Over the intervening years, I have never really climbed a lot, defining myself as a mountaineer rather than out-and-out rock climber. So though I have enjoyed fabulous long routes in the UK such as North East Buttress, Tower Ridge and Observatory Ridge on the Ben, various long routes on the continent etc., my technique is slow and steady, and only comfortable on the odd crux move rather than a succession of them. That said, I always wanted to go back to Lochnagar and pitch myself once more, this time as a lead climber rather than a second, so when Eamon, Adam and Kerry suggested a meet up, it fitted the bill entirely.
After an overnight along Glen Muick, the forecast dictated a later start, and we made a hot, muggy march into the coire in a sharp 90 minutes, which is testament to everyone's fitness with ropes, harness and gear on our backs. After a short snack stop at the mountain rescue box, we scrabbled our way up the Douglas Gibson gully to what the Classic Rock guidebook diagram showed as the start of the route. It had signs of passage, and Adam gamely started on up. He soon encountered difficulties, and the memories of my previous struggle came flooding back, ebbing my confidence. Just then, another team following us shouted up that they thought they were on the correct route, having used the photo and better topo in Dan Bailey's book. True enough they were, and I scuttled down to lead off, leaving Adam to abseil off and join us later.
I led the odd pitches, and Kerry my partner the even. The route is steady enough to start, though moist, lichenous and vegetated, being North facing and sheltered as it is, so we were all looking forward to cleaner if more challenging rock higher up. It came, initially as a succession of corners and grooves, ever more exposed, ever more absorbing. What was surprising was the challenge of the first of what turned out to be three hard step-ups, exposed, all but hold-less and terribly committing. I knew about the crux move above the aptly-named 'sentry box' belay, as that was where Richard had had to pull me up all those years ago, but the years had erased the others from my memory. I also feel my strength isn't what it was back then, when I was doing manual work on the fences, and was of course so much younger.
Still, despite my 'disco-legs' (as climbers call the involuntary spasms your legs go into when stressed on an awkward stance), I had taken my leads, and we were on the last couple, so it looked like it was in the bag. Then I got to my previous nemesis whilst on the lead - I was stood on a knife-edge, the gully many hundreds of feet below me, with an off-set wide groove and no holds to speak of above. 'Here we go again' I thought, only this time I had no top-rope. I had a couple of attempts, thought it through, and with a cam placed as high as possible, reached up and found the loose but 'thank God' hold, and was up. But I was fried, mentally and physically. Thereafter I should have taken the belay on a small ledge, but feared too much rope drag, so ended up perched on a well-protected but teetering gable of rock less than single shoe's width, and brought Kerry up.
After some careful gear swapping, she set off on the last pitch, traversing the fabulously exposed wall, her rock-climbing prowess coming to the fore as she moved gracefully up, before coming to a halt at the 'official' crux. It is a scoop of rock with a no-holds mantelshelf move high above the void, and despite her being able to lead much higher grades in less committing and vertiginous situations, this was proving tough. After a lot of thought and up and downs, she went for it, and despite scarily snagging her belted gear as she wriggled up the crazily exposed slab, made the top. I decided there was no way I would make that move when I got to it, and she left a sling for me to pull on as she came to the final obstacle.
This was v-shaped groove, with no positive holds at all. It proved too much. Adam and Eamon were watching and shouting encouragement from the coire rim, and as the day was pressing on and enthusiasm was waning to say the least, Adam abseiled down to offer a top-rope to Kerry and then myself to finish the route.
So, had I exorcised the ghosts of 14years ago? Well, I had lead half of the route, something I would never have been able to do back then, but it wasn't that stylish, more perseverance and bloody mindedness. But is it a Severe? In it's entirety I suppose yes, with much top-end Very Difficult interspersed with three or four really challenging moves, some of which get 4b or at least Hard Severe or even the odd call of Very Severe on some web pages. I hoped I would swan it, as did Kerry - After all, it is ONLY a Severe ;) But no - Eagle Ridge is a full-on mountain route that tests. To quote Merlin, a UKClimbing contributor - 'It's mostly VDiff apart from the HVS unmentioned bits :)', or MWilkes - 'For those competent, but low grade, leaders, don't let the Severe grading lull you into a false sense of security. Its a serious, committing and exhilarating full day out.' I concur wholeheartedly!
Thanks to Kerry for sharing the leads, and for sharing the mutual challenge. Thanks to Eamon for getting us all together, and especially thanks to Adam for the final top-rope, and for putting up with us numpties when he can climb oh so much harder. Still a great day out.