Thanks to Dougie Borthwick for this tale of two climbing styles. The photo is of the first ascent of the Great Prow of Blaven on Skye.
It was a good combination, the aspiring rock ape and the cool ice man. Neither was completely comfortable in the other’s domain but both recognised the other’s flair for leading in his favoured discipline, thus creating a good partnership for indulging in some additional training outwith the normal sphere that each encountered in the pursuit of their preferred game.
The rock ape had tried emulating the other’s confident use of the ice tools. Training included acquiring a Terrordactyl and the solo pursuit of some low hanging ice, a couple of hundred feet above the road. The gently sloping ice gully then progressed to a short vertical. Repeated thumps of the axe into an unflinching patch of ice resulted in the adze with its advertised ‘light metal steel as used on spacecraft’ slowly bending so that its tip was pointing backwards. With Glencoe’s carpark being entertained at the sound of profanities that each thump of the axe induced, the ape wondered on space-craft technology, with the ‘light metal steel’ being easily bent from the frantic thumps of attempted re-entry. The icy gully had then revealed an escape route, with a corner stalactite being approached. The bent adze now pointing 180 degrees out and back into the eyes of its holder found gainful employment in placings at the rear of the icicle. With the exit moves accomplished, the aspiring ape swore never again to transgress further than beyond the reach of his own solid dependable, stubby wee digits. The itch though soon returned and with it, a new Terrordactyl, crampons and head torch, delicately front-pointing, torquing and traversing the sandstone cliffs at Cummingston in preparation for winter’s call. The required winter training programme involved gruelling daily cold showers, only adding to the psychological impact that a dark, cold and gloomy winter tends to instil.
The ice man’s affinity for enduring the deep freeze, in addition to showers from melting ice and torrents of spindrift, was well known. A strange affliction that the blue-toned flavours of 1000′ icicles was very much forefront in his dreams, yet would gently morph into retirement when winter once again absconded; the gentler hues, warm rock and fifty shades of lush green were not quite to his liking. With diverse playgrounds but similar aptitudes, each enjoyed a tolerance for entering the other’s domain, the transgressions preferably being done when the conditions were absolutely spot on.
Glen Brittle Farm and its hayloft had seen extended occupancy, with the ridge lost under a dark heavy deluge, the late autumn depriving both of their favoured grounds. That Saturday’s chasing of red partans skittering sideways amongst the rocks along the foreshore had brought small relief in addition to some tasty topped toasties. Next day’s wet and gloomy tops had the duo heading east to Blaven in the hope of something less dreich. Three hours of driving and walking revealed a rather damp Great Prow. Ice-man was simply not impressed, as admittedly the conditions seemed to be dire. Broadford’s chippy was foremost in the argument yet the pent up energies meant that a try could at least be entertained. PA’s were donned, useful kit re-racked and wishful thinking of warmer climes surrendered. Finely cut wee holds offset the damp walls and assisted in bridging the overhanging crack and the steep slabs. Ice man’s steadfast reluctance allowed the rock ape to lead on, with the offers of following through at each stance being politely turned down. Dank conditions prevailed but the gabbro’s qualities shone through, and the three stunning pitches finally succumbed. Compliments on nice leads were warmly and confidently given and with a Cheeky grin, a wry smile, then ‘It will soon be winter’ was cheerfully dropped.
A bitterly cold morning dawned in Aviemore, courtesy of the katabatic wind moving the dense cold air from up high, down the slopes to smother the surrounding valley. The stunning early aurora lit up the hills whilst in the back of the Landie, gear was being sorted in a digit numbing, tear-jerking minus 27C. Loch Avon’s Stag Rocks were deemed worthy of a visit. On arrival, Cascade, sat in the shade below the descending rays of the late dawn sun, was looking quite regal. A low shelf was attained and the start of the route protected by two hanging axes. The vertical wall of deep blue was slowly threaded with the hollow screws, making confident placements which fed the tendrils that kept the ice-man secure during his delicate steps upwards. A euphoria had set in with the near perfect conditions of multiple blues that halted progress whilst cold noses were unceremoniously wiped cleaned and some cheerful poses captured. Seconding saw the progression from the lower wall’s shaded epithermal blues to a slightly more mushy and warmer white where the sun’s rays had done their work, effecting a reversal in the ape’s pleasure, his earlier delight at anything sun-kissed, now being tempered by the sun’s transformation of the wall above from solid dependable into something far more fearful, aka slush. The axe, having worked magically on vertical dry blue, was now having to be earnestly launched to enable its pick to gain any traction through the overhanging rapidly thickening slush. The digits now slowly losing feeling from being contained in freezing wet dachsteins led to one last furious flaying, surmounting the overhanging ice prior to writhing from digits that were slain. Ice Man quickly removed the rock ape’s sodden layers and started rubbing furiously one frozen hand at a time, then simply popped the off-white digits into his mouth till feeling once again returned. ‘Oh heck, that was rather brutal’ assessed the aspiring ape.
A relaxed Ice man sat with legs splayed around an enormous icicle, and with a hearty, Cheeky grin, laughed ‘it will soon be summer’.