Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Systematic Destruction of the Cornish Coast Part II

With the low tides having moved into rather unhelpful early mornings and late evenings, we decamped and set off towards West Penwith. On the way we stopped off at Doyden Point, near Pentire, to nip up a very pleasant little VS called Caprice. The approach abseil was quite atmospheric, and the "non-tidal" ledges were worryingly close to being wave washed even at mid-tide, but the climbing was fun, and we were soon making our way to Carn Gowla. I was pretty psyched for Journey To Ixtlan, but after his hold-snapping at Compass Point, and all of Wreckers' Slab, one look at the photo in the guide was enough to put Oli off that idea. There was a great sounding E1 called Sack Full Of Clowns, which was next to a two star VS, so we decided to do the VS and see what happened. Locating the routes was non-trivial, but having established which bit of cliff to abseil off, Oli set off down the line of Supernatural, and built a hanging belay at the base of the route (apparently there used to be a ledge, but it fell in the sea). I joined him, and then led back up a perfect jamming crack in an otherwise blank slab. The gear was great, and the crashing waves below made it feel like a proper Gowla experience, even if the rock was sound and the chances of actual death were slim. Unfortunately we couldn't see the line of Sack Full Of Clowns, but we were worried it might be wet (and we didn't need any more of an excuse), so we jumped back in the car instead and drove to the campsite near St Just.

Some Carn Gowla ambience on Supernatural

The next day was bright and sunny again, so we got up super-early to beat the crowds to Bosigran, and began a systematic bagging of all of the ticklist routes we'd missed on our last visit six years ago. This took us up a couple of fun, but quite stiff VDiffs, a nice 4 pitch Severe, a really good VS called Nameless, and a rather bold and hard Severe to finish things off. After this we still had a bit of puff left, but not enough to commit to 4 pitches of HVS, so we went to check out Zennor, a crag made of something which wasn't granite. Oli led The Royal Forester, which turned out to be covered in hundreds of secret jugs. The crux was a rather stiff layback which felt more like 5a than the 4c we were expecting, but it was a cracking route to end the day on, and well worth a couple of hours of your time if you happen to be in the area...

Zennor. The Royal Forester takes the right-hand crack line.

At this stage, it felt like time to up the ante, so the next day we went to Carn Kenidjack. The crag looked totally awesome, but rather imposing from below, and the undercut starts of Saxon and Rock Dancer (the day's chief objectives) looked a bit, well, challenging. Reminding myself that Pat Littlejohn was awesome I manned up a bit and thrutched my way up onto the wall, and Saxon's initial traverse line. Somehow the blank looking wall above was secretly plastered with jugs, allowing you to reach some impossible looking positions without doing any hard moves. I kept stopping myself, looking down at the apparently blank wall beneath me, and wondering how on earth I'd got to where I was. Yet another totally brilliant route.

Mid-crush on Saxon

As I neared the top of the route, an abseil rope snaked down next to me, and six other climbers processed down it, at such a small crag I feared things would get crowded, but they turned out to be some pretty sound guys, including a 70 year old who kept Oli entertained for ages with a conversation about particle physics. Once we got back to the base of the crag I did my best to try and persuade Oli to lead Rock Dancer (as I was feeling too afraid of the start), but he was unmoved, and decided instead to have a crack at In The Gallery, which looked hard. It was. Route finding was non-trivial and the moves were thin and required faith in what lay above.

