At team of six went down to Wales today for a MOB introductory winter climbing session. Colin, Keith, Derek and Myself being the more experienced members were going to show Lee and Geoff the ropes on some easy gully climbs....a nice mountaineering day out.
Things started well. Geoff and I intended to do Tower Gully, a nice grade I/II , as a starter. I wasn't sure how much Geoff had done or how he was going to handle the conditions. Of course in the true tradition of the MOB and in the noble footsteps of my mentor, I spotted an even better line and after all " it was only one grade harder" I needn't have worried. Geoff took it all in his stride and was relaxed enough to be actually "enjoying himself"
Obviously we couldn't go away with Geoff thinking this winter climbing lark is a piece of piss and we've all be bigging it up all this time, so I thought we'd better turn it up a little and seek out a solid grade III.
We descended easy route and then "since it was there" romped up Hidden Gully II. Geoff was still in his comfort zone and despite my suggestions to stop and belay ( Its my " duty of care, what would the judge say" little voice kicking in!) he insisted on soloing the whole route, which I have to say he did in style.
I was beginning to feel I was doing Geoff a dis-service here. I'd underestimated his ability and we were plodding up routes which were going to leave no lasting impression on him. ( you've always to come away with a memory etched into the back of your brain, a sense of relief, a feeling of having asked some questions of yourself.......scared yourself shit less in other words!)
With this in mind we went in search of a nice meaty grade III. Unfortunately as we approached Right Hand Gully Direct III, my friend and mentor Derek had obviously had similar thoughts and was subjecting Lee ( who had never held an ice axe before!) to the joys of mixed climbing on a route only just in condition and there fore obviously a grade harder than the guide book! Lee oblivious to the sandbagging he was receiving, chatted happily to me. Derek meanwhile by his tone of voice when asked what route he was on, had already realized he had slightly sandbagged himself and this was going to be no walk in the park!
In time honoured MOB tradition I explained that Derek was now on the route we had intended to do and so our hand had been forced and we'd have to do this one instead. Geoff didn't ask and I did not say that this meant moving up to grade IV. In fact had he asked I would have been totally honest and pointed out the crux pitch was actually given 5.
By the time I had set foot on the crux I realized this bit was probably given 5 in good conditions, and this wasn't good! I must have taken the best part of an hour on the pitch and it was without doubt , mentally, the hardest thing I've climbed this season. For half the pitch it was like climbing on egg shells. Hoar frost where ice should have been and verglass where rock should have been. The climbing wasn't in itself super hard, but I spent a good part of that hour trying to fashion some kind of protection and each one was " well, its better than nothing".
Having made it to relative safety I must have spent at least 20 minutes of that hour trying to fashion a belay which would take the inevitable lob which I was convinced Geoff was now going to take. ( I knew I'd crossed the line of what can be deemed a reasonable sandbag.)
Geoff to his credit didn't lob off. Didn't even have a go at me! He just gritted his teeth and climbed. Maybe he didn't fully realise how unreasonable this was as an introduction to winter climbing, maybe I'd got away with it!
I explained that the rest of the climb was mere grade 3 and should be more enjoyable....I was wrong again! The normal final pitch looked pretty tame, but I was drawn to the steep fat ice which lead directly up. This again turned out to be a bit steeper than it looked and was almost the final straw for Geoff. I was saved by the fact that as he reached the belay he could see the sun glinting off the summit snow fields above and he struck out for the top, leading the final pitch.
Instantly the pressure lifted and we realized we had just completed one of the best routes in the area, a fantastic line and a real three star tick. I was still buzzing when we got back to the car, having descended Gribin Ridge.
A real memorable day out, three routes with great company.
Bye the way Geoff, we don't scare ourselves every time we go out...just most!
PS. some video footage of the day, though you never seem to be able to film the real desperate bits!
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