Something was wrong. We arrived in Fort William to pick Dave up at 6pm, but he wasn't there. Almost certainly he must have found a belayer and gone again up to his winter project on Ben Nevis?
I had been up to the route two years ago with Dave to second him and take photos. I recall a frigid three hours at that first belay. Thin boots with bolt on crampons needed for the highly technical moves. Minimal clothing to be able try and climb hard.
That day Dave failed, as he did on many other attempts, all ground up from the start. I was relieved that day. The prospect of seconding the became quite terrifying as I waited. In theory I can climb that sort of difficulty, about M11. The reality of course is that continental mixed climbing is a million miles away from the full on Scottish experience. An M11, pre-practiced, protected by bolts, 15 minutes to climb it. This is all quite different from the huge scottish walk-in, blizzard conditions, onsight climbing, 12 hours on the route (in this case). So yes. I was quite terrified.
So how was I going to second the route? It had taken Dave many attempts and still he was falling off. How could I possibly second the moves, clean, first time. Not a hope in hell. And the crux pitch is a traverse, so each failure means falling down into the void. Scary. The only prospect for seconding this was aid climbing, or cheating. The latter being one of my specialist subjects.
At 8.30 we heard from Dave. He phoned to say he was still 2 pitches from the top (and had left the house at 6.00am). Relief.
Dave was back off the hill at 11.00pm. His hardest winter day ever. A new grade XI,11 finally climbed. So our appointment to go and film another XI,11 the next daywith him looked rather in doubt. But no, Dave was still up for that! so we retired to get ready to film the next day.
Monday saw us in The Cairngorms, to film The Hurting. Another of Dave's routes, and an extremely dangerous and technical climb. I had abseiled this in preparation for filming, and again thought about the prospects of climbing it. About M11, but two crux sections with groundfall certainly should you make a mistake. Tiny holds, sometimes your pick just behind crystals. I can't stress enough how different this is to the kind of mixed climbing abroad.
Monday was a wild day, -25 degree windchill, wind blowing vertically upwards, freezing your eyelashes and our camera lenses. Buffeted all over the place. Totally wild and crazy.
So for the second day in a row MacLeod climbed an 'Scottish Winter XI,11' the two hardest routes in the UK, and both unrepeated.
Congratulations to Jo French who climbed Dave's Ben Nevis route with him. You must be mad!