Second Time Unlucky

29 January 2012

Second Time Unlucky

Category: Climbing

As you can probably guess my Eiger dream of climbing the Harlin with Paul Ramsden didn’t go to plan, mainly due to too much snow where you didn’t want it, and not enough where you did.  I imagined the face would be plastered but it was very dry, with very little on the crucial sections between the 1st and 2nd band - well that was until it dumped on us.

I said in on of the blogs that alpine climbing is all about timing, and maybe we blew it by not pushing on on the first day, the aim being to go from the train to the 1st band, but in reality we just made it to the bottom in the afternoon and pitched our tent.  I suspect Paul was feeling not fully motivated due to the lack of visible ice and snow, and that the push to the 1st band ‘up easy snow slopes’ would ground to a halt.  We had a bit of snow forecast the next day, which turned into quite a bit.  We woke up at 4am to the continued rattle of snow and spindrift, and I said we should wait, knowing from my last visit how big the avalanches could be (probably coming off the slope below the 1st band).  Not long after that a big rumble of snow made me feel vindicated and we went back to sleep.

First light brought no let up and the snow kept coming down.  To add to our lack of psych both our BD Epic bivi bags had total failure and both our bags were literarily soaking wet - not a good start. We dried them out a bit by laying our belay jackets over the top (a belay jacket will dry when worn, but a wet sleeping bag will stay wet).  We layed there listening to the snow coming down, both knowing we’d blown it.

“Maybe we can leave the gear here, go down, and come back when the weather improves?” I said, knowing that Paul would think it a daft idea, and that we’d just get down and want to go home.

I lay there trying to work out a plan, but I could tell Paul’s psych for the route was gone, mainly due to a narrow time window for both of us.  It had been now or never, and so it looked liked the latter.

Sometimes you hold on so tight to the idea of a climb, giving it 100%, pushing your luck, your partnerships (on and off the mountain).  It’s a high stake game in more ways than you think, but ultimately you have to have both the balls to play, and the balls to walk away from the table, no matter what the loses.

“OK lets go down” I said, knowing it was what Paul wanted, and he was only hanging on for me (he’d climbed the North Face anyway, so this was just bonus).

We traipsed down through the deep powder until we ended up walking along the roof of the train tunnel, and down to the midway station.  I’d wanted to buy one way tickets up to the Eiger, but Paul had thought it a daft idea, and so we had a ticket home.

Standing at the station with the snow falling down I wondered if we were cursed as a partnership, having had tons of trips, but never having climbed anything - just many, many cold retreats.

“I don’t think I’m up to your kind of routes” said Paul as the train appeared over the hill, a funny thing to say, when I always thought they were his kind of routes - not mine.

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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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