Majestic mountain peaks surrounding a town is not a common sight but seeing them covered in snow was quite a novelty. Walking through Aviemore you would catch glimpses of these giants between buildings. Surrounded by thick Scottish accents dressed in the best outdoor gear known to humans. You stop looking at the people and notice their North Face down jacket instead.
To see it was an eventful mountaineering trip to the Cairngorms in Scotland would be an understatement. ULOPC succeeded yet again in introducing people to the extreme and created brand new memories for everyone.
After a couple days of ‘winter mountaineering training’ I had hurt my knee and taken a rest day. Chilling out reading books by the fire drinking tea on the most comfy couches was a mini holiday in itself.
After the chilled rest day I joined the group of twenty to do a crag about half an hour away. This was due to the fact that there was no snow or ice left on the mountains. It was raining softly as they say meaning the rocks would be slippy. We warmed up with a ten minute hike through the forest, although I had been questioning myself I then discovered the rest day had been the right call as my knee flared up with pain.
When we got to the crag two top ropes (ropes hanging from the top) were set up. I hopped on one and found it too slippy to trust myself to make the first move. With the pressure of twenty people watching I soon untied and wandered around for a while watching others climb. I’ve a very weird relationship with rock-climbing. Some days I absolutely love climbing and feel on top of the world when I finish a route or make a difficult move. In all other sports I want to be the best, the fittest, the strongest and come first. But in climbing I just want to enjoy it and challenge myself. Sometimes though that doesn’t fit together and I ended up annoyed at myself and just watching others climb. My intense fear of heights also tends to get in the way.
Ed had set up a long abseil and encouraged me to try it. It was on a vertical wall higher than I’m used to with a slight overhang which may have been in my head. I froze about five feet down it. A sudden fear of swinging off to the side overtook me completely. So while people from below shouted encouragement my muscle had cramped up convincing me I was going to die. I could vividly imagine the pain of my bones breaking. Eventually I gave in and had to leave go, flinching expecting severe pain. But of course nothing happened and I just hung there like a crazy fool. I got hit by such a rush of adrenaline from ‘surviving’ that I laughed the whole way down kicking off the wall. I was still on a high as I headed over to second a route for Eoghan who is probably an ideal climbing buddy for me as he is so chill and yet encouraging.
So seconding means that I have Eoghan on a rope from the ground and as he climbs he places gear in cracks as safety points and treads the rope through them. But if you fall when you are leading you can potentially take a big fall and hurt yourself or your gear can pop out if you haven’t placed it precisely. This is where the fear factor comes in. Your safety rely s on the confidence that you have placed your gear correctly. Trad climbing (as this is called) was eloquently summed up Owen Michele (Unfortunately there are three Eoghans on this trip leading to many confusing matters) anyway he said trad climbing was bizarre because on one hand it was physical and daring with a need for confidence and on the other it is logical problem solving as you figure out the best place or best gear to put in for protection and the best way to set up an anchor when you get to the top. It is an unlikely combination.
I enjoyed seconding a route for Eoghan, this means after I had belayed from the bottom I climb along picking up gear while secured on a rope from the top. Just before we were about to leave I decided to lead the same route, the difficulty was easy but it was a bit higher and longer than I was used to. Most of the guys had headed home in the mini-bus and there was just a handful of us left. You could hear the distance jingling of gear as the climbers walked down the hill. Then peace ascended, no longer was there people roaring and shouting egging each other on. It was a blissful change accompanied by a wonderful sunset. It was brilliant to have this moment just to focus on the climbing, looking at placing the gear piece by piece. Focusing on each move and completely in the moment high above the valley. The sun was finally set just as we trundled off down the hill with ropes slung over our shoulders.