Friday, 31 May 2013

5 Points of Contact

The world of climbing has moved on over the decades. Boundaries have been pushed and equipment has been improved. The challenges of previous decades have long since been overtaken and surpassed. However, there is still one route that remains elusive, and certainly one style on one route that has yet to be repeated nearly 30 years on.


Anyone visiting Clachaig will be familiar with the west face of Aonach Dubh. The beer terrace outside the lounge bar provides a grandstand view of this precipitous face in Glencoe. In there are a variety of rock climbs on the face, from classic easy mountain routes, to even more classic difficult grades. But in winter, when the face ices up and the gullies progressively fill with avalanched snow, the face really comes into its own. Clachaig can become a bit like Grindelwald beneath the Eiger, as you sit back with a beer and watch distant specs tackle the various gullies and ice falls.

There has to be a long cold spell before one particular route comes into condition. At the bottom of No. 5 gully, progressive dripping and freezing can see the formation of a huge icicle. Named Elliot's Downfall after the shepherd family in the cottage below, it can take several weeks before it 'touches down' and even then it's notorious for being weak and unstable - and steep! But, like bees round a honey pot, the climbers are watching and waiting for their chance at this iconic Glencoe winter route.


Elliot's Downfall preparing for 'touchdown' left of centre.  No 6 gully on the right.

Back pedal to the mid 1980s. Family Daynes had not long arrived to take over tenure at Clachaig (and are still here 30 years later). Mal Duff was running his winter climbing courses based at Clachaig Chalets. Winters were proper winters back then, or so the rumour has it, and the glen was buzzing with climbers. The Boots Bar at Clachaig has probably been guilty of being the starting point for many hair brained schemes over the years, being as it is, the perfect environment for post adventure discussions and daring alcohol fueled bravado when planning the next.


The famous Rick, mid climb. Back in the Boots Bar, where he belongs.

No surprise then that Mal hatched a plan to go and climb Elliot's Downfall, along with Jon Tinker and Rick Nowack, who joined Mal each winter from his usual home in California. However,...



So Elliot's Downfall was climbed naked except for a helmet, harness and some yeti gaiters. Some purists do criticise the ascent however, maintaining that it was akin to aid climbing, as 5 points of contact were used! Peter Daynes got dragged away from the grind at Clachaig to go and record the ascent. Mal's somewhere up there at the end of the rope. Look carefully and you'll see Jon Tinker on a hanging belay, easily identified by his Rasta hat. And yes, that's Rick making history.

Elliot's Downfall is rarely repeated, and we suspect that it'll be a few winters yet before it's climbed  naked once more. Hopefully!

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't see a turtle up here.

Richard Gourlay said...

Climber invents new 5 point climbing system, safer and faster ascent guaranteed!

Brian Hastings said...

I've got the brass, you bring the monkey!

Brian Hastings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wideboy said...

Scotch/Scot on the rocks!

wideboy said...

Bet that wiped the smile off his face!

Fern Villa said...

Nice buttress

brian millar said...

three ice axes, two hands.

Glenn Brash said...

Brawwwww

Matt Allen said...

So that's where I put my ice screw !

BarrieB said...

Hell, it's so cold my helmet's shrinking.

Angela Ewels said...

does my bum look big in this?

akittensmittens said...

I'm cold.

Ellie Bromilow said...

Elliott was a real man, he wasnt scared of glacial shrinkage!

november said...

..He discovered one of the perils of peeing while climbing a giant icicle; he found he'd grown very attached to it....

Janet Saville said...

So, it is true that Scotsmen don't wear pants!

Dawn Canning said...

Thank goodness I cancelled this weeks 'back, sack and crack'. I need all the insulation I can get...

Clive Barker said...

Rick realised he had misheard 'nae kid, climbings for real men' a little too late.

suzanne cooke said...

Paramedics called to naked climber with "lick a frozen lamp post syndrome"

Simon Maisey said...

"It was at this point that Elliot thought there must be an easier way to get ice to go with my Benromach Whisky"

John Booth said...

If oyu have to travel with just your bare essentails, make sure you take your Glencoe!

Grant Robertson said...

"I know I said I'd do it naked but please don't take my sporran!"

Tammy Tudor said...

When they said wear your birthday suit I thought you meant the jumper grandma knitted me for christmas!

Jennifer C said...

Can you spot a good crevasse?

claire bodin said...

Glad I bought 3 ice picks

cootuuk said...

I licked and now my tongues stuck to the ice ... omg..omg...noooooooo....

DayRSunny said...

The Inn was so good I thought I would make use of their laundry service!

DayRSunny said...

The Inn was so good I thought I would make full use of their laundry service!

anthony harrington said...

He was told that he would be chilly in the Clachaig, but hoped that a Scotch on the rocks with a twist would thaw him out

rozsarg said...

Oh no! its Frozen! Feels like Viagra's working overtime, glad this isn't Niagara Falls, Rock climbing with a helmet on is not my idea of safety measures although my permanent anchor is working well

Emma Brightwell said...

Just like a good whisky, nothing but ice needed.

Caroline said...

Those naked charity calenders were getting more and more extreme . . .

Gaz Hughes said...

I think I just heard a Crack!

Gaz Hughes said...

I think I just heard a crack...

Garry Paul said...

Who needs clothes when you are still glowing from the warm welcome you get at the Clachaig Inn

liz denial said...

Elliot found a homeopathic alternative to viagra

liz denial said...

Elliot thought he had found a homeopathic alternative to viagra

downingarms said...

This time Jon really has lost his marbles...

Anonymous said...

Icy nuts?

I certainly can!

flojo said...

Turns out the "Rescue Chopper" wasn't quite what the stranded climbers expected!

Blulu said...

Smallest man in the world found in a bowl of Bran Flakes :)

Anonymous said...

"I've got that your balanced, golden, a bit exotic and more than slightly nutty, but I just don't see Extreme Whisky Charades catching on Rick"

mclarkie said...
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Emma Walters said...

'mum would kill me if I got my sunday best dirty'

mclarkie said...

I could have never done this climb, without the sponsorship deal I got from the makers of heated willy warmers.

stuart said...

A Scotish Stag night

Tanita Dighton said...

Well they said i needed to use a small ice pick

Tanita Dighton said...

wats even more funny my capture at to post my last comment was circumcised
lol!!

Jo kelly said...

'Eh, Jimmy! Does my bum look big in this?'

sweetiepie1982.jk[at]gmail[dot]com x

ptak5566 said...

'I think it's got a crack in it!!'

Tim Bain said...

They were so wrong when they said I'd need some balls to do this.

Mark Whittaker said...

Well he knew he had the balls to do it when he started!

mrsmcg said...

Kevin thought signing up for 'naturist activities' meant relaxing a beach...

David C said...

I was there that day and can definitively confirm that there was no 5 points of contact! It was that cold that Rick's fifth point had shrunk away to nothing by the time he'd got his harness on.

Oscar Rocha said...

I work with Rick everyday and he just showed me this article.