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 arête 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. 

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