Friday, 3 February 2012

Dave's latest testpiece.....a belayers view.

By Ruth Taylor
“I’m quite nervous about this route, Ruth.”

Hmmmm, not necessarily the words you expect to be coming out of Dave Macleod’s mouth before he launches upwards, but out they came. I was standing at the bottom of Druim Shionnach in Glen Shiel beneath a HUUUGE roof. I’m sure when Dave, Andy and I set off that morning I was chief photographer and Andy was going to be belaying and potentially having a blast on the “project”. But here I was lashed into a belay, Andy was away up the top of the crag to abseil into photographers position and Dave was getting ready to lead off, with the words….

“I’m not sure how this is going to go. I might get involved in a mighty battle with the roof, or I might just shout Take.” Closely followed by….“I apologize now for falling on your head on this start.”

Getting psyched for the battle.

What???? This is Dave Macleod – he’s not going to fall off I secretly thought to myself. However, as he teetered up the groove above without a lot of gear and some less than solid rock – fully decked out with pointy sharp things I did have a few moments of doubt and wished I was a little bit further away from said pointy spikey things!
Once at the top of the groove the next step was to pull out onto a slab, steadily done and now Dave wasn’t very easy to see, I could just hear a series of phrases….

“The roof is getting bigger the closer I get to it!”

“I’ll just back this peg up and then it’s a bit of a sketchy 10ft”

“Right, just going to do the sketchy moves..”

“It’s like being back on The Long Hope, I’m hooking into bird shit!”

Dave was by now safely ensconced directly under the massive 6m roof. From where I was standing, this looked like an impossible task, fully horizontal and nothing that looked like decent hooks to get your tools into.

The evening before Dave had been talking about his visit the previous week to work on the route. He talked about aiding across the roof, on some cams, bulldogs, a pecker and a completely downward pointing knifeblade peg. The cams being about the only decent gear of the lot!

Holey Moley that's steep!!

He had also described the moves he’d need to make – figure of fours!! Now as far as I know Scottish mixed trad climbing and figure of fours is not normal! Plenty of fig fours and all that on sport mixed stuff – but above dodgy knifeblades???

Anyway with all that information whirling around in my head I stood there – getting slowly colder as Dave prepared himself. He’d gone and got the cams in by reaching out from an undercut/can opener off his axe and then scuttled back across to the resting spot under the left end of the roof. Andy by this point had appeared over the lip of the roof and had eyes out on stalks looking at the roof.

“OK, I’m going to give it a go”

Dave then set off purposefully, along to the take off point, got the undercut/can opener reached out and placed the next pick into the crack somehow and so began the battle.
Clipping some other gear and inching out into the roof the only option was to cut loose.

“Oh my god, that pick isn’t in right…’s going to rip any second”

All Andy and I could do at this point was to shout encouragement and keep a watchful eye on the belaying! Luckily the axe didn’t rip and he made it to the next placement which was a little bit more secure. After clipping the next runner, all manner of whacky moves broke loose.
Footless-ness, followed by 2 figure of fours in a row saw Dave reach his picks around the apex on the roof. The downside to this was the tiny tenuous hooks they were placed in with the last bit of gear being the aforementioned downward pointing knifeblade. A fall from here would be a VERY bad idea.
I think all of our hearts were in our mouths, although none more so than Dave’s I’m sure. If Andy and I could have pushed Dave up through mental power alone we’d have been doing a pretty good job!
With final careful, careful moves Dave disappeared around the roof, and found himself a restful spot and some more gear. Phew!!

“I’m going to stand here for a few minutes Ruth.”

The crag - looking wintery.
I can’t say I was surprised!

You might think that that was it, all over. You would be quite wrong. Dave had decided to finish the pitch at the top of the crag, although splitting it into 2 would have been possible. But with no second he forged on upwards, after a bit of rope jiggery pokery – you get a bit too much rope drag around a roof that big to continue without pulling the rope through.

Not sure I've got enough layers on!

Andy by now had come down to the bottom as Dave made painstaking progress up to the finish. A very lonely lead and one without much gear – typically he’d taken a minimal rack and used a lot of it on the pitch up to and around the roof. Andy was describing the terrain on the upper part of the crag, not many decent cracks and lots of small rounded flakes – sounded gripping!

Sometime later we heard a jubilant shout from somewhere up above – route finished!!

A little later still Dave reappeared at the lip of the roof abseiling down to get the gear back – getting it out from under the roof looked almost as hard as getting it in, in the first place!

Once we were all back on the ground it was time to head back to the valley and enjoy a bit of sunshine on the way…
A hugely inspiring day out – I really can’t believe anyone can look so composed whilst hanging off one axe under a huge roof with no footholds. Wow!!

Oh and for those wondering about conditions, check out the crag picture – all pretty white and wintery – not much chance of rime and snow on the underside of the roof!!
Dave and Andy looking happy with the days work - in their matching outfits!! 

1 comment:

  1. Tim Hetherington4 February 2012 19:40

    What a well written article about a great achievement. Well done all!