HEAVY FLAK | FIRST WINTER ASCENT
It seems like winter conditions barely arrived in Scotland before they disappeared again, but fortunately there was just enought time for Tiso Ambassador Uisdean Hawthorn & climbing partner Murdo Jamieson to get climbing, putting up a first-winter-ascent of Heavy Flak on Beinn Eighe, Torridon.
It’s snowing. “This wasn’t in your forecast, Tim!” I say. “I know..” he replies without looking at me, keeping his eyes on the snowy landrover track as he drives. Tim, Matt and I were driving back after climbing a route in the Grey Corries called ‘Some Like It Hot’ which had provided some good steep climbing on turf and quartzite cracks. I try to think of a plan for what I’m doing when I get back to my van in Spean Bridge. I want to go to my mum’s house and dry my kit and continue north first thing tomorrow to climb on Beinn Eighe but Adam is in Lancashire, it’s snowing down to sea level and I think it’s unfair to make him drive all that way for a day. I get a message from him suggesting Glencoe. “Bugger!” I think, “that’s not near my mum’s house.” I think of lying in front of the roaring fire next to the dog versus trying to dry my kit in my van. My phone pings… it’s Murdo messaging to say he wants to go to Beinn Eighe but Iain doesn’t want to drive all the way up north. “We should swap partners” I reply half joking. “Yes we should!” Murdo replies instantly, clearly serious. A furious 5 minutes of 4-way messaging and I was driving home, thoughts of the warm fire causing my right foot to feel heavier than normal.
The next morning we had the normal 3-hour slog up the side of Beinn Eighe and an unusually pleasant gear up in the sunshine on the summit. We stand looking across at Far East Wall. “Oh well” says Murdo looking at a very black Far East Wall. Plan A clearly out we consult the guide book and wander over to Eastern Ramparts and decide to try a one-star summer E1 called Heavy Flak that hadn’t been climbed in winter. It looked like a nice flaky corner system and as always on Beinn Eighe, quite steep. The one star suggesting it could be quite dirty and turfy which turns out to be true.
Murdo dispatches pitch one in true Murdo style, never quick, never slow, placing good gear and hanging straight-arm making it all look easier than it is. I got to Murdo’s belay and looked up to see a blank looking corner, feeling the mounting intimidation as I take the rack. Having just returned from 2 months in Spain sport climbing, looking up, where there are no bolts and you have no idea how hard it could be, is a bit of a shock to the system. Fortunately, the corner turns out to have some positive hooks which allows me to use my sport climbing fitness as ice axe handles feel like very big jugs compared to crimps on overhanging limestone. After the corner I follow some steep turfy ledges left to a belay. Murdo seconds and only moans a couple of times which is unusual for him. He almost smiles at one point, shocking!
A traverse right led off the belay to a 3m wall of steep flakes. Murdo gets to the top of the wall quickly but after trying to pull up and left into an icy groove, he takes a step back down and hangs straight arm. This continues until he tries it a different way and with a small noise (even more unusual than him smiling) he gains the groove above. The ropes move out quickly and he has soon finished the pitch. I second it copying his sequence to gain the groove which when knowing what to do isn’t too bad. We were treated to a good light show on the summit as we packed up, and talked about how the route was much better than we had expected and easily as good as anything else on the wall. To top off the day, due to a very long bum slide, it takes less than an hour to get back to the car. After being away a lot in the last year it was nice to be reminded how good climbing in Scotland can be.
Congratulations and thanks to Uisdean & Murdo for the write up and stunning pictures. You can see more from Uisdean on Instagram.
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