Monday, 20 June 2011


Nursing a slightly worryingly dodgy elbow (I blame seconding Sophie up too much overhanging nonsense), and with a slightly ropey, but improving, forecast, I hitched a lift with Jaime and Dan to North Wales this weekend. I didn't have too many high hopes for much climbing, but was just keen to get a bit of mileage in, and perhaps tick off a few routes from the grand ticklist.

After a drink or several on Friday night, Saturday morning was hardly a faff-free or early affair, but eventually Jaime and I hatched a plan to nip to Rhoscolyn, climb Symphony Crack (the classic Diff of the crag!) and then head to Holyhead Mountain. This was a sort of compromise, as I didn't want to lead King Bee Crack, and had done everything else at Holyhead I wanted to. Or so I thought.

Anyway, eventually we reached Rhoscolyn at lunchtime, and strolled into the crag in the sunshine. The tide was in, and the sea was wavey, so I was relieved to discover that the crag wasn't underwater, and the traverse in to the route appeared to be above the waves. Jaime, it turns out, fears the sea, so we got the ropes out, and I tied her down to a rock, before leading the route. It was very pleasant, a fun little adventure. I got to experience this for a second time when soloing the route a second time to retrieve a stuck nut.

Symphony Crack and the hungry sea

Next up we moved to Holyhead Mountain, where Jaime led Cursing, and I led the essentially unprotected top pitch of Little Women (4c and a big ledge at the bottom to arrest your fall before the gear came into the equation). Pleasingly I managed not to gibber at any point, although I don't claim there was any style in my bellyflop top-out. I then soloed a couple of easier routes, before Jaime led the corned of Teaser, and I decided to maintain the bold theme by leading Step On The Wild Side, a largely unprotected HVS 4c up the arete to the right of Little Women. Again, there was not wibbling, and I even resisted the urge near the top, to place a runner in a crack I could easily have reached (try explaining the logic of that to a non-climber).

Soloing a Holyhead Mountain

Whilst pondering what to do next, Jaime mentioned a need to lead an HVS, so I suggested a nearby one which was really about HS 4b (hurrah for baffling overgrading). I soloed it to prove that it really was easy, so then after Jaime had led it, I did a bit of chicanery with the ropework and managed to second an unprotected E1 4c slab instead. I had entertained the idea of soloing this earlier, but was put off by the apparent lack of holds. As it was, the holds were good, if small, so i soloed it for the easiest E-point I've yet managed. We finished the day with Jaime leading Tension, still one of my favourite routes at the crag. A really good day.

A night of drinking, cake-eating, play-doh modelling and charades ensued, and didn't contribute to an early start on Sunday. Eventually we made it to Carreg Wasted in the pass shortly before lunchtime, and I set off up Ribstone Crack. The guide claimed it was high in the grade, but it felt fine, and had a particularly fine bridged position high on the headwall. Marvellous. After lunch I got stuck into the promisingly named Overhanging Chimney, which had a rather scary first pitch. Pulling on juggy, but dubious holds, with nothing but a couple of rattly and uninspiring nuts between me and 10 metres of plummet, wasn't particularly fun, but it was character building. Which is more than can be said of the second pitch, the eponymous chimney. Bridging led to more bridging, and then a pull on jugs, and suddenly I was free without having to do a single move of chimneying, overhanging or otherwise. I led to the top in a single 50m pitch with only 5 runners, perhaps some kind of record (for me at least).

Emerging from the Overhanging Chimney

After this we both sat around at the bottom of the crag feeling like we should climb something else, but not particularly inspired by anything. Eventually I decided to lead First Test, a two pitch VS 4c with "good but spaced gear", that old chestnut. The first pitch was bold, but with adequate gear until the crux, by which stage only a sling draped over a dubious spike lay between me and a near groundfall from 15 metres or so, and things only got worse on the second pitch. Direct entry to the corner as suggested (the guide at least said that it was hard) was clearly harder than 4c, and protected only by a poor nut behind a loose looking flake, which also provided the only holds. Feeling this was unreasonable, I engineered a traverse in from the right at a sketchy, and still unprotected 4c ish, to be rewarded with plenty more tricky climbing and rattly holds, but little in the way of gear. Finally after 35m the route bafflingly avoided the obvious direct finish, for a bold (of course), tricky and wholly un-fun, traverse onto a briefly lived arete. And I ran out of rope setting up the belay. All in all, not my favourite ever route, and definitely an HVS kind of experience, but it did seem like a fitting end to a weekend which had involved rather a lot of bold 4c climbing. At no point had I cried like a girl, or thought I might die. So perhaps I'm making some kind of progress after all.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

More Good Stuff

Another beautifully sunny evening (albeit a very windy one), another evening trip to Stanage with Mr Dan. We mixed things up a bit by going to the popular end this week. I led Rubber Band, which was ace - kind of like an easier, but longer version of Ellis' Eliminate. I did manage to place one of Dan's cams in a foolish position which it was very reluctant to relinquish, so he had to abseil for it whilst I soloed a very easy VS.

Dan seconding Rubber Band

Next I managed to gently coax (or mercilessly bully depending on your reading of events) Dan into doing Retroversion. He had a slight hand-puddle interface scenario mid-crux, and ended up sitting on the rope to dry out, but pressed on through on his second attempt. A very nice route, and probably just about worth HVS.

