Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Ramp Challenge (Charlie)

The latter part of last year was primarily spent training for a new route which i had hoped to complete before the end of the season. By December things had got a little frantic, since i was very close to it and just needed the right conditions and enough time to get it done amongst a plethora of other commitments.
As is often the case, events involving a huge spate of work in London together with short wintery daylight and anti phased tides conspired to force my hand and make me leave this one until the spring. The imminent prospect of fatherhood too being a strong distracting force from the focus needed for such new routes.

In the place of the discipline of training came sloth and gluttony, and it felt good. Putting on a few pounds i reasoned was acceptable considering the imminent arrival of Christmas. I stopped climbing for around 5 or 6 weeks and concentrated on work, looking after Gilly, reading and contemplating low maintenance parenthood.

By early January though i was ready to get back into shape and start climbing again. The weather was unseasonally dry and mild and Avon beckoned. The Ramp in the Unknown area is a great winter venue, being similar to the grit in that it climbs so much better with crisp cold conditions lending a bit of friction and bight to the holds. Most of the routes were reclimbs for me although i hadn't previously done the excellent Street Life E5 6b, which oddly doesn't get any stars in the current CC guide and is a contender for the best E5 on the wall.

More recently i went over to Main Wall with Mike Coles and did Magic Theatre E5 6a. The opposite can be said of this route as it gets 2 stars in the book but is frankly loose dirty and fragile. The fixed gear is in comically poor shape and the fridge sized block after the crux which i had to lever over and put cams behind is enough to get the mind racing into the prospect of all sorts of unpleasant outcomes. Not recommended.

However, a day to remember for a long while will be 28 january 2012. A couple of years ago Ged Desforges and Woody were enjoying the merits of the classic Tour De France at the top of the Ramp. A tough E6 6b with a magnificent final move off an undercut mono. The idea occured to Woody that if TDF was the final pitch of a big multi pitch route with the mono move at the top it would be a fine climb indeed. The obvious conclusion to this idea was to fabricate such a climb by stringing together all the stared routes on the Ramp finishing with TDF. 12 pitches in all ranging from E2 to E6....The Ramp Challenge.

It breaks down like this:

Banshee E2
Us E2
Low Profile E5
Arms Race E4
Mirage E3
Bold As Love E6
Lost Illusions E5
New Horizons II E3
Solar Power E5
Already Gone E6
Them E3
Tour De France E6

Woody was never able to complete the challenge, but Ged and I had been talking about doing it in his honour for a little while and with the run of fine weather it seemed like a good idea to try it now. At the very least it'd be a good way to get some fitness!

We decided to both lead every pitch. The first placing gear and lowering off and the second 'redpointing' on the pre placed gear before stripping it on the way down and then swapping over. We were joined for the day by Pete Derrett who know how to handle himself behind a lens and supplied generous amounts of psyche into the mix too. We had a pretty casual 9.30 arrival planned and needless to say, neither off us brought a head torch which would prove to be a foolish oversight, but the weather couldn't have been better.

I set off up the 1st route Banshee at 10am and we flew through the routes swiftly. Most of the routes we knew pretty well and so they wern't too taxing, but things slowed down somewhat when we reached Bold As Love E6. I went 1st and retro flashed it, but Ged took a fall from the crux and then after a rest sent it next go. The style had to replicate as close as possible the style of a multi pitch, which meant climbing each pitch in order, with both of us having to complete each pitch before progressing to the next. After Ged's send of Bold As Love, I then went 1st again on Lost Illusions. A hard E5. I hadn't done this route for many years and it showed. Feeling like onsighting again  and starting to get tired from the days events, I took the lob off the crux. Next up Ged battled his way through and retro flashed it it style. I then messed it up for a second time! before getting it next go.

All this extra climbing for both of us had tired us out a bit so it was just as well the next route was a breeze and then Solar Power E5 went by without any trouble for either of us. However....the next route Already Gone E6 neither of us had done before. Ged had looked at it on a rope the day before and stuck a bit of chalk on it, but in was keen for the onsight and so had avoided going near it. As such it was my lead first and after a suitable bit of psyche managed to onsight it. Ged then cruised it.

Banshee E2
Photo Pete Derrett

Ged on Low Profile E5
Photo: Pete Derrett

The Avon and Isambard's Kingdom
Photo: Pete Derrett

The crux of Bold As Love E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

Lost Illusions E5
Photo: Pete Derrett

By now we were beginning to feel like we were really on for this but there was one was getting seriously dark. The benefit of good conditions earlier in the year meant less daylight, and coupled with our casual start had come back and bitten us on the arse. Undeterred we pushed on. Them E3 passed by without trouble even though it was pretty dark and we were both very tired. Finally we were ready to take on the concluding route. We had a bit of a rest and some food and let it get really pitch black, figuring that once you go passed a certain point, it doesn't matter how dark it is, you basically can't see!

As luck would have it, a small party of people including Ben West, Gaz Parry and Joe Day gathered at the top of the ramp with a bright bike light that they had brought to try a hard sport problem at the base of the Ramp. With Gaz shining the light up on TDF from below we decided that Ged should go first. He had been the one to invent the challenge with Woody and it seemed apt that he should be the first to top out and complete it. As well as that, he had already done TDF, and i had fallen off the crux a few years ago linking it in to a pitch below onsight.

Ged set off, tentatively at first, with tired arms, cold fingers and night blindness he shuffled his way over to the 1st peg and slapped his way up the wall. Constantly expecting to fall off each move he surprised himself by hanging in there. Move after move until he reached the rest before the final crux and THE move. Belief suddenly set in, and a flurry of excitement. Up into the was wet! push on but no. He fell setting up for the crux. Exhausted and unable to have another go, he pulled back on and battled his way to the top with elbows up, legs shaking but never letting go. A fine performance.

Next up was yours truely. In a similar state i slapped blindly up into the darkness. Gaz's torch illuminating just enough light to grope out poor crimps and spot the pegs. The footholds were a muddle of shadows being uplit from below. Each time i thought i was off, and then i'd stumble across another murky crimp in the darkness and battle on another move. Eventually, unable to see my footholds, i popped off just below Ged's high point. Back on and up to the crux i took another fall, but pulled back on and made it to the top.

Setting off the top of the ramp up Already Gone E6
Photo: Pete Derrett 

Darkness Looms
Photo: Pete Derrett

Ged On Already Gone E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

Blind faith on Tour De France E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

There is a part of me that obviously regrets not quite completing the challenge, after we had got so close. I've gotta say that don't think its really very hard to do if you got a bit more organised, rehearsed the pitches more and crucially started a bit earlier. There's no doubt in my mind that TDF would've been a formality for both Ged and I had the sun actually been up whilst we were trying it, but.......lets be honest, it wouldn't have been nearly so much fun. We attempted this challenge in woody's honour and lateness was Woody's bread and butter. The memory of foolish night time antics high up on one of Avon Gorge's premier test pieces, muddling together with an intoxicating blend of torches, psyche and camaraderie, is not something i'm gonna forget in a hurry. Those kind of experiences are what Woody lived for. They are what I and many many others shared with him and he wouldn't of had it any other way. It was as if, when the sun went down, Woody came back just for a few hours and shared in the excitement of what he, after all, had started.

The Team