Monday, 30 June 2008

A few weeks ago I felt a slight twinge in my left ring finger whilst training. At first I tried to ignore it but it gradually got worse until it was becoming a big worry. I took a few days off her and there but unsurprisingly the pain was still there whenever I returned to climbing. I knew what needed to be done, and that was to take a complete rest and treat the injury correctly until it had fully healed but the thought of doing almost nothing, feeling the endurance I have been working on slowly but surely slip away, was not a pleasant one.

In the past I have tried to climb through the pain and whilst this meant I was still climbing, the injury showed no signs of healing and my ability dropped significantly. What is better, to give up on something you love, eventually having to start again from square one, or to carry on regardless, knowing you will always be held back?

My time away at work proved useful for more than just paying my mortgage. Without the constant opportunity to climb or train, I found it easier to switch off my head and forget about the rock. 0n Friday the 20th, I came off shift and after a few more days of rest, I decided it was time to test out my finger.

The drive to Devon was long and slow, not to mention incredibly expensive due to the ridiculous fuel price in England. It is getting to the point that I need to really justify my climbing trips. As nice as it is to go sport climbing in Yorkshire, at ~ £15 per trip in fuel, maybe I should stay in Manchester and train. Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good but after having come all this way I was determined to get on the route, even if only to clean the holds in the pouring rain. Emily didn’t fancy the rain and made the smart decision to stay in the car and read. I told her I was just going for a quick look and would be back soon, and set off down the track.

As I set up my ropes, the sky looked ominous so I put on my DIAD jacket just in case. It turned out to be a good call as after making it just over half way down the slab, the heavens opened. On my way down I had placed some gear but since I had no Jumars for ascending, even if I bailed now I would have to ab the whole slab again to retrieve my gear, before packing up and running for the car. Basically I was going to get wet whatever I did, so better to get wet for a reason.

I stayed on the route, making my way slowly downwards towards the rocks, swinging left and right, cleaning holds and trying out marginal gear placements. As the rock got wetter, moving around became more of a mission and before too long I was slipping and sliding all over the place. I called it a day and abbed the rest of the way to the rocks, which by now were almost covered by the sea. I unclipped my Gri-Gri and sprinted up the steps and along the coast path to the top of the cliff, determined to do what needed to be done as quick as possible so I could get back to the car.

Idiot, how could I be so stupid. In my haste to leave, I had left my Gri-Gri clipped to the bottom of the rope. I quickly ran through all the options in my head:

  1. Use a spare belay device – forgot my spare
  2. Pull up the Gri-Gri and ab from the top – can’t because the rope is clipped through gear on the slab
  3. Pull the rope and hopefully the Gri-Gri will slip off – Get my rope back but no gear and Gri-Gri falls into the Sea and I cant afford too loose it
  4. Leave all my kit and return tomorrow – I think it would be ok, just get very wet, but it meant I would need to come back tomorrow and I wasn’t psyched to get wet again.
  5. Run to the bottom, get the Gri-Gri, run back to the top – I don’t like running

I take option E ang grudgingly collect the Gri-Gri before stripping my gear, packing up and heading back to the car rather wet and tired to find a worried looking Emily, who was just about to come and search for me after my “quick look “ was not so quick.

The next day dawned much brighter and so I headed back with the hope of actually getting to climb on the route. The rain held off and I had a good few hours working the various sections. The route is a complex affair. The whole slab is around 40m high and from a distance it looks completely smooth and featureless. It starts off up a 20m unclimbed section, the first 10m being unprotected climbing, with 6c moves on slightly dubious rock above sea washed boulders. You then get some good gear and the climbing eases to 6a/b for another 10m to join the original line. The original line was first climbed in the 90’s and traversed in off the right arĂȘte at about half height. It is incredibly sustained slab climbing on edges and sidepulls. The higher you get, the harder the climbing becomes and the more your forearms and calves burn. The route follows a tiny, parallel sided crack, too thin for your fingers and this crack provides the only gear. Originaly, there were about 15 pegs placed in the thin crack (placed at some point in the 90’s, before the first ascent) and this is how the route received its first and only ascent, in sport climbing style with pre placed quickdraws.

Before I go into more detail about the actual climbing, I feel I should give a brief summary of my history on the route, and how I have come to be at this point.

I first looked at the line a few years ago but was off-put by the rotting pegs. I initially planned to replace the pegs and climb the route in its original style but after speaking to various people and educating myself on the issues of in-situ gear I decided if I was to ever climb this wall, I would do it without the pegs. When I weighed them all up in my mind, the cons completely outweighed the pros for many reasons. I will go into these details at a later date or I will be waffling on for hours. I was left with a difficult choice; forget about the route and leave it as it is, or remove the rotting pegs and re-climb the route on traditional gear which would be incredibly difficult and dangerous, mainly because the crack is too thin and parallel to take anything other than pegs, only occasionally providing placement for a micro-wire or two.

And that brings us back to today, hanging of a rope which suddenly looks very thin, feeling very isolated and helpless as the waves crash 100ft below me. The last of the pegs have gone and the wall seems a lot fresher, like it has just received a new lease of life.

When you are on the route, you can’t see any holds unless you are right on top of them and so you need to try to remember 40m of intricate slab moves which as you may guess is not easy. The rock is very frictionless meaning you need to look for edges to stand on, but the rock is also quite brittle and crumbly so small edges have a habit of breaking off! Add to this very spaced and hard to place small gear, combined with the slightly dubious rock I mentioned before and you have the makings of a pretty tricky undertaking.

To climb this wall, in one push, on natural gear, from bottom to top will be an interesting journey. There is no doubt I will find it difficult, possibly more so than anything I have done before but I am looking forward to the challenge. The wall is one of the most impressive I have seen in the UK, truly inspirational and for me this is what climbing is about.

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