Monday, 9 January 2012

Dawn Missions

It’s 6:30am and my alarm wakes me up with an unnecessarily cheery tune. For a second complete confusion reigns, I have no idea what day it is or what I’m supposed to be doing, no daylight creeps through the curtains convincing me that it’s still night. The word ‘climbing’ permeates through the fog in my brain encouraging me to get out of bed and get dressed, in the cold dark I layer on clothes to make up for the warmth of the duvet.

Breakfast eaten and tea drunk and I’m on the road, headlights cutting a swathe through the winter morning darkness. The roads are quiet and the dance tunes on the radio help to wake me up. The reason for this early morning activity is simple; I work four days in a row but don’t start work ‘til midday and I don’t want to go without climbing for four days. The answer – dawn missions; if I arrive at the crag at first light I can get a decent session in before work and finding a partner for such an ungodly hour is no trouble as Alexis is just as keen/stupid. We meet at the car park at 7:30, shoulder our packs and walk to the crag in the half-light. Our destination (as ever) is Anstey’s Cove where even a short session is bound to be exhausting.

The crag is quiet and still, a beautiful place to be at any time but all the more so this morning. In the cold air my duvet jacket reminds me too much of its namesake and I’m loathed to take it off, instead I warm-up wearing it feeling like the Michelin Man with about as much co-ordination. The sun sits like a ball of gold above the sea turning the wispy clouds pink, it brings comfort but no actual warmth at this time in the morning. We’ve been here on early-morning missions in the summer when it’s too hot to climb by 9am and in the autumn when drizzle and rain makes the whole idea of climbing a challenge. Today however, on this cold crisp morning it feels perfect: a sunrise in a bright blue sky, a wood pigeon cooing and the sound of the waves drifting up from far below on the gentle breeze.

The moves on Tuppence feel as hard as ever but I’m climbing and I can’t bring myself to care. My fingers slowly warm up and my muscles wake up, I link moves that I’ve linked before and fall off moves that I’ve fallen off before. As I sit on the rope, my back slowly being warmed by the sun, I can see clouds moving in to cover its brightness but for now it’s just perfect.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Christmas passed in a blur of food, drink and wrapping paper. A good time was had by all but after four days of not climbing I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms and desperately needed to spend some time in the company of people who knew , for example, the importance of the onsight and the relative merits of single vs twin ropes in a trad climbing environment.
Justin and John

The promise of a days’ climbing at Portland shone like the light at the end of the festive tunnel and when the day arrived, with good weather forecast, we were waiting for it with rucksacks packed and down jackets on. John came to pick us up and bounced out of his car like an overexcited puppy; this man is the embodiment of psyche, a couple of hours talking about routes with him and you’ll be itching to quit your job, sell your cat and CLIMB!

Soon we were on the road and it felt good to be heading off to Dorset after being stuck in Devon for the last couple of weeks dodging showers and Christmas obligations. I have a mixed relationship with climbing at Portland: I love the idea of attempting to onsight endless sport routes in the sun in beautiful Dorset however when I go there I remember that I find the routes hard to read, dusty and weird and that Portland isn’t Dorset’s answer to Kalymnos but a windswept spit of land with a prison and some moorland on it.
Trying to figure out the crux of Julie Ocean

Nevertheless, it was a good day. The warm up route, Wonderlust, was excellent, big moves on big holds to a thin cruxy section at the top and with only one loose block which when tapped made a noise that made me want to run and hide in a very safe place. The second route, Julie Ocean, was one of two halves, the first was a gentle romp on good holds while the second half consisted of a wonderful sequence of improbable moves which would be very satisfying to onsight... I imagine.

Next we headed up the coast to Drowning on Dry Land, a route on a cliff that bears a striking resemblance to the piles of rubble you have to walk over to get there. The route itself was surprisingly solid with a beautiful flowstone section that made a pleasant change from the sharp limestone crimps of the rest of the climb and was long enough to allow my fingers to go from numb to sweating with only a modicum of hot-aches related pain.
The scary looking Cheyne Cliff. See what I mean?!

On up the coast to Road Rage - a 3 star classic of Portland and a route we all wanted to get on. John set off for the onsight and I watched trying to memorise his sequence with the desperation of a prisoner trying to memorise an escape plan. However the conditions got the better of us with an icy wind freezing our fingers and sea-grease making the middle section unpleasant and insecure. Excuses aside it was a great route with hard moves, small holds and an unrelenting angle, definitely one to get on next time.

Darkness was creeping up on us and it was time to head back. The journey home was filled with talk of dream routes, trips to plans and adventures to be had in the New Year. Bring on 2012!