South Post Direct: a Winter Climbing Classic
For more years than I care to remember, the Post Face of Creag Meaghaidh has exerted a mixture of fascination and repulsion on me. Years ago, when I was climbing at a reasonable standard; when I could have dealt with all the classics in reasonable style, I somehow just never got round to those routes. I squandered much quality winter, in the eighties, scratting about on little miserable crags instead of getting myself north.
A couple of years ago I went out with Mike W and we had a crack at Centre Post. I didn’t have the arms to contemplate the direct pitch, so we beetled off around the old original route, which has a lot to recommend it if you’re not a full on modern ice warrior. At last the spell had been broken and I had finally got a post route done with a good mate.
So this particular day, Tony and Fat Freddie invited an even more unfit me along for a jolly little jape on South Post Direct. One of Meghaidh’s classic Vs, it was definitely on the to do list. Additionally – spurring me on was the fact that Moonie, complete with non working shoulder had been up it with our new “beast” Tim, a week or so before – but ‘e’s ‘ard! Unlike me!
We got away in good time, walking shortly after 4 am and we were soon first at the base of the route. This ignores the sweating, gasping stagger that was my apology for an approach walk. I was that goosed at the bottom of the climb, I thought I was just going to have to tell the boys to get on with it and leave me to be buried by falling ice chips and passing feet in Easy gully. God I felt knackered.
Undeterred, Tony, the only fit one amongst us; set off with his usual high pitched giggling and nervous chatter. Chipping stabbing and tapping his way up the imposingly beautiful pitch, he made excellent progress. The screws (I knew there was a reason they’d asked this unfit blob along) were going in nice and regular and I started to relax and take photos and get a bit of video footage. It’s amazing how long it can take to complete a single pitch: until you remember that our 60m ropes equate to nearly 200ft at a go. A couple of young guys from Glenmore Lodge turned up and strangely, considering the place they were learning their craft, belayed right under Tony’s path heavenwards. I think after an hour of pelting with the fallout from above, they finally woke up to the daftness of their stance. They obviously read far too many books about heroic deeds in the mountains, because they then decided they would follow us up sackless!
Soon Tony claimed to be safe and FF and I set off in pursuit of another tick in the guidebook. I had decided that it would be “impolite” to turn down the chance of a crack at South Post when it was in such good condition. My cunning plan to avoid being tested was to nab the easier middle pitch for my share of the leading duties. With those thoughts in mind I arrived at Tony’s “safe” stance to find him lashed into an old Abalakov thread and not a lot else.
Stomping up the easy stuff to the 2nd pitch, I made the mistake of arriving first and setting up anchors to bring Tony up safely. FF or Dave as he should more properly be known, craftily hijacked the lead for the shorter middle ice pitch. He made pretty short work of it, and when us two got to his stance , we leapfrogged past and set up anchors at the base of the final pitch. As we were doing that the youngsters, who had never really been as fit as they looked, arrived at Dave’s belay and one of them seemed to be slightly worse for wear. Wise old man of the mountains that he was, Dave quickly brought out a “first aid- anti hypothermia butty” and soon the boy was firing on all cylinders again.
However that left me with an impending sense of dutiful doom. It was, by the laws of fairness, my turn to lead. By the law of “don’t be stupid”, I should have said. “No!” Tony asked the necessary pointed question – a lump rose in my throat and I took a careful look at the pitch. I was a bit surprised by the steepness of it, having always thought the upper pitches were much easier than the entry pitches of the post routes. But then a touch of wily old goat emerged. I could see there was almost a groove line that curved up to what seemed to be a shelf about 100 feet up. That seemed to take the sting out of the steepness. Dutiful nit that I am, I said I thought I could do it safely and set off up.
Blow me it went really well… for about 70 feet. Screws were going in nice and regular, but then my weedy left arm started to wander every time I swung the axe. Very nervously I continued to the apparent shelf, but like all apparent things – that was all it was! I coerced my left arm into getting a good stick and then quickly enlarged a softness in the ice so I could rest one foot after the other. A few calming words were spoken to my inner self and to my relief, once I’d stopped all the internal flapping, I could see that the angle eased significantly.
I set off again, but my left arm was really useless. Wandering all over the place every time I swung. Bit by bit I got up the last several metres of the steep pitch and found my way to the belay on the right. This time I managed to dig out some decent rock anchors.
Once the boys were up we made our way up the final few hundred feet of the imposing gully, beginning to revel in the enormous height of the cliff. South Post Direct had been completed in good form and I even surprised myself by leading a decent pitch again. It was time for the picnic.
It really couldn’t have been much better. The beers tasted good that night and next day the rain poured down!