This left me feeling a bit worried about trying any of the E1s, but I'd struggle to design a crag more suited to my climbing and I knew I'd be annoyed with myself if I didn't at least give something harder a go. I resolved to spend a few minutes failing to get off the ground on Rock Dancer, then give up and escape up the nearby Hard Severe, and retire to a crag with some easy routes on it. That was the plan anyway. Alas I spoilt things by almost accidentally managing to haul myself round the committing little overhang, and all of a sudden I was committed. Oops. The guide promised "good, but spaced gear", which reminded me of Tydomin a few days before, but they weren't lying this time. There was also a fair amount of poor gear between the good bits, and I was just fiddling some of this in and wondering whether a bold hand traverse, or delicate teeter was the best plan to get established on the next ledge, when one of the other climbers appeared down the ab rope and loudly proclaimed that I was at the crux. This was not the psychological boost I needed, particularly given how uninspiring the gear I'd just placed was, and he then laid it on a little thicker (albeit unintentionally) by suggesting that I might consider some chicanery involving a layback. My position was less than restful, so I had to commit to something sooner or later. I went out 'for a look' at the hand traverse, and suddenly the position with my feet on nothing, and facing a safe but potentially rather exciting fall, galvanised me into throwing a foot up onto the ledge and rocking onto it, using a cheeky little mono pocket to stop me peeling off backwards into the abyss. To my great relief I was immediately rewarded with some of that good gear, and I scooted up the top of the route feeling pretty awesome.

I'm supposed to go where? Oli baffled by the crux of Dexter at Sennen

I was feeling pretty drained by this stage and psyched for ice cream, so we moved on to Sennen (via the Co-Op in St Just) for a couple of quick evening routes. The crag was deserted in spite of it being a beautiful evening, so nobody else got to enjoy Oli's travails trying to swing round onto the juggy flake of Dexter. I managed to avoid the issue entirely by jamming up the back of the flake instead. Wonderful...

A Systematic Destruction of the Cornish Coast Part I

So, on the day before Good Friday, Dr Gray and myself set off from Bristol in the mighty Pandazoid, bound for a week of hardcore climbing and general aceness. Our first destination was the culm, and, as neither of us had climbed on the stuff before, we elected to ease ourselves in gently with a visit to Vicarage Cliff.

Vicarage Cliff

We arrived at the crag with the sun out, the tide on the retreat and just as another party were leaving, so we had the place to ourselves for the afternoon. The climbing was great fun; slabby, technical and absorbing, with good gear and plenty of positive holds. This was a promising start. We quickly rattled off the 5 ticklist routes at the crag, before Oli began pushing the boundaries and set off up Little Dribbler, an HVS. By this stage the tide was coming in apace, and was soon washing the bottom of the rock I was sat on. Thankfully he made short work of the route, and we managed to escape from the onrushing waters with dry feet. Just. Then we went hunting for the very friendly campsite in Stibb, and went to check out the local pizza emporium. This had been given top billing by Julie and Andy, and it didn't disappoint. My hoi sin duck pizza was immense. Oh yes.

Low tide wasn't until mid afternoon, so we decided to check out the not that tidal delights of Compass Point in the morning. Again, the crag was deserted, so I jumped straght on Caravanserai, a fun looking HVS up a corner. It was ace, with some slightly exciting rock near the top, and an interesting belay to a distant fence, but the climbing was great. Oli led another HVS on more funky rock, and had a slight moment when his powers of crush caused a hold to disintegrate in his hand. The resulting fall was less than a foot, but forced him to curb his most crushtastic excesses.

Oli standing below Caravanserai

Next I managed to persuade myself that the guidebook description of Tydomin, a bold looking HVS 4c slab, as having "spaced but good protection" would be a good thing for me to do to try and get my head in gear from some more run out routes. Unfortunately the guidebook lied and the gear was mostly shit, with a small cluster of slightly more adequate bits around half height. At least the actual climbing was dead easy. This put paid to my slightly delusional thoughts of leading Crimtyphon (rusty pegs, shudder), so we nipped up the Diff ridge with our bags and drove to Morwenstow for a late afternoon ascent of Wreckers' Slab. At least that was the plan.

