Thursday, 20 September 2012


Reasoning that anything, even claggy mountain trad, was better than Swanage, Lurch and I headed up to Idwal Slabs the other weekend to skid around on some polished classics. This was for the most part all very jolly and easy. One notable exception however was the innocuously named ‘Original Route’, which our guidebook sportingly described as featuring a chimney. Of course what they actually meant was ‘horrifically slippery off-width crack of death’. The only reason why I didn’t fall off was because I was afraid I’d leave one of my legs still clenched in the jaws of that hellish fissure...

Me leading 'The Arete' (VDiff) at Idwal Slabs

Obviously there was no bit of rock in the country that wouldn’t in some way try to kill me, so I resigned myself to climbing at Swanage once more.

This didn’t go very well.
I got halfway up a VS and shamefully lowered off. I abseiled into an obscure and committing part of Fisherman’s Ledge and seconded Luke up a HVS, which was steep and difficult. He’d spied an E2 on the way down and was keen to try and lead it; I sat and hoped he would change his mind. But he didn’t. Instead, he shot up the damn thing in about 6 seconds flat, and all too soon the ropes came tight and it was my turn.

This didn’t go very well.
Still unused to such gradients after a month of mountains and slabs, I struggled and swore and gasped and pleaded my way upwards, sitting on the rope and not moving a lot. I pulled on a crappy old bit of tat to get past the crux; it still felt hard as nails. I stared upwards with a sort of weak loathing at each new piece of malign geological architecture that greeted me, and prayed to gods that I didn’t believe in to get me to the top. Eventually, all sense of time and joy and hope forgotten, I flopped over the cliff with blood on my hands, weeping softly.

Disheartened, I scurried back to the nice, easy angled slabs of Fairy Cave Quarry, and tried to headpoint an E4.
This didn’t...oh, forget it.

Warming up on 'Withy Crack' (HVS)

I’d never headpointed a route before, and I have to say it’s an interesting experience. The process of breaking down the seemingly impossible hold by hold, move by move, is fascinating. First go on the top rope I fell off about eleventy-million times, and laughed a hollow laugh at the idea of ever being able to lead such a featureless monstrosity. But the second time I got it clean. Interesting. It still felt bloody hard, but I’d managed to link all the moves. The third try was the same. Alright then. Luke had already placed what little (and spaced) gear there was, and successfully led it. So did Rich, although he had made cunning use of a quickdraw to get past a tricky overlap. My turn came.

Me on the successful lead of 'Glacial Point' (E4)

I climbed quickly, negotiated the first crux, clipped a cam, ran it out to the second crux, forgot the sequence, and lobbed off attempting a stupid dyno move for a pocket.
Half falling, half skidding, I cheesegrated about 8m down the slab and managed to smash into a sapling just before the cam caught me. I lowered off back to the deck, tried to regain my focus, and got back on it again. Why, I have no idea. About halfway up I became genuinely concerned that I’d shit myself in the fall, and did the rest of the route more worried about the state of my underwear than the tenuous moves. In fact, I discovered a slightly different sequence through the crux, which actually made it a bit easier. Padding up on rubbish footholds and muttering to myself, I reached the top with a sense of dazed satisfaction, then scurried off into the bushes to see if my sphincter had undergone a critical relaxation during my impromptu skin-displacement exercise. Thankfully it hadn’t.

I was far more pleased about that than the fact I’d just done an E4; I wouldn’t be walking all the way home to Ringwood like some half-peeled incontinent tramp after all.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Smear and Fear

My head hasn't really been into hard trad for a while now. Partly because I've been more focused on mountains, and partly due to being fed up of having my arse kicked at Swanage. This probably wasn't helped by my recent near miss at Guillemot Ledge. I got stuck on a route, went to lower off the gear, only for a hex to ping out and smash me in the teeth the moment I weighted it. Needless to say I scrabbled back onto the rock faster than the speed of light, pumped and gibbering, before finally managing to place something decent and retreat. Apart from the hex all I had in was a dodgy little nut and a bigger one too far below me to do anything more than prevent my mangled corpse from bouncing all the way into the sea.

I still shudder to think of what might've happened if I'd just slumped onto the gear, or worse, gone for the next move and fallen off.

However, with the mountains out of the way for now, and my deep and somewhat groundless hatred for sport climbing showing no signs of abating, I had no choice but to get back on trad and hope I could sort my head out. Enter Fairy Cave Quarry.

Off vertical slabs, soft as pig shit grading, and reasonable landings if you really screw things up. Sounds good. In fact, the average gradient is such that you're far more likely to just cheesgrate back down rather than properly fall off. Practically heaven for a shellshocked Swanage refugee.

After seconding a HS, I racked up and jumped straight onto a VS. It felt pretty good. So I tried an E1 next. It was typical slab climbing, all balancing on tiny footholds and padding up bit by bit past spaced gear. Again, I found myself unscathed at the top rather than broken at the bottom, having found the route a walk in the park compared to the handful of E1's I'd been on before.

I was happy enough with that, but the guy I was with, Luke, is the sort of enthusiastic climber who can psych you up for anything. First E2 lead it was then. The route, called Slight of Hand for obvious reasons, was short and extremely cruxy. I did a couple of moves to reach a horizontal break, stuffed it with cams, then stood up on it. Here I managed to fiddle a hopeless micro-wire into a pocket. The 5c crux awaited. Tenuous moves on smears and non-existent handholds led, with massive commitment, to a crimpy edge. I flapped my way up, feet on absolutely nothing. Just past the edge was a good gear placement but I carried on for one last hard move to the haven of a vegetated break. It was easy all the way to the top after that.

E2? No idea. I can't seem to get any perspective on slab grading. Perhaps it's just too different to the steep choss of Swanage that I'm used to. My instinct says probably not, although you'd definately deck if you fell off the crux. E2, but only if you cock it up maybe. Luke led an E3 with a massive runout afterwards that felt leagues ahead of what I'd just done.

I finished off with the classic Rob's Crack, which was utterly brilliant, and another E1 called Smell the Glove. Regardless of the grading, the climbing was fantastic; the perfect antidote to a Boulder Ruckle assault. Even on the badly protected bits it never felt that serious.

So now, lulled into a false sense of security, I will probably return to Swanage and get the living shit beaten out of me.