Friday, 28 June 2013

A Gneiss Time on Lewis

Without really paying attention to what was going on I found myself waking up at 6am to drive to the isle of Lewis in the outer Hebrides in a car crammed full of 4 housemates, ropes, tents, food and two surfboards! The day before, I'd talked to Ralph about trying The Scoop, a huge E6 climbing all the way out of the enormous overhanging Sron Ulladale, and he'd just gone and booked ferry tickets! However 5 minutes of googling at 5 45am as we were leaving revealed it was bird banned. Suddenly we were going anyway. I started frantically scanning Ralphs ancient 1996 guidebook to the Island trying to work out what we were going to climb. "Turns out there's some sea cliffs!"

15 hours, one ferry and one very sore arse later we were setting up camp on a deserted headland. We found a run down old world war two radar station to camp by which provided some shelter.

MIDNIGHT SUN! Turns out we were so far north the sun barely even set each night.

Woke up the next morning and found the climbing. It was really good! The rock was Gneis which reminded me of granite but it had these weird quartz bands which were quite friable and made some of the climbs pretty scary!

The highlight of the first day was a smooth onsight of Goodbye Ruby Tuesday E5 6b. It was really nice to feel calm, collected and in control all the way especially since the last trad route I did I fell off and hurt myself (see this blog post).

At the end of the first day I stumbled upon another area: Aurora Geo. I was immediately drawn to a wild looking line going out over a roof crack and blasting straight up the left hand side of an amazing looking smooth, slightly overhanging headwall. This was Romancing the Moose E5 6b.

Unfortunately the roof crack was sopping wet. But I couldn't stop looking at the headwall. It looked as though another line was possible, climbing the right hand corner of the sea cave and then moving left to climb the center of this awesome looking sheet of rock. Here the line of Romancing the Moose is drawn in blue and the new line is drawn in green:

Out came the ab rope! It was quite spooky swinging around down there on a gri-gri, totally alone until well after 10pm that night, but also really good fun. After an hour or so I'd pulled off some loose blocks, found some holds and... gear! It was on!

The next morning I woke up feeling nervous. I had felt the holds and inspected the gear but hadn't climbed any of the actual moves. But the lead went to plan and so was born "Should Have Gone to Kilnsey" which goes at E6 6b or f7b+ if you would rather pay in euros. Obviously the name is pretty tongue in cheek. Here's a video of the route:

Should Have Gone to Kilnsey from Jacob Cook on Vimeo.

The other highlight of the trip was doing the classic 3 pitch, E6 6b/c Screaming Abdabs, from the ground (or sea) up, in an evening with Ralph. This really is a 4 star route for line, position AND climbing. So good it's on the cover of Gary Latter's Scottish Rock North.

In fact it looked so scary we almost didn't set off! (the last two pitches are drawn on in blue)

Ralph put in a fantastic effort on the first two pitches. "The Yosemite Crack" 5c and "The Traverse of the Gods" 5b to leave us deposited under some enormous looking roofs in the most wild position I think I've been in on a UK sea cliff to date!

Here's Ralph on pitch two:

The first go at the final pitch I took a huge lob from the lip of the crux roof, which was pretty scary since I wasn't sure if the first cam under the roof was going to hold... thankfully it did.

I lowered back to the belay and had a 5 minute rest. This is my thank god I'm alive face after the fall:

Then went again and managed to send the pitch by the absolute skin of my teeth! Getting over the crux 6b/c roof involved the use of knees, elbows and chin! Above this I got so pumped and scared trying to fiddle in some gear that I would have long since let go in pain had I been on a sport route and not scared for my life! Here's the only photo of me on the top pitch... it's not going to be winning any prizes!

Thinking about it afterwards, it was actually a pretty painful and terrifying experience but I got such a huge kick out of it that I can't wait for the next time. Trad climbing is weird.

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