The walk in was hard work out of all proportion to it's length. The soul-crushing precipice you have to decend into between the top of Henna and the top of Cornakey being a particular lowlight, but we eventually reached the top and started to rack up. We took headtorches as a precaution against benightment, and hacked our way down through the thorns to sea level. The route looked impressive, but loose, and the sky looked slightly ominous, but I waved away Oli's concerns with a bold claim that if it was going to rain it would have done it by now. Ahem. 45 minutes later we were running away, Oli having not enjoyed the creaky holds on the first pitch, me having seconded it in the rain, both of us having abandoned quite a lot of gear to retreat from at the first belay, and with only just enough dry rock left to hop back round on before the tide cut us off. Rather too close to an epic failure for comfort, but instead just a rather annoying one. We contemplated abandoning the gear and never returning, but a quick tot up of the actual cost of replacing it all soon brought us round to the fact that we would have to return the following day to finish the job properly. We consoled ourselves with more pizza, and some port back at the campsite with Julie and Andy, who had turned up on a Cornish adventure of their own.

As neither of us could bear the thought of getting up at 6am to catch the early morning tide-window for Wreckers' Slab, we went to investigate the weirdness of Lower Sharpnose. After stumbling around in the mist for a while looking for the crag, we found it, and lo, it was amazing. No amount of photos and people telling me how cool the fins were had prepared me for how cool the fins were. How do they not just fall over? After a minor faff waiting for the tide to retreat enough for us to reach the bottom of the classic Pat Littlejohn HVS corner of Lunakhod, I set off up it, armed with as many quickdraws as my harness could accomodate. After what seemed like a huge amount of excellent climbing, I looked up to see that I was still barely halfway to the top. Maximum awesomeness. Especially jamming around the crux roof at the top in a position of mega-exposure. Wow. Definitely one of the best routes I've ever been on.

The middle and North fins at Lower Sharpnose

Feeling inspired, Oli talked himself into The Smile, a brilliant, but very steep, looking E1 pitch across the huge sunny South wall of the North fun. He made good progress along the traverse, but then ran into all kinds of pumpy trouble and had to rest, before making it to the top at the second attempt. On second I managed to kid myself into thinking that I was recovering off some painful quartzy jams, but as soon as I moved off again I realised I was still desperately pumped. Somehow I found some hidden reserves of oomph and dragged myself to the top, but it was a very close thing. Certainly beyond me on lead, and a valiant effort by the Graylord.

Wreckers' Slab in the sunshine this time

Mindful of the time, we hot-footed it back to Cornakey (via some ice cream from the Rectory Tea Rooms), with the sky looking altogether more promising. The first pitch was my lead this time, and I managed to find a slightly more solid line with some actually believable gear. This meant the second, crux, pitch was Oli's, and he had failed to cleanly lead his last three routes, so things augered well for success. Sadly for our epic potential he eventually managed to negotiate a way through the maze of creaky holds, and I romped up the suprpisingly solid and gearful top pitch, just as the sun began to set. It was definitely an adventure, but we were both keen to focus our attentions on slightly more solid objectives for the next few days...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Yorkshire Exploring

Plans this weekend involved heading to Nidderdale for Kyle's Birthday festivities, and garnering some new crag points. After an evening mulling over the guidebooks and getting much (probably fair) heckling for abandoning my principles and turning into a dirty bouldering scumbag, Andy and I concocted a plan to head to Sypeland, climb everything and then move on to Ash Head Crag to tick the three star VS, Thunder Crack. What could possibly go wrong...

Andy Trying Horse Gone Wonky at Sypeland

The walk in to Sypeland seemed interminable, especially once the track had been forsaken and we were just bashing across the heather, but at long last we reached the crag. After an initial reconnaissance stroll, where we saw much that looked impressive, and much that looked very lichenous (often at the same time), we returned to the bags and after a misspent few minutes trying an HVS with a horrible rounded top out, we moved along.

After soloing a pleasant little VS, we turned our attentions to the neighbouring route/problem Twitchy Kind Of Way, another HVS. There was a photo of this in the guide which looked easy and not too high, but it turned out to be slightly overhanging and much higher than advertised. Andy romped up it at the second attempt, but I took a nearly infinite number of goes, gibbering slightly higher each time (and at one point actually downclimbing the entire problem) before finally topping it out. Not my finest hour.

