Saturday, 7 May 2011

Cornwall 2011 - Part 1

Here is Jeff's report on Part 1 of this Cornwall trip(with some additional photos by Graham):

1000 miles, nearly 20 routes, and 78 cans of Fosters.

After cunningly booking a caravan in order to avoid any tent faff, (hardcore huh?) Graham, Andy C and Jeff headed south for an assault on the sea cliffs of West Cornwall. Heroic driving by Mr Calderbank saw them at the campsite at one o-clock in the afternoon to be told, "Well, if we had known you were climbers, we wouldn’t have let you hire the caravan you know!" Charming. After assuring the owners that they would behave themselves and not trash the van as climbers ordinarily do, they took possession of the keys. This simple procedure took quite a while in fact, as Mrs Caravan brought the wrong keys no less than three times! This in spite of Jeff being under instructions to keep his shaven head and wild tattoos under wraps (Grrrr!).

Perhaps she was flattered, flustered and fooled by Graham and Andy’s witty charm and rugged good looks, or maybe she was disgruntled at being left to deal with these dangerous northern climbers, whilst Mr Caravan cavorted about on his sit on mower..... The author believes she was just afraid that they would get themselves killed and she’d lose her rental fee. As if. Anyway, caravan inspected, nods of approval, bags slung inside, and off to Sennen they went. They were to meet up later with Jess who was arriving by train at around 9 in the evening, and so had plenty of time to see how they got on with Sennen’s granite.

They made their way to the Sunday face area which was dry, in the sun and mainly composed of lovely golden Granite which gave all the friction they could wish for. First off was Dexter vs 4c which the guidebook describes as "quite bold for the grade". "You’re telling me squire!" It’s a sort of blunt arĂȘte/groove/pinnacle/hand traverse/mantle/flake thing, with a long reach up a smooth groove to finish......"Beltin’!" Next they did Vertical Crack hs 4c which Graham "stretch" Calderbank lead in fine style, by showing off his flashy bridging skills.

Whilst doing this route, our happy band chatted to a dude who was there with his infant son and his faithful black Labrador. He would rock his son to sleep and lay him on a blanket while he soloed about on the cliff, leaving the dog to watch over the little 'un. He described the dog as a "really good Climber" as it always came out with him, negotiating the scrambles and descents to the foot of the cliffs. Probably leads vs.

They finished the afternoon over at the demo area with the classic Demo Route hs 4b. Andy led this one, enjoying the fight up the chimney and the exposed pull up onto the finishing slab. Soon after this, it was time to go and get lost in Penzance before collecting Jess from the station, and finding a shop for beer and food. Really satisfying first day.

Day two then, and it’s off to Chair Ladders’ main face. They abbed into Ash Can Gully on their sixty metre rope, leaving the sunshine behind for the damp, cold, clammy, and very slippery rock on the sea washed ledges below. Andy and Jess intended to do Pendulum Chimney but reckoned it to be too wet, and "too full of birds and bird shit". Indeed, a couple of guys who had abbed in on their rope, found the first pitch of Pendulum Chimney to be very hard in the conditions. Jess and Andy then went off for a reccy, leaving Graham and Jeff to get to grips with another classic.

South Face Direct vs 4a, 4c, 4c, 4a. "Exceptional style and character" says the book and it isn’t wrong. Graham did a top job leading the first (very) wet and slippery pitch. This brought the pair up to a stance on a ledge below a shallow crack, which is then followed up to a weird "saddle horn" boss. Jeff actually sat on this before realising that doing so was of no help in the slightest, and completely prevented him from making the next move. "Bloody good fun" though, considering the exposure! Back off the boss then, or "Chicken Head" as it sometimes gets called, move out right...more exposure....lovely! And on in turns to top out in the sun shine. Ace.

They soon met up with Andy and Jess who had done Red Wall hs 4b and had had to fight through an awful lot of bird shit after all. They had some chocolate, sorted the gear and went to buy more beer and food.

