With perfect grit conditions forecast, Dan M slacked off work and joined Oswald and I on a quest to Cratcliffe. I don't know how I got persuaded that we should go there, since the only route there I wanted to do, Suicide Wall, sounded a lot like hard work, and I really didn't want to fall off it. I think it was the lure of a rematch with Egg Arete that tipped it for me. It turns out that fitting 3 climbers, all of their gear and 2 bouldering mats into a Ka is a nontrivial matter, but eventually we managed to tessellate the youth into the back and off we went.
The ground was a bit damp when we arrived, and it was a bit windy, so we found some sheltered, sunny boulders to warm up on. I managed a few very nice smeary problems, which would have felt like the living end a while ago, and even a burly V3 (although I did have to try quite hard for that). Feeling keen after this, Dan was psyched for a shot at Kaluza Klein. I wanted to take photos, but in the end my superior heaviness skills were required for belaying, so James was designated chief photographer. Oh dear.
|James' best recreation of the classic shot of Dawes on Kaluza Klein. One can barely tell the difference...|
We stopped en route at the Egg boulder, where I was due a rematch with Egg Arete, a classic font 6a bit of gritstone weirdness. Oswald had offered me £5 if I could get it first go, but his money was never in any danger. After about 50 goes I managed to fall off the top move a few times, but by the 500th go I was back to ignominiously falling off as soon as I had pulled on. Harrumph. Even the power of falafel couldn't propel me up it, so we skulked over (well, I skulked, the others just walked) to the main crag.
|Enjoying the post-crux jugs on Fern Hill|
James had unfinished business with Fern Hill, having failed on it recently after filling all of the handholds with gear (how very unlike him). This time he learnt from his previous mistakes and laid the smack down on the route. Impressive stuff. He's also recently invested in some lurid fluorescent baselayers, so I even got some half-decent photos of him for once. Whilst I papped away, Dan seconded him, setting up a belay en route at the top of The Groove (yes, that one). Having never worked a route with the intention of headpointing it before, Dan was concerned that he was falling into a bit of an ethical black hole, but after 10 minutes of trying the crux moves on a toprope it was clear that a) it's bloody hard and b) that Pearson bloke can evidently climb a bit.
Once Dan had had enough it was my lead. I'd spent the whole day moaning vociferously about how much I didn't want to climb Suicide Wall because it would be hard and I'd have to try. In my mind the route had turned into 3 Nowandas stacked on top of each other and failure was absolutely guaranteed. But I was outnumbered, so I was going to have to get on it. Stood in the polished niche before the crux of the first guidebook pitch I wondered what I was doing here. I didn't feel like I had the appetite for what I was sure was going to be a massive battle and I just wanted to go home and sulk. Eventually I stopped wallowing in self-defeat and manned up to the jamming crack above, which was a bit frisky, and had a touch of the 5bs about it (at least for one move), but I got to the Bower with some beans left in the tank and began to wonder if perhaps I might actually get to the top.
|Chillaxing in The Bower|
If we hadn't been climbing in a 3 I might have attempted to wheedle out of leading the second guidebook pitch, but a) that was cheating and b) 3 of us in the Bower would have been a bit cosy, so I ploughed on. Satisfying jams on the traverse led to a crack with a handy in situ cam that I was pleased to clip and jam on past to the sit-down cave rest. I couldn't quite engineer a way to actually sit down, but I did avail myself of a long rest to allow my arms to de-pump. The next crack started well, but suddenly got a bit wide and I was forced into a filthy layback for a move, before I could wedge myself behind a huge flake to contemplate the top out. I knew there were jugs, but they were still a welcome relief and I had a little lie down to recover from the effort of it all before bringing the others up. A brilliant route, well worth all the plaudits. HVS 5b, 5a for my money, as the second 'pitch' wasn't hard, just steep but with good rests. And other than historical reasons it seems a shame to split it into two pitches, it's such a great big (for grit anyway) single pitch. You do need quite a lot of gear though. I got to the top with a single quickdraw and a single cam left on my harness, and I'd started off with far too many of both.
Dan finished the day with another quick burn on The Groove, so I dragged a mat back over to Egg Arete for one final go. I wasn't sure it was a good idea, since failure would just leave a bad taste at the end of a good day, but it wasn't going to either climb itself or go away. In the fading light, but with perfect friction, I got it first go. Whoop.
Today, a combination of the many, many attempts at the weird palmy/pressing moves on Egg Arete, and the butch jug-hauling of Suicide Wall have left me with a full-body ache, like I've been wrestling a bear. I feel like I might have won this time though. And perhaps Suicide Wall has made me fall back in love with cracks a little bit again. I'm sure that's nothing that a visit to Curbar can't fix...