the weather was perfect. Alex Mason kept us company until Kendal where he was
staying with George Ullrich, the car had an holiday atmosphere. After a night in Applebly we
continued North in convoy with George and Alex. Ben was in charge of the music
and by the time we hit the border my ears had had so much hiphop I was imagining
an ejector seat button on my gear stick. Pulling up beneath the Buckle and
stepping out the car I couldn’t believe our luck, it was shorts weather. The
base layers left behind we all set off for Craig Y Banchair/ Tunnel Walls.
The last time I’d climbed here was 13 years ago with Stuart Wood, Nick
Wharton and Dave Birkett. We’d had a good day climbing the extreme rock route
the Risk Business and some other routes further left but rain had stopped play
there the day after. Romantic Reality was a route I’d had on my list that year
and I’d not gotten around to climbing.
The first pitch looked grim, a 6a Whillance pitch it was filthy with moss and lichen,
I managed to get Ben to lead it. After a few kg of crap coming down he arrived at
the belay and having expected him to come down saying it was too dirty and that
we'd do some of the sport routes to the right. I thought shit I’ve got to try the 2nd pitch
I pulled up above it and feeling like I’d had too much for lunch had a few moments
on the ‘slopey holds’ which were a bit dusty before reaching the good gear above.
I was chuffed to get an awkward hands off rest in the damp corner above to help
get something back from a flash pump for the brilliant steep moves up right leading
to a huge sinker jug. The rock beneath the dirt is great and the route is well deserved of
its place in the Extreme Rock book. Its got me well keen to head up to some of the great
Scottish cliffs and I may even rekindle some keeness for Indian Face but only to tick the
Extreme Rock book. The teenagers had a great time on The Risk Business. We stayed at
the CC hut in Roy Bridge and got to Gills Bay for the Ferry over the day after to eventually
make a base at Rackwick Bay Bothy.
The ropes blew horizontal and making the mistake of having my gloves off for a few
minutes meant I had hotaches soon after. Looking up at Ben having trouble negotiating
through where I’d redirected the rope in the top roof I was concerned I’d have to use his
corpse as a ledge to help clamber back out. We went back up and worked out where
the descent was. The lads did TOMOH being a bit sheltered from the NW winds. The
day after felt even colder and with all of us having a midday pint in Longhope
town shivering by the fire the route did seem a long hope with daydreams of
Southern France becoming a recurring theme. The day after the wind thankfully
dropped and myself and Ben managed to get on the climb. I’d remembered a lot of
the sequences from September and we cleaned the holds and did some links on it.
The pitch definitely felt harder than the year before as I couldn’t do the last
hard move the same way locking a low crimp and getting a jug static so I did it
similar to Macleod with a higher drag/crimp. Having the Meltdown to aim for
previously had meant I was a lot fitter then. Ben made the hard bits look easy
and the easy finger jam bits look hard. We walked back down and got prepped for
the day beyond.
throbbing like in a cartoon. We reached the top before 6.00am and I actually perked
up a bit from the walk. A twitchers paradise a few Peewips were trilling as we found
our gully where lots of fun bumsliding down lilies and avoiding fulmars led us to the
boulder beach. This area feels a little like the Lost World and brings thoughts
of Hitchcocks ‘The Birds’.Lots of Shags made loud rustling noises before
shooting out from beneath boulders, Ben was often shocked by them but I told him
not to worry as I'd dealt with birds like this before.
After working out where to start I set off up the 1st pitch which
involves climbing like Pacman to avoid the Fulmars. Ben leads through making
short work of the E6 corner beyond. We made pretty good time. The Vile crack was
slimy and felt like some of the green E3s you get in the Lake District, with
some reasonably pap rock beyond. On the 4a traverse left disaster struck. As I
walked along the outside of a ledge system with numerous Fulmars I crouched past
the last one, victory in sight when one‘got me’. I was gutted. The Vice/stomach
truffle was a unique pitch neither me or Ben had done anything quite like it, I
was thankful the Fulmars had disappeared from it as a facefirst puke attack
doesn’t bare thinking about. Ben bombed up the Guillotine and I actually used my
knees to get on it, very poor style. I thought about stomping on it to get rid
of it but I think it will do another few years and wasn’t certain I could manage it.
