Friday, 15 June 2012

June: A Month of Contrasts

The wind buffets me incessantly, a constant assault on my mind and body, stealing the heat out of my fingers and the joy out of climbing. I'm back at Anstey’s Cove, back on Tuppence and although I have been making progress, slowly, over the last few months today it feels harder than ever. Each move feels at my limit, hampered by numb fingers, poor coordination and the unrelenting easterly that tears along the coast and hassles me as I try to climb or try to rest.

Only a day or two ago but a world away it was too hot for shoes, the dark rock underfoot scalded my toes and the sun warmed my back as I sorted the gear and the ropes. Stepping into the shade I glanced up once more at the climb, scoped out the route and set off, insecurely at first, on rock still wet from the retreating tide. Two hundred yards away tourists licked ice creams, bought tat and paid an extortionate price for parking but here at the Land’s End only the sea and the seals kept us company.

I sit on the rope eyeballing Tuppence’s top crux, I can do the move but only about 20% of the time – today is the other 80%. I pull on, slap the right hand up to a hold that looks and feels like half a marble and try to persuade my left foot to step up. One pitiful attempt at the move and I’m back on the rope. Figuring out this move is like trying to work out a lateral thinking puzzle with too much going on at once, maybe I should stand up more on the right foot or possibly I haven’t got the right hand correctly, would the left foot benefit from being a bit further right or do I just need to man up... Usually I have the patience to try and work out what I'm doing wrong but today all I can think about is the wind and how much I wish it would stop.

Above the slippery start of Antenna the rock was dry and cool, I squinted left into the sun to work out where to traverse and then set off on crimps and fragile looking ledges. I tested each hold with the diligence of the truly paranoid; bigger holds I treated with more distrust and jugs with downright suspicion but nothing wobbled or snapped when I hit it. Halfway across the traverse I fiddled in a small wire to encourage me to continue and ignore the potential safe but swinging fall. Soon I reached the main crack line that led the way straight up the slab to the top; gear and holds appeared in each set of horizontal breaks prompting big balance-y moves between them.

After a couple more goes I give up trying to climb and instead belay wrapped up in as many layers as I can find; with my back to the wind I’m almost warm... that is until the rain starts. Big droplets of water strafe the cliff; the roof of rock over our heads offers no protection today as the wind carries the stinging raindrops right in to the base of the cliff.

A few metres below the top the horizontal breaks ran out leaving an absence of the big holds that I was getting used to. I climbed up a bit, saw some hard moves, scuttled back down to place more gear and then headed up again – I then repeated this process a few more times before I ran out of possible gear placements and had to get on with the route. A couple of thin moves led to a pop to the top and the relief and disappointment that comes when a wonderful climbing experience is over. On the top the sun shone and the bright pink thrift flowers waved in the gentle breeze.
Purple Sea Thrift Flowers - By Mike Coates
Alexis finishes climbing, strips the draws and I lower him to the ground. Inanimate objects and the wind conspire to make packing away a challenge and lost in my own world I pull the rope, shout below and give the rope one last tug... nothing happens. I look up to see a knot in the rope stuck in the bolt, it seems a fitting end to the day.

It was too nice an evening to stop climbing so we abbed back in for another dose; Alexis led up New Editions and I belayed and waited for my turn to climb whilst watching the light from the sinking sun play on the spray thrown up by the sea.

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