Part 1 of this report left you hanging above the scary Inaccessible Pinnacle (or In Pinn) just before I had to tackle it. I’d put my rock boots on and had a little rest – now the time had come to head down the steep slope to tackle my rock climb of around 150 feet up the steep, very narrow and exposed east ridge…
(All photos by Richard Wood)
I looked down the steep and loose slope which drops all the way down to Coire Lagan a couple of thousand feet below. There are two choices down here – either a very smooth basalt slab – which will be lethal in damp weather – or Jonah’s safer route of a zig-zag path down the loose scree. As always on loose ground, I descended very carefully indeed. Richard followed – although he wasn’t doing the In Pinn, he was doing the photography and so would have to get below the In Pinn to find a suitable vantage point. We’d decided to do An Stac anyway – the pleasant and easy peak just below the pinnacle.
We clambered very easily up onto An Stac where Richard stayed as it was a superb viewpoint for the In Pinn and the route up the east ridge. Jonah and I went to rope up below the start of the route which goes about 20 feet up the south side of the ridge to gain the sharp arete for the rest of the climb. Although it doesn’t look it on the photos, the arete is exceedingly narrow, being only a foot wide in many places and overhanging a huge drop of a couple of thousand feet on the north side. On the photos, you are also looking at the north side and it looks like part of the climb and makes the pinnacle look wider – it isn’t – only the left-hand edge of that is accessible on the climb.
I tied in to the end of the rope and Jonah set off to the first stance where the route up the south side gains the narrow ridge above. I watched carefully where he put his hands and feet and was slightly perturbed to see there was quite a difficult ‘hollow’. I noted with surprise that I wasn’t really nervous at all but was just concentrating hard on what I had to do next. Jonah reached the stance, took in the rope and I shouted up the usual climbing call of “That’s me” when the rope came tight which is followed by his “Climb when ready”.
I set off up the non-alarming start up the south side (this section never had me worried during my research), puzzling for a while on how to get up ‘the hollow’. I soon found a way up it.
In addition to concentrating on locating hand and footholds, I also had to really concentrate on climbing in a more delicate style than my usual. At the climbing wall I have the very bad technique of totally relying on my handholds, hauling up hard on them – on the In Pinn, this is verboten! I’d already been warned by Jonah that, as the pinnacle is basalt and is extremely friable, I mustn’t haul myself upwards on any handholds at all but I had to push up with my feet. Indeed, I was finding plenty of loose rock already! I was also slightly perturbed to be accompanied by a faint and seemingly constant tinkling of rockfall all the way up this section – I was later told that was people moving about up and down the slope and up above – it did sound quite distant so I knew it wasn’t me.
I was installed in a comfortable little niche on the edge of the rock flake – here would be the point where the two-thousand foot drop into the corrie below hove into view – I ignored it. At this point Jonah was starting the second pitch which includes ‘the crux’ and so I had to pay attention to where it was and how to ascend it. He shouted down when he reached it and I watched him more intently. I couldn’t see exactly where but he said there were ‘two little knuckles’ of rock around to the right which I needed to put my right foot on. From there he demonstrated the step I had to put my left foot up onto – apparently quite a stretch for smaller folks but I am tall so wasn’t worried about reaching that second foothold. He also showed me two firm blocks above which apparently could be hauled on (unlike any other holds on the Pinn) to pull myself up from there. He then continued upwards out of sight.
As I gazed up at the disappearing rope, I could see the next section was as near vertical as makes no difference and looked reasonably hard – I would really have to concentrate up here. Soon the call for me to set off floated down and I began my ascent.
The climbing up this section was a good deal harder than the first pitch and I had to really look hard for firm holds (there were quite a few which were ready to fall off and had to be discounted). Very quickly I reached ‘the crux’ and searched around for the ‘knuckles of rock’ round the side. I looked and looked but could see precisely nothing to put my feet on – he must have taken his knuckles up with him!
I seemed to be stood there for quite some time trying my foot on this and that but not really wanting to commit to any of the tiny holds I could see. In the end, I knew upward progress was imperative and chose a tiny rounded lump sticking out of the front of the sheer piece of rock. As I had rock boots on, this was fine and I stuck nicely to it and was easily able to reach the left-hand foothold with my foot.
I had hold of two blocks above but wasn’t sure whether they were the right ones so tried not to haul up but rather pushed up from the block under my left foot which felt pretty safe. Suddenly I was above the crux – phew! Jonah later told me he timed people up the crux and gave them around 30 seconds before he worried at all – he said I’d been around half that – it had seemed like ages!
From there the climbing was exceedingly steep and narrow but easier – I had no doubt there must by now be horrific exposure from the drops either side of me but never looked or saw them at all. I clambered on up until I met Jonah on the next stance where he clipped me into a sling. I looked up ahead to the third and final pitch – it looked very steppy, much easier and even had a little ‘bannister’ of narrow rock to my left. The bannister looked to continue for a good way above and gave security from the drop down the south face – of course, this was the drop of around 100 feet and not that worrying – it’s the drop down the overhanging north face which you need to avoid looking down!
I heard someone clattering up the slope below me to the summit of Sgurr Dearg over my little bannister and looked to see it was Richard coming up to a new vantage point to get photos from the side of the climb. I was really surprised that I was so calm at this point I’d ceased to watch Jonah above and was just looking at what Richard was doing and began directing him to the path we’d come down (he was slightly off to the left). I chatted away with him as he chose a new stance and soon the rope came tight and call to continue came.
