Friday, 17 August 2012

Passing through Ruby Country

My trusty van chugs through the heart of Devon countryside passing lush green verges, fields of ripening corn and hedgerows where the trees are showing the first hint of autumn’s arrival. We travel onwards through the heart of Ruby Country passing Bradsworthy, Grimscott and Stibb to arrive at Duckpool where our progress is temporarily halted by a farmer moving his ruby-red North Devons up the road to pastures new. As we wait for his cows to arrive the farmer and I converse about cattle and cliffs before he starts again up the road shaking a bag of feed and calling over his shoulder to his herd.

The tides have necessitated an early start so we arrive at the magnificent fins of Sharpnose and abseil in before 10am as the sun slowly begins to dry the grease off the base of the cliffs. Alexis starts up Finesse and I belay watching limpets track their way impressively fast towards the safety of the cracks in the rock. These molluscs are pretty cool citters with reliable internal clocks to track the times of high tide; a good sense of direction, or memory, to find their way back to their home fissure and a suction power of up to 80psi.

But back to the climbing... Dispatching the route with no real difficulties Alexis lowers to the ground and I pull the ropes and lead it on his gear creating a sport-like mental and physical warm up. For my lead I choose Sunscape, a good looking line left of Pacemaker, that doesn’t disappoint. The route zigzags steadily upwards in typical Sharpnose style as the pump in my arms slowly increases until I reach the first crux where I stall. The moves look hard and when I try them they feel hard, I faff around trying to rest on footholds that are all in the wrong places and look for more gear as a way of delaying the inevitable. I don’t find anymore gear and run out of reasons to hang around and so force myself back into the crux.

Pulling with all my might on two small handholds I try to step my feet up, one foot skates of the smooth rock and I convince myself that I’m going to fall off but my fingers squeeze the holds with a strength I didn’t think I had and I reach up. My left hand sinks into a pocket-like hold that offers relief until I reach the layer of sand and shale at the bottom, I grab something with my right and try to relax as I brush the detritus out of the hold.
I know I should place some gear at this point but there’s nothing for my feet and my hands are threatening to open out so I scuttle on up until holds and gear placements are more obviously available. I join Pacemaker briefly and leave it again heading left up the break until a line of small holds point the way to the top. 

Mercifully I find some jugs, place some gear and relax my body. Above the climbing looks hard and doesn’t relent until the top of the crag is reached but it’s only a few metres away, I hang off the jugs, shake out and weigh up my situation. I know that I don’t have much power left for hard moves but my arms feel rested from the shake-out; the gear here is good and I can’t see any obvious placements before the top even if I had the energy to place them; I'm running out of chalk and with the sun beaming down on my back I can’t afford to waste any at the rest, forcing me to fight the engrained pattern of chalking up each time I shake out. I decide to leave the rest, chalk up and climb to the top in one go, I don’t need any more gear and if I climb up and down again to the rest I’ll run out of chalk.

For someone who struggles with anything approaching a bold start I happily leave the gear below my feet and embark, unfazed, on a series of powerful moves off small holds until the lip is within reach and I can sit on one of the best spots in the world – the top of the ridiculously narrow middle fin at Sharpnose.

Back on the ground we just make it around the fin before the tide cuts us off, Alexis climbs Spoils of War while I edge further and further away from the base of the route, helmet firmly on my head and a wary eye trained on the loose looking ground above. Seconding it, barring the loose rock in the middle, it’s an absorbing and sustained climb. With the tide still lapping its way up the beach we hurry over to Out of the Blue and I lead up it revelling in the size of the holds and the delightful nature of the climbing. At the top I haul the bags up the ab rope and belay watching Alexis perform exaggerated dyno moves between massive holds.

The tide may be in but it’s not yet 3pm so we eat a leisurely lunch before heading for home passing our new friend The Farmer at work in the fields on the way.