The fading light approaches sooner, sign that the long lasting summer is coming to an end. I'm back in London looking at a very busy October, November and December, and I get the feeling that the bulk of my rock climbing for the year is done. I know I can get bits and bobs done in between bad weather and other commitments, but it's unlikely I'll be able to siege Malham every weekend like we did with Kilnsey. I can't complain really, I had a great summer in all accounts. That's made me think that the last few weeks climbing in the UK have been a nice book-end to the year, and whatever else I can manage will be a bonus.
Since our return from Rumney I've been on a bit of a quest around Britain trying to make the most of the good form I seem to have found recently. The original idea was to pay a visit to the still semi-obscure, awesomely named, Supercrag in Scotland. I heard many good things about this place. The way it is with Scotland is that the chances of all stars aligning are quite small, partners, weather, midges... So the way to do it is to always plan to go to Scotland, and most of the time you'll end up in North Wales or the South West. So far I got away quite a few times, but this time was meant to be the latter. A few minutes before picking up Dave Pickford from Birmingham station I checked the forecast for the NW Scotland and it didn't look promising. We aborted the plan and a few hours later I was at the Llanberis Pass.
I always love going to North Wales, it's a place the re-wilds your soul, as John Redhead would say. There are a lifetime of routes to inspire you, so you can come back again and again. Luckily I'm not a local, so being a mediocre trad climber doesn't really affect my ego. We had a week of mixed weather, but somehow managed to pool our combined knowledge to get some amazing classic done. We started on Scimitar Ridge, Dave got Killerkranky and I had King Wad in mind. But condition were suboptimal so I had to console myself with doing Killerkranky again on Dave's gear, and that felt desperate enough. Then we had a clear day of good weather, so Dave passed on the baton and I was keen to get on Run Fast, Run Free. The lead went well, I could see the benefits of sport climbing coming through, and for once I felt like a competent trad leader. Don't get too excited though, that can change in a flick of a switch.
The day after we had some of the finest Welsh ming, Rhoscolyn was wet, drove to Crimson Cruiser. Wet. Drove to Dirnowig. Wet. Drove to North Stack. Bingo! We abbed into Yellow Walls to have a look at The Cow, but after a few meters climbing it was obvious the crack was slobbering like a wet cows tongue. We topped out via an amazing E2 called The Savage, surprisingly good. We cam back the day after, with howling gales but sunny. Dave wasn't feeling the love, but now that I'm slightly more conditioned to shit weather, I insisted to go down. At the belay ramp was like the tropics, but you could hear wind cutting on the edge of cliff like a jet quake. Dave dispatched the crux pitch (completely dry now) and I somehow managed to cling on for dear life on the top pitch battling the strong wind. I weirdly enjoyed the challenge. The end of the week turned into a weather shitfest so we bailed to Clwyd limestone, keen to check Craig Arthur as neither of us had been there. A very impressive crag, we did The Survival of the Fastest (both lead) and Digitron, amazing routes those two.
After Wales, I drove back to London for a shower and to pick up Tom Le Fanu, who had been on a 9-month trip to USA and was gagging for some proper British sea-cliff action. We had a great first day, we set off from London at a leisurely time only to realize it would get us to Sharpnose as the tide would be ebbing. Sharpnose was on the top of our list. We got there on an amazing evening light, warn, cool and with a zest for climbing. I managed to tick Pacemaker in the fading light but the highlight really was leading the E2 on the abseil line with headtorches and the magical walk back along the coast in the moonlight. The following days we had a mixed forecast, so we tried to make the most out of it. We both had Darkinbad in mind, but as soon as we saw the Pentire Wall dark as sin we knew it was out of the question. We settled for Eroica, which supposedly easier, in those slimy condition still felt pretty out there. I was glad to finally do the crux move above the belay, but my god, I must have spend at least half hour pondering and looking for gear.
After Pentire we headed to Torquay risking our chances to find some sunshine. I was keen to check Sanctuary Wall and Tom was keen on some DWS, so we killed two birds with one stone by heading to Long Quarry point. I've been fascinated by the obscure Sanctuary Wall since traversing under it and being in awe at the steepness. I did False Gods (E4/5), the entry level route for the steep stuff. It suited my style, like being in Rodellar but with a few bits of gear and much worse rock. This planted the bug for more, I'm keen to check the two monster E6's on the main wall. We retired to some DWS, with a low tide we settled for Arapiles, Arapiles (7a+) DWS. After a few back and forth to dry some crucial crimps, I managed to onsight it, but just by the skin of my teeth. Tom took the plunge and went for a swim instead. By this time it was sunny and hot, so who can blame him. We finished the day by scoffing the marvellous fish and chips and Hanburys, the real reason why we ended up in Torquay. After all this year it is still the best chippy in UK.
