OFF THE WALL
Have you led an unfamiliar HVS without cams on your rack? I have. It’s brought a new meaning to the word ‘safe’ and a healthy respect for those who climbed before the invention of this shiny tool.
I thought it was getting better – this leading thing. I hadn’t had a stupid moment for a while. I even mused that I could no longer call myself a novice. Oh how the Welsh Mountain Gods were laughing when they heard that.
Tremadog again: to escape the drenching downpours and murky ridges of the mountains. Seconding ‘Merlin Direct’ (HVS 5a) was the morning’s play – tricky. Tricky enough a finish to have me hugging the friendly boulders at the top. After lunch we chose something more gentle and forgiving – ‘Christmas Curry’ (S) - to be a shared lead. It was amenable but the belay point for the second pitch wasn’t obvious and I chastised the third pitch for pretending to be a higher grade. ‘It’s a Tremadog Severe’, I was told. Unfortunate words. Or rather it was unfortunate that I fixated on them along with the word ‘Groove’, which described the finish of the fourth pitch. Armed with these words I was determined to complete the route without getting lost and without ‘unsuitable grading’ complaints.
‘Have you found the groove?’ ‘Yes’. I replied with confidence born of idiocy, completely ignoring the fact there was no polish and no white fingerprints. ‘Odd how the 15m corner looks so completely devoid of gear placements and holds of any kind... but that’s because it’s a Tremadog Severe’, I thought to myself.
Three moves in and I couldn’t retreat, and the idea of continuing was as appealing as a visit to Tesco on a bank holiday weekend. I did that head-loop thing – that circular conversation that goes: ‘You can’t stay where you are. You have to keep moving’; the response being: ‘I can’t. I can’t. I can’t’. I could - and found an uncaring crack that didn’t hug the nut I inserted (the fastest ever choice and insertion. The route cured my gear placement perfectionism), it just held it feebly.
I looked below me at the 5 metre run out and the cliff below, and above me I could see a potential cam placement. Relief turned to armpit-trickling despair when I found I had no cams on me. They were still on the harness of the belayer. I managed neither to cry, nor to panic, but it was a psychological battle of epic proportions. 5 metres later a crack emerged that held a nut oh so tightly and nausea lessened. Shortly after, I made a noise rather like a strangulated cat as I passed a perfect place to insert a plethora of life-restoring cams. I pulled up over the top and the word ‘safe’ was like the best whisky, tranquilliser, or huggable cushion –whatever your instant stress-reliever may be - in the world.
A period of elation, hysteria and shame followed. I knew I had gone rigorously and stupidly off route – on an HVS 4c as it turns out: The top pitch of ‘Vindaloo’. Route-finding skills were conspicuous by their absence but my climbing skills were good enough to prevent a crisis. Lessons learnt once again: big ones. I don’t want to face that amount of fear ever again and I’ll never, ever forget to check I have all the gear I might possibly need.
Posted by fishinwater
We all have strengths and weaknesses in climbing and usually we stick to what we like - It’s only natural. But climbing is about sharing and sometimes it’s good to indulge another person’s strength when you know it’s your weakness – it can be fun (or it will make you cry).
Or so I found this weekend.
To the Pembrokeshire coast, with the ADHD boys: Purple Trouser Man, Alpine Bandana and Caffeine Addict. Purple Trouser Man (PTM) is a closet caver and revels in ferreting up damp, dark, slippery holes while exercising his maniacal chuckle. He was there to fulfill his ambition to do ‘Sea Tube’ - a V Diff formed from a blow hole. I’m not sure why the rest of us were there – it was probably a misguided ‘sharing’ climbing thing - but we all knew what the coast around Tenby offers: ‘quality, quantity and quiet’ – as Caffeine Addict put it.
I’d presumed that the trip had been planned to coincide with low tides, to make the access easy. A silly presumption. Why make our lives that easy? Low tide at 3pm made a good excuse for alcohol over-indulgence while watching meteor trails the night before, and there was less than a tremendous rush to get up and out the next morning. Despite the slow start the tide was still covering any useful belaying ledges as we stood in a row at the top of a cliff gawping like train spotters at the slab containing the black void.
By the time a safe abseil had been concocted from the choss at the top of the cliff, a ledge was revealing itself. We gathered together at a hanging-belay-come-perch like chicks in a nest waiting to be fed and gawped at the slab, trying to work out how to get the bottom of the route, or indeed, where the route went. According to PTM, who had made a previous abortive attempt on the dark cavity, the route started out of sight and around the corner. I was delegated to traverse across the slab to get to a useful belay point – Alpine Bandana and I ended up doing this in tandem, resulting in a slight confusion of rope, gear and people. PTM was by now bursting to get to his quarry and as soon as he arrived at the sea-washed ledge was off around the corner and out of sight, with cries of ‘ unprotected’, ‘ airy’ and ‘you’ll hate this’. Alpine Bandana chose a more amenable route and watched me calmly from above while belaying Caffeine Addict as I crossed a truly airy traverse protected by one Cam.
