Climbing has certainly changed a lot over the last 20 year. I don’t know which has been the strangest occurrence although rumour of Dave Macleod losing loads of weight living on cheesecake and butter is certainly up there. Training for climbing and trying one project has in many circles become more popular than the actual activity along with moaning about minor injuries.
Earlier in the year there was some debate about wether the UK had any world class routes and I thought it was ludicrous. The UK has tons and it’s often the history, character and landscapes of the routes which make them so special.
There are climbs which rival those found on el cap, Longhope direct is the UKs version of Salathe wall, Etive slabs, Shelterstone and Dubh Loch could be some of the smaller cliffs in Yosemite valley. Gogarth and Pembroke offer as good a sea cliff adventures as to be found anywhere in the world.
Climbing has given me a huge amount, the majority of my best experiences have involved it in some way or other and the majority of the climbing I do and have done is trad climbing. Seeing the fairly empty cliffs quite often I do wonder if it’s something of a ‘dying out’ element of climbing. I think this would be somewhat sad and would highly recommend anyone who has given it any thought to give it a go. If I could give every keen youth from a less affluent background the skills, equipment and opportunity to go out and do some classic trad climbs I would do so. I’ve done a lot of both sport and trad climbing over the years and the easiest classic trad routes I’ve done still mean a lot more to me than the hardest sport routes I’ve done although an ascent of Little Chamonix is unlikely to get you much acclaim. A good thing about the easy trad routes is that you can enjoy them again and again.
The trip was a general success but as me and Ryan did the Great Escape on the first day through a mixture of celebrations and the weather our performance on the trip was a line graph going downwards.
Bransby pulled a big block off on the first day taking the biggest lob, Varian put up a new and good looking v12 and as usual Ryan drank more than anyone else.
Since then I’ve been looking at many of the bits of rock I was curious about for years with a clear intention of trying to climb them and I’ve been looking at North Wales and some other areas in a different light. It’s yielded about 14 new climbs this year with hardly having to look very far for them.
The Pass, Tremadog, Ogwen, Pembroke and particularly Gogarth which has given 4 very good hard routes ranging from the perfectly protected Divided Britain to the very adventurous Combined Energy. The last one being of particularly high quality which was found on a trip to Gogarth after a fight up a George smith e6 called Fishura, a sizable roof crack with chimneying contortions, flopping onto the top I had scars over my back and felt I’d spent a week with a s and m dominatrix. I set up the belay, drank from my flask and grinned at how little fun calum would have seconding it. I looked at a quartz jug at the apex of the arch and thought about how wild a lip traverse to gain it would be if it was possible, the overhanging groove above looked like it could be a total shitfest or amazing.
A few days later on a Wednesday night me and dan mcmanus went and tried it. We each gave it a lead attempt and got to the quartz jug at the apex of the arch. The usual scenes of getting pumped, damp rock and gear ripping were involved. We gave up as it got late and I headed off to work in Manchester. All day in work on the Friday I was thinking about it wondering if the groove at the top was doable. That evening I met up with dan in bangor and we shot to the cliff near porth dafarch. I went up first and gaining the quartz jug I tussled up to the crux in the groove above which keeps you on your toes to the end. Dan did it first go as well having a similar tussle with the final overhanging groove. The name helping to consummate our relationship!
On the drive back across Anglesey one of the best finishes to climbing at gogarth is the panoramic view of the mountains with crib goch often standing out. We went for celebration drinks at the heights still chatting shit about the climb. It was the best of the new ones covering unlikely ground and feeling adventurous. I haven’t been able to get enough of Gogarth this year in terms of a place to hang out on an evening as well as the varied climbs to be found there.
Going back to Eve Lancashire.
Eve is a brilliant and exceptional trad climber but also possibly the most dangerous climber I’ve climbed with. It’s tricky to know exactly where to start, lobbing off the top of Rare Lichen having missed out the best RP to protect that section was quite ‘out there’ and not wearing a helmet on Swanage due to having a truly shit role model nearby. But, perhaps Catatonia gives the best example. We arrived at gogarth late and somewhat cloudy and damp we get on an E5 called Catatonia after doing a classic E6 called Sea Witch. I lead the first 6a pitch and she seconds in her pink crocks.
“No, I’m wearing these”
“I’d get your boots on”
“James Mcbullshit I’m wearing these”
I stared at her incredulously, kind of liking her attitude even if I was getting ripped into by some kind of super mouse for offering sage advice. She duly led the pitch fine and I was impressed and unnerved by the show. I presumed she was just bored and I can empathise with that having spent time with the likes of Calum, Hazel and Doylo.