The following day, a bit knackered, with a very warm forecast we couldn't refuse to head to Berry Head. The tide was really low so Magical Mystery Tour was the obvious choice since I've never done it before. What a quest in the bowels of earth! The Green Grotto was the highlight, a mix of caving (sans head torches), climbing and night vision exercise. We managed to onsight the 6c+ crux in the dark which I thought was a very good feat, but soon after Tom took the plunge trying to find a way out of the cave. I, not wanting to drop in to a dark cave, I avoided the splash and exited the cave with exhilaration. The whole thing took us two hours and by the time we got on the Rainbow Bridge we were spent. We did a 6b+ straight up line, which felt the living end, and called it a day.
Plus, I had a wedding to attend in a couple of days. My wedding.
After our wedding we had planned to go away with Viki, but she felt poorly and choose to stay (must have been the hard partying!). I raided the troops for a quick hit to Dorset and managed to enlist two psyched individuals. Marcus O'Leary is retired but still cranking, he suggested we try Freaky Ralph 8a+. Not that I've ever tried one, but it seemed like a good idea. We spent the day basically sagging on the rope, although Marcus can do the route in two halves. Pretty good considering most people think it's 8b. The second highly motivated individual was Dan Gibson. We had a rough plan to try 'Infite Gravity', also 8a+, but the sea was too rough to get in Blackers Hole. We settled for Guillemot ledge and eyed up two ace long E4's called The Wizard and Warlord. Dan scoffed The Wizard massive crux pitch like it was a buttered scone. Me, as a second, I struggled not to part ways with the rock. I didn't really want to face up the challenge of leading Warlord, but when will I be down this neck of the woods again? So I tied in and went up the imposing crack. Loads of arm jamming and upwards falling after, I did just about manage to top out. I felt my arms disintegrating at the belay. Swanage is not for the weak or faint hearted.
Viki finally got better and joined me down in Dorset. We had a lovely time onsighting routes and enjoying the lovely weather. I did try Breathing Method (8a), but with a V9 boulder problem in it, I might have to actually do some training if I'm serious about doing it. A good winter's project I suppose
And the rock tour continued, this time I enthused Viki onto Pembroke. She does love the place, but she does hate not being able to get all my gear out on second. We make our way over to Stack Rocks to do Arettica on Rob "keeno" Greenwood's recommendation. We couldn't figure out a way to access the route at high tide, so we headed to Trevallen instead. Had a quick look at Orange Robe Burning (E6), but got de-psyched with the first run-out. Instead I choose to get on Barbarella (E5), which I have been saving for the onsight for years. The route has a reputation, someone has gone as far as saying it's harder than Orange Robe. I wasn't feeling particularly good on the day, so I thought "what the heck", might as well get on it now, it's safe and I can't save the route forever. I was surprised that it went as smooth as it went. I kept climbing with a sense of trepidation waiting for a hard impasse to smack me bang in the face and fall off. But it didn't come. It goes to show that I should ignore more the supposed reputation and trust my instincts more. Following the momentum, I decided that if the Leap was dry, I was going to topple another giant that I've been waiting way too long for, The Minotaur. I ran over there at the end of the day in the fading light, beer in hand, it was dry. Game on. We woke up at leisure, letting the sun do its thing and dry off the overnight ming of the Leap. We got down by 1pm. We spent a little time observing a baby seal, to make sure it wasn't injured. After the entertainment I got on The Minatour. Went up a few feet to place some gear as a warm up. Came down, had a little rest and another look at the flufly white seal and got on with the job. The run-out at the start took me by surprise and got a little scared, but I was soon enjoying myself and just below the crux. From the luxury of a great knee-bar, I inspected the crux move ahead. I went up, hold the crimp and tried to do the move, only to fall short of reaching the god hold. Still locking off the crimp, I reversed back to the knee-bar. Second attempt went much better after I brushed the crimp from the knee-bar and did the crux move with no issues. I was glad to top the weekend with another onsights of an uber-classic route.
And the final stop of the tour was North Wales. A sudden cancellation of work had me texting and messaging any know cranker know to man possibly available mid-week. Tom Livingstone, Adam Booth, Jon Leighton and Calum Musket all came up trumps and I had an ace week with loads of variety. Questing Gogarth with Tom, tropical Llanymynech with Adam, pushing the boat out a little with Jon and Cal in Rhoscolyn and finally topped by a day at Rainbow Walls with Calum when I finally did Pull My Daisy (E2).
I'm grateful for all the friends (and wife!) that take me out climbing, it's such a fun and fulfilling life.
Now it's back to making the most of sunny weekend at Portland and Brean and trying to get some sort of power. Only six weeks to go for Spain!