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.