Sunday, 28 August 2011

Kjerag & Pembroke Antics

As a freelancer, by far the best way to ensure an influx of work is to book a trip away. Last July, true to form I had a spate of busy calls from productions all over the country wanting to book me up, but alas I had to turn them all down as I had 10 days in Norway locked down in the diary.
The plan for the trip was to go to Kjerag and do it in a long day. The team was Steve McClure, Neil Mawson, Liam Halsey and yours truly. The double whammy after turning down all the  work was that after the 1st 2 day of sunshine the forecast was utter pish for 9 consecutive days. As such the journey over was pretty rushed and we had a bit of a scramble getting ourselves sorted in order to get on the wall straight away. No chilling out and getting used to the style of climbing it was a bit of a kick bollock. Got the boat over that 1st evening and bivvied at the base of the vast crag. None of us had ever climbed anything this big in a day before and we were all excited and apprehensive at the same time. After a 4.30am start Liam and I set off up ‘North West Passage’. A gentle introduction to big wall climbing. 800m, 23 pitches up to about E3 and much of it wet. I was surprised at how knackered I was when we topped out at 7.00pm. Apart from us there were no climbers there at all. The place is firm favourite for BASE jumpers and as we were climbing they kept wizzing past our heads as they tested Newtons gravitational laws to the max.
After topping out, Liam and I had assumed that it was an hour and a half walk back to the road where we could hitch back to the campsite. However as we were marching back we went straight into the decending mist and then spent some time trying to find the right way back. 4 hours later we were at the road, tired and hungry. Thankfully we got a lift down the last 8km of road back to the car. Steve and Neil however, topped out 3 ½ hours after us in the dark and got totally lost in the fog. Thankfully Steve had his mobile phone with him and we managed to direct them via text and then went to pick them up in the car. The full team was back in the campsite by 2am, totally knackered!

Team Wad, and errr me..L-R Liam Halsey, Me, Steve McClure, Neil Mawson

The Bivvy spot below Kjerag

Half way up Kjerag

The Famous boulder choke on the mist on the decent

Sadly the rest of the trip was spent sport climbing in steep caves away from the rain, with me trying and failing to keep up with team 8c. The steepness was actually exactly what I needed to be doing for fitness after my long injury, but it wasn’t really what we had all come to experience in Norway.

So sadly the weather was a big dissapoinment but it was great to go climbing with some new characters in a new country, and we all spotted a truck load of new routes to go back for. Happy days.

On my return to the UK it was straight back to work in Black Island Studios shooting a Blackberry commercial. This was just what I needed, as it would keep me away from the crags for a couple of weeks and meant I could get stuck into some indoor training for a bit and get some much needed fitness. Now that my shoulder was totally better, I wanted to try a hard route less slabby than the trad stuff I’d been concentrating on earlier this year. I’d had a look at James Pearson’s recent addition to Huntsmans Leap in Pembroke when Neil Mawson did the second ascent back in May, and thought it was brilliant. Great climbing, not too bold and not totally desperate, but still pretty hard – it was the perfect route to get on next. Now I’m not exactly sure what this route is called. It seems as though James has changed its name, chamged it back again, put it to the vote and eventually got bored and shuffled off back to Austria. I think it was something like ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are?’, or ‘Drop Your Kids Off At The Pool’ perhaps? The next weekend I headed over to Pembroke with Neil Mawson. I gave it a quick work on a top rope again and rechecked the gear. The route starts up an established E6/7 called Black Lagoon before breaking left and climbing the beautiful pink wall to join Dusk Till Dawn.
Bizarrely the boldest part of the route is in this bottom section of Black Lagoon, which I had flippantly assumed would be pretty easy….wrong! Its quite hard and has lost a peg and a thread making it bolder.
In the back of my mind I thought I might not yet be fit enough to do this route but as its not very bold it seemed like a good idea to just get on it and see……and I fell off. Off the 2nd crux and on to the peg. No sweat, another week of indoor pulling in London and I’d be back next weekend.

