Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Learning to Headpoint

At a rarely visited crag tucked away on the Penwith coast quality 3 star lines lie between sections of unclimbed Greenstone. We approach the top of the cliff while a raging sea jostles for attention down below but for once the rock reflects a matt dryness back to the eye. For reasons known only to the fickle conditions gods neither condensation nor spray will affect the crag today. We set up an anchor through which I thread the half ropes and watch them unfurl down the length of the crag, their ends slithering inevitably into a pristine rock pool to lie patiently alongside the limpets.
I abseil down, spinning slowly in the cool air as gravity drags me away from the face and deposits me a few metres out from the base of the cliff. Alexis slithers down the rope after me placing gear on his way to keep his rope close to the route. He reaches the bottom, assembles the necessary gear and sets off again, acting out the performance of removing gear, replacing it and removing it again, re-practising pre-practised moves and chuckling at the run-out from the comfort of the top-rope.

Soon he returns to the increasingly wave-washed platform and we swap roles. A different route but the same routine: I place gear, test it, remove it, memorise footholds, refresh my memory of the sequence and try to stay calm.

Back on the ground an air of nervousness prevails, an almost audible crackle of excitement, of fear, enhanced by the sound of the waves pounding the shoreline. The ropes are pulled, Alexis ties in and organises his gear into the correct sequence on his harness. He sets off and I belay standing in close to the cliff, one wary eye on the raging sea sending waves crashing over the platform ever closer to me. He climbs, executing the moves precisely, placing gear and leaving it below his feet to face the 5 or 6 metre run-out seemingly unconcerned. He reaches the top without so much as a power scream and between waves I edge out tentatively across the rock platform to take a photo; confirmation and a memento of his new route.  After a moment he lowers down, cleans the gear and takes the swing into space, floating for a moment above the foamy sea before gravity swings him back onto dry land.

Now it’s my turn. For a short while I can lose myself in the comfort of the pre-climb routine – ropes, gear, helmet, shoes, chalk – and forget about the pressure of the ‘tick’, stop worrying about how it’ll feel to be on lead with the safety of the top-rope notable only by its absence. Then I step off the ground and automatically relax, it’s just climbing after all. The first section passes easily and at the rest under the roof I realise I’m grinning, I feel comfortable leading, in control, alive. I take a deep breath and swing out across the lip of the roof and up the moves above it, I refrain from worrying about the potentially unpleasant fall onto the gear placed below the roof – the decision to take the risk had been made on the ground, a lifetime ago.

I place a small wire, seat it, clip it to my left rope and carry on, a few moves and then two cams, yellow one first, then red. Now for the crux, one hard move with the cams at my feet, a blind cam slot then another hard move but my body works on autopilot, it has done this before. The meat of the route is now over just a few more well practised moves, a wire and an unpractised top-out; I tell myself not to relax, not to panic, just to climb...

High as a kite I sit on the top and watch the waves.

1 comment:

  1. good effort on the route, love your blog its really funny :)