Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Anstey's Cove

Above me quickdraws swing in the gentle breeze and some distance to my right gentle summer rain patters down on the verdant foliage. While my brain searches for internal peace and calm I tie in to the rope hanging down from the first clip and wipe the red dust off my shoes and onto my leggings. Seconds later I stand at the base of the climb, chalk up and set off. I try to climb smoothly and efficiently, I try to climb fast, I try to remember to breathe and I try to stop thinking. My hands follow a precisely prescribed pattern; my feet perform a continual dance of tiny subtle foot-moves that are vital yet entirely subconscious; my body twists and turns, core muscles contracting for each move and relaxing allowing a gasp of air into my lungs.

I sense my fingers slipping slightly on each hold and bite down harder, my left foot steps up and my body automatically turns – a sort of half drop-knee move – allowing my left hand to reach up to a crimp. I squeeze all four fingers on and grip the edge with my thumb pulling hard enough to dig the nail of my thumb into the side of my index finger.

The next move, however, is one that can’t be overcome by subtle changes in body position or by climbing quickly or slowly or smoothly. The key to the move is simple  - keep pulling on the crimp, don’t allow your fingers to open even when it feels like it they will rip from your hand. If I manage that then a quick snatch will see me to a good hold and further series of moves that seem both powerful and delicate will set me up for the crux. From there if my right hand pinches hard enough and my legs power me up and left enough and my left hand reaches out fast enough, with enough strength left to latch the hold... then the route could be over.

My thoughts drift on ahead of my body, removed from the stubborn battle between hand and hold. I press down harder with the fingers of my left hand, will them not to open as I reach my right hand across. The fingers on my right just manage to curl around the tiny tufa ear when the crimp under my left spits my still-crimping fingers off into space and a split second later my body follows, falling backwards until the rope comes tight.

Anger and frustration bubble up inside me threatening to explode; months of wet holds, of 100% humidity, of stalled progress steal my composure leaving me swinging on the rope seething.

That I will return is a given, that I will keep bashing my head against this particular brick wall is a certainty. Maybe if I could forget about this route, if I could no longer see the moves in my mind’s eye, no longer know the feel of each hold under my fingers... maybe I would give up but I know that I can’t.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

Gnarly mountain man Steve and I
To climb during the Great British Summer you need, more than strength, power or endurance, an optimism unhampered by reality. Yesterday in the company of two suitably optimistic climbers I walked to Blackchurch Rock to find the tide in, the cliff seeping and the sky bestowing us with rain. We turned and walked back to the car, drove down the coast and began the whole process again; this time, however, we found dry rock, scary slabs and a beautiful sunset.

Vicarage Cliff

The guys had a lead each on a pair of cracking culm slab routes as the sun shone and the tide turned and slowly began to head towards the beach, there was however enough time and sunlight left for one more route. The route in question was Harpoon and, while Vicarage Cliff may not have any routes harder than E2 and only one of those, Harpoon packs a bold and committing punch. My tendency to steer clear of any routes that get a fluttery symbol in the guide or that are described as bold, scary or exciting has lead me to identify a weakness in my climbing which can, in part, be corrected by getting on E2s and E3s of this nature. And there’s no time like the present.

The climbing on Harpoon never stretches much past F6a in difficulty but the gear, or absence of it, in the first few metres easily makes up for this. A steady head, careful tapping of the footholds and remembering to forget about the back-breaking boulder below all helped to reach the first good gear. From there the climb bimbled on with enough gear placements and holds to keep me happy before depositing me at the crux with good gear but no holds (not unless you count the array of hollow-sounding footholds that flexed when hit). After much time spent attempting to move and even more time spent convincing myself that I didn’t need handholds to stand up on a slab I stood up. 

Soon I had reached some holds, fiddled in some poor gear and carried on when a stern internal voice told me to climb back down to my gear and make it better. Sheepishly I did just that and set off again reminding myself that gear isn’t just there for decoration but is actually supposed to stop me in the event of a fall – a simple but significant mistake.

I arrived at the top and the 360 degree views of wild culm coast that it afforded as the sun slowly sank towards the horizon casting a soft glow over everything. Our optimism about finding dry rock had paid off leaving us three happy climbers to pack our bags and head off to the nearest fish and chip shop.
Photos by Mark Bullock