Thursday, 14 June 2007


Sheigra Beach and Campsite. The climbing is just over the hillock.

Ali wakes up as we pass by the convoy coming home from the Rock Ness festival. We talk about Sheigra which we've never been to before and our forthcoming trip out to Pabbay and Mingulay next week. We arrive and set up camp at the beach, the landscape and the location makes us feel like we are on Lewis and when we start climbing on the gneiss later, it further cements that impression of being on a hebridean island.

Gneiss has been absent from my climbing diet for two years but now I remember why I love it so much: solid rock (mostly...), great gear, good friction, steep walls and an abundance of crimps, pockets and incuts. Ali easily dispenses Monkey Man E3 5c and What the Pool said On Midsummer's Day E5 6a. I battle with the now greasy conditions on the classic Here and Now E6 6b, feeling a bit more pumped than usual at the top, so much for having consolidated this level. Steep for Five Minutes E6 6c then succumbs to an easier sequence found one metre to the right of the original crux at E5 6a.

We wait for it to get dark, but even at 11pm it remains light enough to read outside, it's summer Solstice next week and we are very far North. At 12pm it gets a smidgeon darker and we turn in for the night. Ali seems tired in the morning, a cold coming on? But he spends the day leading some amazing E4s including Dolphins and Whales which seems reminiscent of Ceuse, except it was on trad. And above the sea. And in the North West of Scotland. Oh, and without the hour long walk in too.
Ali and me waiting for it to get dark (photo taken at 10.30pm!)

Something Worth Fighting For E6/7 6b doesn't really put up much of a fight for me; maybe I am climbing well today so I turn my attention to Maybe Later E7 6c. A MacLeod creation from last year, it takes a blank but pristine looking wall up a dark streak to undercuts (gotta be good cams in there...) before turning a gentle overhang. The 6c technical grade unsettles me, if Dave has given something 6c, then it will be hard. But could this be the breakthrough that I have been dreaming about? To finally, cleanly onsight an E7? Ten meters up, I get good cams in, move up and gain a shake out at the start of the dark streak.
The Inner and Outer Walls of the 1st Geo at Sheigra

Suddenly my world inverts and my hip violently smacks into the lower wall, the remnants of the hold clattering off the boulders below. The hold had snapped off and I had plummeted head first with the good cams holding my fall easily, leaving Ali and myself, upside down on the ropes, with the bug-eyes.
Why? Oh Why do things like this keep happening to me? I sit down feeling a bit shaken. Two years ago, in Ardnamurchan a foothold snapped on me as I was rocking over onto it. Down I had gone, ripping all the gear out of the bendy flake and fracturing my ankle. The resulting crawl back to the car took an hour and a bit. Emma had taken full control of the situation and spurned me from my weepy episodes of shock with the lure of the bouldering mat as a rest (Joe Simpson, I was not). Five weeks later and I was out of my cast, but the process of getting my head back together took longer and I had vowed not to climb on bad rock and bad gear again. So here on an otherwise solid cliff, a hold had decided to rip off: ambition and caution collide within.

The Inner Walls of Sheigra, the dark streak of Maybe Later is directly above me

I remember then, that on Dave's ascent a hold had also ripped off, funny how and when the conscious mind chooses to acknowledge such things...I climb back up, ostensibly, "to have another look", but I feel heavy this time. When I reach the gear I decide to take it out and climb back down to the ground, feeling like a big jessie. A quick rest later and a flick through the guidebook reveals an E5 6b that had used a high side runner in a neighbouring route: Ape Escape, better take the opportunity to clear up that little indiscretion then.

Twenty minutes later a small part of me is regretting that decision. The fatigue of the five and a half hours driving, the lack of sleep from the twilight night and the previous routes seem to be counteracting with the need to turn the flared crack and reach an incut flake in a very runout position. The ledge below me seems to get bigger even though I am not looking at it. The sanctuary is reached with difficulty however and much gear thrown in after some saturday-night-fever goes through my legs... The top is reached; harder than Here and Now and Something Worth Fighting For? A small consolation after wimping out of the main challenge of the wall.
A quick stop-over at Ardmair the following day and I meet my Nemesis. The (apparently) uber-classic Burning Desire E5 6b. At the initial crux, jamming crack and after much huffing and puffing and hands jabbing in and out like an epileptic raver (and about twenty falls later), I give in and aid up the damn thing. Ali then floats up the crux without too much bother... As I write this, my hands are just starting to scab over in little patches. Mental note: avoid "classic" jamming cracks!

No comments: