I've climbed at Avon Gorge a fair bit, but until now never on the Suspension Bridge Buttress. It's a lot steeper than the rest of the gorge, natural rather than quarried, and filled with interesting pocket features which provide great holds and, wait for it, gear! Actual gear placements, rather than just shite old pegs from the dark ages that you have to rely on to prevent a ground fall from some horrible polished crux move. So I was pretty keen to try a couple of routes on it, and after a several recent trad and sport sessions I felt confident to start pushing my grade back up again.
First up was a classic line called Suspension Bridge Arete, a mostly easy amble up the left edge of the crag, with one or two tricky moves getting into and up a chimney. It was basically a path, bomber threads wherever you needed them. So I decided to try the next route along, Suspense, which shared the same start and finish but took a steeper line up the wall in the middle. And this was where it all started to go tits up. I didn't bother to read the guide properly and just climbed rightwards to an obvious pockety-groove sort of thing. That had to be the route, right?
Clinging on to an undercut pocket, I fumbled at the rock above me not finding very much. With a small nut and a thread in I eventually went for a committing high step into a super thin layaway edge, a finger-tip only job. I slapped my way up a series of rubbish holds with my feet on chuff all. Pumped stupid, barely hanging on, I made a last desperate lunge for what looked like a jug but actually wasn't. This really wasn't going very well. Runners way below me, I knew I'd go miles if I fell off now, a final slippy-slappy sequence led me panting and sobbing to a thank god rest at a huge pocket.
I yelled something like "That's fucking nails I thought I was going to die" down to John, who'd probably just endured the most harrowing 'what will I tell his parents' belay of his life.
Eventually the burning in my forearms subsided, I continued up the steep but easier upper wall, and basically fell into the easy finishing corner of Suspension Bridge Arete. Having looked at the guidebook and various photos it turns out I climbed most of an E1 called Baby Duck, before joining the route I was meant to be on at the big pocket. No wonder it felt so hard for HVS.
John and I then swung leads up a horrendously polished Main Wall classic called Piton Route (guess what the gear was, bet you can't...), before finishing off on the extremely run-out but fun Dawn Walk. The first pitch was particularly harrowing, one bit of gear and vegetation for footholds, and it was a great effort from John to lead it. I then led the big traverse across the Morning Slab, which was a wonderful bit of unprotected mincing along a narrow footledge.
We abseiled off a tree just as the sun was setting over the gorge. It's good to be out on the rock again.