Monday, 24 October 2011

Brizzle Trad

The last three days contained of all the necessary components for a good climbing trip:
Ahimsa on Acid Rock, Cheddar Gorge
           ·         Three star routes at awe-inspiring crags
           ·         Dry weather
           ·         Good friends
           ·         Real ale

Day 1: Avon Gorge
I rolled out of my van feeling bored and lethargic after the tedium of the M5 but it just took a few metres of typical Avon weirdness on Yellow Edge to restore my spirits. It was one of those days when you really feel that you can climb, you feel fit and strong, your head’s in the right place and the gear goes in first time. At the belay I brought up John and Justin and we sat on the ledge and faffed with ropes and gear until one of us thought we had better continue and set off up the next pitch.

I haven’t climbed multi-pitch routes in a group of three for a while and it was a nice change to sit on the belay and talk nonsense instead of just sitting on the belay, thinking nonsense. We covered the topics of religion, literature and whether a fight to the death on the belay ledge would be a good idea. More climbing, faffing and chatting followed and we finished up the final wild pitch of Captain Swing.

Back in the van and on to the campsite in Tintern where we convinced John that pitching a tent is more fun in the dark and after a couple of pints. He took our sage advice and we wandered down the road to the pub for food, ale and the making of ill-advised plans for the next two days.

Day 2: Wintour’s Leap
After a hearty fried breakfast (the diet of athletes!) and the arrival of a fourth climber to the group we set of to Wintour’s for adventures on GO Wall. Hyena Cage was the route I had decided to do in the pub the night before and all plans made in pubs should be followed through to their logical conclusions (in this case fear and exhaustion). Alexis lead up the start and I followed trying to psyche myself up for the 50m second pitch. It started well with balancy moves up the headwall leading to the start of the roofs then a steep few moves on good holds to a rest on Kangaroo Wall. I managed to resist the temptation to carry on up Kangaroo Wall and set off again traversing right over awesome exposure to a technical groove that took all of my willpower and the last of my quick-draws – the trouble was I still had 20m of the pitch left. After a brief foray to see if the last section was an easy romp to the top (it wasn’t), I scuttled off and belayed in Kangaroo Wall.

The sight of the Wye meandering through the Wye Valley from halfway up GO Wall is one of my favourite views in the world (possibly because I only see it after fighting my way up the crag and when normally when I’m attached to the safety of a belay). With the commentary from the horse racing at Chepstow for company I sat and belayed and watched the sun creep round towards me. Alexis arrived and we sorted the gear, he set off up the second half of the pitch and I stretched my toes out into the sunlight like a basking lizard.
The call to climb came and I started up the pitch immediately glad I hadn’t been foolish enough to continue on lead. The rock was not above suspicion and swallowed most of a full rack of gear in the fear that you and/or the holds could fall off at any time. The final pitch above the terrace proved too much of a challenge and I escaped, via some rosebushes to the top. A few hours later and we were all back in the pub for more food, ale and recounting of epic tales.

Day 3: Cheddar Gorge
You know those days when you really feel that you can climb... this wasn’t one of those. Justin and I set out for Ahimsa on Acid Rock, the walk-in proved problematic, the climbing more so. I seconded the first pitch feeling weak and uncoordinated and started leading the second feeling much the same. Halfway up I ran out of psyche and decided to run away... at the only speed you can on a crag where you wouldn’t trust the fixed gear to hang your coat on... very slowly.

It was great to spend three full days attempting awesome routes at three very different crags, each has its own character amd all of them have an abundance of quality routes in wild and exposed locations. But now the rain has set in and I need a rest day...

Sunday, 16 October 2011


This week’s trip to Swanage was my 4th trip in as many weeks and I now know the A35 like the back of my hand, though thankfully the back of my hand has fewer roundabouts. Alexis and I headed down, as we had for the last couple of times, with the aim of getting on Polaris at Blacker’s Hole.

Our first attempt at the route had ended with a quick abseil down and a long prussic back up after finding a metre or two of water on the ledge at the base of the climb. The next time we didn’t even get that far thanks to a cunning plan of checking the state of the ledge before starting the ab. Much consulting of incredibly complicated tide tables followed and we reached the conclusion that the combination of a proper low tide and enough hours of daylight to climb the route wouldn’t happen until:
 a.)    April when, conveniently, the bird ban kicks in.
       b.)    Someone moves the Isle of Wight.

