Sunday, 21 November 2010

Optimism 1:1 Reality

Winter is definitely upon us. Other than a very hungover ascent of Giant's Cave Buttress in the Avon Gorge at the end of October I hadn't climbed anything for over a month and was beginning to get a little bit stir-crazy. I was in the Northern Lakes this weekend, and this lack of climbing may have clouded my judgement slightly this morning when I decided that bouldering at Carrock Fell was definitely the right thing to do. Still, I had a willing partner in crime in Oli, and we managed to persuade the ladyfolk that going for a short walk and then sitting in a pub drinking tea was a fun way to pass the day.

As soon as we got out of the cars at the bottom of the hillside I began to have my doubts about quite how good an idea this was. It was absolutely freezing, and I had 5 layers and a pair of dachsteins on before I achieved any kind of thermal equilibrium. The rock also looked substantially damp, but I was still full of my usual blind optimism, so we wandered up to the first boulder to see what could be seen. Some of the rock looked dry, but we were both repelled from the easiest problem in the guide (font 3) by gopping holds, a frightening top-out and frozen fingers. This wasn't looking good.

We decided to have a last forage for some dry rock on the nearby Laurel and Hardy boulders, and this revealed a good and mostly dry looking font 6a+. The crux was low down and the landing good, so it seemed rude not to have a go. After a bit of a play I worked out a sequence using a ridiculous high step and after a few goes managed to hang the hideous tiny crimp, rockover onto the high foot and I was up. Oli had to work out his own, less elastic, plan of attack, but soon nailed it. We were both pretty pleased, not being regular English 6a climbers.

Oli giving it some on the traverse of justice

Our bubble was soon burst by successive problems we could barely get of the ground on (or not at all in the case of one font 6a slab), but we soon found a funky looking steep traverse to burn ourselves out on before it was home time. The handholds were all good, but the footholds started small and then disappeared. Oli managed to get to the same point a few times before falling off, so I gave it a go. To my great surprise, thanks to the cunning deployment of some stylish heel-hooks, I managed to huff and puff my way to the far end, where I effected a very ungainly mantel to finish the problem. Oli soon followed and we left the crag having snatched a rather unlikely victory from the jaws of certain defeat (although destroying our fingertips in the process - that gabbro is rough stuff).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Pembroke 2: The Revenge

A triumph of late in the year spare holiday and optimistic forecast reading saw Andy and I barrelling down the M4 late one Friday evening in mid-October. A successful foray at this time last year had shown us that it was still possible to have a good time in the Pembroke sun this close to Christmas, so we'd arranged to meet Simon and Claire for a long weekend. Andy was claiming illness, but was doing his best to man up and get on with things. We arrived at around midnight to find the Vicar's field deserted except for Si and Claire's tent. What a change from a couple of months earlier when the whole field was full.

An advantage of trips at this time of year is that you get a bit of a lie in before the sun hits your tent. This, together with a touch general lethargy and a strong desire for industrial quantities of tea, meant that we were slow to get going, but eventually we all made our way to Bosherston Head. The guidebook helpfully informs you that it's hard to locate the routes here (something Andy had recent first-hand experience of) but offers little to assist you, so when I boldly claimed to think we were in the right place I was duly sent off down the abseil rope to see if I was right. Thankfully I was, and was soon perched just above the gently lapping sea at the base of a VS called Ocean Passage wishing I'd not put on that extra layer at the top of the crag. It was baking in the bright sun, but there are worse trials to endure than too much sun.

I'm not too hot in this thermal, oh no.

It was Andy's lead, and he made short work of the first half of the route, climbing a pleasant wall before traversing over to the base of an obvious corner. Entrance to this was guarded by some tricky laybacking, but relented soon above, and we were both soon lounging on the grass at the top of the crag enjoying our lunch in the midday sun. I wasn't too sure what to climb next, so Andy set about trying to 'persuade' me to lead Poltergeist, a nearby HVS. I wasn't feeling super-enthused about climbing anything too hard, but eventually I stopped pansying about and manned up. The route turned out to be excellent. Never too hard, but with plenty of thought-provoking climbing which constantly drew you onwards into the next moves. Great stuff. There was a moral in there somewhere about just getting on harder things, but I'm not much of a moraliser...

Suitably emboldened Andy decided he fancied a go at a nearby E1 slab called Baker's Door. The approach was by abseil to a commodious ledge at the base of the route, where I could bask in the sun and gaze in awe at the terrifying overhanging wall up which John Dunne's incredible route The Big Issue somehow finds its way. Inspiring stuff. Andy clearly meant business as he opted for his shoes of infinite power, and he duly set off upwards before reaching an apparent impasse a few metres up. After trying many approaches, one finally paid off and further progress was made, but soon afterwards an unhelpful steepening halted further progress. Andy was making unimpressed noises about the gear, and complaining vociferously about how much his feet were hurting. A few attempts to force the issue to reach the obviously better holds above were rebuffed, and retreat was called for. I lowered him gingerly onto the dubious gear, which to everyone's relief held, and he was soon back down on the ledge with me massaging the feeling back into his feet. After some respite, a further attempt was made in comfier shoes, but other than establishing some better gear, this achieved little else.

Andy trying the crux moves of Baker's Door on abseil whilst the Big Issue wall looms menacingly on the right

It was now beginning to get a little bit chilly at the base of the crag, as the sun had dipped behind the adjacent headland of Saddle Head. It was looking like prusiking might be beckoning, but I had heard a rumour that at low tide a scrambling approach could be effected round the side of the crag. We set off to investigate, and managed to negotiate safe passage over barnacles, lapping waves and steep grass to the top of the crag. Andy then faced a fun and exciting abseil to retrieve the gear. Whilst swinging around on the rope he tried the moves he had been unable to do on lead and subsequently proclaimed them to be substantially harder than the advertised 5b. Bloody but unbowed we decided to cheer ourselves up with fish and chips in Pembroke Dock and a few pints in the St Govan's Inn, which just about did the trick.

Sunday morning arrived with a few clouds in the sky, and still plenty of lethargy, but we managed to be slightly more efficient than the previous day, and were soon heading out from the Western end of Range East. Claire and Simon shot off towards Bow-Shaped Slab, whilst I started trying to talk Andy (and myself) into a VS called Toil And Trouble in an incredible feature called The Cauldron. This is basically a big hole in a headland, filled with water and with a couple of sea caves joining it to the sea. The guide promised “Reasonable climbing in an incredible situation” and we were soon sold on the idea. A few minutes later I was beginning to reconsider as we prepared to abseil from one slightly wobbly stake of unknown vintage. At the last minute, as I was trailing the rope towards the top of the route, I literally stumbled over another stake buried in the long grass. Suddenly everything was looking a little rosier.

These thoughts soon changed as I abseiled down the top pitch of the route. It looked fearsomely steep and it was hard to believe it would go at anywhere near the 4b that the guide claimed. The first pitch looked slightly more amenable, but still not pushover, and the mood was a little apprehensive when Andy joined me on the ledge at the bottom. From this ledge there was an incredible view out through a huge natural arch to the open sea. A sudden splash temporarily disrupted my awestruckness, but it turned out to be a massive bull seal eyeing us suspiciously, which only added to the general air of aceness. This was definitely a three star situation. As the guide only gave the route a single star this didn't exactly bode well for the actual climbing, but it was that or prusiking out, so climbing won the day.

The view out to sea from the base of The Cauldron

Andy scuttled off up the easy start to the first pitch, before encountering a section with some slightly worrying blocks of questionable attachedness. Pleasingly for both of us they remained attached, and he was soon enjoying the wide, knee-barry delights of the main corner, which led swiftly to the half way belay ledge. Amusingly this ledge was just out of the warming sunshine, which I was soon enjoying as I buried myself in the initial offwidth of the top pitch. This turned out (disappointingly or not depending on your point of view) to involve a lot of bridging and relatively little thrutching, and I was soon at the roof which had looked so frightening on abseil. Magically the powers of bridging rendered it relatively simple, and I was soon staring at a few feet of vertical grass which lay between me and the belay. After a brief moment of soul-searching I decided I'd done the route and didn't fancy sliding back down over the edge, so I just yarded on the ab rope to reach the top. A totally fantastic route. Two star climbing in a three star situation, with only a small amount of dubious rock to detract from the enjoyment. It turned out later that the first ascentionist was a certain P Littlejohn, which explained a lot (and added another route to my small but growing Littlejohn ticklist).

Next on our agenda was a visit to Crickmail point for the delights of Aero and B Team Buttress. Somehow it was my lead again, so I decided to give Aero a whirl. It looked pretty damn steep, but it was only VS, so how hard could it be? It turns out the answer is very hard indeed. I'm rubbish at steep climbing, and this was relentless. The gear was good, but the temptation was always to plough on rather than place it in the hope of easier ground above. Eventually (after a not insignificant amount of terror and wailing on my part and admirable encouragement on Andy's) I reached an easing in angle and a crack wide enough to stuff both my arms in for a rest. Phew. I certainly wouldn't argue with HVS, although it was very much not in my style. It was certainly the closest I'd come to failing on anything all year, but I was pleased to have fought my way up it instead of slumping lamely on my gear. Disappointingly Andy made short work of it on second, although was gracious enough to comment that it was “quite tricky”.

