Saturday, 30 July 2011

Benightment And Other Misdemeanours

Having got midged off Stanage this evening (grrr), it seems opportune to bring things up to date with my recent mini-adventures.

Bimbling At Birchen:

In spite of a mildly ominous forecast I managed to persuade Adam to chance our arms one evening and pay Birchen a visit. I managed to make amends for an oversight on my last visit and did Nelson's Slab with the correct finish, and Monument Gully Buttress, which looked hard, but was made easier by successive lying down, sitting, kneeling and knee bar rests. Dan, Jen and Rich turned up, and we kept them amused with Adam's, and then my travails on Saltheart Foamfollowed, a short but rather brutal (and terrifying) HVS. Dan then returned the entertainment favour by managing to fall off the route before he'd even left the ground. After soloing a few things it got dark, although not before Dan had almost got himself stuck inside the crag. He's like some kind of dangerous genius, that boy.

Dan making it all look very easy...


After a rather excellent barbecue/party down in Lichfield I woke up with a bit of a hangover, and an ankle that was still feeling a bit sprained from a footballing mishap the previous Wednesday. In spite of this I thought I'd just stop by at Harborough on the way home to get some fresh air. About 90 minutes after parking up I was back at my car having soloed 30 routes in glorious sunshine. My ankle didn't feel particularly sore, so I thought I'd pay a visit to Windgather and see if I could make it up to 50 for the day. I got a little bit carried away and somehow managed 45 more routes to leave me on 75 for the day (as well as one rubbish non-route where I misread the guidebook). I still felt pretty fresh, and could certainly have managed another 25 to push me over into the magical century, but it was late and I was hungry, so I went home and ate cake instead. Oddly, in spite of feeling fine that evening I spent the next 3 days aching like an old man. Oh well. If it doesn't kill you it can only make you stronger...

Gritstone Benightment:

Feeling a bit sluggish after an appointment with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's wall of sexy noise the night before, I needed something unusually silly to persuade me to go out climbing instead of having an early night. After a little deliberation I struck upon the idea of trying to repeat Herford's Girdle Traverse at Castle Naze. Allegedly the original girdle after which all others are but pale imitations I'd always stayed away for fear that it was a bit anti-social, but how many people would there be on a muggy Wednesday evening?

We rocked up at the crag to discover a few other climbers there (as well as all of the midges), but Dan and I didn't let this put us off and duly set off. The guide is somewhat vague about the exact line to take, so we explored a few blind alleys, and had more than a few issues with rope drag. After 3 pitches I could see the end of the crag, but this was getting harder in the gathering gloom. Dan set off towards the reputed crux, and, after trying to force his own route across an overhanging wall, he followed the guidebook and teetered around onto Keep Arete and tiptoed across the eponymous scoop of Scoop Face. There was little in the way of gear (in spite of have some friends on the ground throw some extra small wires at him, I think they quite enjoyed that) so I suspect we were both fairly relieved when Dan found some gear and a belay, with apparently easy ground remaining. I had my headtorch passed up to me, discovered that the batteries needed changing, but thankfully managed to recruit some nearby spotlights holders to point out the holds. Eventually I managed not to fall off, and scrambled across to the finish line. I then spent a few minutes stumbling aimlessly around the top of the crag trying to find a belay before I almost fell over a suitable stake. I brought Dan over and we retreated back to the car feeling a mixture of elation, relief and amusement at having managed to get benighted on a crag less than 15m high.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Almost Teutonic Efficiency

Jaime and I rocked up to High Neb last Tuesday evening at around 6ish with the sky looking rather ominous. There were even a few drops falling out the sky, but thankfully it never got any worse than that. There were some midges though. It's amazing how you easily you forget the horror. I had brought a midge net, so judicious use of that, tucking my trousers into my socks, and generally looking super-cool managed to keep things just the right side of bearable. The blustery wind at the top of the crag helped too.

Jaime in all her finery

I led Inaccessible Crack Direct, Straight Crack, Cent, High Neb Buttress and Sneezy, seconded Jaime up a couple of routes (actually, cunning use of traversing meant I managed to second two entirely different routes to the ones that she'd led), and soloed 3 others (including Inaccessible Slab, which is hard!), for a grand total of 11 routes. We left the crag around 9:30, and I was home before dark. I've no idea how we were so efficient, but it was pretty impressive. More of that please.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A Wide Range Of Ethical Compromises

After nearly a month of attempting to rest my elbows, which seems to have had a negligible effect, I gave up and decided to just avoid steep things. With this in mind, after a late-night weather forecast consultation on Thursday night, I headed down to Oli and Anna's palace of unearthly delights in Keynsham, near Bristol. The forecast was good for Saturday, so we were a little annoyed when we woke up to pouring rain. We were even more annoyed when we checked the met office rain radar to discover that it was raining on every crag within 2 hours drive, and NOWHERE ELSE. Stupid bloody weather.