This left us with a few options including:
         ·         Bivvying on the route
         ·         Swimming up the first few metres
         ·         Highly trained dolphins
Or more sensibly
         ·         A hanging belay a few metres above the sea

Polaris Area of Blacker's Hole, Swanage
Pitch 1: lead
A pleasant traverse along a sandy break with some comedy gear involving a knotted piece of rope wedged in a crack which could have been there since the first ascent in 1978.

Pitch 2: second
This is where the fun began, I swung around the arĂȘte glad of the rope above me and not having to hang around and place any gear. A steep few moves up a crack led to a “wild hand traverse” (the guidebook’s words) across a steep wall with very little for your feet. The traverse ended in a graceful step, or in my case a desperate thrutch, onto a hanging slab and a wonderfully exposed belay above the sea.

The guidebook also uses the words “very exposed” and “highly committing” to describe the route as escape from this point would involve:
         ·         a free-hanging abseiling into the sea followed by a long swim to safety
         ·         reversing the first two pitches and climbing an HVS or prusiking out
         ·         Aiding the final pitch
         ·         Deciding to man up and climb out.

Pitch 3: lead

Perfectly warmed up (pumped!) from the last pitch I set out up the initial steep section on reasonable gear and rusty pegs past a few hard moves to a “thank god” perch. From there the route continues up an overhanging corner that looked like it could be climbed in a relaxed and comfortable manner if you had the nerve to bridge out across the void. I didn’t and climbed instead like a small mammal trying to escape from great peril (which was basically the case here). I made it and scampered up the final slab attempting not to dislodge too much rock in the general direction of my belayer. All that remained was a fight through a small blackthorn hedge to the abseil stakes leaving my legs looking like they had endured some new beauty treatment involving enraged porcupines.

We had climbed Polaris; not only had we made it to the route but we had also made it out again. No falls, no abseiling into the sea just an awesome, adventurous route with breathtaking exposure. 

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Swanage Silliness

Sometimes I think it’s important to remember that climbing isn’t all about redpoints and hard trad onsights; yesterday was definitely a good reminder.

The cold north wind at the beginning of the week (and the incessant call of a project route) drove me and my climbing partner to Anstey’s for a couple of warm, sheltered days of steep sport, where I spent most of the time falling off the same few moves on Tuppence and wishing my left hand was better at crimping.

Suitably tired after two days of this silliness and with a full day free for climbing we headed to Swanage for some of that trad nonsense. We ended up at Fisherman’s Ledge and warmed up with a very pleasant deep water solo of Troubled Waters – the perfect kind of climb where you have no intention of falling in and none of that faffing around with ropes.

Next on the list was The Ritz – an absurdly steep route through a number of impressive and improbable looking roofs. I gallantly offered to belay and thus delayed the inevitable part of actually climbing it. After a while my turn came to second it and I swung out under some roofs and thrutched up past some others to a nice ledge where I sat for a while with my back to the rock wondering what would happen if I just stayed there. I persuaded myself to carry on and soon I was sitting dejectedly on the rope under the lip of a roof with all the exposure I could ever want below my feet. I attempted the move over the lip approximately 400 times; I tried heel-hooking, campusing, using technique, using no technique, just man-ing up, getting-the-hell-on-with-it and shutting-my-eyes-and-hoping-it-would-go-away all to no avail.

Eventually I made it to the top with the help of my trusty friends, the prusiks. The good news was I could now relax and eat my homemade chocolate fruit slice in the sun; the bad news was that I now had something else to add to my list of 'Things I Must Try To Get Better At'.

We abbed in to the next route as the tide, which had stayed in the same place for the last 4 hours, had now decided to come in quite fast (the tides do strange things around these parts, I’m told the Isle of Wight is to blame). Limited Edition was the route of choice and it was my turn to lead but due to battered arms and an all-encompassing tiredness caused by the aforementioned roof I declined the offer.

Instead I basked in the sun, watched the sea raging below my feet and paid out the rope in an encouraging sort of way. The view of the waves crashing against the rock sending clouds of spray into the air made me wish I could paint and somehow capture forever not just the power of the ocean and the millions of tiny droplets of water frozen for a millisecond in mid-air but also the feel of the sun on my face, the ache in my arms and the feeling of truly being alive and free. However as I have the artistic skills of a five year old child this was a little over-optimistic.

All in all it was a wonderful day spent achieving very little apart from reminding myself that climbing isn’t all about a ticks in a guidebook and that roofs are really hard.