Simon and Claire arrived at the crag whilst we were sitting at the top and we somehow managed to persuade Claire that leading Aero was a good idea (in spite of my thousand-mile stare and warnings of steepness and terror), so we absolutely had to do B Team Buttress as this would afford us a grandstand view of Claire's travails. Plus the route looked massively ace, although the start looked worryingly steep again. Andy made it look relatively easy, although he did manage to cut himself and spent some time at the half way rest ledge bleeding profusely on all the holds. On second I found the start pretty tricky, and probably beyond me on lead, but it was a brilliant route. One to come back to when I'm finally a little bit fitter and stronger methinks. In the meantime Claire led Aero with a distinct lack of huffing and puffing (although she had Simon and I slightly worried at one point when a fall would have resulted in an unpleasant splat until she cheered us both up by stopping to place some more gear).

Andy and Claire on B Team Buttress and Aero respectively

After soloing the Severe under the ab rope to retrieve our guide from the base of the crag, Andy and I decided to attempt a speed ascent of a funky sounding HVS called Space. We soon located the top of the buttress, and abseiled in to the adjacent bay. On boulder-hopping over to the base of the route it quickly became apparent why the route warranted the grade in spite of being only 4c. It looked ludicrously overhanging, and I started to wonder about retreat being a good idea. The first few metres, however, looked easy and reversible, so I set off just to “have a look” at the first pitch. I soon found myself jugging over a roof on enormous holds to reach a slab made of crazy stratified rock, whence a short traverse led me to the belay. Somehow I appeared to be directly above Andy, in spite of having climbed only about 2m of overhanging rock in the whole 20m pitch. Very strange. The second pitch turned out to be more of the same improbable overhanging juggy madness, and it wasn't long before we were at the top congratulating ourselves on having managed the abseil and 2 pitches of climbing in under an hour. This was just as well as the sun had already set. Alas karma repaid us for celebrating our aceness a little prematurely, and the abseil rope got stuck when we tried to pull it up, leaving Andy the thankless task of shimmying down the rope and then prusiking back up to retrieve it, before a seemingly eternal stomp back to the car in the dark. The route had been utterly amazing, a real three star experience, and I would strongly urge anybody to go and give it a go. We spent the evening back in the almost deserted St Govan's Inn enjoying delicious food and ample beer, and hatched a plan to visit Mowing Word the following day.

The morning broke a little grey and overcast, but we struck camp and drove to the car park at Broad Haven. The beautiful beach was a trial to walk over as ever, but eventually we reached the other side and finally made it to the top of the crag. Claire and Andy both claimed illness and lay down feeling sorry for themselves, so Simon and I abseiled down to do Diedre Sud. At the bottom I prevailed upon Simon to lead it in one pitch to save time, and we discussed the three tug system of communication in case we couldn't hear each other. It was no surprise when the rope movements suggested he had reached the top, but I could hear nothing but the splash of the waves which were edging ever closer to my feet. There seemed to be a fair amount of drag on the rope, but eventually I felt three tugs and took Simon off belay. The rope started to snake upwards until eventually it came tight on me, so I gave it a tug. This only succeeded in bringing a great loop of slack down on my head, so I waited for it go tight and wondered if giving more tugs would only have the same effect. Whilst I was pondering I felt three slight tugs, and decided, so I stripped the belay and moved up a few feet. The rope got taken in, so I reasoned I must be on belay and began climbing.

The route was as brilliant as it had been when I first climbed it a year ago. The top half in particular is a delight, and I had one of those rare moments of total satisfaction, bridging up the corner in the sunshine feeling totally at peace with the world. This hippy nonsense was swiftly brought to a halt when I pulled over the top of the crag to find Claire laughing and Simon looking a little sheepish. It turns out that I wasn't on belay for most of the route, Si thought he was just taking the rope in. Still, nobody died, and we both learnt a lesson about communication.

As I was still alive, it seemed appropriate to celebrate this by pushing the boat out and having a crack at Snozwanger. Not just because it's a great name, but because it gets E1 in one of the guidebooks and it looked doable and good. Also, Simon had an irrational insistence that he was incapable of getting himself up an E1 in one piece, so it would be good to show him the error of his ways. The route takes the wall to the left of Diedre Sud in two pitches, given 4c and 5a/b (depending on which guide you believe), so we abseiled in and Simon quickly yomped up the first pitch. I followed and was immediately confronted with a tricky move at the start of the second pitch. After some hunting around I located some elusive good crimps and pulled hard on them. A loooong step right (was looking forwards to seeing Simon follow that with his slightly reduced leg-span) and I was on the wall proper. A few moves up some very friendly cracks led to a short steepening which looked to be the crux. I hung around for a while placing some gear, had a furtle of the next holds above and didn't like them, so I placed some more superfluous gear then realised I was getting a little pumped hanging around faffing and that I'd better get on with it. There was an obvious foothold on the crack to step up onto, but the handholds seemed to disappear above, so I stepped up with my left foot, waved my right foot in the vague direction of a small nubbin and stretched way up and right for a distant crack, hoping it was a) within reach, and b) any good. My fingers just tickled their way into the crack at the full extent of my reach, and lo, 'twas a jug. A quick pull up and step left and I was standing on a very welcome little ledge with just a few metres of inviting slabby cracks to go to the top. I bambered up these, and pulled over the top with a broad grin on my face. Simon was unsatisfyingly unperturbed by the long moves I'd made, and just managed to climb around them somehow like the killjoy that he is. Boo.

Mid-crux on Snozwanger

After some victory flapjack, Simon wasn't too bothered about what we climbed, so I suggested the neighbouring arĂȘte to the left of Snozwanger, Blowin' In The Wind, which was also given HVS in one guide and E1 in the other. Andy and Claire had by this stage woken up and were keen to do Snozwanger, so there was added sociability potential too. This was a plan. Accessing the first pitch of Blowin' In The Wind requires some traversing just above the high-tide line, and as the tide was pretty much in, we decided just to avoid this pitch and start from the half-way ledge. The very first move off the belay was the same as Snozwanger, but I knew where the secret crimps were this time, and I was then presented with a small bulge with a jug above it. I slotted in a quick runner to avoid any chance of landing on Simon's head should I fall off and a stiff pull and some high-steppin' later I was stood atop the jug. The route then traversed out left to the arĂȘte and followed it in a pretty sensational position. Every move looked like it was going to be tricky, but good holds always arrived on demand and I was soon stood back in the by now rather bracing wind at the top of the crag. Once the other three had joined me we decided it was definitely time to set off for home, as that was still a very long way away. Another brilliant weekend and even more Pembroke Psyche acquired for next year, maximum winness!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Lundy Vol. IV

Day 7:

In spite of the previous day's chastening experience, my adventurelust was still alive, just keen for some lightly tamer adventuring. With this in mind, Simon and I made The Devil's Spine our objective for the day. Described in the guide as being 'bristly' but with good situations, it features in the Alternative Lundy List, and therefore ticked all the requisite boxes. We abseiled down the edge of the Devil's Slide and scrambled leftwards on big ledges, until the rib of the route became obvious above. Simon had bagged the first pitch, which was looking like a very good bit of business, as the all-pervading sea grass seemed to take over just above the first belay. Excellent.

The Bristly Ridge of Devil's Spine

Simon led off up some steepish ground, which was covered in a judicious smattering of useful jugs, and was soon at the belay. I followed him up, and eyed up the second pitch. Above the belay the vague rib sharpened to form a clear arete, studded with pinnacles and plenty of bristliness. I made my way up an initial scoop to reach the base of this, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the bristles had managed to avoid all of the important holds. Some very alpine-style yomping (and plenty of spike runners) later and I was perched on a small ledge. I had a feeling that I was meant to belay on the next ledge about 5 metres above me, but I had already run out plenty of rope and getting to the next ledge didn't look trivial, so I bravely volunteered Simon for that and began to hunt around for something to belay off. This turned out to be slighty problematic, but eventually I had a dubious cam, and RP3 and a sling on a spike, which would have to do.

Simon looked very pleased with me when I showed him my delightful belay, and I quickly shooed him upwards. Other than a worrying moment when he hit a spike some way above me to check it was solid and I felt the vibrations in the flake I was sitting on, the tricky looking moves to the next ledge were soon overcome, leaving just the small matter of the typically Lundy top out. A short while after Simon had disappeared over the grassy horizon the shout of “Safe” filtered down and we were soon both at the top of the crag basking in the sunshine.

