Friday, 21 September 2012

The importance of variety

Two weeks ago, I was down to Anstey's Cove with a friend (who shall remain nameless in this instance to protect the guilty).

After a warm-up, we had a go at a technical little climb called American Express. It gave us a few more problems than it's sport grade of 7a+ might have lead us to expect. My friend went first, and pulled through the bottom OK, which was slightly fierce and fingery, but then above the second clip ran into a balancy slab where the hand holds disappear.

I had a crack at it, and had much more of a struggle on the bottom section, but eventually found myself staring at the same problem. A big hold lay up and right, but with a finger in a mono somewhere by my crotch and nothing obvious in between, it seemed a long way away.  Adding the fact that at this point both feet are above the second clip, it felt rather precarious.

There were loads of foot holds around, but with nothing of note for the hands staying balanced on one foot to move the other was a real challenge. To begin with I was a bit sketched out, but after a couple of falls I started to relax and was able to try out some options - however nothing seemed to work so my first go ended with me returning to terra firma, the third bolt still unmolested, and rather painful feet.

My friend's second go ended much as his first - completely stuck, seemingly unable to grasp the idea that the mono must be abandoned before the feet get too high, and trust placed in the friction of the rubber and balance. Although a very strong all-round climber, when it comes to sport climbing he's very much a steep limestone man - and here it showed.

My second attempt I got through the bottom section clean, then started falling again. It took a while, but eventually I found a sequence of small foot movements that got me high enough for a delicate little tip-toed stretch to the good hold, and that third bolt. From there the route was pretty much over, so now I was thinking of the redpoint. On the way back down, I tick marked all the necessary footholds, and began explaining the sequence, but my friend had decided it was time to abandon this lovely little line and head for his main event - a first look at the fiercely steep 8a, The Cider Soak. He knows my opinion of this tendency to over-specify in one style of rock, so there was no point in haranguing him, but I was muttering to myself about cul-de-sacs and engrams as I followed him up the hill to belay.

My friend did a very good job of his first crack at The Cider Soak, working out a sequence for the bottom half and aiding his way to the top to have a look at the rest. I couldn't help thinking that unpicking the lock on American Express would do his climbing more good in the long run though.

I went back down the hill for a redpoint attempt, but fell off the crux. Not only that, but after a rest on the rope, I still couldn't repeat the move. I was absolutely baffled. I knew exactly where my right foot had been as I leaned over it, stretching up and right to the good hold, but now I was two inches short. How could this be? After a few goes, I unlocked the sequence once more. I'd been concentrating on my right foot (this was after all the main pivot point for the move), however lifting my left foot up another couple of inches changed my whole body angle and allowed me to reach over to the hold.

I was tired and the crux was still a little tenuous, so although I had another couple of attempts I didn't quite manage to pull it off - but that didn't really matter, I was happy to have worked my way through the problems and come up with good solutions, and those tricky little moves are always the best to work out, because you know it's going to help you somewhere else down the line. In this case, it was going to help me out much sooner than I realised.

This weekend, I was down in Berry Head to sneak in some deep water soloing before my trip to Mallorca. After doing the Magical Mystery Tour with Clare, I headed over to join the end of a train along the Rainbow Bridge. This was my first attempt at the route, and after an entertaining start where I almost blew it on a wet hold on an easy section, we got to the rest before the 7a+ pitch. Alex gave me an excellent blow by blow account of the route, and I watched him climb through the crux before I left the sanctuary of the ledge.

A relatively straightforward start led to a technical series of small crimps, followed by the crux Alex had described - reach over onto one sloper with the right hand, match, take a second sloper, then go again to a big jug. I was pretty boxed, but I managed to take the first, and slide my weight underneath to match. Shuffling the feet along to some more glassy little holds, I took the second sloper and lunged for the jug. Yes! I had it. I was still on poor feet though, so I looked over to where a large tick mark lead to what was presumably a hidden undercut. I reached for it, but was a couple of inches short. Shit. The jug wasn't feeling so juggy any more. I tried to shake out, but I was so pumped I couldn't hold on long enough with either hand to rest the other, before the fingers started to peel. Surely to fuck I wasn't going to blow it now? Alex saw me struggling and offered some encouragement. I looked desperately for something further round for my right foot to get me across, but there was nothing in reach. Suddenly, I remember the crux on Amercian Express. I looked back towards my left foot, found another hold a couple of inches up, purposefully pushed a toe into it, reached out with my right hand, and latched the undercut for my second ever 7a+ flash!

Bring on Mallorca, and vive la différence!

The world's scariest warmup

My anonymous friend pre-clipping as far as he could reach on The Cider Soak

Examining the route

And having a go

Time for tea

An Anstey's snail

More Anstey's flora and fauna

Yachts mooring up to enjoy the sunshine


  1. Is that really the first bolt? I really don't miss uk bolting and fishing rods if that's the case... Stop harassing your anonymous friend!

  2. No, my anonymous friend was just trying to save on quickdraws by skipping the lower bolts...