Touching the rock for the first time was a shock as the rain and sleet gnawed at my hands still warm from the haven of their pockets. My leader had a double-barreled surname that must have slowed him down, as the first 80 feet of Ordinary route seemed to take an age. I followed stiffly, and arrived at the little scoop he was stood in with water spilling everywhere and the sleet again buffeting us. One of our two rope slings was struggling to remain on the nubbin of rock my leader had vainly tried to arrange it on. With about another 350 feet to go, the offer of leading seemed the better option, as progress had been so painfully slow. Armed with the second of our slings and a steel biner I set off up the watery channel that constituted the route pausing only when the rope, which was tied around my waist, tugged at my back indicating I had run out the full 120 feet of No 4 nylon. With the sling draped optimistically over another little nubbin I was ready to bring up my mate, double-barreled and all. I'm not sure if the woolen gloves would have helped had I had to hold him, or even if I could have slowed him down, but with rope passed around my back and turned around my hand on the dead end I religiously took in as he struggled up the waterfall that was now our route.
Oddly any ideas of retreat weren't ever voiced, or even thought about. Perhaps we just didn't realize it was an option. Anyway four hours later six of us reached the top, not that it seemed much, just a jumble of ledges, grass, and heather disappearing into the November gloom. No cheering crowds, no photographer keen to snatch pictures of us climbing heroes. So a descent in the dark, good thing really as it's much harder than the route, and a stumble back to the minibus and we were on our way back to Jessie James Bunkhouse to dry out, warm up, and drink the illicit bottles of Newcastle Brown we had hidden from the long suffering teacher brave enough to introduce us to the sport. Paisley pyjamas now redundant, warmer and drier, and a little euphoric either from the beer or the exertions of the day we relived the day's happenings.
Last year I did Ordinary route with my ten-year-old son on a warm summers day in June. He scampered up happily, and I lowered him down the steep worn descent route which 35 years earlier we had reversed blissfully ignorant of the consequences of a slip. No woolly socks, no steel biners or stiff nylon rope, and definitely no paisley pyjamas.
Earlier this week we reported that Pete Whittaker had made an 'all-free' rope solo ascent of on El Capitan. The route took him... Read more