With a little less enthusiasm one can achieve amazing things!
By Garrreth Bird
“What a piece of mountain!”
Three smooth columns of orange and silver rock burst out of the rough mountainside. The textures and shapes toyed with the mind, as did the climbing possibilities; phantasmagorical was not too strong a word! Phlip Olivier and I did some heavy mouth breathing as we stared up at the cliff.
“Have those things really not been climbed?! You could definitely get to that rail… and then that rrrail…HOLY MOLEY!!”
Hilarious! What a route that would be. And there was another amazing one on the pillar next door, also involving a wild rail out into space. Man, I thought to myself, I haven’t really made first ascents the main focus of my climbing life, but to become associated with anything at all up there on those amazing faces would be a bonanza of unexpected proportions!
A month later, that crazy rail now stretches out from me into the middle of space. The ropes tug at my harness as they droop out, away from anything vaguely rational. I’m not crazy-high off the ground, but there’s something extremely intimidating about this outrageous endeavour.
I have just watched Jimbobob (Smith) lead across the long rail without coming off. Whoo hooo! However, Jimbobob is a bloody strong climber, and man, even he was getting worked! And here I am on this little ledge still warbling on in three versions of Scroteish from New Years Eventhusiasm Er ma gerd.
In climbing, getting what you wish for can often include a little tightening of the poep-string.
In my defense, I had always thought that the CLIMBING TRIP! and NEW YEAR’S EVE! combo sounded a little painful. Aren’t those diametrically opposed objectives? But come the day and it felt like a masterstroke: a having our mountain cake and eating it party!
I think things started to go south around Black Douglas. A few of us decided it just wasn’t right to head up into the hills on New Year without a bit of the old tipple. In Ceres a scan of the merchandise brought us face to face with BLACK DOUGLAS: a whiskey with a fearsome Scott calling to battle on the label. Man, was he ready for action, and we were suitably inspired! So inspired that when I paid for the bottle I spoke to the cashier in a Karoo Afrikaans suddenly infused with a lively Scottish bray. It was pretty foolish of me as that’s one hell of a combination, and the team looked on, linguistically perplexed, as if waiting for me to sustain an injury. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and we were all suddenly feeling very fortified.
Our master plan involved taking a photo of the label then decanting the whiskey into plastic bottles for the 3 hour hike in. Once up the mountain we could call up the photo on our phone, tape the phone to the bottle as we are drinking it, and so maintain the pleasure of Black Douglas’s motivating company.
By the end of forming this plan our entire crew had broken out into some thick interpretive brogue of their own. It was hard to understand everyone, so we decreed that if someone didn’t understand your brogue then you had to SPEAK LOUDER so that they did.
And then Jimbo, who is actually James but was already Jimbob by then, got a real name problem when we decreed you had to add a ‘bob’ onto his name every time you said it, and pretty soon he was ‘Bobobob tue tha poerrr A Scroteish!’, or even a bit louder. (I haven’t included the Bobobing rule here as it may well have sabotaged this entire writerly undertaking.)
Our campsite sat amongst jagged, angular boulders; you could do routes from your bed if you like that sort of thing. In the dusk our fairy-lights strung themselves between animated rock formations and the booming night sky, and more people arrived and brought snazzy relatives of Black Douglas along. And soon Scroteish filled the sparkling night air! HALLA NEW YEAR! At midnight we all switched to Italian accents for about 10 minutes, which was fantastic and strange, and then everyone reverted back to Scroteish again at their own pace.
Phlip wasn’t with us this time, so I inevitably began hyping the route he and I had put up on the left of those orange columns called Sunset Lightning. But I kept the real raving for the view we had onto the wall next door: “Man, then you go railing and railing and railing… right out to the apex of this giant roof!”
Bobob perks up an eyebrow and goes: ‘Wheer?’
I go: ‘Dooon theeerrr!’ and point energetically.
Bobob goes: ‘Wuppertal?’ (Wuppertal is a town across the plains).
‘Ya!’ I go. ‘WhiperrrTaaal!!’
Which was awesome because soon we worked out that “Taal” is Afrikaans for ‘language’, and “Whipper” is climbing jargon for a long, scary fall.
Oooohhhh. Why does Great Outdoors have to be so bright! The whole of the New Year seemed to have arrived at once.
I had just manage to squeeze an eyelid open more than a crack when Bobob springs into blurry view. He has already been up for hours, ‘scouting’ he says. His eyes are kind of sparkly, but I don’t think it’s a hangover. He says just one word: “…railingandrailingandrailingandrailing…” then holds my gaze and bobs his head up and down many times in succession. I force my other eyelid partly open and stare back at him. “Whipper Taal?”, I reply, and I also bob my head up and down many times in succession, although a little more gingerly than him.