Tib's Tent

After a while failing to make much progress on a funky V4 arete we moved onto the crag's last hurrah, a very aesthetic lone boulder known as Tib's Tent. After a rather frightening scratch up a Severe slab where half way up I realised the whole thing was made of ball bearings, we spent a few minutes working on the perplexing start to Striding Edge, a three star E1/V1 5b up one of the boulder's major aretes. Having cracked the start, the finish, although high and still not trivial, was thankfully a little easier. A great problem, and a good time to move on to our next objective for the day, Ash Head Crag.

A slightly blurry view of Thunder Crack

Although the guide doesn't give it a great write up, when the crag hoved into view it was surprisingly sunny, high, clean, and had a great outlook over the vale of York. Unfortunately when we got there the classic VS of the crag (and supposedly one of the finest in the county) looked rather intimidating, and not a little overhanging. The line was compelling, which a tricky looking arete leading to a footless hand traverse to an overhanging crack, then up this to an even more overhanging stretch for a (hopefully) good rail, along which you monkey to easier ground, but looked several grades harder than was alleged. I spent several minutes wrestling with myself over whether to lead it or not, but eventually decided to cede the honours to Andy. I was proved right in doing this, when he reached as far as the base of the crack before backing off. He tried again, and made it into the crack proper, but was again repelled by the steepness of the route. When abseiling to retrieve the gear (after battling with some interesting heather crevasses) we discovered that the route overhung by some 2-3 metres over its 15 metre length. Feeling rather epically sandbagged we wandered along the rest of the crag, and found that every single route appeared to be somewhat undergraded. This was further confirmed when I tried to save face by soloing a Mod, but was forced back by a mantel at half height into a vertical shrubbery. With our spirits suitably broken we fled for the car, and raced off for the more conventional delights of Brimham.

Here we managed swift ascents of the start to Minion's Way, a speedy bottling out of the crux of Acme Wall (it looked like a fun move, but not at that height), an abject failure to get off the ground on Whisky Galore (must get stronger and better before trying that sort of thing), a gibber up the start of Black Chipper, and a game, but ultimately fruitless attempt at the V3 arete to the right. By this stage we were in danger of being locked into the car park, so we mooched back to the bunkhouse for food and beer.

The joys of Minion's Way

On Sunday, team adventure (consisting of me, Simon, Claire, James, Dan and Kyle and his entourage) headed to the jungles of Eavestone, where my advances on Spinnaker were met with some unwelcome No Entry signs, so Simon and I attempted Portcullis as a consolation prize, a Severe with unusual splashdown potential and a unique technical crawling section. Our reward for a successful ascent was finding ourselves marooned on top of a pinnacle, with the promised tree bridge to safety lying rotting on the forest floor. Eventually we escaped, but only after sacrificing the sling of unknown provenance to the rhododendron gods. Feeling as though my adventure quota for the weekend was now well filled I lobbied for an escape to Brimham, and my pleas were met with some clemency by Simon and Claire.

James seconding Portcullis at Eavestone

We relocated, via some all-important motivational ice cream, to the Fag Slab area of Brimham, where I quite fancied the look of Allan's Crack. The climbing turned out to be tricky, but excellent, and well deserving of its three stars. Next came ascents of Fag Slab, and Fag Slab Variant (twice, as James had turned up by then and needed a willing second), before Simon and Claire headed back South, and James and I moved over to Birch Tree Wall. After a little wobble at the start when I tried to put gear in when I should have just carried on climbing, things went smoothly, although the temperature seemed to have gone up and the holds felt rather sweaty, and I was soon at the top enjoying the view. We finished the day by getting stuck into (in all senses) Right-Hand Crack, before going our separate ways.

All in all a relatively successful weekend (the Ash Head Crag debacle aside), with plenty of new things to aspire to. Next up, a week long Easter trip to the South West with Oli. Some culm-shaped adventure beckons...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Pottering At The Hagg

After a rather crazy day at work, I arranged to meet Dan at Bell Hagg for some evening mild esoterica. Things got off to an inauspicious start when I tried to lead Furherbuch, an unstarred VS which makes it into the graded list in the back of the guide, end found myself unwilling to hand traverse a mediocre break with no footholds whatsoever and ending up hand traversing the top of the crag instead. Hmm, poor show. At this point we established that my 20-odd metre long half rope wasn't really long enough to double over, climb the routes and reach the belay at the top. Fail.