Day three, Bosigran. More granite, more sunshine, and a bit more excitement than they had reckoned with. Let’s take some flying lessons! First route for Jeff and Graham was Anvil Chorus vs 4b, 4b, 4c, 4c. They had read the guidebook of course, and knew that any pitch described as being "the scene of several unfortunate accidents on the splendid crack of pitch 3, which can shrug you off without a second thought" was going to be serious. It sure looked it when viewed from the foot of the cliffs. A seventeen metre curving crack, on the right of a blank looking wall, ending just eight metres from the top. Very impressive indeed. Fazed? Nah, let’s go then. Graham’s lead, deftly running together pitches one and two to belay under the big corner.

Advised by the guidebook to place a cam in the base of the crack, (preventing your runners from being lifted out) Jeff stuck one in and got into it. In the event, it isn’t really all that hard as long as you don’t stop! Which is a bit problematical when it comes to placing gear. There are a couple of in-stitu pieces though, (probably crap if you fell on them) which he clipped, and even managed to get something of his own in there during his sprint to the top. It was the next section of the pitch which really provided the excitement. This being an airy traverse, followed by an exposed mantelshelf onto a rounded, blunt arĂȘte with an awful lot of air under your backside. Graham came up in fine style and topped out the route. Grand. Right then, that wasn’t too bad.....let’s try an e1.

The e1 in question being Thin Wall Special, e1 5b, 5a. Jeff had a go at leading the first pitch of this one, and although it was hard and felt very thin (thin wall, see) he managed to get to about three metres short of the top of the first pitch, which is where the crux is. He’d managed to get four runners in, each hard move having taken him further above his gear than was comfortable. This added handsomely to his growing tension. (Not to say alarm!) The crux move is a hard pull, well above the gear, with a smear up to a wide, smooth, flared crack. He tried to jam it before reversing the move, then tried again and had to reverse again, knowing now that he only had enough strength (willpower) to try once more. This time he found a sharp edged side pull hidden in the crack, but couldn’t work out how to use it.

Desperation followed as he tried to rescue the move by quickly moving left to a small edge for his left hand. This entailed bringing his right foot inside to enable a smear with his left foot into a grassy corner. He hit the corner with his left foot for a second before everything let go, and with a sickening but strangely fatalistic feeling in his belly he fell off. He remembers actually thinking "it won’t be so bad this..." and sure enough, the rope came tight, all the gear had held, and he found himself ten metres closer to the deck, upside down, and staring Graham straight in the face. "Shit! Shit! You alright mate?" And he was too. A bit scraped and bruised, and he’d properly banged his head at some point. (Always wear your helmet kids!!) But he was fine. Shaking, but fine. (Thank you Graham.)

What to do now though? Get back on the horse and get the gear out that’s what. He really didn’t fancy trying it again, so they devised the following plan. Jeff led up the first pitch of Doorpost hs 4a, 4b, 4a. From where Graham lowered him down Thin Wall to get the gear out. He then climbed back up Doorpost and lead through to the top, cunningly bagging a nice three star route and classic rock tick. (Thank you for that too Graham!)

Andy and Jess meanwhile had been commendably busy, doing Ledge Route, Ochre Slab Route, Black Slab and Alison’s rib. High time to retire to the pub before hitting the chippy for food, and the shops for more beer. Of course.

With the sun still shining on day four, and the caravan getting ever smellier (blame the collection of stinky rock shoes rather than any personal hygiene issues) they went for the second time to Chair Ladder. Jess and Andy went off to do the classic Terriers Tooth hs 4b, 4a, and also did Dexter/Mermaids route. They don’t mess about those two! Graham and Jeff went to have a look at Diocese vs 4c, 5a, 4a. Now, after the previous days excitement, it is hoped dear reader, that you will crave the boys’ indulgence, and understand that the presence of potentially nesting choughs up in the roof, coupled with the arrival of another team looking at Diocese, was enough to divert their attention to Flannel Avenue hs 4b 4a 4a.

The standard start according to the guidebook is to bridge the chimney of the first pitch for fifteen metres, moving first left then right to a belay. They were having none of that nonsense, the chimney looking decidedly wet and void of protection. An alternative start is to climb onto a ledge, directly below Diocese, then walk left and climb the right side of the chimney, before making a tricky move left and then right and up to belay. There is plenty of exposure on this route (which is nice) before a final strenuous 8 metre wall which Graham positively revelled in.

Time for another one then.......Pegasus hs 4b, 4a, 4a, 4a, 4b. "Interesting and intriguing" says the guidebook, although it is unclear as to whether this refers to noisy dive bombing seagulls, which, when not being noisy and dive bombing them, were either frantically having sex or smearing all the ledges, holds, slabs and grooves with guano. Cheers. Pegasus has it all really. A corner crack, a roof, a wall, another corner, a slab, and a mantelshelf. Shared leads, warm, warm weather, great climbing with enough interest and challenge made it a fine route for them. They really, really were being spoiled.

And still being spoiled on day five! Lovely weather still, and nice and comfy in the caravan. With snooker on the telly in the evenings and music from Jeff’s laptop, they had a think about what to do and decided on a chilled out day back at Sennen.

They set up a handy ab rope which was used by everybody on the cliff that day. Including a mad photographer who spent the entire day bobbing up and down taking pictures of sea spray, climbers and rock.

Of particular note that day was a couple who climbed Demo Route. The bloke persuaded his obviously reluctant wife/girlfriend/victim to do the route and led off, struggling a bit with the chimney. Having got to the top, he built his belay, called for his partner to climb when ready, who promptly untied, shook her head, crossed her arms, and refused to budge! He took ages cajoling her to make a start and when she eventually did, falling off twice under the roof, he ignored her shouts for a long time before practically dragging her up in anger. It is imagined that a rather frosty drive home ensued.

Meanwhile, your hero’s had a fun, mixed day, swapping partners (steady!) and collectively doing Sinners Route, Church Window, Juniors Route, Senior’s Route, Monday Face, Intermediate Route, Double Overhang and Corner Climb.

Wednesday night was curry night at the local pub so showered and changed; it was off for a curry and various monster deserts. They still went to the shop for beer though. Two boxes this time just in case. As you do.

Day six and Jess had to leave. Boo! Off they drove with her to the station at Penzance to make her train connection, before embarking on one of Grahams’ quests. Neither Andy or Jeff had had a proper look at the guide book for this one, but Graham certainly had. This is what happens when everyone goes off to bed leaving Mr Calderbank with access to beer and guidebooks. He sits up drinking and scheming, and plans get hatched. A three mile hike followed, on what was probably the hottest day yet. Uphill and downhill, (but mainly uphill) through swarms of flies, and heat haze to reach St Loy, and its friendly looking, flawless granite. It’s even non tidal, so that was promising. Less promising though was Grahams revelation that he had in mind to try another e1.

Chlorophyll Cluster it is then, at e1 5b. Graham’s idea, so naturally he got the glory of leading it. The first section follows a flake to a ledge, Graham stormed the flake by boldly laybacking way above his gear, (he likes that. Not) then hopping up nicely onto the ledge above to contemplate his next move. From here, he had to climb a short incut wall in order to enter the slanting jamming crack above. Not easy. Not easy at all, especially after several days of climbing. He decided in the end that discretion is the better form of valour and lowered off to give Jeff a bash. Different climber, same result. Fading strength and lack of will meant taking the gear out and down climbing. No e1. Not on this trip.

Notice if you will reader, the almost canine devotion with which Andy and Jeff happily followed Graham to some random climb. Not only to the climb, but back to the car as well. Graham claiming to have scoped out a different, shorter path back to the car park, which in fact got them lost, before putting them back on the same path as before, with all its ups and downs and ups. Naturally he bought the pasties.

Deciding that it was probably getting a bit late in the day to go and do Right Angle that afternoon, our happy band went off to do the touristy thing and go for a stroll around Lands End for a bit. They rebelliously ducked under the barrier to get closer to the "dangerous" cliff edges, admired a shiny motorbike, saw a cyclist bleeding on the floor (don’t worry folks, he was being helped by people, they didn’t just look at him), and then went to the shop to buy some food and beer. But you knew they would do that, didn’t you?

