Last week we published a review of the 4th Edition of Hard Rock. Whilst putting together the review it occurred to us just how many memories we all had from climbing the routes within its pages and how many others would likely feel the same. As a result we decided to start Hard Rock Stories, whereby users can share their most memorable accounts on the Forums. We will then pick a few of the best and put them into an article, alongside a selection of photographs. To kick things off Rob Greenwood has shared his account of climbing Shibboleth (E2) back in 2016.
When the weather is good there's nowhere better to be than Scotland, but in bad weather - or midge season - there's nowhere worse. Perseverance plays dividends though, as does a beady eye on the forecast. On this particular occasion we struck lucky, with ten days straight of wall-to-wall sunshine. Starting on Hoy we climbed The Old Man, then ventured south playfully picking crags based on how we felt and where we most wanted to go. We felt privileged to be a part of it and even now, four years on, the thought of it still makes me smile.
On our penultimate day things took a turn and our weather app presented us with something that had become quite unfamiliar: a rain cloud coming through in the middle of the afternoon. Fired up my the fact that this could indeed become our last day we opted to get an early 6 a.m. start and head up to Buachaille Etive Mòr's enticingly named Slime Wall to climb Robin Smith's classic (and slightly infamous) Shibboleth. Given that it was June, the sun was up even earlier than we were and by the time we set up it was beaming. As we set off past the Lagangarbh hut we took a twist underneath the mountain before taking a direct line up towards the deep, foreboding gully which featured a sizeable snow patch. I'm not sure whether it was the sight of this or the 6 a.m. shade but there was suddenly a chill in the air, an atmosphere that several steps ago wasn't there. Looking up at the route we were about to climb suddenly became daunting, despite the fact we had climbed significantly harder over the past few days. Some routes, such as Shibboleth, hold the psychological advantage over all of us.
The first part of the route takes a line up a groove, which is easy to follow but difficult to climb. It is here that you gain full appreciation of Robin Smith's skills and how this might have felt way back in 1958. It is also here that you gain full appreciation of the corrosive powers of water on steel, as the peg that protects this particular section is of a mature vintage. With that in mind, there's a certain sense of airiness, as a fall would be highly undesirable at this point and alternative protection is hard-won as a result of the compact, bubbly rock that adorns the route's walls. To make matters worse several key holds were wet, but for some reason it would have felt wrong for them to be dry. These routes aren't meant to be easy…
After completing the crux you leave the groove and venture boldly onto the face. Whilst the moves are indeed easier, the rock is inscrutable and hard to read. Whilst it is obvious that you've got to go up, it's hard to see exactly how. Holds hide, waiting to be found, but once used offer a perfect and reassuring texture. A small stance is eventually reached where you can finally relax, although whilst you are now above the difficulties there is still a whole lot of adventure to follow. In addition to this I am conscious that hidden as we are within this great gully, we cannot see what the clouds are doing on the horizon: is the gathering storm coming our way? This would be an exceptionally poor choice of places to be caught out….
Penny seconds the pitch looking cold, climbing in her down jacket to generate warmth. It's hard to enjoy a pitch in this style, but I think she looks back fondly on it from the comfort of our living room, several years on. Arriving at the belay we swap things around, then I head off up the next pitch. This time it's my turn to feel the cold, first through hot aches, then through my feet. Whilst I've had cold feet before I've never had anything quite like this, as my toes are like blocks of ice, with so little sensation that I'm unable to trust any of the footholds. Wobbling a little and making several worrying noises I climb back down to a small ledge and remove the heels of my shoes so I can wiggle my toes. This has the desired effect, but those who haven't been in this position won't know it's a lot easier to get your shoes off than it is to get them back on. As a result of this revelation I spend the next few minutes trying to put my shoes on again whilst simultaneously trying not to fall - no mean feat…
Beyond that the climbing style continues in that unlikely and unreadable form. Whilst you are aware that you need to go up or across, it's hard to know how until you're right on top of it. Never have I climbed on a rock type where I've felt so completely and utterly blind, which is what makes the first ascent of this unlikely route all the more amazing. To pioneer up this back when it was unchartered terrain must have been terrifying, not least because it's still terrifying now.
Eventually we top out into blazing sunshine. We were, as we always are, quick to climb the route and it's barely mid-morning. We bask for a moment before heading back down to our bags, then on to our van. With time to burn we drive a short distance down Glen Etive, parking up beside some pools before making our way down to them with towels, ready to sunbathe and swim. The contrast is almost comical: only an hour ago we were screaming barfies, cold as ice, yet here we are now lapping up the rays.
The rain never did arrive and the following day we did our final route before heading south. The return home felt surreal, almost like we'd been away in a parallel universe. Did that really just happen? Several years on I still feel the same.
If you've enjoyed this article and fancy contributing, please tell us your story on the thread. If you're not sure whether you've done any Hard Rock routes you can sign up to the ticklist below. If you wish to read more about other people's experiences on this particular route then check out its page on the UKC Logbooks, it would suffice to say that it's a route that makes an impression!
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