The pinky hook; that’s got to be the last desperate recourse of a trad scoundrel.
It’s not that I wanted to be half wedged in a pod of Scottish schist with my little finger curled round a slight protruberence in the back of a damp recess as I desperately tried to reach round my back for the cam I needed. I’d just sort of ended up there, and my little finger was the only part of me that wasn’t too boxed to use. Eventually the cam went in and I readjusted my position, finding a more comfortable rest about a foot further up.
It wasn’t quite comfortable enough, though, because I would’ve had to stay there about two days to make any sort of a meaningful recovery. I know this because my ascent of Rat Race at Dunkeld was yesterday and I’m still aching now as I write this.
So on I forged, little by little, placing as much gear as I could handle because of the fear of being pumped and perpetuating the problem in so doing. No cam or nut placement is ever good enough for a man who is being destroyed from the inside by the pump, the pump, oh the dreaded pump that feeds the rat of paranoia gnawing at your mind and telling you that it could fail, could be knocked out or pulled up, probably has already, will certainly rip. And so it was with me.
I emptied my rack into the route when I should have poured my heart in and the punishment was physical and immediate.
Only when I got to a ledge full of soggy owl pellets did I get a real rest. I would have sunk my face in if that’s what it took to get my arms working again, but fortunately it called for a foot. My head pressed against the roof jutting out above was enough to keep me in balance. That was where I had to go.
I didn’t want to. Who would? I’d climbed the grade’s worth with the first pitch and was running the two together for practicality more than anything, yet to bail now, even to follow the more logical exit of a route given a similar grade, would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For victory this was to be, though that might seem a strange accolade after such a battle.
This had been a war of attrition, a degenerate struggle with every tactic used within the rules of what we call the on-sight. It should not have been so. I had known how to climb it long before, when I read the guidebook description and first considered conquering it. I had envisioned myself surging through its lower defences, placing a quick cam in the obvious slot and clipping an old peg beaten deep into the rock on my way to a quick rest at the pod. Still fresh, all I would have needed were a few shakes of each arm and then onwards, the belay, more good shakeouts and I’d be a the niche, much as I was now, only in considerably better shape.
Instead I’d climbed it like a punter, retreating to back up the peg from the key section where confidence was, indeed, needed, and letting the rat do its worst. Still, the cheese of victory tasted all the better for it. That’s the beauty of being a mouse, I suppose.
I swung through the roof and the day was mine. I won’t kid myself I crushed it, but that cheesy taste will keep me going though the long week in the office. When I look out the window and see the sun and it’s only half past three I’ll smile and savour it and know I’m a climber. And the all-over body aches will remind me to man up and run it out next time.