The Devil's Spine

Soon Julie and Claire joined us after a successful ascent of Albion, and ate lunch and generally lounged around a lot. Well, except for the arduous trek I was forced to make to retrieve the abseil rope. Bastards. Julie's ankle was hurting, so she began hobbling back towards the campsite, leaving Simon, Claire and I contemplating what should come next. I had been keen on Headline, a nearby E1, but it was too hot for that sort of exertion, so we settled on Frontispiece, the neighbouring VDiff as a suitable compromise. The approach scramble seemed to take an age, but eventually we reached the start of the route. The first pitch was wonderful slab climbing in a fabulous situation, although sadly the second pitch was a bit of a circuitous ramble and we were soon back at our bags once more.

My psyche wasn't quite exhausted, so I suggested an that the tide might be low enough for an attempt on one of the routes on the seaward face of the Conning Tower, a minor stack down in the zawn. The guidebook asserted that the stack was only accessible a few hours either side of low tide, which it wasn't, but I was confident that I knew better, so we set off scrambling downwards. Upon reaching sea level it was clear that a lower tide would have allowed an easy step across a boulder onto the tower, but the boulder was being lapped with worrying regularity. I thought I spied another route and went exploring. Some tortuous scrambling later I found a way onto the stack at it's landward tip and managed to corkscrew my way around to the summit. Unfortunately this left me at the top of the routes, so I tentatively descended a Diff arete and traversed across onto the face. This was an incredible fluted slab, the centre of which gave a lovely little VDiff called German Bight. I soloed this and then managed to reverse my corkscrewings to get back to dry land. By this stage we were all ready for some tea and medals, so we moseyed back down the island to the campsite.

As it was our last evening on the island, I may have consumed a few more celebratory beers than was strictly a good idea, and the evening finished with me drunkenly crawling round my tent trying to find a way in after some wag had turned it around whilst I was in the pub. Very funny. I also lost at Scrabble again along the way. Apparently aaeooru isn't a word.

Day 8:

After the previous nights excitement I was quite keen to climb somewhere nearby which would allow me maximum scope for curling up in a ball and sulking about my sore head. Thus it was decided that Julie, Andy and I would go back to the Battery for Andy to have a go at Double Diamond. Unfortunately the holds were still covered in that mysterious early-morning greasiness which afflicts sea cliffs, so we had to abandon that idea and I soloed the first pitch of Horseman's Route to escape.

In search of a little more climbing before the ferry departed, Andy and I went back to Pilot's Quay and soloed Newquay and a great little VDiff arete called Quay Hole Corner, which provided a very satisfying end to another great week on Lundy. Unwittingly, this was also my 50th route on Lundy, which seems like a good place to leave things until my next visit.

We retired to the pub for cheesy chips before getting on the MS Oldenburg and heading back towards the real world. Andy, Becky and I, however, had hatched a cunning plan to climb at Baggy the following day, so whilst everybody else was driving home, we were driving around the hills near Croyde in search of a reasonably priced campsite (not fancying paying the best part of £15 each for one in Croyde itself) which I had stayed in 5 years previously and couldn't really remember the location of. You'll be pleased to hear that we did eventually find it.

Day 9:

We got up stupidly early. This was good because it meant we couldn't find anybody around on the campsite to pay, but bad because there was nowhere open to sell us any breakfast. We pooled our resources and came up with some Hobnob flapjacks, a couple of Tunnocks caramel wafers and some trail mix. The breakfast of champions. This was improved by finding an ample supply of brambles on the walk in to the crag, which provided a tasty snack, but didn't go too far towards filling the still-gaping hole in my belly. Soon the crag came into view, though, and all thoughts of food were put to one side, for there was climbing to be done.

We scrambled down the disintegrating earthy slope to reach to top of the Promontory, and abseiled down the line of Urizen. I was keen to get on a VS called Twinkletoes, so we decided to start with that (once we'd torn Andy away from gawping at the terrifying choss-cliff nearby). The route turned out to be continuously absorbing, with a stiff crux near the bottom and plenty of taxing moves in the upper section. Excellent stuff. Next on the agenda was an attempt on Lost Horizons by Andy. Other than a few pauses to work out a couple of tricky sequences he made short work of it, and Andy and I soloed the excellent Shangri-La as an afterthought before moving over with a view to getting on Kinkyboots.

Alas when we got there, there was an in situ team on the start, so we consoled ourself with the adjacent slab. Becky led a very nice HS called Marion, before we soloed a couple of other routes on the slab, Ben and In Her Eyes. As the leader on Kinkyboots had barely moved in the time it had taken us to do this, we decided it was time to beat a retreat, and we set off for home.

Another brilliant trip to Lundy, I'll certainly be back again...

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Lundy Vol. III

Day 5:

At last I awoke to the sound of relative silence (well, none of that wet falling out the sky nonsense, anyway), and climbing was back on the agenda. Dan and I had designs on Ulysses Factor, which had the added bonus of being non-tidal, although there was a fair wind gusting around. We decided we'd be fine and strolled over to the Devil's Limekiln, where the descent begins. The guidebook refers to an exciting scramble to a rubble col, from which more exciting loose slopes lead to the base of the route. We didn't like the sound of all that looseness much, so I abseiled down to the rubble col, with the intention of abseiling again down the scree, but the lower section didn't look too bad, so I radioed Dan to follow me down and we both agreed to scramble down. To avoid knocking rocks on each other we took different lines, with mine being much the quicker, so I had plenty of time to eye up the crux first pitch before Dan got there. It's a short 9m traverse with no gear to a large ledge, and gets 5a. There was an obvious line of jugs starting half way along the line, the tricky bit looked to be getting to them.

I racked up and moved out onto the face. After a bit of furtling around it seemed that there were plenty of holds, they were just all a bit small, so I retreated for a ponder. After doing this 4 or 5 times, trying both a high and lower line, I came to terms with the fact that there wasn't an easy way, and I was going to have to do some actual climbing. Trying hard not to think of the consequences of coming off (which would have been painful and very wet), I went for it and pleasingly made it to the jug without too much whimpering (or any falling off). I tried to fiddle in some gear behind an expanding flake to at least notionally protect Dan, and carried on to the belay ledge, which had the benefit of being in the sun. It was a great place to soak up the atmosphere, with the waves crashing below me, and nothing but 4 pitches of HS between above. It did occur to me that if Dan was unable or unwilling to follow me, retreat would be very problematic, as I was now above the roiling sea, but it wouldn't come to that. Hopefully.

The First Belay On Ulysses Factor

Understandably, given that falling off would, at best, have meant a long swing out over the sea, Dan took his time tiptoeing out, furtling the holds, and retreating. Eventually, just as I began to wonder if things were destined to get complicated (and wet for me), he got his psyche together and managed to make the moves look rather easy. With some relief on both our parts, he scuttled across to my ledge, took the gear off me, and began hunting around for the start of the second pitch. In spite of my assumption that it went straight up from where I was sitting (what with that being where there were some footholds), Dan insisted on investigating every other possible avenue first. He was actually just about to commit to some desperately ill-advised rock over onto a single crystal with only a shonky RP for protection, when I said “are you sure it doesn't go up here using these footholds?” and he was persuaded to give it a whirl. It turned out to be a good idea (although still not that easy) and he was soon traversing into a fun looking corner. I was expecting him to belay on the capacious ledge at the top of this, so was quite surprised when he shunned this to belay instead in a cramped niche a few feet below. But, what ho, leader's prerogative and all that. The remaining three pitches passed without incident (well, except for Dan belaying part way up the last pitch as he couldn't find any gear at the described belay, and me stupidly over-camming my baby cam into a crack from which Dan was unable to extricate it), and we were soon sitting at the top enjoying victory cake. Another excellent route, which somehow managed to feel like a mountaineering expedition with added seaside atmosphere.

After lunch had been eaten and the abseil rope pulled up, Dan suddenly issued a distressed shout, and I turned round to see his helmet bouncing its way merrily down the slope and off into the abyss beyond. Oops. We decided this didn't bode well for further adventuring that day, so headed over to Pilot's Quay, where a couple of very pleasant little Hard Severe's awaited us. Both were pretty soft touches, but gave delightful climbing, and made an excellent finish to the day.

Day 6:

After listening to some of the others' tales of Formula One and it's general aceness in the pub the night before, and being reassured that the terrifying layback at the top of it was, in fact, dead easy and could be jammed instead, I resolved to just man up and do it. After staring up at the route in awe two years ago and bottling it last year I had a score to settle, and Andy offered to give me a belay on it, so I had no excuse. Our ab rope wasn't really long enough for the descent, so we were pleased to find another party already at the gearing-up spot with a suitable length rope. Unfortunately one of them was a tedious dullard in love with the sound of his own voice, so we escaped down their rope at the earliest available opportunity and I was soon stood at the bottom of the route feeling an uneasy sense of trepidation. It did look really good though, so off I set.

The first few metres were a bit damp, but the awesome looking corner crack above lured me onwards, and I was soon grappling with it's sustained bridgy delights. The gear was perfect, but I tried to resist the urge to place too much. Soon a small overlap barred the way, but a stiff pull and faith in some small footholds, and I was soon threading a glorious thread at the top of the groove. An amazingly exposed traverse along an improbable gangway deposited me at the foot of the flake that I'd been so afraid of, but, like the monsters under the bed, there wasn't really anything to fear here. A few jams and a bit of monkeying up some huge jugs later and I was sitting at the top enjoying the view. What a route. I should have done it a year, or maybe even two ago, but it was worth every minute of the wait.