But Bobob and Squawk had a storming day planned already, and they powered off to put up blistering and beautiful lines. My camp mates ribbed me about my cranial distress: “Time for Whipper Taal eh Garrreth?! How about a quick one before lunch hey?” Nope. Not that route, with this body, on this day. I was wearing the scars of going to battle alongside Black Douglas!!! But in the back of my bruised mind I thought about how there were still a few hours available tomorrow morning before we had to head down.
Our last day. Plans fluctuate but somehow the conversation ends up with Bobob and I once again locked in the Whipper Taal stare. It’s on! And I’ve got a climbing Maserati with me to assist! The only down side is that there will be no warm up.
Now the Honey Comb crack slopes up over me. The wall kicks back crazily as you stand at the base. It’s wild, and I still can’t believe I don’t get a warm up.
I start climbing and it’s immediately committing. I move past the very cool honeycombs then reach a small roof. Above is an inscrutable groove with no gear. Hmm. I sling a super sharp flake and get a small cam that moves about in the flaring crack rather unreassuringly, and the ground is still pretty darn close. I propel myself over the lip and fondle up where there seems to be a hold, but I can’t figure out a way to get my body high enough. My climbing brain hasn’t switched on yet and the angle of the rock is relentless. I know Black Douglas would never say this, but I’m terrible without a warm up. I down climb to the vague rest, already flash-pumped from the opening sortie.
I go back up but still can’t figure out the move. Instead of unlocking it securely I would have to power through up that slippery grove, and it’s a long way before more gear…and now im totally pumped again, and …god dammit! I go down.
Normally I might ask my partner if they minded if I rested for a bit before trying again. But we were on a tight schedule, and one of us was the killer Bobob, and who’s to stand in the way of that? Besides, I didn’t care about leading the route nearly as much as simply being on the adventure of it.
Now Bobob also approaches the groove with caution, but then pulls up into it and gets a very surprising knee bar above the lip. He uses it to lever his body and move up to the hold. When I follow I discover a foot jam inside of one of the honeycombs that makes the crux quite manageable. Now why didn’t I just do that the first time?! Higher up, the route moves under a ‘horse’, and you have to lean out and undercling it’s rounded neck as you move up from under its head. It took balls for Bobob to just power around there not knowing when or even if any decent holds were going to appear. Salute! We stance on a small landing in the crevice between the two columns, deciding the pitch was about 24.
And here I stand, looking out at the infamous rail. I wish I felt a little perkier, but I focus my breath and start up. A few steep moves get me up to the actual rail, then I start moving along out, so glad for a heel-hook or two to save the arms. It is awesome climbing, with the exposure thundering around you. But then the footholds disappear, and the rail only takes the very tip of your toe, so you’re cranking your entire core to place them. But at least now the rail at my hands has widened, and I plunge in for a jam, normally the best way to get a rest. But the leverage of my body’s weight on my forearm is too much without some footing, and that plan instantly goes up in smoke. Ooh and the pump is rushing back in. COOME UN!! I’m past halfway already! BLAAACK DOOGLAS YA BAAASTART IF YER TIME IS EVERE, IT IS NOOOW!!
The rail widens some more, so now you can get a little foot in, but at your hands it has gone all rounded, and I am so god-damn pumped. I thrutch up to get the cam that Bobob rather frantically threw in, and its pretty over-cammed and CHUNK wont move! The amount of gas it takes to pull up to look and wrestle with it is a disaster. I could pull the rope at an angle on it…but that would involve weighting the rope…and void climbing it completely freely. Im so close to the end, but i’m using up precious power working this cam. Aah Fuck TIGGGHT!! It is what it is. I lever up in to the rail, jam, and attack the cam from alongside, which loosens it, then pops it out, and I am right back in the battle again. I rail some more, then use the very last of my core strength to swing my legs through under me and up towards the point of the nose where there is a tiny ledge. I get just high enough, and stuff my legs desperately as deep into the wide crack as they will go. Jeeezuzzz!! I am now hanging almost completely upside down right on the tip of the nose, levering awkwardly off my legs to squeeze out a moment of respite.
After a moment I manage to wriggle up so I can almost sit, protruding way out over the valley with fresh air all around me except for above. It’s a crazy position to be in, my legs swallowed by the gargantuan beast whose skin we have been granted licence to revel in. And as I perch there I realize that we didn’t even tape Black Douglas to the whiskey as we drank it. And then I thank the Scroteish Gods for that, for with any additional enthusiasm I very much doubt that my name would be anywhere near half-way up this absolutely incredible route.