Cambridge Underground 1996 p 73

Climbing Backwards Into Rust

by Mark McLean

As night fell Mark prepared to bivvy, two pitches up the route but immediately beneath the first difficult pitch. The climb was going fairly well although it was clearly going to take a long time. Still it was good to have started already and it would probably seem easier in the morning light.

Mark consulted the guide book - Haynes' "Astra Massif" and mentally rehearsed the next day's moves. Getting the lower balljoint apart was the next hard bit. Possibly if he moved left beforehand and released the driveshaft there would be a good placement for a No. 2 balljoint splitter and things would be easier.

With the slop bubbling on the stove it was time to relax a bit. It would have been good to have a partner up here to talk over the next day's route or indeed to talk about something different entirely and forget the route. Still, there was something special about the solitude and the solo battle with the rock.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. The route had to be finished today as Mark had a long journey to do on the following day. Not only did the route look easier, he discovered that he'd actually passed the hard move in the twilight the previous day and with a hefty kick to the suspension arm the front strut came free. But then a serious problem developed as Mark found that he didn't have the necessary gear for the next pitch. About an hour and a half had to be spent on a long traverse via all four spanner shops in Skelmersdale and three in Wigan before the problem was solved. The next pitch went smoothly and Mark stood below the crux.

The guidebook graded the route at VS 4c but warned that in rusty conditions this pitch could be as hard as 5c and was unavoidable short of an expensive detour to a garage. Mere 'rusty' was totally inadequate to describe the situation, 'severely corroded' was better, but there was no point in turning back now so Mark racked up with plenty of WD40 and a six foot scaffolding pole. The pitch was clearly going to require aid but the vice refused to hold under the stress of Mark's weight on the scaffolding pole so he backed off for a brew and a careful consideration of the moves. Then he tried using in situ gear to hold the strut but that limited the space available to wield the spanner so it was back to trying to get a decent vice placement. Once this was done the entire bench just rotated with the vice.

Seeing that the situation was hopeless Mark decided that discretion being the better part of valour, he'd make a diagonal abseil onto the rear shock absorbers. This was graded at HS 4a and looked much less rusty.

The first half of the route went smoothly and success seemed certain. Then the lower mounting bolt on the right hand side jammed tight and he had to spend an hour with an angle grinder cutting it free. The exposure was quite severe as the angle grinder showered sparks over the petrol tank. Finally the bolt was released and the old shock literally cut off. The new one went on with little trouble and Mark stood at the summit. He would return to finish the business with the front shocks another day.

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