Scottish Winter - Almost Halcyon
The Vaporiser (VIII,8). Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn
Monday, 18 January 2016
Whilst working on a rope access job last week, the tops of two of my fingers were squashed between a drill bar and a metal plate. I ripped off my glove and they began spurting blood everywhere, crimson dripping in the mud. My thoughts immediately turned to the winter climbing trip starting that weekend: I’d either be cancelling the trip or going ‘Tommy Caldwell’ (i.e. start amputating fingers). Fortunately, only one finger was fractured and there were only deep cuts in the fingertips.
Four days later, we kicked through the snow as Creag an Dubh Loch brooded above. My heavily-bandaged fingers curled up to my chest, and the only thing I could pull over the hand was a £4.99 Aldi mitt.
After walking across the frozen loch and kicking up the gully, we geared up beneath Vapouriser (a grade VIII, 8 ice and mixed route first climbed by Boswell and Robertson). Something felt amiss, however. I listened, but the wind didn’t howl; I stood, but my feet stayed dry; I waited, but my hands stayed warm. The weather Gods had given me a break after my injury, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We enjoyed the route and many hours later, after thrutching up the final crux pitch, we pulled over the top and walked three hours back to the car.
UKClimbing.com published a report of our second ascent here.
We then headed to the North West, an area of Scotland I’ve always wanted to explore more. Places like Torridon, Applecross and Skye inspire. Names like Beinn Eighe, Beinn Bhan and Fuar Tholl give a climber all kinds of emotions: fear, dread... excitement!
On Tuesday, Uisdean and I climbed Shoot the Breeze (IX,8), a fantastic three-pitch route on the West Central Gully of Beinn Eighe. This was my first route on the mountain and the climbing, architecture, views and rock was brilliant. Uisdean led the first and third pitches (very sustained grade 8 climbing) and I led the middle pitch-also sustained grade 8 but with a bit of a run-out on an arête in a ‘dolomitic’ position.
We stashed kit and returned to Beinn Eighe the next day, with near-perfect weather again. It still felt surreal to be in Scotland with good visibility, very little wind and (relatively) amenable temperatures. My fingers were healing slowly, but the stresses of winter climbing weren’t helping.
We stomped round to Sundance (VIII, 8) and got stuck in. The route certainly lived up to it’s incredible reputation, with ‘hero’ hooks through small roofs and even a bit of hanging ice to kick in to. We topped out in daylight - a real novelty - and walked down in a red, gold and pink sunset.
This injury has caused a rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve been really concerned about the future of my fingers. It would’ve taken a better man than I to call up Uisdean and cancel the week. But I’ve got my fingers crossed and hope they heal fast!