Near the top of Retroversion

Finally, in the somewhat fading light I boldly flaked the ropes out beneath Cave Arete before I'd had too much time to consider what I was doing. I had really wanted to do the VS round to the left with Harding's Super Direct Finish, but that was covered in bawdy student losers, so I manned up a bit instead. I'd seconded Sophie up the route a few years ago and remembered thinking it was hard then. Oh well. As it happened, other than a couple of tactical downclimbs (Dan seemed to think this equated to cowardice, I thought it was strategic genius) things went well, although the crux felt very arm-y, and I could really feel the previous day's exertions at Citybloc. I managed to power on through, however, which was pretty pleasing. A new high-water mark in the Stanage graded list. Get in.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Yet More Limestone

Sadly the beautiful British summer weather put paid to my plans to go to the Lakes festival of climbing in the Duddon valley, which was a shame, as I was pretty keen for some proper lakeland routes. Still, determined to salvage something from the weekend, I headed to Leeds Wall on Friday night for some steep bouldering with Julie and Andy before fattening ourselves up with some of Mr Khan's awesome pizza goodness.

The forecast for Saturday was indecisive, but we went with the most optimistic and headed up to Pot Scar, just past Settle. I have a vague recollection of some friends telling me it was rubbish, and the guidebook warns of extreme polish, but there were ticklist routes to be done. When we arrived the sun was out, and we warmed up by soloing a bunch of routes on the smaller left-hand wing of the crag. These were entirely polish free, although whether this was because they were rarely climbed, or because all of the polished holds had fallen off was unclear. There were certainly a few worrying moments pulling on questionable flakes and standing on wobbly footholds, but there were no fatalities, so we celebrated with lunch, although not before Julie and I had soloed one of the proper routes, Equity, a Severe with two whole stars. It was great, relatively long, solid and with lots of lovely holds. Altogether a little bit more promising.

Pot Scar in the evening sun

After lunch I geared up and led up Overdose, a VS which reminded me one of the main reasons I don't like limestone - all the gear cracks staunchly refused to accept any inspiring gear, although they'd admit any number of wobbly or half-in nuts. Luckily the climbing was pretty easy, so it wasn't too pressing a concern. Andy led the adjacent E1, LSD, next, which proved to be pretty easy, with only one hard move, and that was a high-step and rockover. The gear was similarly mediocre though.

Next up was The Long Black Veil, a weird little eliminate with a rather hard start (probably 5a and quite committing) and a slightly wandering line, but which somehow managed to feel independent and good, in spite of the top arete being within a few inches of the next route. Andy then led Sunspot, the classic of the crag, although he did have a slight wobble and almost called for a top-rope at one point. The climbing was lovely, but the holds were small and the gear uselessly distant for the crux. A good reminder why I'm so utterly terrified of limestone E1s.

Andy showboating on The Long Black Veil

My last lead of the day was Addiction, a steep looking VS which had repelled efforts from both of the other parties at the crag. I was a bit wary, but after much fnoogling from a rather strenuous position I managed to place enough shoddy nuts that I was happy one of them would stick, and I committed to the steep moves. They turned out to be relatively straightforwards, but a positive approach was required to keep going rather than stop, try and fiddle in more gear, get pumped and fall off. I was quite pleased that I managed to do this in spite of my natural longing for gear. Andy finished things off by nipping up Potholer's Proddle Direct, the crag's other good E1, which had better gear than the others, and was very enjoyable.

Julie at the start of the interesting bit on Mort's Crack

All in all a pretty positive day, with some good routes, and some pleasing commitment above ropey gear without any gibbering. The E1s all felt ok, and not too tricky (although it'd have been a rather different matter had I been leading them I'm sure), I even managed to stand on a few small holds without crying. Good stuff.

Sadly Sunday was full of rain, so Andy and I went to Citybloc and bouldered until we could boulder no more. It's been a while since I went to a wall, so it was good to confirm that I can still pull on small holds and make overhanging problems look like epic feats of difficulty. Plus ca change...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Evening Sunshine

Having settled down a little in both new house and new job, I managed to take advantage of the glorious weather on Monday, and headed out to the Plantation with Dan. I informed him that it was his lead, and he looked a bit nonplussed about having to decide what bit of the crag to head to, but as it felt a bit warm for trying anything particularly challenging I was happy to explore wherever we ended up.

Eventually our meandering led us to a slabby wall cut by an overlap at half height, somewhere up and right of Tower Face. Here we pottered up a couple of routes each, Dan leading a VS 5a and an HVS 5a, and me two VS 4cs. All four routes were very cruxy, with both of mine feeling like stiff 5a, Dan's HVS was the hardest to work out but the easiest to actually do, and his VS was desperate.

All in all it was a very pleasant evening, although marred slightly by the wonky grading and the fact that I managed to pull a muscle in my neck whilst very committed to a stupidly long reach. On the plus side, I managed to properly commit to the move beforehand, and I didn't fall off. Oh, and it was lovely and sunny too, even if there were a couple of wee midgey buggers lurking around. Boo.

Dan overwhelmed with psyche before leading his HVS