The next day Neil and I had had enough of head pointing and went to find some adventure in the form of the 2nd ascent of Crispin Waddy’s superb Free Masonry, on the outside of the Cauldron. This route has been unrepeated since 1997. It took Crispin 2 years, 2 climbing partners and 2 abseil retreats into the sea to do the 1st ascent. Any route with a reputation like that has got to get the pulse racing and so off we went to get stuck in. Its 4 pitches long, E6 6b, 6a, 6b, 6b and winds its way along the lip of the huge through cave left of Flimston Ridge. After a quick warm up doing 'Friend Of The Devil' E4 6a and an exciting and eccentric approach traversing and crawling through narrow caves we emerged at the base of the route. Neil took the 1st lead and battled hard in the steep grooves, going slightly the wrong way at one stage and getting savagely pumped. Pitch 2 was a bizarre down climb to a hanging stance right on the lip of the cave with the bubbling sea frothing below. Pitch 3 again proved slightly difficult to navigate and by the time Neil had arrived in the cave at the end of the pitch he was totally exhausted. I then had the simple job of following him, but then it was my turn…. Unsure about exactly how pitch 4 emerges from the big roof at its start I decided to head left (lookin in) and spotted an anchient stuck wire. Thinking this must be the way since the route was unrepeated I pushed on into horrendous choss and damp softness. It seemed way too close to the main fragile groove  of the buttress and not the way the new topo indicated, but we had been told to take the topo line with a pinch of salt. Eventually after pulling off various blocks and not being happy with my gear I retreated back to the cave. I then tried another line straight out but didn’t want to commit to going the wrong way and end up lowering into the sea. We decided to retreat as it was getting late and it was now pouring with rain. Leaving a couple of bits of gear we aid reversed the way we had come and avoided the infamous swim out. I’ve now spoken to Crispin about which way it goes and the answer is straight out away from the choss and through some serious pumpy steepness…..a rematch beckons!

Warming up onsighting Friend Of The Devil E4 6a
Photo: Tim Skinner

Neil on 1st pitch of Free Masonry E6 6b, 6a, 6b, 6b

Hanging Belay on Free Masonry E6 6b, 6a, 6b, 6b

After another week of work,  I went back the following weekend to finish off the job on ‘Drop Your Kids Off’/’Do You Know Where’ blah blah…In my view it weighs in at about E8 6c or runout 7c+ in new money. Its an excellent bit of climbing. I cant believe, as a relative local, I missed that one as a new route, and good effort to James for grabbing the 1st ascent on his 1st visit to Pembroke. I need to get my eyes tested!

1st go on 'Do You Know Where Your Children Are?' E8 6c
Photo: Emma Alsford

Monday, 1 August 2011

Skye Wall, Once Upon A Time In The South West & Old Man Of Hoy

Been a long time since i got around to putting down a few words here and its been a busy few months.

After doing Apophenia and hanging out in Arisaig, Tim Emmett and i headed over to Skye to have a look at Dave Birkett's Skye Wall. It was a fun few days and we very nearly got the route done but as usual with this part of the country, the weather had the final word. We spent a day walking in, finding the line and sorting out the moves and gear. That night it rained heavily and so we had to wait most of the next day for it to dry out.Eventually Tim led the 1st pitch (a sandbag at E5 - we thought it more like a bouldery E6 6c) and as he reached the belay it was starting to rain again. I followed up as it was getting harder and by the time i was ready to take on the main pitch it was properly pissing it down. I set off anyway and then found myself about to embark on the crux of an E7/8 in the soaking wet a long way from anywhere and funnily enough had a change of heart. A very very wet retreat ensued and we headed back to civilization to regroup and have a weather check. There was no point in heading back, the forecast was shocking! This route will have to wait....hopefully later this year when the midges have calmed down a bit.

