Until Another Day

Jon Gupta recounts a halcyon climb of Talibalan (V6***) with fellow Montane athlete Malcolm Bass towards the end of last years Scottish winter season:

The adventure started early. Scottish winter climbs always do. Dark, wild and with the familiar feeling of fear and adventure sat deep in my stomach. Even after years of winter climbing and mountaineering those feelings of anticipation and uncertainty are always present.

Malcolm, Hamish and I jumped into my van and we drove the extra few kilometres to the end of an unfamiliar track. Packs heavy, full of winter gear, Hamish also with camera equipment on top, we strode out on the hillside in searched of one of Scotland’s finest mixed climbs: Taliballan.

This would be my first time climbing with Malcolm. A legend in a world I was barely able to scratch the surface of. With numerous hard new first ascents at high altitude all over the world, I looked up to him in every way. Determined to hold my own, I searched deep for some extra confidence as we geared up at the base of the crag sharing the keen excitement for the route ahead and the incredible setting of our objective. We were the only people in the entire Corie.

I took the first pitch. A lesson I learnt a long time ago – I’ve you’re a little nervous, go first, you always feel better this way. The initial steep crack went without too much difficulty although a little delicate, much to my surprise, which then led to a very steep ice plug. Slamming my axes in and pulling over with a little too much upper body I was soon at the belay and the wave of relief flushed over me. A few moments later I shouted down to Malcolm, ‘Safe’.

A short time later and Malcolm too was pulling through the ice bulge and onto the ledge beside me. Now it was my turn to relax and watch the master at work. I donned my belay jacket and mitts, shuffled my feet around and watched as Malcolm set off up a technical steep looking wall. The wall in all the photos I’d seen of the route. Malcolm climbed with absolute confidence. Years of experience in every swing of his axe and precise kick of his crampons. I admired his total concentration on the hard sections. Confident. Committed. Strong, but safe.

Like an artist at work, he made his way up the wall, reading the moves seamlessly, instinctively seeking the hidden placements along the way. Joining him at his belay – a huge perched chockstone – we smiled and recounted the superb mixed climbing on that pitch. Hamish joined us, abseiling in from above.

We regrouped. The 3rd and final pitch remained above. A steep snowy corner leading perfectly to the top. It looked sublime. An open book corner, plastered in hard neve snow offering potentially pick perfect placements and confidence-inspiring climbing. We tossed for the lead and Malcolm won. I didn’t mind in the slightest. I was content with my lead lower down and the chance to climb with both he and Hamish and on such a superb route. The place, the people, the route: the whole situation emanating the reason I love Scottish winter climbing so much.

Malcom raced up the corner, providing Hamish with the shot of the day. It looked immense. Soon I heard the cry of ‘safe’ from above and readied myself for the final pitch. As I climbed off the belay and sunk my axe into the perfect neve a sweet calm ensued. It was a pure joy to climb.

With every swing I felt the pick of my axes sink deep into the perfect firm neve. For a few moments I lost myself in the simple repetitive motion of ice climbing. On second I had nothing to worry about except enjoying the movement of the climb and savouring the moment.

I paused just below the top and stole a moment to myself. Looking out over my shoulder at our situation. All too soon it would be over, until another day.

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