Thursday, 8 March 2012

Before the Bird-Ban

The last couple of weeks have been spent, beside the regular trips to Ansteys’, climbing on cliffs shortly to be bird-banned. Last week, on the 29th of February, we sneaked in one final trip to Guillemot Ledge, the highlights of the trip were falling off the awesome line of Fly Crazy But Free, not falling off the no-less-awesome line of The Spook and watching for pirate ships lurking in the mist out to sea.

Yesterday, however, we headed north instead of east as the bird-ban at Baggy Point doesn’t start until the 15th of March (I hope someone has told the birds). A short visit to check out the new-born livestock on my parents’ farm allowed the slabs time to dry out after the morning’s rain. By the time we reached Baggy Point the sun was nearly out but unfortunately strong winds were battering the coast; great for drying out the slabs, not so great for any feeling of psyche or motivation. A good friend once told me that you can estimate the speed of the wind by comparing your ability to walk in the wind with your ability to walk after a few pints; 1 pint equals about 10 mph. I reckon we were at least 3 pints down and well on our way to another pint and a kebab.

Anyway we unpacked by the top of the slab trying to stop our stuff blowing away and noticed the conspicuous absence of one of the half ropes (my incompetence). Luckily we had a single rope with us and figuring that lines on slabs were straight-ish we abbed in. The wind was calmer near the bottom of the slab but still strong enough to whip up the waves and occasionally send the foam circling into the sky in crazy maelstroms.

The angle of the rock at Baggy Point is always surprising, from a distance it’s hard to imagine a truly hard move, and in most places, if you just believe, you can move up on nearly nothing. However the gear, or absence of it, the state of the pegs and the friable nature of the rock balance out the fact that you can get a hands-off rest at any point.

I tried, without real intent, to find the line of an E3 which was described differently in both guidebooks, neither of which seemed to bear much relation to the cliff. Instead I ran away up the beautifully obvious line of Undercracker, a route which follows the edge of one of the sheets of rock that make up the slab. Having only one rope, limited extenders and climbing a slightly wandering line concentrated my mind to place only bomber bits of gear and a restrained number of those (as opposed to my usual tactic of shoving in gear at random in the hope that some of it would hold).The moves were wonderful requiring poise and balance in equal measure along with a strong belief in the capacity of rubber to stick on lichen-covered ripples of rock. I restrained myself from placing cams behind dodgy flakes and avoided using a massive balanced block which looked like it had the capability to kill both me and my belayer and arrived at the top laughing and singing to myself like a mad-woman. I composed a belay out of dodgy bits of gear and a general belief in the structural stability of the cliff and then sat and watched the gulls soaring as Alexis skipped his way up the slab.

We abbed back down for round two as the tide worked its way up the belay ledge, Alexis debated briefly between Soft Touch and Urizen and chose, due to the rising tide, the latter. I sat below the towering, tottering cliffs to the right of the slab and watched the waves crashing in, the sun highlighting the plumes of spray. By my feet the water kept creeping up the ledge but Alexis crept higher faster; soon the call to climb came but not before I had moved the rope out of the sea’s determined reach. I set off up the long clean corner of Urizen and remembered the last time I climbed this route five years ago, when I was learning to lead climb and Baggy was my nearest crag.

At the top we gathered our things and set off up the slope and into the still raging gale spurred on by the thought of home-made Eccles cakes and the squalls bearing in on us from the Atlantic.

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