After starting the day with a route like that, it was hard for things not to descend into anti-climax, especially since the tide was in and not many routes were accessible. So after scrambling around eyeing up the line of the frankly amazing looking Promised Land (one to come back to when I'm leading E3s), we joined Si, Claire and Dan at Beaufort Buttress. Andy led the very nice Stuka Direct, and I decided to have a look at Streaky, a VS 5a with a reputation for being often wet. Luckily for me it was dry, but it was pretty hard, with some lateral thinking required to avoid having to layback the crux, and HVS wouldn't have gone amiss. We then took it in turns soloing Hurricane and Force Eight before heading back to the bags for a ponder. It was very definitely Andy's lead, so he decided to go and have a crack at The Fifth Appendage, a reputedly tough E1 on the Devil's Chimney cliff.

Part 1 Of Operation Get To The Start Of The Route

It turned out that access to our intended route was far from trivial. In the absence of the recommended 90m ab rope, we had to set up an anchor at the point where steep grass met vertical grass, abseil 50m or so to the top of the route, then abseil down the route on our climbing ropes and pull them after us. This had the added benefit of allowing us to use the abseil rope on the way back up to help negotiate the aforementioned vertical grass. The first part of the plan went well enough, and we were soon setting up the second anchor at what we hoped was the top of the route. On reaching the large ledges at the bottom it quickly became clear that we were mistaken, which would have entailed some very interesting traversing of the vertical grass upon finishing the route. This, together with the fact that the ledge at the bottom of the route was getting intermittently splashed by waves and the fact that the sun was beginning to sink rather low in the sky, led us to decide that discretion was the better part of valour. Before pulling the ropes and committing ourselves we had a quick scout of the available escape routes. The easiest way out was a choice of three HVSs, all of which looked reasonable; but one, Tindale Route, looked particularly appealing and had the added benefit of finishing directly at the end of our abseil rope. Our decision was made and the ropes were pulled.

The route started up a short slab, then entered a v-groove, before traversing out to an arete after precisely 19 m. Or so the guide asserted. No additional hint was given where this traverse should be effected if you weren't in possession of a rope with a 19m marker. The initial slab turned out to be protected by some tiny RPs (are there any other kind?) and not much else, and it took Andy a few goes to figure out the way to the bottom of the groove. The next move up into the groove seemed to pose a few further problems, but he was soon making upward progress and making slightly more positive noises about the protection. Bridging is one of Andy's favourite things, and he was truly delighting in the small holds the route was affording him. Eventually upward movement halted, and after a while he sat on the gear and threw a distinctly unimpressed glower in my direction. I don't think my heckling was helping. A long time elapsed, with various attempts both up the groove and traversing out towards the arete being rebuffed by apparent difficulties. With the sun getting ominously close to dipping below the horizon things were beginning to get a bit worrying. Suddenly, a manly yelp came down from on high, as Andy located a rather substantial loose hold. This was pretty much the final straw, and after a few more attempts he turned and asked me if I wanted a go. I wasn't very keen on this suggestion, as it looked rather difficult, but he was insistent, and I lowered him down to join me at the bottom.

As Andy passed me the gear I couldn't help but feel that this was really the last-chance saloon for keeping ourselves off the epic-o-meter. Failure to get to the top via fair means or foul would have meant a swim, or a long wait on the ledge for dawn, so I put my very positivest head on and set off. Owing to the general seriousness of the situation, ethical concerns went out the window, and I set off with the ropes still through the gear. I was very appreciative of this top-rope as the move into the groove was really quite hard (maybe English 5b?), although the groove itself was lovely and I was soon at Andy's high point. Paying heed to the big loose hold I spied what looked like a viable traverse line and leaned over for a closer look. There was a slot for my tiniest cam (which I had rescued on abseil from Ulysses Factor before breakfast that morning), so I jammed it in and moved further across. Another placement presented itself, followed by some half-decent handholds and I was soon stood on the arete with easy-angled, but worryingly loose looking ground between me and salvation. I shouted down for Andy to get out of the fall-line and gingerly crept upwards. Thankfully everything stayed attached to the crag, and I reached the belay just as the sun set. Andy raced up to join me, and we hand-over-handed our way back up the ab rope to our bags. We finally made it back to the campsite just as full darkness was descending and the others were mustering a search party and treated ourselves to dinner in the pub as just reward for our continuing aliveness. Hurrah!

The View From Salvation!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Lundy Vol. II

Day 2:

In a sacrificial bid to stop Andy the choss-botherer from muttering about wanting to drag me up crumbly and unrepeated deathtrap E1s, and on the basis of a favourable tide, I agreed to join him in a bid to climb American Beauty by the original approach. This is described in the guide as being merely “harrowing” (rather than actual certain death) as well as enormously committing, as it's only possible for a few hours either side of low tide, and retreat would be fairly impossible once cut off. The normal approach is a 100m abseil down the route, but that's hardly cricket, and only warrants HVS rather than “adventurous E1” for our way.

The Original Approach to American Beauty

We stomped our way up to the threequarter wall, and soon found ourselves staring across at the route from the other side of the zawn. It looked long, a bit vegetated and maybe a bit wet, but being in shadow it was hard to tell. We then had a gander at The Ocean, which was longer, more vegetated and generally a much more worrying proposition. As low tide wasn't until early afternoon we moved on to Threequarter Buttress and scrambled down, past the amazing cleft of Trogus-Lo-Dyticus, to the base of Quadratus Lumborum, a pleasant sounding Severe we intended to solo. I bravely sent Andy up first to test the water, and he was soon stopped by a terrifying looking 'strategic fall' to a distant foothold on the arete with a yawning crack waiting to catch you if you overcooked it. Sensible discretion got the better part of valour and we snuck round the side up a VDiff, before rejoining the route on a ledge. Andy went off hunting for the second pitch, but was soon repelled by the cold and we both followed the pleasant arete of Devonia (which, crucially, was in the sun) back to our bags.

After a brief bite to eat, the appointed hour was upon us, but first we headed back down the slope for one last look at what we were getting ourselves into. The sun had now moved round onto the slab, and we could see that only a small section under the big overlap on the second pitch was wet. Hopefully that wouldn't impact on the climbing too much... Loins suitably girded we picked our way down the slope to the point where the angle steepened and things started to look suitably harrowing. After a lengthy hunt we found a satisfactory abseil anchor and Andy set off into the unknown. The 60m length of the ab rope took us down to the point where vertical grass met vertical rock, and a further 50m abseil on our climbing ropes from the end of the ab rope deposited us on a pleasant large platform with the sea lapping nearby. We spent a few minutes ogling the impressive overhangs of the Parthenos, before starting the traverse into the zawn. The guide had promised us VDiff traversing, but the tide was so low that it was little more than a scramble to the exposed boulder beach, and the whole bay opened up to us. I hopped across to investigate the funky through-cave under the headland into Two-Headed Zawn (alas not as exciting as it sounds) before joining Andy at the bottom of the slab. It was so pleasant in the sunshine that it was easy to forget how committed we would soon be.

Andy dwarfed by the scale of Grand Falls Zawn

In order to slightly reduce the potential for wave-induced epic failure, Andy led off up the bottom of the route to reach the large ledge which most parties abseil into. From here the first pitch followed a vague crackline for 30m to a ledge and belay by a huge perched block. The climbing was sustained and excellent, with some surprising holds just where it looked like things might get interesting. The vegetation in the upper section of the crack was never too intrusive, and soon I was perched on the ledge belaying Andy up to join me. The precise line of the second pitch up to the big overlap was unclear, as the crack I'd followed soon petered out, but we had pink princess radios, so nothing could defeat us. Andy duly led off, and after a brief pause on a grassy ledge to scope out the possibilities, managed to trace a line up the slab on a perfect sequence of just-big-enough holds to the point where the crack re-appeared. Unfortunately this seemed to coincide with the bottom of the wet streak we'd seen beforehand, and there was much grumbling, wiping dry of hands and face pulling from the sharp end of the rope. Eventually Andy accepted that the holds weren't going to get any drier or bigger, and pulled up to the overlap, where some hurried gear placing ensued, before an enormous stride rightwards onto what was evidently a dry hold and a big grin. This still left the small problem of the overlap itself, which was not insubstantial in its overhangingness, but short work was made of this, and a short scuttle into a corner later and it was my turn. Again the climbing was a delight, although on reaching the wet section I couldn't help but repeat Andy's: furtle holds, wipe hands, grimace, repeat, actions. Eventually I talked my feet into accepting that they could stand on damp matchstick edges and soon my fingers were jammed into the soggy crack where overlap met slab. A quick hunched scurry along this and I was back in the land of dry holds, and altogether much happier. As hoped the overlap itself was turned with a swift stiff pull on good holds, and soon we were both eyeing up the steep, bristly looking 4c finishing crack.

