Petestack Blog

1 August 2011

Butterknife and Centurion

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 1:09 pm

‘It was the best of times (pitch 2 of Butterknife), it was the worst of times (pitch 2 of Centurion), it was the age of wisdom (choosing Butterknife), it was the age of foolishness (considering Centurion even if Johnny couldn’t make it), it was the epoch of belief (leading the jugtastic steep Butterknife corner), it was the epoch of incredulity (finding the equivalent Centurion corner to be steeper and more sustained than I’d thought)’… och, stuff that, it’s not original and not even all true when (despite one or two of those ‘just get me out of here’ moments) Scottish mountain rock climbing simply doesn’t get much better than Butterknife and Centurion on consecutive days! So perhaps it wasn’t necessary to misappropriate and mangle one of the most memorable opening paragraphs in English literature to say so, but somehow ‘we went climbing on Friday and Saturday’ just doesn’t carry the same evocative weight as ‘we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way’…

So we (Isi and I) went climbing on Friday and Saturday with two four-star mountain crag classics in mind, heading first for Butterknife on Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour then (roping in Johnny to look after us on the hard bits!) Centurion on Ben Nevis. And (to deal with Friday first) our ascent of Butterknife was absolutely the ‘best of times’, with the stunning corner of the second pitch as good as it gets at any grade (some say VS, but we thought it Hard Severe 4b) and the one fairly nondescript pitch (the third) in four not detracting significantly from a route of the very highest quality.

Butterknife photos mainly by Isi, with first and last cropped by me and that corner unmistakable below/right of centre in the first…

Now, you can’t really top Butterknife in its own way, but Centurion’s bigger, meatier, two full grades harder and just as good in taking the central corner of the mighty Carn Dearg Buttress to some easier (but breathtakingly exposed) middle ground before breaking through a crown of overhangs via two stunning final pitches. So you start up this deceptively tricky little wall (given 4c in the SMC guides but 5a by Latter, and led by Johnny after I turned it down), then it’s straight to business with the big corner pitch at no-nonsense, unlikely-to-be-bone-dry 5a. And Isi bravely took this on, making steady progress at first but finally running short of quick draws at some slimy impasse about two-thirds of the way up, taking a hanging stance and bringing up Johnny to finish the pitch with the pair of them doing well to sort things out up there. By which time I’d had long enough to start getting both lonely (with the ‘queue’ below dissipating to try other routes) and suitably apprehensive at the first stance, found it exciting enough just to follow with my comparative lack of recent rock mileage and (perhaps disappointingly when I’ve not been backing off so far this year) subsequently declared myself content to remain passenger/photographer for the day. So Isi led the airy 4b traverse across the corner’s left wall and Johnny naughtily ran the 20m 4b pitch up the flaky wall above into the following 40m 4a groove thing on our 60m ropes to land us below the so-called second crux. Which (according to the master plan) he led and I might have gone second, but had to send up Isi first to re-clip the crucial runners from her red rope to my blue rope with a potential swing to kingdom come facing me if I came off the way things were. And it’s a great 5a pitch, feeling both more my style than the big corner and surprisingly amenable to follow but, just when you think you’ve unlocked the door and are almost home dry, you’re confronted with the most improbable-looking seventh and final pitch up a 4c ‘spiky arete’ and bulge which Isi coolly despatched to log a thoroughly deserved ‘alt lead’ for the climb as a whole.

Centurion photos currently all by me, but still hoping to get one or two of me from Isi…

So that’s Centurion, and what a great day we had despite (or perhaps even because of) those ‘moments’ we’d ultimately all miss if they never happened! Must just add that there were teams enjoying routes all over the Ben including (we believe) something new and hard up the right wall of Sassenach, but also some major rockfall incidents (we heard two) with the helicopter apparently lifting someone from Tower Gap as we were tackling our final pitch, so obviously hoping those involved are recovering OK.

1 Comment

  1. Hi pete, we were the party above you starting just after 9, Yeah that 2nd pitch was a bit wet wasnt it. But all in all a great day,

    Comment by mike thomson — 10 August 2011 @ 9:43 pm

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