“Hey guys! You’re doin a great jaab up thur man, I’m havin some major fun here in the back seat!” Bayard’s cool, super-chilled out East Coast drawl seemed to pierce the growing bubble of apprehension that had slowly enveloped both Nick and myself. This was it, at last, a winter battle on Slime Wall; the greatest bastion to vertical exploration that Scotland’s finest Glen has to offer. They’d all etched out their epics on this vast, tilted canvas – first Smith and Marshall, then MacInnes and Bonnington, then Hamilton and Cuthbertson. These are big names and Slime Wall’s a big crag. And Guerdon Grooves in winter, unrepeated in 28 years, well, that’s about as big a route as it gets. Now it was our turn to get scared in search of reward.
I used to have an old Clydeside climbing partner who referred to our climbing endeavours as “Fighting Death on the Slippery Verticals”. Three long bold pitches up, not really knowing if the crux had been climbed (but fearing the worst) this phrase took on a whole new resonance. It was Nick’s lead, poor thing, and I had noticed he was masticating. But there’s something in Nick’s blood runs thick – don’t dither or ask questions, don’t look for an easy way out, but grab it full on by the horns, flip it over and show it who’s boss. Or at least give it everything and a little more, try your best and see what happens.
So off he goes, teetering out and teetering on up glistening white slabs. All above him towers the dripping roof of the Great Cave, from under which crackling streams of tantalising water ice flow into every seam and crack and onto every hold. A lonely Pecker ten metres out is all that punctuates his flow, the lilting angles in the rock forcing sidepulls and gentle palming manouvres to be employed for very careful upward progress. It was beautiful, timeless climbing, which will remain a challenge forever. No positive edge nor powerful torque nor Steinpull nor tin-opener in sight – just sustained, subtle balance and commitment in a wonderfully Gothic Highland amphitheatre.
He found some gear eventually, and it was pretty decent, and being so far out from the belay he could happily go a long way then above it. Such was the sweet simplicity of this most tremendous and memorable of Scottish winter climbs. It’ll stay with me forever, for sure.
See the original post on Guy's blog at http://cairngormtiger.wordpress.com/