Off I set, slightly apprehensive that I might be reduced to either pulling hard or laybacking, and this looked increasingly likely as height was gained and the footholds ran out into a vast expanse of sea grass, but after placing a confidence-inspiring hex I noticed some enormous turbo-jugs just behind me. I didn't need any more tempting to forsake the crack for these, and soon I was repeating the familiar Lundy top-out ritual of trying to work out which lumps of grass looked more weight-bearing than the others. What a totally fantastic route in a fantastic situation. I can't think of many better days out that I've ever had. I was really glad we'd done it by the original approach, as (other than the obvious fun of the added commitment) having an abseil route hanging down next to you as you climbed would really have ruined the experience I think. What are you waiting for? Go get it done!

Day 3:

We woke to the ever-depressing pitter-patter of rain on the tents. I did my best to try and convince myself that it always sounds worse than it is, but it was pretty minging when I stuck my head out the door, so I retreated back to the warmth and made a cup of tea. Obviously this helped matters, but didn't stop the rain and, after much procrastination, we all wended our ways to the pub, where we played darts, Trivial Pursuits and Scrabble and ate tasty lamb burgers and cheesy chips in profusion.

Eventually the weather cleared and it began to look like something might be climbable. It was pretty windy, but the tide was low, so I tried to rustle up interest in a rematch with Cable Way. On both previous visits to Lundy I'd been repelled from the approach traverse to this route (which goes at the epic grade of Severe) by monster waves, and was keen to actually get it climbed. Somehow I managed to enthuse everybody and we set out as a team of 9 to do the route. The approach was substantially less underwater than on previous efforts and we were soon all perched on a large sloping ledge which appeared to be where the route started. The tide coming in would cut off our line of retreat, so there was plenty of epic potential

Andy and Julie set of first, then Becky and I, followed by Simon and Claire and finally Chris, Dan and James. Thankfully the half-way belay was fairly spacious, although it was amongst the rusting remains of some very spiky cables, so care had to be taken not to accidentally impale ourselves. The climbing turned out to be really quite good, with steep moves on big holds, although the guidebook description either omitted to mention the large amount of traversing, or we managed to find a really good new route on the same bit of rock. This being Lundy I suspect the former. Soon we were all at the top (although not before Andy had treated us all to a delightful view of his bare buttocks when he decided to moon over the top of the crag, shudder) and repaired to the pub again for victory beers.

The top pitch of Cable Way

Day 4:

Again we awoke to the sound of rain, but it seemed more ominous this time and, indeed, we spent most of the day in the pub playing board games again and writing postcards. Andy, Dan, Claire, Simon and I did go for an exploratory walk in the afternoon and scoped out a few routes to come back to when the rock was dry. Alas it started raining quite hard just as we reached the Diamond near the far end of the island and the walk back gave us ample opportunity to get utterly soaked to the skin. Fun.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Lundy Vol. I

Day 0:

After many months of eager anticipation, and a typically last-minute packing fervour, Julie and Andy arrived at my house and we were ready to roll. The drive from Sheffield to Bideford went astonishingly quickly, interrupted only by some apparently terrible burgers from a mysterious generic fast food outlet (I was spared these by having eaten before we departed), and 4 ½ hours later we pulled into a picnic area just outside Bideford. Andy boldly/foolishly declared the rain to be no more than some dense cloud, and set out in his bivvy bag, whilst Julie and I made ourselves as comfortable as could be in the car (which was still spectacularly uncomfortable).

Day 1:

Having been awake on and off for most of the night, it came as quite a relief when the appointed hour came and we motored on to Bideford. After pumping the car park ticket machine with our own bodyweight in loose change we wandered down the front to the MS Oldenburg, deposited our bags for loading and went questing in vain for tea. With Myself, Andy, Julie, James, Chris and Dan all accounted for 45 minutes before departures there was still no sign of Si and Claire (the final members of Team Safe), so I rang them and woke them up. Evidently Simon's car is substantially more bedlike than mine. After a brief panic we were reunited and soon adopted our customary spot at the back of the boat as we set off on the high seas. The skies were grey and brooding and the sea state described as ominously 'moderate'. Mercifully we were spared the full wrath of Neptune (although Andy did look a bit peaky at times) and arrived safely on Lundy with the weather beginning to look a little more promising.

In search of some easy access climbing, several of us made our way to the Battery and headed down to the base of Flying Buttress. After a bit of grumpy old man ab-rope faffery, Claire and I were soon at the bottom and setting off up the rather ace Horseman's Route, which made for a very pleasant reminder of how Granite works. Claire then bullied me shamelessly into an attempt on Double Diamond. An HVS (eek) on a slab (double eek). Luckily the 5b start was wet, so I skirted that, and remarkably soon, with a minimum of smearing and terror (which are broadly the same thing) I was stood on some big holds near the top in a traffic jam. Very rudely two separate parties had decided to start pitches which crossed mine, whilst I was already en route. Eventually my courtesy gave way (in direct proportion to how much my feet hurt) and I just ploughed on regardless. Somehow this wasn't enough to dissuade yet another leader from setting out across my ropes whilst I was trying to take in at the top. Alas Lundy isn't immune from climbing fuckwittery it would seem.

Next on the agenda Claire fancied a go at Capuccino, a fun VS which we chased Dan and Simon up, and then Claire and Si decided to retire to the campsite, so Mr Money and myself decided to have a go at the VS 5a direct start to Horseman's Route. Alas the tide had other ideas and was washing the crucial boulder with distressing regularity, so we switched our objective to Diamond Crack. This turned out to be a steep little bugger, which only gave up with a bit of a fight (and no small amount of 5a moves), so by the time I was at the top I was pooped and ready for tea, and thence beer in the Marisco Tavern. It was a delight to reacquaint myself with the pleasures of Old Light Ale, and I feel asleep full of excitement about the potential adventures the rest of the week might bring.

Monday, 16 August 2010


A sunny forecast and plenty of enthusiasm for sea cliffs saw me heading Pembrokewards this weekend with Young Dan, Jon, Sophie, Simon, Claire and a huge cast of friendly others. After much slaloming through the wilds of Mid-Wales, we arrived at the vast Vicar's Field campsite, with it's luxurious single portaloo facilities (but corresponding bargainous price and proximity to the pub). It was a beautifully clear night, and we stayed up later than was wise drinking whisky and spotting shooting stars.

Saturday morning found Jon, Simon, Claire and I heading to Mother Careys. After a slight false start heading down a dirt track to oblivion, we managed to locate the car park and thence the crag, and Jon and I made a bee-line for Sea Groove. We scrambled round to the base of the route under the impressive White Slab, and I bambered up it in a lovely long single pitch. There was even some mild jamming as an extra treat.

Suitably warmed up, we decided to get on with one of the weekend's principle objectives, namely Inner Space. As a veteran of such recent crazy adventures as Skeleton Ridge on the Isle Of Wight, Jon wasn't too perturbed by the rather terrifying look of the first pitch, and duly set off. For those of you not familiar with the route, it starts in a huge cave, climbs 20m or so up to the roof, and then back and foots sideways across the top of the cave for 20m in a position of extreme exposure, to reach a welcome belay on a chockstone right at the top of the cave mouth. A bit like this, in fact:

Mercifully there was plenty of gear, and even a few holds on the traverse, but it was an impressive piece of climbing, and a pretty mind-boggling situation to be in. After joining Jon on top of the chockstone and celebrating our continued aliveness, I led the short, but very exposed second pitch to the top, where victory brownies awaited (of the edible chocolatey kind, rather than cheerleading girls), and the slow process of letting the type II fun set in began. I think the traverse might be the most type II fun I've had at one time.

Full of calories and keen for more adventures we abseiled back down and boulder-hopped round to the base of Rock Idol. I'm not really one for steep climbing, but the line looked amazing, and it was reputed to be low in the grade. The rumours turned out to be well founded, and luckily there were loads of rests to be had en route (including a proper sit down one in a cave), as well as bountiful gear and some epic handholds. The crux roof had a few less holds than I was hoping for, but tactical deployment of a sly jam soon had me back in vertical territory. It was a pretty satisfying feeling belaying from the top looking down to see how much the route seems to overhang the start. My first Welsh E1, and a good 'un too. After that the team headed to Pembroke for fish and chips, and the pub for beer and plenty of socialising.

On Sunday we header to Stennis Head, and got things underway with a group traverse to the base of Stennis Arete and Stennis Chimney. Jon set off up the arete whilst I marvelled at the improbability of the E3 Sophie was climbing on the other side of the zawn. Next we headed down for a crack at The Bludgeon, but there was a team in situ, so we removed ourselves to the base of Hercules, and I set off up it hoping the name wasn't too appropriate. It turned out to be pretty strenuous, but the steep bits were overcome by bridging, so my arms just about lasted the course, aided no-end by two (count 'em) proper sit down rests on ledges. Win. Between the rests the route was pretty sustained, and the crux was a very commiting feeling step right (although with brilliant gear), but thankfully the angle relented soon after and the upper groove was a juggy delight. Some epic posturing whilst bridging above space round the capping roof was had, and then some more satisfied belaying.