Undeterred we had a little play on the rocking block of Hangman's Arete before wandering along to Scoop Arete. Dan led up to the capping roof easily, but was perturbed by the mantle-y finishing move and after a damn good go at psyching himself up for it, took the easier rightwards finish. The mantle wasn't too bad on second, but would definitely have been a bit of a heart-stopper on lead...

Dan wrestling with his bravery on Scoop Arete

By this stage the sun had set, but there was still time for us both to solo The Lurcher, a great HS 4c with fun moves and good holds. I then bouldered out the heel hooktastic start of Brown's Unmentionable (and wished I'd taken a harness and the rope up with me, the top section looks fun) before enjoying Dan's efforts to get his foot above his head.

We finished the evening's entertainment with a play on Lurcher's Nose Front, a V1 5c with some perplexing fridge-hugging manoeuvres. Somehow our progress just about outpaced the gathering gloom, and we both finally managed the problem just before it got too dark to see any of the holds.

All in all a successful evening, and I'm excited about returning with a sensible amount of rope and a little more gumption.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Oooh, Look At The Pretty Colours

After spending most of today staring out of a train window at everything looking sunny and ace, i was chomping at the bit to get out for some evening climbing once I'd made it home. I arranged to meet Adam, Kate and Tammy the enthusiastic hound at Burbage South, and headed out into the Peak District. I arrived a bit early, so spent a few minutes pottering around on some problems I'd done before (and finding them disconcertingly hard work). Eventually I wandered down to the Tank, and managed to flash a V2 I'd failed dismally on a couple of years ago.

Adam, Kate and the mad canine soon arrived, and we spent a good couple of hours variously succeeding and failing on a whole bunch of problems. I established that I still can't smear or dyno, and that being able to reach holds Adam can't is still funny. We also both flashed the easiest V3 6a in the world (but couldn't even work out how to, let alone actually do, the V2 next to it), yay us.

And we were treated to a glorious sunset on the way back to the cars. Aceness. More of this please.

A Quick Fix

Amongst all the recent tumult of house-buying and various other stress-inducing diversions, I managed to find time on Saturday for a few hours at Rivelin with Jaime. After arriving in the drizzle the weather soon dried up, and the sun even came out by mid afternoon. Jaime was leading her first routes of the year after a recent holiday in font, and I was trying to remember how gear worked after all this recent bouldering, but we both had a pretty good time.

Highlights included romping up Jonad Rib without even a tiny whimper at the unprotected 4c moves, and retro-flashing Blizzard Ridge on lead. It felt pretty steady, and only confirmed my confusion from when I seconded it previously that people consider it to be bold and high in the grade. Sure there are several 5a moves, but the gear is good and not that spaced, and none of the 5a moves are that hard (unless you're unusually short I'd imagine). It's still a brilliant route though. If you haven't done it then go and rectify that now (and do Croton Oil too while you're there).

Less highlights were my initial failure to remember how to climb whilst uselessing my way up a Hard Severe, accidentally climbing round the crux of Angle Rib, an unstarred HVS (although in my defence the move I avoided was committing, above some very worrying sounding gear and hopelessly eliminate) and accidentally sandbagging Jaime on Cocaine Place. This was an HVS just left of Wilkinson's Wall which I'd previously contemplate soloing. It turns out that the good looking gear isn't, and the crux comes after the tricky moves to pass this (and is really hard). Ooops.

Overall it was a pretty successful day, although somehow I still managed to avoid doing either Kremlin Crack (which still looks ace, but like very hard work indeed) or Altar Crack. The latter is getting a bit ridiculous now. I think it might be the only three star VS on Eastern Grit (or at least one of very few remaining) which I haven't done, and it's the one nearest to my house. Oh dear. I must learn to either layback, man up some more, jam thin cracks, or ideally all three. The shame, the shame.

Hopefully the next few weeks will bring some evening climbing to the party. Watch this space...