Saturday, 30 April 2011

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...


  1. Ah, the good old 'hidden reserves of oomph' comes into play again! I think Julie must have had something to do with that.

    There's a most excellent pub in that part of the world, where we enjoyed a whole baked camembert or something for starter. In a little town on the way to Blackchurch I think, if you go back.

  2. Ah, this is probably it

  3. A whole camembert? As a starter? Madness :)

    I may find it difficult to tear myself away from the pizza place in Kilkhampton...