My friends Amy and Will headed up to join me in Scotland this weekend with the intention of going winter climbing, with the rare combination of good conditions and a reasonable weather forecast we hoped to tick a **** classic route.
I have wanted to climb West Chimney on Bidean Nam Bian for ages, in fact it has been my lifetime goal to climb it, and I have even joked that once I had, I would give up climbing!
At V 6 it is harder than anything I have tried before, but with Will and Amy up for the weekend it seemed like a great opportunity to give it a shot so I suggested it and they both seemed keen. So I went to sleep really excited and perhaps a little scared!
We awoke early and started the long walk in in the dark, as we approached the impressive Church Door Buttress, I was in awe, it just looked like a really incredible route, heading up this improbably steep looking face, it really has the wow factor!
We set about gearing up and Will lead off on the first pitch which goes up a steep ramp and then under and over a few chockstones, brilliant climbing and also quite unusual and amusing! Amy and I followed and joined Will in a big snow bay with an impassible looking wall behind.
The next pitch was my lead, so I had a quick look at the guidebook, which says “find a tunnel up on the left then burrow in and up to emerge molelike onto a ledge. This may expend considerable time and effort”. So a bit of caving on a climbing route, ha ha, brilliant! So I set off into the tunnel, but once inside I couldn’t see any sign of daylight, and in fact the rocks above my head were very clean and looked like they might be from fresh rockfall, I was a bit freaked that they might collapse on my head so I lowered myself back out, but on arrival back at the snow ledge, I was sent back in again by Amy and Will to have a more through look. The second time I investigated every nook inside the cave, but still no way out, so having fulfilled my investigative duties I headed back to the belay and handed over the case of the missing exit to Will to solve.
Will headed in and excavated every inch of snow that was lying on the cave floor but just hit rock in every direction- we even tried digging down! Will had a brief attempt at climbing up the mental overhanging looking headwall above, but we were running out of daylight and unable to solve the mystery we decided to abseil off.
After posting on the UK climbing forum we finally solved the mystery. The through route has indeed been blocked by recent rockfall, and the alternative up the headwall above is likely technical 7- case closed! So unfortunately this now means I can never retire from climbing, as it is so highly improbable that I will ever be able to climb tech 7. So I don’t get to climb my dream route, but the consolation prize is a lifetime of climbing – fantastic!