So, Friday, day seven. Bright and sunny. No need to check the weather forecast. (Oh really!?) Off they went to do the famous Right Angle, hs 4a, 4b, which, just for a change, is composed of Greenstone/Killas rather than the granite they had come to know and err, quite like.

Pitch one, a traverse to a good belay ledge. Nice, steady climbing, a bit different this Greenstone stuff, not as much friction as some of the granite but fine. Nice even. Jeff’s lead, big comfy belay ledge, still sunny, and across came the other two. Sweet.

Graham next, traversing out right before tackling the down climb to the second belay ledge. "Oh look, it’s started to rain" Nah, it’s only spitting. It’s stopped already and the rock is drying out rapidly in the sun......just a shower.....keep going. On starting the down climb, Graham, to his great credit, had figured out that a "back runner" would protect the belay below in the event of a fall. To this end, he shouted instructions to leave his wire and crab in place, and accompanied by the booming of the waves in the corner cave of Right Angle, disappeared from sight just as the rain started in earnest.

He was out of sight for a while as it happened. No wonder, as the committing down climb got wetter and wetter. He found himself, after some surprisingly hard moves (hs? oh really?) on the belay ledge below the final long corner pitch. He built his belay, shivering now in the rain, and called for the others to come across. Andy and Jeff followed then, thankful of Graham’s foresight in arranging his back runner when they, in turn, realised how daunting the pitch to the belay was in the rain. Brilliantly done Mr Calderbank!

Right Angle is inescapable at the same grade without reversing the whole route, and it was thought better to carry on at this stage rather than work out a way back with three climbers, when you are mostly out of ear shot of each other, and the rock has turned to glass. In these conditions, the whole atmosphere and mood changed completely. There was a definite feeling of worry in the air, but they kept things together, and decided positively to just get on with things and get safely off the route. To this end, Jeff started up the final pitch, carefully and slowly, placing plenty of wires, and also enjoying a bit of luck in finding the slightly overhanging section to be quite dry. He topped out, relieved to find a bomber belay and brought up Andy and Graham, watched by a cagoule clad family who obviously thought that some entertainment had been laid on especially for them. Maybe they deserved it, as they had obviously checked the weather report..............

What then? Need you ask? Pub, Shop. Pizza. Beer.

Saturday already! Clean up and pack up day. Give the keys back to Mrs Caravan....."No, we haven’t trashed it, we are still alive, and we have left the windows open to let out the smell......well, that Jess has been gone since Thursday so the girly pong is starting to fade........" Sorry Jess, You were missed! Off home then? Why yes, but not before they called in at the Dewerstone in North Devon to have a bash at an hvs 5a called Climbers Club Direct. You would have thought that they’d have had enough of this climbing malarkey after the week’s endeavours, but they felt they had the energy to at least try. Especially after having a top drawer sausage sarnie at a roadside butty wagon on the way there.

And try they did. Graham leading off on the route, before being spat off unceremoniously at the start of the steep jamming crack. Any skin left Graham? Not much. Damn good try though. Want a go Jeff? "Sure". Up to the crack, stick it in (ooh madam!) lose a bit of skin and get spat off. Hmm. "Let’s do Climbers Club Ordinary instead", vs 4b sounds more like it. It’s a classic rock tick too. Jeff’s lead this time, and he swears he has never felt so tense on a vs before. Tense? Frightened more like. Greasy feeling rock and tricky technical moves with sometimes marginal protection and lots of rope drag. He got the "pleasure" of leading both pitches, and was, in truth, very glad when first Andy and then Graham joined him at the top, and they could walk off together and head for home.

And that was it. They had driven a thousand miles, climbed nearly twenty routes, been scared, bruised, scraped, battered and exhilarated. Had laughed at and with each other, and had drunk between them, seventy eight cans of Fosters. They had bought eighty cans but the final two went home with Graham. Well, he had done all the driving after all.

Jeff B
April 2011