Four years ago, Ric and I had a minor epic on The Pause (E1 5b), when we optimistically attempted it in damp conditions and then got lost on the psychologically taxing pitch 4. Terrifying stuff in fact. A rematch was definitely in order and despite barely doing any serious climbing through injuries and lockdowns, we were strangely full of hubris (and limoncello), so with a cracking forecast we jumped on it.
Unlike our first effort, when a truly sopping first pitch forced us left to make the first ascent (probably) of some E4 heather, we enjoyed a dry first pitch. The only wet streak was exactly where we didn’t want it – on the tricky pull out left to the higher slab.
Pitch 2 isn’t really in keeping with the rest of the route; being easier, shorter and containing strange features known as holds. Perfect for me basically. Once dispatched we got into the meat of the route and embarked on the fantastic crux pitch, which isn’t actually the crux.
The pitch involves a long traverse beneath a series of stepped overlaps, which provide ample runners and underclings, culminating in the “The Pause” – a brief moment of respite before a holdless, gently-descending traverse across lichen-covered smooth granite. It feels wrong, but the climber of a nervous disposition should definitely lead this pitch. I wish I had!
The guidebook pitch 4 is fairly long and very lonely for the leader, being out of sight of the belayer on the bold top part. Our strategy was to split this pitch using The Long Reach belay in an effort to make communication easier and relieve some of the tension. The approach worked, but the route finding really isn’t trivial and we found it hard to rationalise the description with the terrain in front of us.
By this stage, hunger, dehydration and the high spice-factor had induced a mild delirium and I arrived at the belay to find we were both actually smiling. Pitch 5/6 passed in a midge-filled haze, with a tough section through a thin cracked bulge providing the drama.
After such a Herculean effort from Ric, I resolved to top us out and took the reigns for the last pitch, which appeared to offer more in the way of features and conventional moves. The midge situation was fairly dire by this point, so I did my best to motor up bulges, through mantels, under overlaps and up cracks to the heather terrace above the route. It was at that point the midges got really bad and combined forces with a plague of ticks.
It turns out that the crux of The Pause isn’t the hardest technical climbing. For me at least it’s the sustained insecurity and constant concern that the optimum line hasn’t been followed or that protection won’t be found. No doubt this only serves to amplify the adventure and helps to define what must surely be one of Scotland’s best slab climbs!