Saturday, January 30, 2010

Faith Healer

Iain starting pitch one of Faith Healer and discovering a hidden layer of ice on all the slabby bits out of shot.

This week I had a couple of days that illustrated how tenuous the chase for conditions in Scotland can be. I had spent the last few weeks reading about everyone elses adventures only for thaws to set in on my days off. I was beginning to feel I was training for nothing. Eventually after many many phone calls I lined up 2 sets of partners for a 2 day trip. Day 1 involved a ridiculously early start to walk in to the Northern Corries only to be met by completely black crags dripping with water. We were back out drinking lattes in Aviemore by 9.30am. Day 2 I joined up with Iain Small, someone I hadn't had the pleasure of climbing with and had wanted to hook up with for awhile. The big question was would we find any conditions to climb.

We opted for the banker of Ben Nevis, the mountain that just keeps on giving. And again it didn't disappoint. My heart initially sunk as from the hut you could see Coire na Ciste was pretty black. We headed up Observatory Gully jokingly hoping for a cold pocket hiding conditions. As we gained height we gradually ticked off option 1, 2 and 3 before being pleasantly surprised to find the wall above Echo Wall on the Upper East Flank of Tower Ridge have a light coating of whiteness. We opted for righthand of two prominent leftward slanting slabby groove lines (the lefthand one is the summer route Rolling Stones. Iain's initial pitch revealed a surprisingly and highly helpful coating of inch thick ice over all the ledges and slabs. The Ben was doing its magic once again.

Two highly enjoyable pitches, the first well protected, the second run out led steadily to a big snow ledge. From here we traversed left to a steep groove that had begged to be climbed from below. This proved to be significantly harder than anything below. It reminded me of an iced up Migrant Direct only steeper and bolder but luckily half the length. Never the less there was potential for a 40ft ledge fall from some hard insecure moves. The state of the ice will make a difference here but only whether the moves are 7 or 8. Committing to poor "pulling through snow ice" hooks less than an inch deep with my crampons on quarter inch verglas on the overhanging walls I remember thinking this wasn't a married mans pitch. I was also aware that my arms were luckily in good nick after all the recent training. A few screams were still needed to clear the final bulge. Excitedly I announced to Iain that this was my 9th new route on the Ben, he replied it was his 3rd this week! For me this route had been a real Faith Healer. What a mountain. The two Ians/Iains on the summit plateau The line of Faith Healer.
The crucial top groove marked

Faith Healer VIII,7 * 170m

An absorbing and delicate icy mixed climb based around the striking groove line just to the right of Rolling Stones. Culminating in a superb but savage sting in the tail. Ice on the ledges and slabs was found very useful on the first ascent, but the final corner will always be hard and serious. Avoiding this last pitch by taking easier alternatives to join Tower Ridge would give a worthwhile VI,7.
Follow the ledge of East Wall Route to a belay (insitu) below the start of the Echo Traverse Groove/Chimney.
1. 50m. Climb the groove/fault of Echo Traverse for a few metres before a delicate traverse left around a steep nose gains a prominent ramp which is followed leftwards for 30m. Move up to belay at a sideways pointing spike at the base of the big leftwards slanting corner.
2. 50m. Climb the corner to a large snow ledge.
3. 50m. Follow the snow ledge diagonally up left until below a steep corner on the left of a rock prow. Climb the first section of the corner for 10m on helpful turf to reach a ledge on the left. Follow this leftwards and step down a short corner to belay on insitu threads.
4. 20m. Step back right and climb the steep corner to reach the large snow ledge of The Eastern Traverse of Tower Ridge.
5. 150m+ Follow Tower Ridge to the summit.
First Ascent Iain Small, Ian Parnell 28 Jan 2010

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