Somewhat confusingly PTM’s voice came from below my feet so I down-climbed to find him happily snug in a box about the width and half of the height of one of those old fashioned things called telephone boxes. It was going to be interesting to get all four of us in there.
PTM was grinning like a Cheshire cat: ‘The next pitch is mine’ he said. I looked above us and saw a smooth tube about 1m wide and God knows how high. Suddenly the memory of the fight that was ‘Lockwood’s Chimney’ came back to me and my elbows and knees whimpered. It looked very, very slippery and very, very vertical. ‘No problem there’, I said.
Caffeine Addict’s legs appeared and as he squished into the box he saw the hole and his eyes lit up: another closet caver. ..Which was fine as Alpine Bandana (who was too big to join us and hanging around outside the box) was as impressed as I with the prospective route. So the three of us gawped at PTM like witnesses to a horrible accident as he made the entry into the hole, his feet slipping and sliding.
As he progressed he sang – anything appropriate to the climb, which I can’t remember now as I was too busy trying to distract myself with pleasant thoughts. He also guffawed while he crooned, creating the effect of a happy but demented soul. It was nice to think he was enjoying himself so much as he slipped and slid.
He was up the hole, out into the light, back into a more open hole and at the top quickly. I took a deep breath and made the first few moves, slipping each time. Then it was elbows, knees and anything useful to jam myself into the tube. It looked worse than it was but it wasn’t elegant or graceful. Once again, climbing, but not as I know it.
I emerged at the top to a joyful man at a belay. It’s good to share a passion even though it’s not yours: it makes for unexpected fun - which is a very fine sort of fun (and never forget that climbing should be fun). Caffeine Addict also emerged grinning, and Alpine Bandana who had found it a hard squirm, was also happy to declare it had been good day’s outing at the seaside.
Posted by fishinwater
When will I learn? Five moves into a Severe and there’s nowhere for gear. What happened to my resolution to stick to routes you can make look like a bling-obsessed chav?
What happened was an off-route incident. The development of route finding skills just isn’t happening: making any sense at all of the rock in front of me just isn't be happening.
I'm at Baggy point, The Promontory. The guide book is up there, in my rucksack, but that’s OK. There are others there to point the way. ‘Do ‘In Her Eyes (S)’’, they say. ‘Just follow that crack’. They wave in the vague direction of a pair of cracks on the slab. I don’t have absolute confidence in how route works, but it’s short and I decide to believe all will be revealed as I climb.
So I start and at last I find a place to insert a small wire – not a confidence-building placement. There’s bound to be something else soon – it’s a Severe for God’s sake. Up and up, and nothing becomes revealed. ‘There’s no protection’, I say to my belayer. Up again. ‘There’s no protection’, I say again. It must be because I’m not seeing it.
At last another small wire finds a home: fairly snug, but small. The slab gets blanker, and the moves more delicate. I’m finding it difficult because I’m not used to slab climbing, and it’s the first climb of the day. I’ll warm up soon and it will all be alright. Yes, it’s run out but that’s my fault for yet again choosing a route with little protection.
I stop and try to relax a little. Every bit of me is aware that there are only 2 bits of not entirely bomb-proof protection below me, and I’m almost at the top. But above me, where a buttress meets the slab, I see a nice big horizontal crack – a comfy home for a Cam. It abates the rising fear, even though the moves to it are far from appealing. Its welcoming smile draws me to it and I know exactly which Cam it wants to eat – my birthday present number 2 Camalot is ready and waiting, and the extreme tension in my body relaxes a little as it goes in and I clip in the rope. I make a few moves above it and I’m on to the easy ridge section of the climb when I hear my belayer shout: ‘It’s not clipped in properly’. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Down-climbing is not an option. Not clipping-in is not an option. I straddle the ridge and lean over as far as I can, pretending I’m made of rubber, until I grab the quick draw and do the thing properly.
I scramble to the top and do the belay thing. As my second comes up the route he asks: ‘how did you do this bit?’ - A bit of a weird question coming from someone who does the E numbers. The light bulb then goes on: I’ve done something that isn’t a Severe. What the hell was it?
Released from the ropes I go to my rucksack and find the book. ‘In Her Eyes Direct’. VS 4C. I’m speechless but also pleased. It had been difficult but I never thought it impossible or completely lost my nerve. And I’d done it in the comfy clumpy rock shoes reserved for low grades. Ability and courage came together because they had to, and I was surprised to see how much I had of both.
Maybe this incident will cure my Severitis - or maybe I’ll be honing my route-finding skills (and remembering to take the guide book).
Posted by fishinwater
The climbing novice and steep learning curves
Want to read my old blog entries? Browse through an achive of all my posts below:
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