Sophie on Grey English Wimpout/A Walk On The Wild Side

After these exertions Jon and I fancied some slightly less strenuous amusement, so we abseiled down to the base of the Myola slab, and Jon romped up Myola, which proved to be excellent after a bit of tricky offwidthing at the very start. I then led the neighbouring VS, Myopia, which was a bit of a challenge of routefinding, picking the easiest route up the slab. The gear was a little less than obvious, and there was a rather spicy runout near the top, but thankfully the sanctuary of the grass was soon reached. At this stage I was very glad to have 60m ropes, as the belay stake was some way off, and the prospects of any other meaningful gear amongst the shattered rubble and grass wasn't very bright.

In the evening light we finished off the weekend by dragging our weary arms up Quickstep, a very pleasant little route, and after laughing at Sophie and Dan's swimming antics, we set off for home, via some very stodgy pizza and lots of thankfully deserted roads.

All in all a very productive trip, and I've got lots of Pembroke-psyche for a return to hopefully tick off a few more classic HVSs and E1s. Cool For Cats, Straight Gate, The Arrow and Lucky Strike in particular look pretty sensational.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Whole Gamut Of Choss

This weekend I found myself heading, with no small amount of trepidation, towards the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales, with committed mentalist and lover of danger, Andy. As somebody with a keen interest in staying alive I was a little bit afraid, but the adventure potential was high, and I do enjoy a good adventure.

Saturday morning dawned wet and grey, so we sat around in Pete's Eats drinking tea and persuading ourself that it never rained on the Lleyn. Eventually we were full of tea, so we set of aiming for Pen Y Cil, described as being particularly solid in the guide, and home to Guillemot's Groove, a pleasant sounding VS. After a bit of tomfoolery thanks to the guidebook describing the wrong place to park, and the wrong way to approach the route (I opted for some wave defying traversing and Andy downclimbed a frightening looking gully), we were in the right place, in the sun, and I was feeling quite psyched. The route turned out to be really good, with no sign of any loose rock, good gear, and some nicely exposed moves near the top of the first pitch. The second pitch was a bit of a scramble up some looser, but easy ground, and we were soon back at our bags.

The Wonder Of Dorys

Our next destination was Craig Dorys, renowned as being 'adventurous' even by Lleyn standards. The reputation is certainly justified. The crag is an impressive sprawling mass of epic shaley terror. Some of the rock looks like it might just about hold bodyweight, but a lot of it just falls apart to the touch. This is a crag for proper lunatics. The guide describes a 'fine' VS there, ominously called The Craterer, which I was a bit afraid of, but Andy manned up and set off up. It follows a vague line up a large, solidish looking slab with the promise of good runners at half height, below an overlap. In spite of carrying the biggest rack in all of Christendom, Andy somehow didn't have the right size cam for the only decent placement, and so beat a rather tentative retreat back to the bottom, whence we ran away to Abersoch for chips.

Sunday morning brought sunshine and the promise of a proper epic, as we had our sights set of Fantan B, apparently the lower grade classic of the Lleyn. Thanks to hearing tales of terrifying traverses on dried bird crap, no gear, mad hand infections and in situ vomiting fulmars I was substantially afraid, but somehow still found myself following Andy down the 80m abseil down a steep grassy bank. It soon became apparent that nobody had told the seagulls that the bird ban was off and nesting season was over. Both having had previous experiences with gulls defending their nests, and not wanting to incur the wrath of either the bird gods or twitcher hell, we decided that this was not our day, and prusiked back up the rope, the sounds of gulls squawking ringing like laughter in our ears. I'd never prusiked in anger before, and it turns out it's quite hard work...

The Approach Pitch To Fantan B And It's Avian Guardians

Suitably chastened we decided to abandon the Lleyn and head for the altogether more solid climes of Gogarth. Specifically Mousetrap Zawn, the most famously solid of all Gogarth's cliffs. Ahem. After some more halfwittery with steep grass and pretend ropes we found ourself at the bottom of the Zawn. It is truly one of the most impressive places I've ever been, with truly mind-bogglingly freakish rock rising up in bizarre folds above. Seen from front on from the lighthouse steps our intended route, The Green Slab, looks steep and terrifying, but the view from the side reveals a very amenable angle, and it was only VS 4b in the old guide, what could possibly go wrong...

The Top Pitch Of The Green Slab

Actually as it turned out the route was excellent, with really funky climbing on solid rock in an incredible situation, and all perfectly positioned for looking hardcore to the gawping tourists looking on from the steps. What's not to like? The gear was sometimes a little unconventional, but there was enough of it that it didn't concern me in the slightest. The top pitch had a tricky move followed by some softer and even more ludicrous rock, but the sanctuary of a typical Gogarth top-out was soon reached.

This esoteric climbing has a certain appeal to it, I can see myself coming back for more.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Climbing Memory

It's a funny old thing the human brain. I have a great memory for useless trivia I first heard years ago, but ask me what I did yesterday and I'm flummoxed. Climbing memory is an even odder thing. This evening I went to Burbage South with my friend Jim and climbed three routes I'd previous led or seconded at some point in the past. The first, Byne's Crack, I led a few months ago. I seconded it this time and it was exactly as I remembered. The jams were just as good, and all the holds were where I remembered them. The second, Brook's Crack, I led, having seconded it several years ago. All I could remember was that the first half was easy, then there was a bit of a grovel round a bulge, and I remembered the top as being not too bad. The guidebook intimidatingly described the route as "strenuous and sustained for its entire length", but I trusted my memory over it, in spite of not really feeling the psyche, and set off upwards.

The start was as easy and pleasant as I remembered, the crux bulge was still a complete grovel, and then I found myself below the upper crack. It looked like it was going to involve some serious jamming, so I got stuck in, but almost immediately something in the back of my brain told me to try some extreme bridging, and lo, suddenly all was good. It was odd how the memory of how to finish the route was only triggered by being back in that same position, but I was very glad for the extra help!

The third route, Gable Route, was one I had led the same day as Byne's Crack a few months previously, and I had found it fairly straightforward then, so I recommended it to Jim. He found it a bit of a struggle and there were some allegations of sandbagging bandied around. This got me wondering if I'd remembered wrong, and sure enough, it felt much harder this time. I wonder if it was this more negative approach which made me climb it badly, was I just not climbing as well this evening, or did I just miss some subtle trick I'd found last time to make it feel much easier.

Hmmm. Funny things memories...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ireland Trip Part 2

We woke up the next morning with surprisingly clear heads and a sense of purpose. After being delayed for an hour or so whilst Leo told us why the Irish economy was “fecked”, we drove South East for a few miles to Muckross Head. The crag here was totally different to the other local crags, being composed of horizontally layered sandstone and mudstone. The mudstone had eroded away to leave great overhangs of sandstone above a friendly rock platform, which luckily wasn't being washed by the sea when we arrived. There are a few easier routes weaving their way through the overhangs between all the big E-numbers, so I set off up a VS called Primula. The climbing somehow managed to avoid directly climbing any overhangs, whilst still passing through some very impressive terrain, and it was thoroughly ace. Oli then had a go at the other three star VS on the crag, called Headland, which traversed for miles across the lip of another huge cave before finishing up an unlikely looking crack. Again, the climbing was great, and the positions very unlikely, and I even saw a school of dolphins pass by whilst belaying. A word of warning for other interested parties though: the belay at the top is a concrete post about 30 metres away from the top of the crag. As the route was 30 metres long and we only had 50 metre ropes, this meant I had to start climbing with Oli sitting in a small hollow thinking heavy thoughts until there was enough slack to reach the post. Eek.

After a quick spot of lunch we raced Northwards and inland heading for our second crag of the day, a big granite mountain cliff called Bingorm. Conveniently there is a road which passes within 15 minutes of the bottom of the crag and so come mid-afternoon we were sitting at the bottom staring up at a 130 metre three star HS called Tarquins Groove. The guidebook described the first two pitches as easy scrambling up to the foot of the large corner, 50 metres. I baulked at the steep greenery and tried to climb some rock instead, which left me some distance off route after a bit of exciting slab climbing, but at least anchored to some rock. Oli boldly tackled the vertical jungle head on, and eventually reached the foot of the good climbing looking somewhat afraid. It came as a great relief to both of us that the remaining four pitches were excellent and entirely on actual rock, more than justifying our travails in getting to them. Our descent back to the car wasn't entirely uneventful as we both found out that steep boggy slopes and flip flops don't mix that well, but eventually we made it down, unscathed but slightly damp of foot, and drove over to Northern Ireland that evening. We settled on a campsite in the middle of the biggest static caravan park I've ever seen in Portrush, and then spent a good 20 minutes wandering around looking for the toilets. For some curious reason they were disguised as a static caravan, which was quite a good disguise in an endless sea of static caravans.


