13th July 2013
Mercury – E2 5b – Alt Lead
Guaranteed adventure. That’s what Gowla always promises and that’s exactly what it delivered on this day and by the bucketful.
This had been a long sought after route for Nick, especially as he started it a few years back but had to abandon the top pitch because of the damp. So on a glorious morning we set off to complete the mission.
Half of the difficulty in tackling Mercury is in the preparation. You need a pre placed belay rope because of the loose nature of the top out. This has to be positioned above the main slab. However you also need an ab rope which is positioned across to the right facing out. This requires an 80m odd diagonal descent to reach the starting ledge.
So it was some last minute skills training for me in how to pass a knot. To be fair I love all of this. It’s part of the overall event of climbing a route like Mercury. But what it does do is add to the nerves. Mercury is a serious route. Probably not the most technically difficult route, but the difficulty level is high because of all the paraphernalia that accompanies it.
The first pitch strikes up the corner crack aiming for a very convenient ledge at half height. A series of jamming and bridging moves gets you to the offwidth crack. This stopped me dead in my tracks. To be fair I initially didnt have a clue how I was going to get up it. A few nervous giggles later I launched into a series of udge’s and grunts (technical lingo) that enabled me to gain enough height to take advantage of a convenient foot placement and the placing of a ‘thank God’ cam in a small undercut. Dutch courage restored I gave it everything to pull up through to the flake making it by the skin of my teeth. How satisfying was that!
My work done I relaxed on the ledge as Nick came up choosing to completely reverse my technique facing left rather than right. It worked though and we both contemplated pitch two from the ledge.
Woo Hwoo. Pitch two is a different proposition completely. It didnt help that we’d left the guidebook behind and the line is not obvious. Nick set about making it ten times as difficult as it should be. Bloody show off! Commiting to a really thin traverse across to a dubious looking peg in the middle of the upper face I muttered encouragement. 25ft out with no gear, the peg decided to fall off as Nick clearly looked at it too harshly. Three rubbish bits of gear later Nick set off up the head wall finding little else in the way of protection and finally deciding to traverse back left a put some gear in the top of the original groove.
As it turned out this is where he should have started the traverse, but Nick clearly wanted to the crux moves at least three times to get full satisfaction out of the climb. It was an amazing effort in my opinion. Having made the same set of moves a bit later I know I wouldnt have been able to keep my head together.
In the end though it all turned out well with loads of whoops accompanying the completion of a really memorable route, probably the high point of my climbing so far in terms of an overall accomplishment and a fantastic day out at Gowla.
I’ve done Mercury for God’s sake!!!!