glance from the lifties; on a good day we’d manage three laps.
Walking and walking, turn after turn. Heavy packs, loaded with bottles of water, pulled at our shoulders. Mountain boots pounded up the path and loud music hammered through our headphones. We ground ourselves against the hillside, time and again, pushing the altitude. Zig after zag, we sweated beneath the skiers in their metallic bubbles. I loved the grind, the simple act of pushing my legs faster. The gondola descent saved our knees and we’d pop out of the thick mist into Chamonix sunshine to repeat.
From the summit of Cir Mhor, 799m above sea level on the Isle of Arran, we looked west. Ray busily snapped pictures of Adam, posed on The Rosetta Stone: ‘just do that again, please.’ Ben and I looked to the Inner Hebrides, dotting the hazy horizon. Jura, Islay and the Mull of Kintyre were ink black lines. Rathlin and Northern Island were visible, and I thought back to my time in Fairhead almost exactly a year ago, looking towards Scotland. The sunlight reflected golden in the lochs and sea.
We’d spent many hours walking on this DMM trip to Arran - although nothing by alpine standards, we carried our heavy packs into the mountainous heart of the island day after day. It felt tiring to walk from sea level to 800m every day. The Bastion, home of John Dunne’s E8, ‘The Great Escape’ was a long two-hour slog up Glen Sannox. Cir Mhor, a long ridge of granite with slabs on its flanks, took two and a half hours to approach.
When Dan McManus and I finally slumped down beneath Cir Mhor’s granite walls, I confidently asked Ian Small if we’d just finished one of the longest walk-ins in the UK. ‘That’s pretty short actually,’ he said with a smile. ‘Carnmor - and many others - are much longer!’ Oh…
To reach Cir Mhor we walked up Glen Rosa, a picturesque valley of heather and granite slabs. The only mental stimulation was to slowly catch up with Caff, Ryan and Ray, a few hundred metres ahead. My mind wandered and the loose granite on the path crunched beneath my shoes. The granite, the endless walking, the mountains… I was transported back to our laps beneath the Brevent gondolas a month before. On the last day we walked into a thick mist and I was back in the Chamonix valley.
There was more to Arran than just long walk-ins. There was Team Manager Bransby and his impressive fry-ups every morning with Ry. There was Caff’s plan to beat everyone at Shithead, which backfired when he had to go on the pudding run to the Co-op. There was Adam’s awesome photos, each one giving a story and a laugh, and there was Ray’s list of Ryan-Facts. The Dans (McManus and Varian) attempted to keep the humour above-board as we sipped Arran Blondes.
It was so impressive to watch Caff onsight The Great Escape - the famous E8 on The Bastion crag, and equally inspiring as Ry and Dan went for the flash. Initially I was unsure if I should just jump on an E7/E8, but I realised I had to go for the flash or ground up once Caff started raving about the quality and the gear. My experience did not disappoint.
Thanks to DMM for the trip - it was a great week. Thanks also to Ben Bransby, Adam Long, Dan McManus, James McHaffie, Ryan Pasquill, Ray Wood and Dan Varian.