After having a few years off sport climbing I started the year with a trip to Spain which reignited the ‘sport desire’ and made me realise I’d been pretty unfit for 3 years. Getting back down LPT the start of the season I had forgotten how good the venue is. It’s got some of the best sport climbs in Britain across a large spectrum of difficulties. Night Glue, Bad Bad Boy, Statement of Youth, Over the Moon and Youthanasia being some of my top choices.
In 2011 I had my first 2 month period of my life of taking sport climbing seriously with it always taking a backseat to trad. This same year 2 friends, Neil Dyer and Pete Robins were vying for the 1st ascent of the direct on the Walking Mussel which became one of the areas hardest sport climbs, Megalopa, Dyer got it first but I regard it as both theirs. Being hard 8b to a poor shakeout before a short fingery 8a+ it’s all about recovery on poor rests. Myself and Oli Grounsel climbed this early season before a great weekend in Pembroke.
On my first abseil I arrived at the crux and was scratching my head for a few minutes, it appeared pretty blank but I knew I’d done the moves a decade or more before when looking at the Meltdown. I worked out each hard move on the crux and was pretty impressed by how insecure they were.
On the day of the ascent I’d stayed off the coffee and was feeling nervous waiting to go down, partly because of a near bust tip and because the main pitch is so insecure and the day felt warm and too still.
We abbed in over the horrible slate choss pile to the base and having warmed up at home and a solo I set off. After a few metres of 6b climbing you get to the most serious bit of the climb, a weird 6b move above a poor landing, 6 more metres of bold 6a leads to the bolt beneath the crux. Even knowing the moves it’s hard to make yourself commit to them because there are a few of them which are so insecure it would be really easy to fluff any of them and to make them work requires some speed to stop the feet rolling. After a couple of 7a moves one more 6c wild layback and lunge gives access to a rest before the final slippery e6 6c section to the belay. Pete came up and the next e6 6c pitch felt easy after the first pitch and the final one up the arête pillar a pleasure. We topped out just in time and went down with Ray to the Gallt Y Glyn ripping yarns about Dawes. It was the best day out I’ve had this year where everything went like clockwork but with plenty of potential of getting shut down with a friend I've climbed with a lot over the last 15 years.
I spoke with Johnny many years ago about him grading it e6 7a and he said he was pissed off with getting stick about giving stuff big grades. I suppose there just weren’t many comparable routes about then. In 1987 this was a remarkable ascent which would have been at the cutting edge of adventure trad at the time. It’s worth sampling some of his routes from this era to get a feel for where he was at.
I’ve done a lot of his climbs over the years and they’ve always held an air of quality and often boldness, much like Whillance ones. As part of trying to finish extreme rock in the next couple of years I went to climb Jenny Wren and Deliverance in Gordale Scar. Being put up in 1974 and given a lowish grade I expected a gift for E5 and was a bit gobsmacked. Leading the first 2 in one I thought the 2nd pitch could warrant e6, giving hard 5c moves on sometimes loose rock with duff gear a long way down to your right, certainly a bigger lead than Lord of the Flies. Deliverance although giving harder (more lichenous) moves was a much easier lead. Livesey gave his climbs very minimal inspection, a precursor to the likes of Dawes, Redhead, Dixon and Haston amongst afew others.
Livesey disparaged the bolting ‘revolution’ somewhat as it was occurring in Britain, thinking it took away the character and adventure of climbing.
“sport climbing is simply mastering moves. I haven’t the remotest inclination to join this band of climbers nor have I anything against what they are doing.”
I don’t know quite what he’d make of much of the climbing scene nowadays where lots of people talk about training indoors, resting, recovering and of course getting a selfie with a smile in said indoor environment #inspiring#restdaysarethebestdays?. Perhaps when the club huts ‘die out’ they’ll be bought up and made into climbing walls where one can hire a ‘mind-full performance climbing coach’ who doesn’t climb but has a background in kayaking, learning styles and training paradigms. Looking out of the windows of the huts they may sometimes ponder why anyone would climb on the cliffs, let alone the names of some of the climbs nor the history and characters behind them.
Ben Moon made a super quick repeat of LA in 1993 and in 2009 my friend Pete Robins made a repeat. A week or 2 before his successful ascent we went to Yorkshire together with the idea to climb 3 classic 8a+s in a wknd, The Groove, Urgent Action and Supercool. It rained for 48 hours solid so after the groove we had to find other 8s to do. After climbing Grooved Arete at Kilnsey Pete was about to warm down by onsighting The Ashes at Kilnsey. When he got his top off I stared aghast at how thin and ripped he was even after forcing a few pints down him on our trip. Up until that year we had always been beer drinking trad ledge shufflers. He’d done a very hard Boulder problem in Parisellas cave (V13/14) just before starting on LA and he told me he had to do some fingerboarding for LA as his fingers weren’t strong enough.
This is just setting the tone for Liqiud Ambar
I got on it in mid April and in early May got high on a few goes before the weather went cold and damp which meant numbing out and getting lower. Oli Grounsel should definitely have polished it off before he went to Ireland as he only weighs 7 stone and was looking very good on it, he obviously didn’t want it enough?
It is a tough climb to do and in 1990 this must have been one of the toughest physical testpieces out there. Fairplay to Moffat, this is an incredible climb. I’ve not been on a sport climb like it and am amazed it went from routes like Statement in 1984 to LA in 1990, only a 6 year gap where Statement went from being cutting edge to feeling like an easy warm down at the end of a session after being on LA. A remarkable increase in standards showed the training and sports climbing effects coming through. It didn’t increase much through the 90s in Britain or indeed rarely in the 00s.
It’s not too surprising then that Ben Moon steps back into the game and climbed Rainshadow. He mentions in an interview that he is 15% weaker than in the early 90s. Watching him make the V11 crux sequence look piss on it gives a bit of an insight of how strong he was back in the 90s.
A shit thing about hard sport projects is that you don’t do much climbing. You spend most of your time resting. Having gone trad climbing for a day doing a couple of easier angled E7s I got on LA the day after and couldn’t do 3 moves. To try it I need to have 2 rest days before hand.
Another shit point concerning sport climbing is the power to weight effect. The difference for me between climbing 8b, 8c and 9a= 10 stone, 9.5 stone and ~9 stone. As someone with a fairly sweet tooth this is probably the worst facet of sport climbing, if you see me at a cliff this summer and I’m looking hungrily at you don’t be disturbed.
Ryan Pasquill did the fastest ascent of a 9a by a Brit in Siurana a few years ago, he did it in 3 sessions, nearly 2. He had similar specs to Ondra at the time but Ondra was still 1 stone lighter making climbing hard sport routes considerably easier. If that’s not a boring aspect of what differentiates how hard someone can climb I don’t know what is.
I’ll try and get Liquid Ambar done sometime this summer between trad shuffling and trying not to eat cakes, I just hope I don’t need to make any sacrifices too large, like Stannis in GofT, although as I stare across at my partner I do wonder what lengths Chris Doyle would go to.
Next up is a trip to Ireland with my friend ‘the moron’ and Ray Wood. The Moron nearly did Rainshadow earlier this year but broke his ribs pissed up riding a bike in Sheffield. He has been in a state of ‘recovery’ since so I look forward to climbing with him in Ireland. We were hoping Ben Bransby would be joining us but he’s very busy recovering from 2 weeks work he did in 2011.