Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Walk Of Life

Funny old thing motivation. Last time i posted i was psyched to climb in as many places as possible, on lots of different rock types and styles, sport, trad, onsight, redpoint and so on..... Then quick as a flash that all changed.

I finally decided that it was about time i went and had a look at the Walk Of Life down at Dyer's Lookout in north Devon. There's been so much talk about the route and so many opinions bandied about, but what struck me was that no one local had actually bothered to go and check it out. The previous ascentionists and come from Matlock, Fort William and the Lakes in that order. So if they could make the effort, then i certainly could. After one weekend's visit i was hooked. Headpointing was back on my agenda. I was psyched to do this route and only this route....

I first went down towards the end of October with my wife Gilly. Having come straight out the back of an intense 4 days filming a commercial in Cardiff with the usual long days and late nights. I managed to swerve the wrap party much to the perplexity of most of the crew.

"What d'ya mean you aint gonna come and get totally lashed in Tiger Tiger with us with a free bar all night?!!!" they said

"Err no....i'm gonna head off down to Hartland Point in Devon and mess about on a 50m sea cliff all weekend instead" said I.

"You twat".


But i was a happy twat, cos the next day whilst they were cringing under the pain of their hangovers, i was free as a bird, off in the van with Gilly reveling in the stunning blue sky and high pressure weather that was sitting over the south west.

I'd not actually been to Dyer's Lookout before at all, so on first aquainance i was impressed. What a sheet of rock! I absolutely have to climb this i thought. As luck would have it, whilst i was setting up the rope. Andy Mitchell and Dave Birkett, whom we had met at Ilkley the week before, turned up with a double agenda. Andy had come to have another go at The Walk whilst Dave had come to have a look at the unclimbed line to the left. Their beta and psyched was really helpful and that combined with some quality banter made for a cracking weekend.

I had 2 goes on the route on this visit both of which were spent working out and trying to remember the huge amount of moves on the route. The second go i did it in 3 sections but i knew there must be easier sequences to suit my strengths and weaknesses. More time was needed......

We left Sunday afternoon, to get back to Bristol and catch an evening flight to El Chorro. Gilly and i had had this trip booked since the summer, and although i now couldnt get The Walk Of Life out of my head, this was really the perfect place to go and enjoy some relaxing bolt clipping in the sun. It was especially good for Gilly, a much deserved holiday and a chance to get some proper sport climbing in before the winter months descended upon us.

We spent 5 days in Chorro. Both of us focusing mostly on onsighting. Much of the trip was spent over at Desplomilandia where we both took advantage of the hilariously overgraded routes. I onsighted Leron Careto 7c, La Golosa 7c+, Paquistani 8a, El Ruin De Roma 7c, Perseverencia 8a, and almost onsighted La Conexion Pelirroja 8a which i got next go. Gilly onsighted Debora Cuerpos 6b, Alobeitor 6a+, Provinciano Marrano 6c and Buena Sombre 6b+. Nearly all of these routes are over graded but its only fast food and ticking ego inflating grades on holiday is what climbing holidays are all about. The highlight of the trip without doubt was Gilly making an inspired last day redpoint of a punchy 7a called Manzanilla Madness Which for once was no soft touch. She fell off the easy top slab just before the chain to add to the jeopardy and gain a taste of what its like to have to keep your cool when the pressure is on. We had to leave to catch our flight home shortly after, but she kept her cool and dispatched it with the perfect mix of precision and determination, just like a pro ;-)

When we got back home, i spoke to Simon and Rob at Beta to let them know that i was trying The Walk Of Life. Lucky old me. The first thing they said was that Sterling had just brought out a new super light weight prototype double rope. As yet unnamed, they were calling them 'project 8.0's' as they were 8mm thick and very very light. This was perfect news for me. I was concerned about what a difference the weight of the ropes was going to make on the lead and these sounded like the perfect ropes for the job! Like a couple of heros, they sorted it out immediatey, and the next day a box arrived at home with 2 brand new project 8's, a load of Bleaustone chalk and a full set of Ball Nuts from Trango as well.

Now these Ball Nuts are hard to come by. They aint essential for The Walk Of Life but they sure make it a hell of a lot easier if you're gonna place all that kit on lead. As well as that i'd found that the smallest Ball Nut fitted in a tiny slot on the boldest bit of the route. I believe James didnt bother with any gear here, and i know that Dave Birkett filed down a knife blade peg to fit into it, but this Ball Nut although not perfect was a very satisfying bit of pro to find.

On the Bold Lower Section
Photo: Simon Wilson

Next weekend i was down there again, practicing, working, remembering again and again the endless moves and gear placements on this magnificent piece of rock. I had no excuses now. I'd borrowed several sets of Ball Nuts, i had the light weight Sterling ropes, I'd top roped it clean. Time to get stuck in......but no. Tides. The window of opportunity would have to wait.

Back to work then, filming cute little kittens for Whiskas cat food. A total change of scene. This would surely stop my mind from spinning over and over with nervous excitement about that damn route. No chance. Once the headpoint sucks you in, you are at its mercy until the job is done. The only way out from this manic obsession is to get on with it. Just do it.

Calming The Nerves Before The Sustained Upper Section
Photo: Simon Wilson

2 weeks later the tides were good. The forecast was good (if a bit bloody chilly) Gilly was being a total superstar in putting up with me babbling on and on and whats more she was happy to journey down to Devon again and belay in the freezing conditions. She made soup, helped carry all the kit, patiently belayed whilst i mucked about working the moves, she even warmed my boots up inside her jacket. I'm a lucky man indeed.

We waited 2 days for it to stop raining, and on the 3rd day it was still spitting. 2 good mates Si Wilson and Laurent Derioz drove down to take stills and shoot some video respectively, and i knew i just had to get on with it. I top roped it clean once more and i felt good on it. After climbing the first 20 feet, i placed the sky hook as the first bit of gear and then carefully down climbed to tie it off and make it secure. The rain started to spit a bit harder and so i knew it was time to push on. The bottom bold section flew by with ease. Then there is an easier section before things kick in properly. Unbelievably my foot skated out of a large damp foothold on this simple section. So much build up to an anticlimax. Next go was the one that got away. Some times you climb well, and things just dont go your way. This was one of those times. I battled my way through the middle crux, frantically fiddling in small RP's, cams and ball nuts along the way. 45 minutes later after a long rest on a good foothold, my foot skidded off again. Gutted. I wasnt even trying to make a move. The flip side to all this was 4 days later. (after driving to the base of the crag to avoid 'the walk in of life') Utterly freezing conditions, very high northerly gusting winds, dampness and to top it all i was climbing like sketching wobbling twat. Everything about the day said failure and yet somehow i wobbled my way up. Nearly getting blown off, feet skidding about, overgripping, generally climbing like a total punter, but The Walk Of Life went down. The feeling? Total relief, and an even stronger conviction that when thing sjust don't seem to be going your way, trying really really hard will always give you a fighting chance.

Now seems to be grit season........

Over and Out

Charlie Woodburn

Hard Moves Above An RP 0
Photo: Simon Wilson

Concentrating hard on the Upper Section.
Photo: Simon Wilson


  1. I once had an orange helmet. Had to get it checked out at the docs... J Mac.