Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Summer's Last Hurrah

In spite of the utterly diabolical weather in Britain this summer, my Faustian pact has come good and I've been blessed with some unreasonably dry conditions for my various summer holidays. Last week was no exception, and for the first time I spent a whole week on Lundy without either getting rained on, or spending any time sitting in the pub playing darts badly and sulking. Aces. The youth, Gwilym major, Oli and I had 8 days of climbing lovely granite, with only a few minor adventures along the way.

It was Gwilym and James' first visit to Lundy, so we headed straight for the Devil's Slide off the boat, but it was covered in people, so we carried on to the Fortress. Oli and Gwilym had a fun time climbing a great-looking, but rather wet E1, whilst I tried to run a 2 pitch VS into 1 pitch, before deciding that was a bad idea, so I belayed on a nice grassy ledge and sent James up the second pitch. It turns out that not reading the guide and just following your nose isn't a totally infallible method of routefinding, so I managed to inadvertently sandbag him with one of the worst pitches I've ever had the misfortune to climb. It was hard, vegetated, not overly well-protected, and the crux involved much use of a very temporary flake. Not the finest introduction to the delights of the island.
Carol Anne Butler Corner and The Fortress
That night the Tavern was rammed with more climbers than I've ever seen before, including Pembroke's own Trevor Massiah, so we got up early(ish) the next day to beat them all to the Slide. It was worth the effort, as shortly after we arrived, a further 12 people appeared and started queueing for the routes. What an outrage. After romping up the eponymous route I talked myself into having a go at Satan's Slip, a route I'm fairly certain I told somebody once to shoot me if I ever contemplated going near. My apprehension was furthered when the leader in front of me placed but one runner on the main pitch, which fell out. I managed to find a fair few more than that, including some that might even have held a fall, but it's well described in the guide as a lonely lead, and it was definitely more of an emotional than a technical challenge.
A busy day on the Slide
After a day climbing pleasant HVS 5bs in Landing Craft Bay, and an excursion to Needle Rock, I found myself half way up Admiral's Arete, a bold E1 5a which I'd previously seconded Dr Money up. My memory was that it was desperate and that the gear was all placed blind, but even in excitingly strong winds it felt easy this time, and the gear was just fine. Either I've learnt how to smear a bit, or some holds have fallen onto the route. I'm not sure which of those seems less improbable.
Road Runner
The next day Oli and Gwilym made short work of American Beauty, whilst Oswald and I faffed a bit and did the wonderfully named (and also quite good) Nonexpectis Jugsimisius. We then met up, abseiled down a tottering grass slope of death, and marvelled at the falling-downy appearance of the Devil's Chimney (which isn't a chimney at all, but a sea stack). The thing even has a huge hole through the middle of it. As a bonus for us, the boulders which moved a few years ago, rendering the scrambly start into a tough 5b pitch, seemed to have moved back, making things a whole lot easier than expected. Oli then led a very underwhelming and loose pitch, which left me wondering about the wisdom of our endeavours. The top pitch made up for it, with fun moves on clean (solid) rock, although it was stout for VS, and led to a very accommodating summit where one could lounge around and gawp at the amazingness of The Promised Land and the terror of Overlord. I had been expecting a desperate scramble back to the mainland to avoid getting cut off by the tide, but the sea was still miles away after we'd abseiled off, so we had a little explore of a very impressive cave and avoided the horrific prusik back up the deathslope by climbing out up a tricky VS on Punchbowl Cliff.
The Devil's Chimney
Buoyed with my 2 E-points it seemed like a good idea the following morning to try Fifth Appendage, after a previous epic failure to even reach the start of the route on my last visit. Cleverly I managed to make exactly the same mistake as last time and the belay at the base of the route was being lapped by the sea, so we had to bail up a nearby HVS. Luckily for me this was Oswald's lead, as it turned out to have next to no gear, and some borderline 5b/c moves, what fun. I tried to atone for this error by leading Headline, an E1 I've been after for ages, but after some to-ing and fro-ing I decided the greasiness was too much to commit to. The youth obviously has stickier hands as he just ignored the slick holds and got his crush on. A cracking route, with a superbly atmospheric mid-height belay above the crashing waves.

Gwilym was keen for Satan's Slip, so we all headed back to the Slide and I manned up enough to lead the bristly-looking, but very cool line of Shark. The route climbs a prominent arete, with exposure and interest increasing with height and culminating in an exciting sequence laybacking a hidden crack in a superb position. Certainly deserving of more than its single star, and just about tickling its way into E1. After nearly a week of climbing I felt quite battered after that, so I generously let Gwilym follow James up a hard E2, and Oli and I headed back to Arch Zawn, where we climbed a neat little E1 each.
Gwilym hunting for the elusive runners on Satan's Slip
The trip finished with a morning climbing in glorious sunshine at Beef Buttress, before we had to get back on the MS Oldenburg and head home. Leaving was made slightly easier by the knowledge that after a week of dry weather the forecast suggested it might rain solidly for the rest of the year. All in all a cracking trip, including my 20th extreme lead of the year and my 3000th trad route. There's still plenty to go back for though. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even make it to the start of Fifth Appendage...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Curbary Unpsyche

James getting stuck in
What is it about Curbar. Why is everything there so hard? I went there on Sunday with Adam, Kate, Hazel, J-Ro and a man called Neil, and in spite of the very amenable weather I was massively uninspired by everything. I belayed James up Cioch Crack, although at one point it looked like he might have to be abandoned to the offwidth gods after taking my advice to "Be at one with the crack" a little over-literally and getting stuck. It turned out he was just ignoring all of the holds.

Maybe it's because I haven't had a really good day out on grit since March, or maybe it was just because Curbar gives me the willies, but I wasn't really feeling the love for leading anything. All of the VSs looked like they would need more fight than I was prepared to give up for an unstarred VS tick, and as for the HVSs, well, only a hero would tackle one of those... Or James. I channelled my enthusiasm into belaying him up Tree Wall, which looked nice, but steep. It turned out to be nice, but steep. I nearly fell off. Oh dear.
My, this looks like a whole bucketful of fun...
After belaying Neil on an exciting (but ultimately successful) foray up Black Nix Wall I did lead the VS next to it just because I felt like I ought to lead something. And then it was home time. 3 routes in 5 hours. Not impressive. The moral of the story is to be more psyched. Or remember how grit works, or just stay the hell away from Curbar.

Neil on The Bear Hunter
On a more positive note, I'm off to Lundy on Saturday week. I've been regaining my psyche via perusing the guidebook this evening and making a little list of routes I want to do. At 30, there are far too many to actually do in a week, but it's good to be ambitious. I've made sure to include a winning combination of chimneys, girdle traverses, vertical gardens and E1 corners. And Satan's Slip for some reason. Bring it on.