Following the mild start to the winter season, Dave Almond and Graham Dawson made a successful ascent last week of the grade VIII 9 Ben Nevis testpiece, The Secret.
Will it be a longer season than last year? I hope so. It's been a long wait which I used to its maximum to pack in some extra dry tooling sessions in Wales.
With a reasonably cold forecast, a contingent of Scousers headed up with high hopes. Saturday I ended up trying to get up a route using every variation but the right one. Defeated I retreated to the valley with all the usual mind games going on in my head. Sunday the weather was disgustingly warm, windy and wet which left me ever more time to ponder. On Monday 15th, despite a nasty forecast Simon Frost and I had the joy of breaking a new trail in the fresh deep powder up to Stob Coire nan Lochan and were rewarded with a windless, sunny day and a lovely ascent of Inclination VII,8. I felt soothed.
Si Frost on Inclination (Photo - Dave Almond)
Tuesday was another warm, wet and windy day which I took the chance to rest. On Wednesday 17th I met up with Graham Dawson who had accepted my invite to have a look at The Secret despite it being a few grades harder than his norm. Another trail breaking session ensued giving plenty of time for self doubt. I have previously done the first pitch two years ago but escaped off on the Cornucopia finish due to lack of daylight, and it looked a fair bit whiter than the last time. Could I protect it? No time to delay as the walk in had eaten up time. I cracked on and must say that first pitch is really excellent climbing.
Dave Almond - Pitch 1, The Secret (Photo - Graham Dawson)
Graham followed up incredibly fast giving me a little leeway for the second pitch. From the belay, the top pitch looked like an iced up crack line that I doubted would take cams. As I made progress I realised I was correct and it was difficult to get nuts to settle in the flaring verglas. Lots of deep breathing and I made it past the first difficult section to some small ledges that I thought I could get a rest on. Maybe I let my concentration go a second , as I felt quite solid when my right axe ripped and off I went all the way to stop beneath Graham.
The light was starting to dim and I asked Graham if he was ok for me to have a last go. Yes was the answer and off I went with a bit more haste and a lot more speed. The second pitch is good sustained climbing and I topped out on a large block just short of the cornice.
Dave Almond - Pitch 2, The Secret (Photo - Graham Dawson)
Graham followed me up in increasingly poor light and heavy spindrift and continued up over the cornice in to a nasty storm.
He's up there somewhere. Dave heading for the cornice on Pitch 3. (Photo - Graham Dawson)
I was absolutely delighted to have been able to climb this route. Thanks to Graham for his patience. Maybe the tooling sessions paid off after all.
Thanks to Dave for the words and images, and also to Si Frost and Graham Dawson. Read about Dave's first ascent of 'Jottnar' on the Aiguille du Midi here, or of his ascent of the 1938 route on the Eiger North Face here.