A couple of weekends later, there was a big party down in St Ives in Cornwall in memory of Woody, dubbed 'Woodstock'. A big team assembled and had a great day at Bosigran, a bit of surfing etc before a briliantly messy night in field with some dirty dance music. Goodtimes.
The next day i was feeling pretty rare. But the weather was good and i was keen to climb. Hazel Findlay was keen too and we decided to drive half way home and stop off at Dyers Lookout and have a play on another of Dave Birkett's routes, 'Once Upon a Time In The South West'. Hami had been on it before a few weeks previously and had done all the moves. Her Dad Steve cane along to hekle us for using chalk, and top roping ;-)
Amazingly we both did all the moves on the route that day and got some good links too. I felt sure we would both do it pretty quick considering we had only had a few hours sleep and had had a skin full the night before.

A week later i had some time off work, Hami had finished her degree and the forecast looked ok. I persuaded Hami that it would be best to go down for a 5 or so day and try and get the route done there and then rather than go back and forth a few times. She agreed.
Having had the experience of doing The Walk Of Life the previous November i came prepared. 100m static rope, micro cams, ball nuts, and the super lightweight Sterling Photon ropes which had made such a big difference before.
The 1st day went well. Conditions were good. We did all the moves again, made some great links, sussed the gear placements and where we were gonna place from etc. The top of the route kept shedding holds and gradually kept getting a little harder. This was more of an issue for hazel than it was for me cos she's only marginally taller than a Lilliputian.
We were all set to get on the sharp end the next day, but then of course the rain came.....It pissed it down the next day from start to finish and then the day after it not only rained but the sea mist came in and we sat in a dewy cloud all day. The rock soaked up all moisture into the cracks and all of our beautiful chalked holds and tick marks vanished. (at least Steve F would have been happy ;-))
Then on the 4th day the weaether went to the other extreme and it got hot hot hot! The rock was soaked and we had to wait most of the day for it to dry out, and after that it was just too hot to climb E2 let alone a thin 50m 8a+ slab on marginal gear. Finally at about 8pm we headed down to the wall and had a top rope go each. It didnt go too well. The conditions were terrible. I managed to top rope it clean but shredded my soft tips in the process and Hami was not psyched at all! I finally decided to go for the lead as the sun was setting behind the horizon and it cooled down slightly. It was 9.30pm. I set off and duly slipped off one of the 1st moves onto a tiny cam. this was beginning to get ridiculous. I pulled the ropes and had 1 last go and to my astonishment did the route. It was a fine battle. The top groove was climbed in almost total darkness. Only the white tick marks for the gear placements keeping me on track. An HB1 and an HB2 both fell out because it was too dark to see which way round to put them in and i nearly blew it on a hard rock over in the groove.
The sense of satisfaction though at the top was doubled by the experience. This really is one of the best bits of rock in the country.

Next up was Hami. We returned the next day but surprise surprise it started to rain again. She was under a bit of pressure as she was leaving the country in a week until Oct so she needed to get it done soon. Unfortunately i had to leave that eve to get to London for work, but her dad came down to take over the belaying and she sent it the next day. A truely amazing performance from the lady - The 1st E9 by a British woman. I'm gutted i didnt get to see her ascent, but her dad confessed he'd been rain dancing all week to prevent her from doing it so as he could come down and belay her for her ascent. Swine.

After that it was stint of work and the shoulder was getting better and better. Gilly and I then went up to Orkney for a wedding and took the opportunity to do the Old Man Of Hoy. What a giggle that was. Gilly was 2 1/2 months pregnant and styled her way up it. I can remember watching the televised ascent with Joe & Zoe Brown together with Pete Whillance and Murray Hamilton back in 1986. Ever since then its been something i wanted to do and its a real right of passage for any UK trad climber. The fulmars played their part in the show and dutifully honked their fishy goo all over Gilly's front. It was a grand day out indeed. The locals were so amazed that we had done it we even got a mention in the wedding speech. I would have thought that they would have been bored senseless by the Old Man and the climbers that come and go on their pilgrimage. Surely this would been tedious old news for them? But amazingly we were treated like celebrities at the wedding. And this only a week after dave Macleod had just freed the Long Hope Route on St John's Head....funny old world innit.