We arrived beneath the final pitch around 15.00. Both of us were feeling
the session the prior day and I was wishing we hadn’t gotten up quite so early.
Having been on the pitch more times than Ben I went up. I was hoping to climb
fast and confidently but it didnt end up that way.
Climbing the lower wall I placed the cam.5s above off a good fist jam,
they didn’t go in how I’d like and I made a quick reverse to the belay to warm
up and nurse my tired arms. After 15 mins of shivering in the cold I set off. I
reached the crux reach halfway up and couldnt decide whether to campus my foot
on like I did last year or to use a small foothold like Macleod. I tried to
campus it on, and fell off. I pulled back on and do the move with the foothold
and lower down to the belay thinking we were going to have to come back up on
the Tuesday if the weather was any good. I was not looking forward to this as
there were some great looking new routes to try on the rest of the island. After
a half hour rest I managed to lead back up and get through the crux. Climbing
badly I reached the poor shakeout beneath the last hard moves before rejoining
the Arran/Turnbull link. After 10 mins here I spooned my way through the slap to
the double knee bar rest feeling elated. I was pretty confident of doing the top
crack when tired and having told Ben that it'd be E3 6b on the grit I'd of
looked a bit of a knob to fall off it.
I did however cock up extending one runner and with a heinious amount of
drag I nearly blew the very last move for a jug above the last roof. Ben came up
and together with Adam Long we had some drams of Orkney Whisky to celebrate. The top
pitch is as good as it looks in the pictures and video. Heading down Kath, May
and Dan had joined the Rackwick bothy basecamp party. Bens slotted a short vid
together of our ascent. https://vimeo.com/67457960
I was impressed with Dave Maceods ascent as it was fall free and the top
pitch is a slippery devil which when placing loads of kit will feel 8b, to do
similar we would've probably needed another session and a rest day as well as
the fact that me and Ben were swinging leads. Drummond and Hills effort hanging
out in the land of the birds for a week back then left me dumbfounded, a
stunning effort. The crag feels like it belongs to the Fulmars and the less time
spent on it for me the better.
I think the Longhope may well be physically the hardest sea cliff climb
at the moment, in terms of having the hardest pitch with the top pitch being easier if you
like jamming and crimps. It’s not that sustained a climb with the lower
pitches being a good laugh but most of them are possible in a pair of scrambling
boots if you’re capable of climbing the top pitch. Something like the Impossible
Wall that the Belgians did is likely to be another contender for the hardest sea
cliff being super remote and with lots of hard pitches.
The following day I guided Dan Vajzovic up the Original Route on the Old
Man of Hoy which was a great day out. I’d managed to climb around a Fulmar
knowing it would have plenty of puke left for Dan to give him the full Hoy
involving a headtorch traverse across one of the green breaks into a gully high on
the face they arrived back at 3 in the morning. 2 days previously Alex had managed
to scald his leg with boiling water, he had a cold and the weather was poor when they set
off so it was a great effort. They are thinking of calling it the Long Hopeless link.
project. This ended pitifully low, getting belly height with a ledge where I was going to get
rock shoes on a chock I’d put a sling around moved and I looked at the huge
flake I was on dubiously. The tide was about to block escape back to Rackwick
bothy and the breakfast scenes so we retreated. I think I’d chosen a shit line
to access the corner and further left may be better. We’ll be back. Later that
afternoon I watched Alex and George climb the classic 2 Wee Laddies. Reading a
French Phrasebook I knew very little when they started but felt pretty fluent by
the time they reached the top. I eyed up lots of fantastic knew lines right of
the Mucklehouse Wall area which will be where I head first next visit before
I climbed and prussocked back out for hopefully the last time.
of the rock feels close to grit. Me and Ben soloed a few of the easier classics with
Ben spotting me as we went before we tied on for Dragonhead, a little gem.
I'd placed some chalk on some poor holds hoping to red herring Alex but his route
finding skills were too good and to be honest I would have felt guilty as we all thought
he looked like a teddybear with his beard! The food in Julias café in Stromness was a perfect
finish to our exploits. We did try to get up to the Cobbler on the way back but
in a gap between 2 hills in the cloud and the rain we were lost and wet. I was
thinking of using ip dip dog shit as a method for choosing the way but we went
down and went home. Something to look forward to for next time.