Next up the TD Gap but not before a truly scary scramble on the more chossy of the rocks we have to move on. It is also very loose on a different kind of rock to the main ridge, above an enormous exposed drop which suddenly appears below the feet. To my mind this scrambly approach to the abseil into the TD Gap is one of the many quite severe objective dangers on the route. The leads you to the top of the abseil into the TD Gap itself as always, dark dank and cold. I go down first, and await Jim’s appearance. Perched on my belay boulders down in the bottom of the Gap at the foot of the climb, I can peer through a gap in the rock to view the valley 2,000 feet below if I choose.
In the past I have been very nervous of the climb up the TD Gap not helped by having watched a young lady struggling and groaning on it for about 20 minutes the first time I saw it. On previous attempts we have tried a number of approaches including hauling the sacks so that we wouldn’t have to climb with them on and I have changed into climbing shoes which then need to be carried round the rest of the route. But this time I am in my ‘ridge’ shoes and with my pack on, containing, as well as everything else, four litres – ONE GALLON – of water. Jim swarms up the climb and I start off. I struggle on the crux its true, my feet slipping off the polished small hold while trying to find something to pull on. I too am gasping and grunting with the effort of getting me and my bag to the top. But then I do it, I get back to the top, out into the sunshine.
The day is one of the very best, in fact it is too hot, the rocks are hot, we are too hot, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. We leave the bags on the steep scree while we scramble to the top of Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak on the ridge. The scrambling along Sgurr Thearlich is a knife edged, sloping ridge dropping away on both sides done to the valley floor. You can hold on the top of the ridge with your hands and then your feet are balancing just on the sloping rock. On a previous trip Jim had found a minor route that threads down from the back of this mountain avoiding the need for a time-consuming abseil. Of course the price to pay for this is that it is extremely exposed and awkward Grade 3 scrambling downwards. Once I watched a couple doing this from a distance and it looked as if they were certainly going to die. Now it is us and its fine.
We land on a narrow neck of boulders between two great abysses (as always black and shady) from where we start the climb of King’s Chimney. This is a roped climb. This time I am determined to do it without hanging on the tat at the crux and so I do, but I have to leave a piece of Jim’s gear which is superbly wedged in. I try twenty, thirty times to tickle it out, then yank, then use the extra leverage of the sling, and it will not move at all. All this while perched awkwardly on the hardest part of the climb. Sgurr Mich Choinnich is the next peak and then there is more tricky downclimbing as we approach the twin weird rock towers of An Stac and the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
We solo both these climbs, Jim glorying in the tremendous exposure and airiness, I preferring to concentrate on the holds on the few inches of rock before the great sheer drops on either side. The reason we solo them is that there is not another soul about. Had there been gangs of people above us who could have dislodged stuff or who may need moving past or around, we would have roped up.
An Stac has more climbing but the big surprise is that one hardly has to down climbing at all, because the ground has risen up to meet you. The Inn Pin is like a spiky dinosaur’s back. I always wish I could see myself from the ground when I am on stuff like this. We are surprised on this beautiful day to find nobody at all. We are glad too when we are soloing – it is so much faster than pitching it. At the top, we abseil off, me first, (is it best to go first or last?) and celebrate with a brief sandwich stop. It is 12 noon and we have been going for 6 hours. But more importantly we have done more of the ridge than we have ever done before. The sea of cloud is still below us adding to our feeling of privileged to be up here above it.