Wednesday arrived slightly overcast, so we stopped off at the Giant's Causeway en route to Fairhead. I have to admit we were both slightly underwhelmed, but then I suppose climbers see their fair share of amazing rock architecture, and we were probably a slightly harder sell than most. It was certainly pretty cool, but I'm not sure I'd have wanted to travel very far to see it if I hadn't been passing already. Fairhead was an altogether much more impressive sight. Even the few hundred metres of hulking cliff you can see from the Ballycastle descent gully are an amazing sight, and it boggled my mind to imagine another few miles of that stretching off round the corner. I'd heard that the VSs were all impossibly hard, and the HVSs harder still, so we found the easiest decent route we could to start off on. Chieftan at VS 4b, 4b, turned out to be rather good and pretty fair at the grade, so buoyed by this we set off up Girona, a “high in the grade” VS 4c, 4c. The first pitch was brilliant and sustained, following a line of cracks and grooves to belay behind a massive detached flake. Oli's second pitch chimneyed up behind the flake (trying not to think about how attached it was) and climbed the wall above by a series of awkward high steps/mantelshelves, which were luckily aided and abetted by a few bonus jugs along the way.

Our first two Fairhead routes had been excellent, well protected, and fair at their grades, so we decided to have a crack at Hell's Kitchen, a 70 metre long HVS 5a, 5a up an obvious groove at the right side of the incredible looking Wall Of Prey. I led the first pitch, which turned out to be ridiculously well protected (one of the biggest challenges was not placing gear every 6” and then running out of quickdraws) and totally brilliant sustained 4c/5a climbing all the way to the belay. The second pitch was more of the same, although there was a little bit of added interest where the groove steepened at the top, but luckily a hidden hold made it all OK. After six long pitches we were pretty tired, so we headed to Maguire's Strand campsite and slept the sleep of the dead.

Suitably rested, the next morning we made for the Grey Man's Path descent gully at the other end of the main crag, although not before stopping to peer over the edge of the White Lightning Amphitheatre, an enormous bowl of 100 metre high crags stretching into the distance. Impressive stuff. We geared up in the sun at the top of the descent and wandered down to the bottom of Burn Up, another classic HVS 5a, 5a following another 70 metre high groove line. Mine was the first pitch again, and it was another cracker, perhaps slightly trickier than Hell's Kitchen, but no less well protected, and soon enough I arrived at the belay, a magnificent throne just to one side of the main groove. Oli followed me up and set off up the last pitch, which was billed as 25 metres of increasing difficulty to a ledge, followed by some 5a laybacking, eek. Luckily it turned out that the laybacking could be jammed instead, and we were soon both basking in the sun at the top of the crag again.


Next we decided it was time to pay a visit to The Prow, a 30-40 metre high section of crag with a couple of VSs, and no end of three star E1 cracks. We abseiled down the line of an E3 which looked like very hard work indeed, and I started off up The Fence, a VS 4c which the guide describes as “a VS which thinks it's an HVS”. Sure enough it was pretty stout and covered some very improbable ground for the grade, but the gear was once again perfect. It was probably one of the best single pitches of VS climbing I've ever done, although I'm not sure Oli agreed given the amount of jamming involved. Oli then led the VS next door, The Black Thief, which was a slightly gentler proposition, although no less brilliant. Sitting at the top trying to psyche myself up for Fireball, one of the E1 cracks, we noticed that another pair of climbers had arrived and set up a separate abseil line. This came as a bit of a shock, as we'd managed not to see another climber since Dalkey 5 days earlier. It turned out they were locals just out for a little after work climb. It must be odd having Fairhead as your local crag, surely everywhere else you go turns out to be a bit of a let down?

I peered over the edge, half hoping that the other climbers would be on Fireball so that I could pansy out of it and we could go and get ice creams instead, but they were on Railroad, so I was all out of excuses not to get on with it. I racked up with a ludicrous amount of extra gear (well the pitch was nearly 40 metres long and I didn't want to run out) and set off down the abseil with no small amount of trepidation. The route follows a crack which runs the full height of the crag and the lower section is a proper old-fashioned offwidth thrash. No small amount of effort later I found myself at the point where the crack narrows to hand-jamming loveliness. There wasn't much in the way of footholds, so it was hard work, and I kept trying to place entirely the wrong size of cams in the crack, which didn't help, but soon enough some very welcome jugs appeared on the left wall, and the crack opened up into a grove in which you could get a proper hands-off rest, phew! The last 10 metres or so were lovely open groove climbing, with a capping roof at the top which looked like it might be horribly awkward, but actually felt surprisingly easy with a bit of jamming and a high step, and suddenly I was at the top. It definitely felt like a proper E-point worth of effort! Watching Oli, a sworn jamophobe, second the pitch was rather amusing, although he cheated a bit by bridging around the initial offwidth rather than getting involved with it.

After all of that hard work I felt we deserved a drink, so we drove into Ballycastle, ate some underwhelming fish and chips, and wandered into a pub on the main street. There were some old men playing folk music in the corner and it felt like a proper Irish pub. Hell, I even tried the obligatory pint of Guinness, and it really did taste better. We got chatting to some friendly locals and somehow ended up spending the evening in a karaoke bar over the road. Mercifully everybody who got up to sing was either hilariously tone deaf or actually very good, and, against all the odds, it was a great night out.

After a bit of a lie in the following morning we struck camp and drove South towards the Mourne mountains. Most of the crags there have horrifying walk ins, but one, Pigeon Rock Mountain, is essentially roadside, so we made a beeline for there. After a bit of heckling about his lack of E1 leading the day before, Oli found an E1 5b called Phantoms which was described as excellent, well protected and low in the grade, which sounded like a good combination, so we rocked up to the crag and off he set. I turned out that “well protected” in the Mournes was a whole different kettle of fish to “well protected” at Fairhead, and although the gear was always probably enough to keep you from hitting the ground, it was never terribly reassuring. Thankfully the climbing was never too tricky, but it was nonetheless an impressive lead and I was glad I hadn't jumped on it. Descent was by abseil from a tangled web of pegs and vintage tat, so we replaced as much of it as we could and lowered back to the ground. I had a hankering for some slightly easier thrills after all that excitement, so I romped up a lovely Severe called Class Distinction and then Oli led a really excellent HS called Falcon. Football watching was beckoning once again, so we drove down into the coastal town of Rostrevor, which was well equipped with pubs and a campsite. Alas the campsite was full, so we ended up cooking our tea in the local park (classy) and watching the match in an empty pub, before driving up the valley a few miles and camping in a picnic area which may or may not also have been a local dogging spot (classier).

Our final day in Ireland was another sunny one, but we didn't fancy any epic walking-in, so we drove back to Dublin and made for Dalkey Quarry again (we found it much more easily this time). The place was really busy with climbers, people out for a stroll and sunbathers soaking up some rays, which made for a great atmosphere again. I started off bambering up a lovely little VDiff called Eliminate A, and Oli then decided to have a go at the adjacent VS 4b, Eliminate A Dash, which didn't appear to have any gear in it, but we had just watched some children happily top-roping it. It turned out to be a bit hard, so a couple of judicious side-runners were employed in the VDiff. Next I lead Streetfighter, a much better protected VS, and Oli led Yorkshire Pudding, which was one of the softest HSs I've ever climbed. VDiff would have been nearer the mark, but it was a great route. I couldn't resist a nearby HVS, just for the name, and Stereo-Tentacles ended up being a funky little number with great gear where it mattered, and a couple of weird crux moves. It'd probably be a lot harder for the short though. After this we decided we needed some shade and headed for the West Valley again, where Oli led Charleston Direct, a short but sharp VS, and I led E Route, a VS 4b with plenty of holds and gear (and not a great deal of 4b). The top was a bit exciting, but that was shared with a Severe! On reaching the belay some friendly sunbathers gave us some barbecued sausages, win for us! Next on the agenda was Mahjjong, a very thin and not overly well protected VS 4c, and Paradise Lost, a brilliant juggy romp at VDiff. At this point it was really time to get a move on to make sure we didn't miss our ferry, but we'd done nine routes and it seemed rude not to get into double figures, so Oli raced up a HS with an exposed and spicy finish called F Route, and we ran back to the car. We were a little bit later than we'd planned, so we only had half an hour to get from Dalkey to Dublin Port. We would probably just have made it if I hadn't tried to follow some road signs and ended up taking a massive detour right through the city centre. In the end we reached the port 15 minutes late, but a friendly Stena Line worker took pity on us, and we just squeezed onto the ferry before it left.

