Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Getting The Summer Back On Track

In the face of a confusing forecast and some major indecision, young James, Jon Stewart and I had some plan-faffery on Friday, with all options between Bude and Stranraer considered and discarded at some point, some more than once. Eventually we found a willing 4th man called Dan in Conwy and set off for North Wales. We planned a spot of gritstone action on the way over, but it was freezing at Stanage, so we sacked that in fairly quickly.

When we picked him up Dan seemed rather vague, but it turned out that he hadn't slept for 72 hours, so I think that can be forgiven. After some more plan-changing chicanery and a nice kebab at the Conwy Kebab House, we ended up at Mr. Ripley's house in Bangor for a few beers and a meeting of the great minds of UKC. Or something. Tom let us doss on his floor, and after a refreshing light snack breakfast in Mike's Bites we drove over to Gogarth, where it was freezing. I persuaded the others that the crag would be sheltered so we headed over towards the Upper Tier. I was right as ever, but I made up for this by sandbagging myself like an idiot on the first route of the day. Given free choice of route I opted for Central Park, which has a first pitch described as "mediocre" and "serious". At HVS 5a. Well done me.

Jon on Fail Safe
It turned out to be both mediocre and serious, as well as being a bit damp and vegetated. I was quite pleased to get to the belay in one piece and discover that the second pitch looked ace. It was, although quite steep and tough for the grade. Hoping that it might be damp and I could then bail onto something easier whilst still maintaining an aura of respectability, I racked up for Emulator next. It wasn't wet. It was awesome. Sustained bridging and jamming with impeccable gear, a few good rests and the final move is the crux. Well worth its three stars.

Oswald near the top of Emulator
We finished the day on The Gauntlet, which had a start that looked like an easy slab, but James somehow climbed as an overhanging groove (there must be some kind of physics anomaly going on on that bit of the crag). At the belay James learnt the benefits of rope management after somehow throwing a massive knotted ball of rope back down the pitch. I led through up an improbable looking 4b corner and then a world of that special Gogarth mud/heather/shattered rock stuff that it does so well. All the while having to stop ever few feet whilst James untied another knot in the ropes. What fun.

We dropped Dan back off home and spent the night at Ynys Ettws, before heading down to Tremadog. Jon was labouring under the mistaken impression that it was a rubbish crag, so we were determined to prove him wrong. Since there were three of us we decided to pick a route we each really wanted to do and just get on with it, rather than faff around. Jon went first, leading The Weaver in one huge pitch. The route finds a way up the left hand side of the Vector buttress, with a lot of 5b and a fair amount of 5c for good measure. Eventually after a whole lot of climbing it meets the top pitch of Vector and everything suddenly gets very polished. This helpfully coincides with a really difficult sequence to pass a well chalked undercut. Jon and James used some kind of laybacking tomfoolery whilst I attacked it with sexy wide bridging, but we all agreed that it felt pretty damn hard. A great route though, and nice to have finally done a route on the proper side of such a classic bit of rock.

I was up next and keen for Grim Wall Direct. I was secretly hoping some morons would abseil down it whilst I was climbing so I could tie their ropes off in a fit of righteous indignation, but I was denied that pleasure and had to console myself with the climbing, which was lovely. A tricky little crack and one of those bold slabs that gets easier as the gear recedes into the distance on pitch one, followed by a few exciting moves up to and round a little roof and a spicy little move right at the top. It'd be worth 3 stars if it wasn't stuck in a grotty gully. James rounded the day off with another very long pitch starting up the tricky groove of Leg Break, across an exciting slab between Grim Wall and Meshach, and through the top roof of Blinkers to the left of Shadrach. A quality pitch with an awful lot of good climbing on it.

