Wednesday, the day for our mid-week transfer to Mingulay from Pabbay. I wake up to the sound of heavy rain on the tent. I go back to sleep. Nobody even bothers to check the bay to see if the boatman appears. Everyone seems to be chilling out today, Dan and I don’t feel too bothered about get anything done; down time after the excitement and stress of new-routing the previous day.
Thursday, a much brighter day. The boatman picks us up. I ask how the weather’s been on the mainland as we’ve had it pretty good with three days of solid sunshine: “Floods.
The last time I was on Mingulay three years ago, I had a bit of a mare on the Creag Deargh (the Red Cliff), an immaculate face balanced a 100 meters above the sea and choss. I lost my bottle, to put it bluntly on an E6, and retreated with a bad case of the wobbles. This time I wanted to face an old demon and get on the hardest route on this cliff, Steve Crowe’s The Scream E6/7.
Aren’t belayers wonderful people? Not only do they stand for hours on a small ledge the size of a chocolate bar holding your ropes but they also put up with your repeated down-climbing and resting on ledges whilst you wait for the sun to dry out the rock. And after many aborted attempts at the crux with the ensuing down climb to jugs whilst you try and work it out. And then they have to listen to your Tarzan like yells as you swing out ,high upon the void, hand traversing and kung foo-ing sloppily as your feet regain the rock. Yes, they are fantastic people indeed. Very strangely, Ali couldn’t be bothered leading anything after his three hours of belaying me on The Scream…
Another hard route repeated, another down-grade? I felt that The Scream, was hard E6 but did not warrant the original split grade. Yes, there is a run-out bit, but this is on good rock with fantastic gear in a flake and the technical crux is only just above this flake, plus, the entire lower section was wet up to this point…
But, I can’t help but feel that I am turning into a serial down-grader of routes especially with these split grades. Credit to Steve for climbing this route, absolutely amazing effort for the ground-up (shame that hold snapped on the first ascent, eh?), however this is part of the problem when climbing new routes and the subsequent grading.
Contrast following a route description and knowing the difficulty, even knowing exactly where the crux is to climbing into completely unknown territory with knowledge of absolutely nothing ahead of you: no idea if there is gear, no idea how hard the moves are going to be, no idea how good the rock is, no idea where the line really goes and no idea where you are going to end up on the cliff. A whole bag of uncertainty compared to simpler task of just following the guide and pulling hard on some holds.
So, of course it’s going to feel harder when onsighting new routes as you hold on harder and climb more conservatively: this approach gets reflected in the proposed grade. It happened with my own route, Geomancer which Dan repeated only a few days earlier, going from E7 to E6. Basically, repeats of routes first done in this style may not feel as hard on the second and third ascents (or is that a gross generalisation?).
Part of the problem with down-grading routes, though, is that it can be perceived as a personal slight towards the first ascentionist. The down-grader in some cases is seen as saying “I found this easier than you, therefore I am the better climber”. But personally I think I am guilty of the attitude that if I can climb something then it just can’t be that hard, in a kind of inverse modesty, conveniently forgetting the amount of effort that the route required. I am glad grading’s not an exact science because it fuels about half my conversations with other climbers!
Team ascents of the four star Big Kenneth E5 6a on Dun Mingulay were made the following day and the rest of trip passed by in a more relaxed vibe. Everyone myself included seemed a bit climbed out and lacking in psyche by the last two days. Poor Fiona, though had a major fright abbing down after her partners only to discover that the abseil rope had been completely shorn of the sheath 70 metres above the maelstrom (don’t worry, she made it out alive). Whilst staying in Castlebay overnight on the way back, I heard that some very drunk visitors had managed to row out to the Castle and scaled the church roof during the night…tut tut.
(Apologies for lack of photos on this post-Nobody could be bothered taking any pics by the time we got to Mingulay)