Of danger in climbing I could write a good few essays. When I was younger I used to seek out the serious routes which had a big history and reputation and I was after pushing myself into desperation to see what I could do when right at the edge. I had a set of other principles which were also on the less healthy side, those ones I will take to the grave. The younger I was the more dangerous the moments were. Dave Kells asked once if I ever thought I was going to die and I was shocked he’d asked as I think I was into treble figures by that point.
I still remember the closest time though. I’d been climbing a year or 2. I set off walking down Borrowdale in October as an angry 16 year old with the intent to solo Greatend Corner on Greatend crag. I remember feeling highly dislocated from ‘normal’ society, a sentiment I imagine some people can empathise with in the current climate where racism, lying and bullying are traits that will carry some bastards far.
The climb was dirty and wet and I soon got pushed leftwards, after nearly falling 3 times I arrived cold and a bit strained on the ledge beneath the top pitch of Banzai Pipeline. That was too wet and I knew I was properly stuffed. I set off upwards into unknown ground picking a line of weakness, pumped, struggling, slapping and trying as hard as I could I was still unfortunately parting company with the rock when the ‘breeze’ pushed me back in where by some good grace a good hold came in reach and the top soon after. I’m in no way religious but the moment would certainly have given Dawkins pause for thought. Having been back since I’ve never quite worked out where the hell I went but it was right at the limit of my ability at that point, probably beyond it. There were other moments where the wind played a part in avoiding disaster but never quite as near the edge, even from 1000s of solos in the Lakes and Wales. There was a moment when Emma Twyford was younger on Greatend crag when it appeared a breeze also saved her.
So, Eve I’d like you to receive some more sage advice from a fellow climber who can be dangerous, and I’d like any person who climbs with you to tell you the same;
wear your helmet, get in loads of gear (it’s good for getting you fit), consolidate through the classics of the grades, stick knots in the end of your ab rope and use a prussock, concentrate when your climbing- especially on not pulling holds off. If your thinking about Indian Face do The Medium, Ambassador and even Face Mecca beforehand as stepping stones. Meet your partners on time and put your rock shoes on for E5s. The last critical point of safety is to remember to never, ever nick my shades. I wouldn’t give this advice to people I didn’t like. If Farage and Trump got into climbing Id get them on Indian Face as soon as possible, I’d bring my popcorn and offer to belay with a big Cheshire cat smile on my face “it’s this way gents”, but I’m not one to fantasize.
The last one on a recent trip to Scotland made me think about the history of the climb and was more testing than I would have expected, no offence to Murdo. Setting off on the main pitch on Run of the Arrow I had my trainers on my harness and was expecting a quick run up a classic e6, not quite as cocky as it sounds as I’ve done a few 100 of this grade and normally get up them first go although I’ve found an easy way of finding fear is to set off on them when very tired or hungover.
Dinwoodie had onsighted to the high flake on it on a 1st ascent effort and then managed to scrape in a wire somehow and make an epic retreat. Later on Pete Whillance abseiled the climb and then did it.
My guidebook said many wires in the cracks on the face, I got 2 ok RPs next to each other which and the sequence above felt E6 leading to easier climbing and the end of the good feet. I did ponder for a few minutes there. I knew Pete Whillance would have had a fag where I was and carry on regardless of facing a fall which I thought you’d be very luck to survive. I was pretty impressed Dinwoodie had got to this point without knowing anything about the level of climbing or gear he faced which must have been one of the pushiest efforts of the time.
I eventually climbed higher to get in an RP and reversed back to make the grim move to get gear in the lower bit of the flake where I didn’t actually get anything useful in. I extended the top RP miles to stop it coming out with rope drag and eventually committed to the 6b moves up left. I spoke with Tony Stone later who said I’d missed some key sideways stopper but either way I didn’t clock it and as a lead without the bashed in wires it felt more dangerous than many E7s I’d done, quite like the routes found on north stack. Dan Vajzovic got off lightly as he was close to getting guided up it the week before but his boots looked a bit too crap.
Whilst reccying the route I’d take from Rampart corner to the cromlech I did find a gem at the opposite end of the climbing spectrum. A new highball arête. I must have walked near the thing a hundred times on MLs but I looked at it with a modern eye and knew if the high pockets were ok it would be climbable. I’m not generally the keenest boulderer but I do love arêtes and it rekindled a desire for bouldering I’d not had since climbing Careless Torque a few times in 2010 when I worked out a short person sequence on careless torque for the start and the finish and me and bransby did it within 5 minutes of each other with Ron Fawcett giving us the thumbs up down in Hathersage afterwards. One of the better days I’ve had on the grit was repeating it again after doing Unfamiliar and finishing on the arêtes above. Although not quite as striking a line as Careless it is up there with it in terms of quality climbing and is a great spot to hang out. The Devils Blade. It’s possibly a bit harder than Careless as well.