We got in to Holyhead at 1am on Sunday morning, so just threw the tent up in the North Stack car park. We woke early as it was another baking hot day and hatched a sensible and totally achievable plan to do Dream Of White Horses in the morning and then drive to Chester to drop Oli off for the 2:30pm train. This plan was further improved by the realisation that we only had half a bowl of Alpen between us for breakfast, but some other climbers took pity on us and gave us half a pain au chocolat in the car park. Suitably fuelled we marched over to Wen Zawn and abseiled down to the ledges above the sea. Neither of us had ever climbed in the Zawn before, and the situation was very intimidating. We spent an age trying to pick the line of the last pitch out, but couldn't work out where on Earth it might go. Suitably scared we started off climbing. The first, short pitch was easy enough, and the second followed a line of holds which just kept on appearing when all looked lost. The third pitch followed an obvious flake line, with an excellent supply of holds and gear, before dropping down to a belay in the weird rubble of the Concrete Chimney. From here the final pitch still looked unlikely, but rather more possible, and the sun was shining on the second half of it as an added incentive. Oli made short work of what turned out to be fairly easy climbing in a totally crazy position, and we were soon back at the bags. We felt like we'd been fairly efficient, so it was a bit of a shock to find out that it was already 2:30. Another race ensued, but we lost this one, with Oli just missing the 4:30 train. My drive back over Snake Pass was civil enough, and the trip counter just ticked over onto 1000miles as I pulled into the bottom of my road. What a trip!

Ireland Trip Part 1

It was a warm Friday evening in June the year of our lord 2010. I sallied forth from Sheffield in my trusty steed, the Astra, and collected Oli from Chester station. As is to be expected he was late (he blamed the train), but as is also to be expected, so was I, so we arrived at exactly the same time. We immediately piled down the A55 to Conwy, where we visited the marvels of Tesco, and then continued to Anglesey. We were bound for the campsite at Rhoscolyn, but neither of us had been there before and it turns out that the map in the Gogarth North guide is a little bit less than amazing. So we spent some time driving around tiny country roads in the dark just before midnight before eventually locating the campsite more through blind luck than anything else. We pitched the tent and slept.

Saturday dawned bright and earlyish, so we struck camp and moseyed on down to the port at Holyhead, where our ferry awaited. The crossing passed without anything of note happening, and soon enough we were deposited in Dun Laoghaire on the outskirts of Dublin. Our aim for the day was Dalkey Quarry, Ireland's premier urban climbing venue, and a mere mile or two from the port. In fact we could see the crag, but again the guidebook (well, the printed out pages from the online wiki for the crag I'd elegantly bound together the day before using work's ink and stationary cupboard) lacked a little in the specifics of how to get there, so we drove all the way round the crag a few times before finding somewhere to park. The quarry is a rather pleasant spot, atop a hill with views over Dublin Bay, with quarried granite walls of between 10 and 30m high dotted around the greenery. We headed for the upper cliffs and asked some friendly local climbers for recommendations. They suggested Thrust as the 'must-do' HVS of the crag (although we spent some time looking for a route called Trust before we remembered how Irish pronunciation works), so we decided to warm up on a VS and then get on with it.

It was Oli's lead, so he set off up Helios, a three star VS in the White Walls area. The granite didn't give a great deal away in terms of gear, and he got mildly harassed at one point before reaching a peg and a cluster of other gear, but the climbing was nice and soon enough we were back at our bags and moving on towards Thrust. The route follows a nice crack line for the first pitch, so I had no gear lacking issues, and the crux even featured a crucial knee-wedge, which was a bonus. Oli's second pitch was totally brilliant, with well protected climbing on super holds up a fairly impregnable looking section of rock. This boded well. Flushed with success we moved down to the West Valley for a look at another three star VS 4c called Pilaster. On first inspection there didn't seem to be any gear, so we asked a nearby climber and they told us there was a crap microwire at half height, but it was basically a solo. That didn't sound very appealing (or fair at VS) so we moved on to an HVS called Superette which clearly had plenty of gear. It turned out to be quite nice and rather soft for the grade, marvellous. We then rounded the day off with a spicy little VS number called Tramp which took an innocuous looking corner to a finish round a mean looking overhang. It turned out that the corner was about 5b, but luckily the overhang was covered in jugs and had a stealthy knee bar in it to aid progress. So, our first experience of Irish climbing was pretty positive, although the grading seemed a little varied, particularly with respect to the gearfulness or otherwise of the routes.

After some disappointing football watching that evening we decided to head for Donegal for a few days, so we set off and were almost immediately confounded by a toll-booth free toll motorway. The signs informed us we had until 8pm the following day to pay our few Euro toll, and that this could be effected either by phone or online. Possessing neither an Irish phone or ready access to the internet, this seemed a rather cruel trick to spring, but eventually I imposed on Avril to pay it for us. The rest of the drive went uneventfully (except for some mild confusion when we crossed into Northern Ireland without realising, I was expecting a sign or something), but ended with a midnight mini-epic trying to find a campsite. We finally arrived on a massive caravan park on the shores of a massive lake near Enniskillen, which had, amongst its more redeeming features, a covers band playing Kaiser Chiefs songs very loudly indeed until the wee small hours. Luckily our pitch was at least 20 yards away from the building they were playing in so we had a pleasantly quiet night, ahem.

The following morning was midgy and rather showery, so we continued Donegalwards, then onwards through Killybegs to Malin Beg, a tiny village on the tip of the North side of Donegal Bay. We could see it raining on the other side of the bay, but it was dry at the crag, which was a pleasant looking selection of walls and bays, with convenient ledges running beneath much of the climbing. The rock was pretty intriguing, somewhat reminiscent of North Pembroke's sandstone although with more weird pockets and less small crimpy holds, but apparently it's actually some kind of Quartzite. It was my lead, so I started off up Bosun's Ladder, a short, but friendly Severe, before Oli led the equally pleasant VS 4b Hydrophobia just next to it. A tricky approach past an ominous looking green pool, and a comedy foot-next-to-face high step manouevre at half height were the cruxes of the next route, Splashdown, and then Oli led a fun little VS called Trident, which had some interest from a wobbly crux hold, and the biggest suicide bugs we'd ever seen in residence at the bottom (suicide bugs are these odd little creatures you get at sea cliffs which are kind of a cross between woodlice and earwigs, but have a tendency to jump off the cliff into your eyes at every possibly opportunity). By this point the sea had come in a little, and the nice platforms we'd been basking on earlier (the sun had come out by this stage) were suddenly looking a rather dicier prospect, so we soloed three easier routes at a slightly higher level and then hunger forced us to set up camp and cook tea. As it happened this coincided with a brief shower, so we settled in for the night, camped next to a lovely natural harbour, all of 5 minutes walk from the crag.

Malin Beg:

Monday morning was pretty sunny, so we wandered back up to the crag and decided to abseil in to one of the longer routes, a VS called Second Mate. It was very amenable and full of gear, but its companion VS, First Mate, looked like a much scarier proposition, as did the apparent classic of the crag, so we bottled those and Oli led a geartastic HS called Calvin's Corner. As lovely a crag as Malin Beg was, we decided it was time to get exploring, so we drove a few miles up the coast to the improbably named village of Glencolumbkille, where we had tea, soup and scones in a proper Father Ted tearoom before visiting the even more improbably named Skelpoonagh Bay. Again the guidebook map was useless, just showing a generic bend in an unspecified road, with Peter's House marked in big letters on the corner. Later investigations revealed that Peter did indeed still live in the house in question, but reluctant to start randomly knocking on doors we just picked a promising looking corner and set off coastwards.

Skelpoonagh Bay and Glencolumbkille:

Luckily we had chosen our bend wisely and soon arrived at the top of the crag, which consisted of four large zawns separated by jutting headlands. The principle object of our attentions was a VS called Paradise In The Picture-House, which there was a rather cool looking photo of in the guide, and which was described as “phantasmagoric”. The route takes a rising traverse across a hanging slab above the mouth of a yawning sea cave, leading to a huge quartz vein, up which the route finishes, with a crux roof at the very top. With the waves crashing below the situation was very atmospheric, with the roof proving well protected, but requiring some burly jamming to overcome it. Needless to say Oli particularly enjoyed following that bit. We both chickened out of an HVS which started in the same place before traversing into a hanging corner directly above the sea cave, the guidebook description “change your trousers here and then bring up your second before you change your mind” worried us both a bit, so Oli picked an interesting looking VS called New Beginnings, which followed a striking thin flake crack up an otherwise featureless wall. The climbing was pretty sustained, building to a tricky crux high up the route, but the gear was all small nuts behind thin flakes which hardly inspired confidence, and probably put the route at the scary end of HVS, a good lead by Mr Gray! This chastened us somewhat, so we decided to try and find the campsite the guidebook mentioned in the village, with good, but clearly never to be fulfilled, intentions to return to climb in the evening.

After a brief search we located Dooey Hostel (apparently the oldest independent hostel in Ireland) up on the hill above the tea shop, and found a wonderful campsite in a wooded glade with an incredible view across the bay. The proprietor of the hostel was an amazing chap called Leo, who lived up to my every stereotype of Irish hospitality and then some. He supplied us with tea and a lavish plate of biscuits upon arrival and insisted we avail ourselves of the kitchen, shower and common room in the hostel, which we duly did, and spent a fabulous evening in the company of a couple of friendly Germans who were also staying there, playing shithead and drinking whisky until the wee small hours.