I shouldered the sling and set off up the next section quite calmly and methodically, finding much more loose potential handholds so having to be careful in hold selection.
I was slightly worried that there would be a long, flat traverse along the top of the blade to the summit – I was sure that would seem very exposed if there was. After no difficulties whatsoever, and having noticed a lovely little ledge to my left at one point which made me feel very secure, I came up over a little crest and saw Jonah sat there…
“Is that it?” I asked, incredulously and even perhaps a little disappointed? He confirmed he was indeed sat at the summit. I couldn’t believe I’d got up the In Pinn with no panic at all and so quickly, albeit having encountered a couple of difficult sections which had made me think a bit.
While I’m sure the route is exceedingly exposed, I hadn’t seen anything of the drop to the right at all, had only seen the smaller drop to the left when I’d been chatting to Richard and when the comforting little ledge had appeared and had seen nothing of the drop behind me! This shows that I’ve finally acquired the correct thinking to do this kind of route at last and had only looked at what I’d needed to do and got on with it.
I had a moment’s nervousness about turning round to sit down as instructed by Jonah – maybe I’d then see the exposure. However, I cautiously turned round and sat down – still not noticing the drop but rather noticing the views across the corrie. Before I’d turned round I’d had a quick look at the summit area and judged it to be comfortably spacious – I’d originally thought it would be terrifyingly small. Also, as you could see what I call ‘the gallery’ ahead – the long comfortable ridge of Sgurr Dearg where people settle down to watch In Pinners abseil down again, it didn’t look like there would be a huge drop off the oncoming west ridge (of course there is a drop of around 50 feet but it didn’t look like it). I could have sat up there all day in the sunshine!
I let out a whoop to the grinning Richard, gave him a thumbs up as he was yet again aiming the camera at me, no doubt with full zoom, and returned his grin. In fact, for the next few minutes I grinned non-stop. Jonah congratulated me and shook my hand – icing on the cake – I felt really exhilarated and happy – I’d done it at last and it hadn’t been worrying at all!
I shouted down;
“Piece of cake” to Richard and other assorted onlookers…
“Was it easy?” shouted back Richard.
“No, send me UP a piece of cake” I shouted back jokingly.
Unfortunately for Jonah, this is the point where, having got past the thing which has worried me for ages, I suddenly became the non-stop talking mountain coward. I prattled away while he sorted out ropes for the abseil – must have been driving him mad. Richard would know exactly what I was doing so would have been grinning more.
Soon Jonah asked me to clamber round the few blocks to reach the flat table you abseil down from – this area seemed huge to me.
I sat for a while and chattered some more while he clipped me onto a safety rope for my abseil. It was then time for me to stand up, turn round, fix my abseil rope and back towards the edge. I was expecting a moment’s anxiety as I looked down the big drop but there are a few shelves to lower down first so you aren’t yet looking down the main drop.
After negotiating the shelves, it was then time to lean out backwards over the drop. I needed a bit of encouragement from Jonah to lean further out, straighten my legs more etc and then I was off down the rope. I actually found the vertical section much easier as I could abseil properly without having to look for where the edge of the shelves were and I started to notice the holds on the west ridge climb as I was interested as to whether I could have done the much shorter climb. I’d pretty much decided the overhanging start was above my current standard though.
The vertical section was totally non-alarming and soon descended. The only difficulty came near the bottom where the pinnacle is undercut. I started to swing into a hollow under the pinnacle and veer towards the steep slope down the south side we’d descended earlier. I didn’t want to do that and kept trying vainly to get back to the narrow, vertical section to my left.
No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t get to it and ended up swinging into the hollow which probably didn’t look very elegant to those watching. Then my feet were on the ground and all I had to do was untie the two ropes and give Jonah a shout I was down.
I grinned and did a mini highland jig as I stomped back up to the waiting Richard on the lovely summit ridge of Dearg and we went off along the ridge to admire the views down to Loch Coruisk two thousand feet below and also the surrounding peaks. We also admired the In Pinn and An Stac which looked dramatic and black from this side. A very scenic summit indeed!
We then rejoined Jonah who’d bounced very quickly down his abseil, tidied up the ropes and was waiting at the cairn for us. He offered to take a photo of both of us with the pinn behind before we headed back down – a nice thought. For once, on this Cuillin photo, I was grinning just as much as Richard was!
Some notes for the wary who still have this to do. I found the In Pinn fine in the end but there are several reasons for this. One is that I wore proper rock boots which are smaller, give good feel and good grip, and can be placed on much smaller holds with safety than walking boots. Another is that I’ve finally developed the right mental attitude and could concentrate solely on the climb and completely ignore my surroundings, exposed as they would surely have been, and concentrate totally on hand and footholds and the route ahead.
The right mental attitude has been cultivated by me for a couple of years now in the following ways: I’ve worked up to the In Pinn doing harder and harder Munro routes – that’s a fairly obvious strategy followed by most nervous Munroists I would think. But regular visits to the indoor climbing wall have prepared me hugely – on my first visit to the wall I was terrified to let go of the holds at the top of the climb and trust the rope or lean back to be lowered down – now trusting the rope and my equipment is second-nature. I also think that the single outdoor climb I’d done with my friend Mark in Langdale, being multi-pitch and around 250 feet, has helped enormously. In the Cuillin, I’ve kept seeing horrifying looking climbs ahead but kept thinking back to that outdoor climb and knowing that I can do them, scary or not.
If you’re a mountain coward like me and aspiring to be a Munro-compleater, you will almost certainly need to do at least the same amount of preparation as I have – the sooner you start, the better!