THE way up was excellent and fun and on lovely rock and unremarkable. This is the story of the way down.
We only had a single rope so 30m worth of abseil which immediately ruled out the way we’d come up, but now, on the narrow top of what they call out there “the big tower” with the cloud in the thedarkonitsway, we decided for the other side. No crazed heroics, there was a chain to abseil off on this side too, but the steepness meant you could only see the first 5metres, then yr down thru a roof and out into space my friend.
Ewan wasn’t happy and unsure even of setting himself up, so it was him down first, checking the anchor on his way (solid enough) and to learn to prussic if there was nothing down there. He slid down the rope so slow and jerkingly- his first ever ab and I couldn’t look but a few mins later there was the shout, so I set up to join him down there, and there he was, barely 15metres down, under the big roof on a small ledge, with a big sling around a big flake saying- we can traverse this all the way out left & it’ll take us to the highest point of the gully we wanted in to. Might even be able to make it down there in three!
Everything started feeling much smaller and friendlier then, but as we started pulling the rope thru from above, I suddenly stopped. There was no Great Wisdom here at all, but as I’d stopped pulling, I must’ve decided to start thinking. The end of the rope we were pulling through was only 4 feet above us, still within reach but as I’d pulled a good 30m of the other end down already, I said- why don’t we have a look out along this ledge just to be sure we can get off of it? Ewan said ok, and tied on to the end of the rope, and I belayed him along the getting smaller ledge, around a blunt corner, and out of sight.
He went out there, and came back quiet and white and when I said what’s wrong he said nothing, there’s nothing at all except an old rusty peg which wouldn’t take an ab at least not one that I’d go first on. Now I didn’t like the sound of this one bit, especially as earlier on he’d been happy to lead out on runners that kindly fell out themselves when just looked at. Then Ewan said he was coming back to me and I said ok and started taking in and looking at our big flake which started looking more and more like a big and hollow flake.
You could see the floor of the gully through the mist now, looking flat though we knew it must be steep scree- a long way down and it sharpened our tired minds. What to do? We both much preferred our abseil chain up top to our flakey flake right here, and if the worst came to the worst we could always prussic back up thru that unclimbable big roof to the top again, and downclimb the whole thing on a single rope.
But we had started down now and better to make a move in the wrong direction than to never move at all, so we retied the knots at the very end of the rope so as not to come off the bottom, and Ewan set off again, on the lookout for anything big enough to put a rope around.
He went down and down for a time, then I heard a shout. I couldn’t see him again, and worried again, was he down and had found a belay, or was it just the end of the rope? But the rope was loose so set I set up and went down. When I got through the next roof I saw the smile and the big chain and felt happy. Two more abseils, and we were even happier, with just the steep scree down to the finish.