Vlog #17 The Golden Road E9 7a first ascent
I first saw Creag Mo as most folk do when you’ve just come off the ferry from Skye and drive over the pass from Tarbert and drop down into Glen Scaladale. It dominates the lovely vista across Glen Scaladale to the Isle of Harris hills. I could see straight away that it would have massive new route potential for me. But given the weather luck we had on early Outer Hebrides trips, it was actually some years later when I first stood at the foot of it.
I went there with Brian Hall to check out potential new routes for a BBC film (which eventually became The Triple 5). I wanted to inspect the massive horizontal roof in the centre of the crag and Brian belayed me for hours as I aided across it and gave it an initial clean. That line was my first new route on the crag, climbed with Tim Emmett for the BBC film: The Realm E8 6c, 6b.
A few years later I returned on a very quick trip with Calum Muskett, we added another couple of great E5s, and cleaned and very briefly tried three other new routes but didn’t have time or weather to see them through. Two of them became The Mighty Chondrion E7 6c, 5c with Masa Sakano and then, a couple of weeks ago, The Hard Drive E7 6c, again with Masa.
The name ‘The Hard Drive’ came as a mark of respect for a friend Andy Nisbet who died in the mountains earlier this year in an awful accident, along with another friend and brilliant climber Steve Perry. Andy meticulously collected and processed new route information for the whole of Scotland for decades, feeding the information into the excellent SMC Scottish climber’s guidebook series with accuracy, attention to detail and outright obsessiveness that is rare. There was also the 1000s (not a typo) of new routes which he climbed himself. If you are not familiar with him as a character, I made a short film about him a few years ago, in which he took a terrifying whipper off a new winter route as I was filming/taking pics.
Every time, without exception, when I would post news of having climbed a new route on social media, I would get a reminder email from Andy immediately afterwards to make sure I sent him a description for the SMC journal and the guidebooks. Incidentally, the new Outer Hebrides guidebook is just recently published and we sell it in our shop. So I have come over years to associate climbing new routes in Scotland with Andy, and my first thought on completing this one was that it would my first new route with no contact from Andy. Andy was also known for his white knuckle driving around the highlands and I was told by someone else that he never had less than 12 points on his license (apologies Andy if I am perpetuating a myth here!). So I named the route after an appropriate sounding pipe tune by Fred Morrison called The Hard Drive.
The third route I’d looked at with Calum was the smooth wall of immaculate rough gneiss just to the right. On my trip with Calum, I couldn’t see a way to make the line work and gave up. But out of curiosity I swung the rope across and had another look. Perhaps the ‘no pressure’ play on it helped, but next thing I found a way to make a desperately thin traverse right just after the crux of The Hard Drive to reach the line. I devised several different sequences for the upper crux which were all desperate and I could only link one section if it was less than 10 degrees with a good wind. As soon as the wind dropped, I just couldn’t hold on to the ‘holds’.
Visiting Japanese climber Keita Kurakami, after climbing his new line Mega Kagikakko E7 6c, 6b, 5b, had a play as well and he found an improvement on my method that further sealed the deal for me to return to the island immediately. We both agreed that the line was kind of similar to and perhaps a bit harder overall than The Walk of Life E9 6c, a route we have both repeated.
Masa kindly offered to return with me soon afterwards, even if it was an uncertain bet whether I could be ready to lead it. For a couple of days, he and visiting Naoki Komine dodged showers on the sea cliffs while I sessioned the project in gaps in the drizzle. On the fourth day of our trip, it became clear that it would be a washout from the following day. So despite the continuing drizzle showers, we walked in determined to take any opportunity going. Naoki took a small fall on Drive Station, E5, when wet holds forced him to use an alternative undercut which promptly came off in his hands. After that there was a beefy shower and it looked like the game was up for me lead. But it was immediately followed by 5 minutes of sunshine. By the time I had my rock shoes on, it was raining again. What followed was a somewhat bizarre and stop-start ascent that briefly got to the ridiculous stage with me swapping feet on a decent foothold before the crux, watching the holds start to get wetter. Take a look at the vlog episode to see the outcome.