“Heavy days” in the Labyrinth
By Kenny Kennworthy One Time Team Leader RAF Kinloss MRT
As Graham Little (top Jock rock climber) said, “in retrospect ones earlier climbs seem glorious affairs” The setting the majestic Isle Of Arran, Scotland in miniature. Heavy was wanting to relive past glories, whereas I was selfishly ticking Classic Rock (The jock ones only, the rest do not matter!) I said “Labyrinth”, he said “Sou Wester Slab”, I said “both”, he said “okay”! For H it was his fifth time on Sou’Wester, my third. However, Labyrinth would be my first time. “H” had done it before with Wee jock but it was much harder then! Wee jock had put lighted cigarettes on the holds. That ended with a massive scrap on Brodick golfcourse with watches used as knuckle dusters, but that’s a story in its own right, in a time when rough and tumble was all part of the game.
Cir Mhor, that most impressive of Arran peaks, rose magnificently as usual. It was just a pity that it was such along way from the end of the road. However a bit of begging and subterfuge by H gained us the key to the gate which cut two kilometers off the walk in.
It looks a bit wet says Heavy, better have a look at Sou Wester first. This was a usual Heavy ruse; go for the climb you have done many times before to get the confidence up a bit. I still found the first pitch as awkward as usual. I was wearing the late Scotties Scarp boots, in vogue footwear in the seventies. Heavy had kindly lent these. His shouts of “dead mans boots” your going to fall off didn’t help. Pleasant meandering across the great West-facing slab on the next pitch the superb three tier chimney led us to a veterans lunch, with a chance to relax among the midges.
Now for Labyrinth, a wholly different affair. The greasy alleyway at the foot of the first pitch was eventually identified from the pages of an indistinct guidebook. The first seventy feet were easier than they appeared. A haul on loose, grey weathered granite and a belay on a little vegetated platform led to a right trending crack. The route has not always been called Labyrinth as it was originally christened East Wall Climb by the first ascensionists (G C Curtis and HK Money penny in 1943) where it was described as severe and strenuous. However, it has now been down graded to V Diff (Welsh Severe, English VS)
Back on the route and I was having a good thrush up the diagonal crack. Just too wide for a thigh jam but not wide enough for back and fronting. Of course “H” had fun with it! On the whole of Sou Wester he had let out only “two Oh Gods” and four “Oh my God” but he now, with a blasphemous pleasure, let out “three Oh Gods and four Gods in only 10 feet of climbing”. It is okay though, I forgave him as his father was a “Meenister” (Scottish vicar) and he must have heard that sort of language at all the time.
We were now on a diagonal grassy shelf and a lovely horizontal traverse (H said exposed) led leftwards, I was all set to go but the but the lack of protection led “H” to remark “look you have brought the technical expertise, but I have brought the experience, try the crack lower down and do as your told”. He was right it was an indefinitely better proposition for the second as it offered some protection.
This ended abruptly on a little grass ledge that was obviously the largest midge nest in Scotland. Up the crack the guidebook said was the crux. While I attempted this H to keep his spirits up decided to raid a convent blaeberry bush next to the belay (Bilberry in English) The first five feet were trickier than expected and I arrived back at the belay for a rest only to have squashed Blaeberries rubbed into my face. “Ah it makes you look like Braveheart” says H “straight on up English” So with Blaeberry juice coagulating up my nose I swung up the crack helped by a need to escape from the beasties of the order of Diptera.
This was a short pitch of 50 feet, so H was soon beside me, purple not only from the exertion but also blaeberry crosses he had rubbed on his own cheeks, making him look as I would imagine a bespectacled Pict would look. Although I doubt there was ever such a thing! However he soon turned ashen after an inspection of the next pitch. This was a chimney of two tiers, vertical. Up over the first chockstone, behind a second and then strenuously up 70 feet of protectionless crack. I began to smile as the grimaced exertion of the last ten feet as I looked forward with malevolent glee to watching the antics of H from the eyrie belay above.
I soon forgot about the midges and instead listening to the heavy groaning, scrabbling, grunting, sighing, effing and blinding, punctuated with the occasional “Oh my God” followed. Before long the old two – handed pull landed him on the eyrie beside me. I need to lose two stone says H, I agree as my forearms were pumped with pulling the rope. (Not true at all H)
The direct line was first done in 1950 now went up the Hard Severe crack above. However it was unanimously decided that the original line off to the right was more traditional. It was in keeping with the atmosphere of the route and more importantly it looked easier. It was nevertheless, vegetated and after 130 feet. I was at a jumble of boulders with very muddy boots. The last little chimney had a sting in its tail, again with no protection visible. This was not a bad thing as by this time “H” was either standing in it or leaving it in. (All lies Heavy)
We were quite tired at the top and I was aching all over with my new jacket torn to shreds. However, we were pleased with ourselves and soon forgot our tiredness to jog silently down Glen Rosa at peace with our private meditations.
This article was republished as a reminder to Kenny of the days when he used to climb. This is even more relevant as he has now retired from mountaineering (March 2014. Why do troops when they become teamleaders stop climbing? too many courses I suspect. Readers please note this article in now in the hands of my lawyer and a subject of a deformation of character and lawsuit. I did not win that either but it is still a great laugh to read back on past days. I could never climb but always enjoy the craick! (I just checked the guide we may have done the Sword Of Theseus Kenny!)
Arran I must get back! – Heavy Whalley Deepest Gloucester October 2003
This has just arrived Ian Kelly let’s get going!
This guidebook details all the rock and winter climbing to be found on the beautiful and remote-feeling islands of the Inner Hebrides and Arran, off the west coast of Scotland.
Full colour throughout with action photos to inspire, and detailed maps and photo-diagrams to help a climber make the most of a visit to the islands. The clear format is modern and user-friendly, including flaps on the cover that double as reference information and page markers, and colour-indexed tabs for quick location of crags of interest.
The guide covers: Canna, Rum, Eigg, Muck, Coll, Tiree, NW Mull & Ulva, Central Mull, South Mull, Granite Crags of Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Oronsay, The Garvellachs, Islay, Jura, Cara, Arran.
Written by Colin Moody and Graham Little, recognised experts onto the area, the guide also gives extensive information on access to the islands, accommodation and amenities.
Card cover, bigger than existing SMC guides at 21cm x 15cm, 320 pages.