I lost all confidence in my ability to climb, found lose holds everywhere, got twatted by a block the size of a melon that Rich broke off on some chossy, god-forsaken VDiff in the depths of Cormorant Ledge. Even when I placed good gear I couldn’t stop questioning the rock I’d put it in. On one route at Cattle Troughs I clung on mid crux, steadily getting more and more pumped and terrified, and placed about 37 nuts before I finally manned up and pulled through. Then it started raining as I inched my way up the easy headwall, which freaked me out so much I seriously considered untying and throwing myself into the sea.
It took a few sport sessions at Winspit and Portland to regain any semblance of the climber I’d once been. Sure I was crap, sure I made grade 5s look like 8as, sure I probably retreated from more routes than I finished. But somewhere along the way I found the spark of confidence I was looking for.
Cue a fairly hopeless attempt with Lurch to climb a route on Lliwedd, a subsidiary buttress of Snowdon, described in the guidebook as the biggest mountain cliff in Wales.
We couldn’t even find the fucking thing.
It was so misty all we could see was the very bottom of something that might’ve been a towering 300m crag, but could’ve just as easily been a boulder. We thrashed around on slimy choss for hours, hoping against hope that the fog would recede, that we might somehow stumble upon the start of the route by accident, that, despite all the basic principles of reality, it might actually be dry and climbable, rather than a piss wet death trap that would brush us off like bothersome gnats into the hell we so richly deserved.
Angry, cold and soaking, we trudged back down the Miner’s Track to Pen y Pass and headed back towards the Llanberis slate quarries, where Luke was already climbing. He said he was on a crag called Australia that was awesome and we should get on it right away.
Once a-fucking-gain, we couldn’t find the fucking thing. I fatally neglected to look at the book, and instead just hiked up to the top of the first quarry I could see. It was steep and took ages. Poor old Lurch fell further and further behind, until I started receiving a string of increasingly worrying text messages from him; Where are you?; I’m bloody knackered; I think I’m lost; My phone’s about to die; Something comes...
And so on. I realised my mistake at the top, turned around, found a somewhat traumatised Lurch (muttering ‘the eyes, the eyes’ over and over again), and we went and climbed a route at the bottom. It was a weird sport/trad hybrid, and I decided that slate was rubbish. Rather than do another, we went back into the Pass and climbed an uber-classic Severe called Crackstone Rib, which was fantastic.
The next day we hit Tremadog. Lurch led most of a cool multipitch VDiff called Hail Bebe, then I had a go at Merlin Direct, a classic HVS. As usual, I faffed about on the hard bits, got pumped, took about three days to build a belay that would hold 18 stone of plummeting Lurch, and climbed the final crux wall at a speed that made tectonic drift look snappy. But I got there. It was brilliantly sustained, with a bit of everything - thuggery, corner bridging, a slab, a jugtastic layback flake, and the techy headwall that almost spat me off the last move when I got my feet all wrong and had to do a desperate belly flop campus for survival off a sloper and a shitty crimp.
Bringing Lurch up and gazing out at the rolling fields and distant hills, I knew I was back in the game. A couple of weeks later I descended into the nightmare that is Boulder Ruckle, and amazingly, despite being weak, scared, and generally lacking in talent, I wasn’t killed.
And with ‘Hard Very Swanage’, that’s about the best I could’ve hoped for.