Climbing, eh? Bloody Hell …

The game never ceases surprising us. This year I have been less than assiduous about getting out, and my first outdoor climb, at Auchinstarry Quarry near Glasgow a few weeks ago, was not exactly a success. I struggled seconding a couple of severes and then a lad in the club snapped his ankle.

But I’m planning a week with my older son in August and he’ll want to climb, so on Saturday I decided to get out. Nice easy stuff, I thought, just v.diff.

Atop B Buttress

The v.diff I chose, however, reminded me that any route in the mountains can be a test, especially for the rusty or oh-so-casual experienced hand.

I’ve always wanted to rock climb on the west face of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe, having climbed in winter there 30 years ago, so carefully selected Bumblebee, a two-star v.diff on B Buttress. I then failed completely to read the approach notes in the guidebook, so Jules and I ended up in the wrong place altogether after a gruelling uphill slog, and climbed The Pinnacle Face, another two-star v.diff, instead.

In that we were probably lucky, as later descending No 2 Gully we saw a fair bit of damp in the Bumblebee area. But the Pinnacle Face was challenging enough. Stepping up the first few metres I was unnerved to find myself on the sharp end. I started to make slow but steady progress, but it was seriously cold, colder than anywhere in the UK has a right to be in July, with a whipping wind. Duvet jackets were the order of the day for the whole way, and still my hands were totally numb on the tricky little crux at the end of the first impressive chimney. It took me five or six goes to thrutch my way awkwardly up it. Climbing with a rucksack … hmmm, forgot about that too.

I strung two pitches together and was punished with elephantine rope drag, and then trundled up some broken rock before a couple of fine short good bits made up for it. Jules went over the top and we thought we had finished, but a bit of thought might have helped us realise that The Pinnacle Face would end up atop a pinnacle, with awkward and exposed scrambling on loose ground to get off.

A good if under-used climb, and it felt so hard. No route on a mountain crag can be regarded as a soft touch …