This is a post I never got round to finishing a couple years back. I recently found it again, and thought I might as well do something with it. It pretty much explains why I mainly sport climb now! No pictures I'm afraid, I was far too busy trying not to die...
Billy Pigg - E1 5b, 4c ** 'A great introduction into the art of roof thuggery'
Oh god, why?
This question is frequently running through my mind before, during, and after my 'ascent' of this Swanage roof testpiece. Being a weak, skinny, slab crawling, mountain lurking coward, the purpose of climbing a 2 meter horizontal roof on a crumbling sea cliff is utterly obscure to me. I simply cannot fathom a reason why anyone would chose to do it, unless they are being held at gunpoint. And even then I'd probably just take the bullet.
But I am climbing with Luke, and Luke, unlike me, is a good climber. Luke deliberately seeks out climbs like Billy Pigg to test his indoor wall-honed strength and technique. I am merely the poor sod who happens to be around to second him. So we abseil into the ominous vertical cheese of Boulder Ruckle and scramble along the bits that have already fallen off to the bottom of the route.
The roof looks horrifying. Like 'The Sloth' only much steeper and with no visible holds. I fight an urge to walk into the sea. Luke flakes out the ropes, grinning in anticipation of the struggle to come. He then says something like "Well, I'll just jolly up in one pitch and belay on the stakes at the top, eh!", to which I violently protest, terrified at the thought of having to tackle that roof with my belayer far, far out of ear shot. He'll never get the ropes tight enough. Never.
So Luke grudgingly consents to cramp his style for the sake of this quivering mess of a second, and off he goes. The initial wall is steady, VSish, with plenty of gear behind the usual wobbly Swanage blocks. Soon enough he is under the roof, clipping the complicated matrix of fixed gear no doubt abandoned by panicking seconds such as myself. He then places a bit more, has a fumble at the holds in the roof, and announces they are "fucking shit."
How, I wonder, can something so horizontal have fucking shit holds and still be 5b?
Luke, an E3 leader lest we forget, searches a bit more but apparently finds nothing better, and so just cuts loose onto what is there and dangles for some time in a state of perplexion. Any second I expect him to execute a stylish, ninja-like heel hook sequence and race up to the belay ledge above. But he doesn't. Instead he slumps downwards, grabbing at the fixed gear, pendulums back under the roof again, while I grip the ropes white-knuckled and have a quiet but profound panic attack.
Apparently it is nails, then. Who fucking knew?
Luke's one attempt is enough to convince him of the futility of trying to free climb (I have long since accepted this), so instead he welds in a few more wires, attaches some slings as stirrups, and aids his way through the crux and onto the ledge above. I immediately start worrying about how I am going to get said wires out again while simultaneously using them as vital points of aid and dangling upside down. All too soon he has built a belay - of the '15 pieces but they're all crap' variety - and then it is my turn to get shafted by the route.
I climb a series of wobbling holds to the roof and focus on getting the quickdraws off the fixed gear, making a very deliberate effort to ignore what is looming right above my head. I arrange some gear on my harness. I chalk up. I rearrange the gear on my harness. I chalk up some more. I make double bloody sure I have my prussiks to hand. Every now again my helmet brushes against the roof, and I give an involuntary whimper...
But I know, deep down, that I cannot postpone the innevitable, and so I look out in horror, see the gently swaying aid sling hanging from the lip absolutely fucking miles away. I fumble at the holds. They are indeed shit. Grovelling on slippery jams yields nothing. The rope tugs impatiently at my waist. What the hell am I supposed to do?
In the end I surrender all hope, just launch myself at the sling with clawed hands, miss it completely, swing out into space, plummeting downwards, all my weight about to be abruptly transferred onto the rubbish belay above...
The feeling of rushing through the air; all those wasted moments of my life, dreams I will never achieve, the hopelessness of it all-
My harness pulls tight. Pain. I open my eyes.
Amazingly I am still alive. I can't quite decide whether or not this is a good thing. Dangling in space I grab the sling and commence to climb it hand over hand, shrieking 'TAKE!' over and over again. Slowly I winch myself up level with the aid nut and somehow manage to gain a position of vague balance, stabbing at the blasted thing with a nut key until it comes out. At the belay I take what is left of the rack and gibber my way up the chossy VS second pitch to the top, weeping softly all the while. Finally I negotiate the typical 'cutting steps with a nut key' Ruckle top out, and reach the rusty belay stake, a broken, sobbing mess of a man...
I have since read other accounts of this climb, and it seems that roughly half the people who do it are able to find a huge jug in the roof. The other half, like us of course, either improvise a desperate sequence on terrible holds and jams, or just dog the shit out of it. So where is the mythical jug then, this holy grail of holds? I've decided it must be like that bit at the end of Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, where Harrison Ford walks over the invisible bridge - you just have to believe it's there. We faithless scum did not, and were punished accordingly. My brain tricks me into remembering a ghostly, emaciated voice whispering in my ear as I hung screaming and pleading beneath that awful bloody roof;
"You have chosen...poorly..."