Eventually we decided that the Wye Valley might be slightly less damp than anywhere else, so we drove over the Severn Bridge to Wintour's Leap. It had stopped raining by the time we got there, and the crag even looked dryish, so we took a stab at Central Rib Route I, a 4 pitch Severe. Other than a couple of small patches of seepage the route was dry, and rather pleasant. There was even some weird flowstone stuff on the second pitch. Oli ran the last 2 pitches together in a bid to get to lunch quicker, but miscalculated slightly and ended up finishing up the final 4c pitch of the adjacent VS. Never mind.

Wintour's Leap in the sunshine.

After some crucial quiche sandwiches we scrambled back down to the bottom of the crag. Nibelheim, our intended route, was covered in other people, so we nipped up Joe's Route, another ticklist VS round the corner. I led the first pitch, which was fairly scrappy, but the second pitch was very pleasant if a little bold. Oli did manage to kick off a house brick sized hold at one point, but this was a mere trifle, and we were soon back at the bottom of the crag again. By this time Nibelheim was clear, so we bambered up it, with a brief exciting moment when I tried to take the crux overlap a little too directly. By the time we got back to the car it was time to retire to the pub for victory ginger beer, so we did just that.

We slightly miscalculated how much red wine it was sensible to drink that evening, so Sunday morning was a fairly sedate affair until we eventually got going with the addition of some bacon and eggs. The forecast predicted mid-afternoon showers, but the Mendips looked less showery than elsewhere, so we decided to go end explore the banned Holcombe Quarries before somebody gets round to filling them in. After a bit of aimless wandering around a very pleasant forest, we found ourselves in the middle of Holcombe 2, which was pretty massive and had a fair bit of climbing in it, but it wasn't what we were after. We crossed over the road, through a hole in a fence, past a large number of signs warning us to keep out, and through another hole in another fence into the biggest quarry I think I've ever seen. The walls never reach more than about 30m high, but the base of the quarry must be about 750m x 200m. Unfortunately most of the rock is bobbins, but some of it is actually solid.

The Unbridled Majesty of Holcombe 1.

We started with the principal reason for our visit, an anomalously graded Severe which was actually just a sports climb (with the might grade of F3+), that somebody had given 2 stars to. This meant it qualified for the ticklist in spite of actually being a sports route, so it had to be done. Unsurprisingly it wasn't terribly inspiring, but it was pleasant enough. As we'd made the effort to visit the crag we felt we should do something else, so we both led Fit For The Future a bolted VS which was actually quite fun, but a bit harder than VS would suggest.

This was enough immorality for one morning, so we headed back to Stoke St. Michael for a drink and to take in the splendour of the village duck race. Then we drove a mile or so to Fairy Cave Quarry for some more traditional climbing. The promised showers were threatening to soak us, but I started up the crag's classic VS, Rob's Crack all the same. It was brilliant, engaging, well-protected slabby crack climbing, and by the time I'd got to the top the threatening clouds had wandered off elsewhere. Aceness.

Duck Race! Feel The Excitement.

We tried to up the ante by laying siege to a 2 pitch HVS, but it turned out to be one of the famous Fairy Cave soft touches, and was actually easier than Rob's Crack. In trying to descend back to our bags we found ourselves at the bottom of the crag's other ticklist route, Real Men Do East Quiche (and, as we know, they certainly do), so I nipped up it quickly while we were there. As you lower off from a fixed anchor at the top of the route, before we pulled the rope down, we decided to have a brief play on an E2 5c which took a line directly up to the anchor. The crux was a short, holdless groove near the start, from which a fall on lead would see you coming dangerously close to the ground, so neither of us really fancied trying to lead it. Besides which, we'd already compromised our souls in the morning, so a little more moral turpitude hardly seemed like a big deal. It was quite a fun little problem, which we both flashed. It felt easy enough that I might almost be tempted to lead it if I go back (so perhaps the top-roping can be justified as preparation for a headpoint ascent...).