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.
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!