After another night at Ynys, Jon fancied a day of easier soloing and scrambling about, so he wandered off up to the Parson's Nose whilst the youth and I made for Dinas Mot. I led Lorraine Direct, which was a classy HVS pitch with plenty of that bold, pockety slab climbing that the crag is famous for. Next we did West Rib, with me leading another long, bold HVS pitch in the middle (featuring an exciting run out above an RP3 again). James finished up the striking E1 finger crack of The Chain, although he spoilt things by placing way too much gear and falling off as a result. It's a brilliant pitch, and wouldn't make a bad first E1, being relatively short, not too strenuous and super safe.

James seconding Lorraine Direct
We finished the trip with a little adventure on Diagonal. James led the first pitch easily enough, but I frightened myself somewhat on the second. It was only about 15 metres long, but other than a good cam right at the start, there was no gear and quite a lot of 5a until quite near the top. Nice climbing though. The third pitch has been billed as the main event, with a reputation for boldness, so I nearly had a heart attack when James fell off it. Somehow he managed to do it above the good runner placement, so crisis was averted. At least temporarily. After doing the hard moves easily enough the second time round he disappeared off above. I was expecting him to scramble up to below the final looming crack (which my tired arms weren't very excited about leading), but he seemed to take an age and I started to get rather chilly sitting on my belay perch in the middle of a sea of slabs. Eventually he re-appeared questing up some dirty looking cracks off to one side. Apparently he'd interpreted the instructions to belay below the headwall as "Carry on to the top and make sure you don't follow all of the polish and chalk". Later consultation with the guidebook revealed it to have been the finish to West Rib, which was in fact the original top pitch of Diagonal. So Oswald was clearly just channelling Arthur Birtwistle. Or being an idiot.

All told it was an awesome trip. I'm very psyched for some more climbing. And it's sunny. But I have an exam to revise for and then a conference in Norway, so it might be a while before I get out on rock again. Bah. Sometimes life can be so very unfair...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Light Dose Of Mild Esoterica

It's been a long month since Easter. A month full of rain and no climbing of any sort whatsoever. Oh dear. On the plus side I have booked a trip to Lundy in September and appear to have persuaded Oswald of the merits of some kind of Carnmore/Old Man of Hoy type adventure in August. Anyway, I had last Friday off, but the forecast was hellawindy and showery, so the only logical choice of venue seemed to be Rivelin, in spite of there being precisely no routes there I wanted to climb. I'm still mostly holding a grudge about the Altar Crack fiasco last year.

We started off with James staunchly refusing to recognise the difference between a blunt rib and a slab, but once he'd overcome this he led the pleasant, if rather eliminate Don't Birch The Doc, although he lost man points for a lack of moral fortitude in using the arete near the top. Being the bastion of morality that I am I atoned for his sins with an ethically clean ascent. Then I led a pointless little arete and followed James up another pleasant slabby HVS.

After this we felt inspired for a little bit of adventure, so we headed leftwards into the mythical Rivelin Quarries. They turned out to be a bit less cack than I was expecting, with a fair number of quite impressive lines. Admittedly most of them were E6s, but they did look good. There was also the legendary Rhododendron Crack. It looked awesome, but sadly I'd left the big bro and secateurs at home, so it will have to wait for another day...
Behold the infinite majesty of Rhododendron Crack. Ooooh.
I consoled myself with the prospect of a new crag point, and led off up one of the few dry lower grade lines. Woozle Direct even had a star. It was ill deserved. Pushy, unprotected climbing followed by some hollow holds and then some wetness (I lied about it being dry). Luckily there was some proper gear halfway up. Unluckily there was some vegetable interest on the top out. Boo.
Is this the bit that gets the star?
It started to spit at this stage, but the youth was undeterred and got wrestling with the unprotected start of a nice, but bold looking E1. It turned out to be very nice, but really quite bold. Allegedly it used to be E2 and I can see why. A good lead from young James. I was all set to give the adjacent HVS a go when the heavens opened, so we skulked off back home. Not a bad little sojourn into the undergrowth. I will be back. With big cams. And some agent orange.