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...