Saturday, 28 January 2012

Deep Water Chalk Climbing

Rick, Noah and me headed to Saltdean for more winter training. We met Rob Marson and Steve Melvin at the crag. In contrast to Scotland last week, the fine weather was out in force today.

The tide was still relatively low so we headed to the Eastern end of the cliffs. A new route called Cold Front (C5+) had recently been put up near to the Pleasure Dome, which we were keen to try. Rick went first but by the time he had traversed left onto the steep finishing wall the pools of water below the cliffs had quickly risen to an alarming level. Rick bailed off a quickdraw runner, we packed our stuck, some of which was now submerged and made for dry land further West. The tide was already hitting the Seaward Face but with our crampons still donned we were able to traverse above the waterline. 1/3 of the way along the face the line of low-level traverse holds dipped down beneath the water line and we were forced to remove boots and socks and start wading. The water was only knee deep to begin with but as we approached the Six of the Best Area the water rose to thigh high. We learnt a lesson today to be weary of the tide in this part of the cliff.

Rick climbing Cold Front (C5+)
We watched a couple of climbers chop intermittent holds in the short route that I think is Claus for Chalk in the centre of the 4x4 Wall this morning. The leader then proceeded to hook his axe over the lower-off ropes in an attempt to climb the last couple moves. My major regret is not giving them some stern words about ethics at the cliff. We tried the route ourselves a short time after. It's not ruined but feels much easier now versus when I climbed it a month ago. At least the lower-off looks to still be intact.

We moved to the Western end of the cliffs to avoid the tide. I finally got around to leading Fulmar, Fulmar (C6/7), followed by repeat ascents of Back Up (C5), and Back Off Back On (C5).

(L) Rob top-roping an unbolted line directly beneath the Quark lower-off. (R) Rick leading Back Off (C5)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Deep Throat (V,6), Coire an Lochain

After yesterday's drama my bottle to try anything harder than V had disappeared along with my Nalgene bottle that had rolled down the slopes below Savage Slit yesterday morning. The winds were calmer today and the cliffs nicely hoared up. We climbed Deep Throat which was in excellent condition. Rick climbed the classic first pitch through the roofs and I strung the second and most of the third together. The route was as good (possibly better) as Savage Slit. We reached the top of the route by 2pm and with more temperate plateau conditions were able to walk off instead of abseiling. And so began the March back to the car park and the drive to London.

Rick on the first pitch
View down to Rick at the top of the second  pitch

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Savage Slit (V,6), Coire an Lochain

The snow blew up the coire, then vertically up the route, between my legs and into my face. I tried to look down but immediately my eyes stung from the snow blast. I was reduced to fleeting glances towards my feet in order to identify foot placements. Gusts were strong but I felt safe as their upward direction caused no risk to being blown off. The wind was scouring the cliffs of fresh snow leaving the cracks exposed. All that remained was the hard layer of neve that was weeks old. I hooked and cranked up the Savage Slit’s first main pitch, bracing myself with each successive wind blast. There were only a handful of climbers in Coire an Lochain today. It was easy to see why.

I sheltered in the cramped cave halfway up the route and shouted to Rick to start climbing. He obviously couldn't hear me so I gave the rope three tugs. I turned my back to the wind but it found ways to penetrate my Gore-Tex layers regardless. Rick soon joined me at the belay and then was gone again. It seemed like ages before he was settled at his belay above. In reality it probably wasn't that long.

The second pitch offered more superb climbing but the conditions were steadily worsening as the day progressed. Gusts increased, the winds howled louder, and spindrift continued to travel in the 'wrong' direction. In these conditions the climbing felt at the limit. The saviour was the protection which was always 'bomb proof' and ample.

Once above the main difficulties we had no interest in continuing up to the plateau and therefore set about abseiling back down the route. I threw the ropes down but the upward winds whipped them sideways all the way to Fallout Corner (which fortunately was vacant today). I prussic'ed to the rope and started down the route, pulling the ropes off the cliff as I went. At one point the rope looped up and wrapped around my neck. More of the same drama followed on the next abseil. Somehow the ropes did not snag. We were lucky.

Getting the f*** out

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Tiptoe through the Tulips (IV), Saltdean

After last week's excitement the only natural thing to do this weekend was to go and climb another Saltdean trad chalk route. We warmed up on Slab Route before attempting the route immediately left of Brighton Rock called Tiptoe through the Tulips (also grade IV).

The route was unexpectedly straightforward and climbable in a single pitch. Although slightly steeper than the Brighton Rock, the chalk was generally better quality. A narrow ramp breeched the steep final walls avoiding the drama of last week. I think I could have soloed this so it is quite ironic that it is the same grade as Brighton Rock But that it chalk climbing for you.

Laurence climbing Tiptoe through the Tulips (IV)
With time to spare we climbed the route between Back in Time and Day Dreaming before heading back to London.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Brighton Rock (IV), Saltdean

With my recent visits to chalk having focused on bolted routes, it was time to climb some trad chalk again. This time at Saltdean instead of Dover, as previous.

My climbing partner Laurence and me started the day with some more bolted routes whilst we waited for the tide to drop. I led Back Off Back On (C5) and The Strangeness and the Charm of the Quark (C5). I then top-roped variation of the latter, which climbs directly to the belay. The holds were tiny and the footwork delicate making for some exhilarating climbing. I surprised myself by cleaning this first time proving that the chalk training is paying off.
Tiptoe through the Tulips (IV) is the left ramp, Brighton Rock is the right ramp. Note the short wall at the top of the latter
With the tide having dropped it was time to try a trad route that I had in mind called Brighton Rock. Laurence was happy to second the route. The first 80% of the route was a pushover with steady climbing up 60 degree chalk. I set up a belay on the left beneath a steep chimney and brought Laurence up.

Laurence climbing the first pitch
The short second pitch proved far more interesting. The ramp was barred from the cliff top by a wall of steep chalk. I climbed up and right to where the wall was its shallowest. Even here it was approximately five metres high. Once perched beneath it I realised that it was actually overhanging. Delicately balanced on my mono-points I set about placing warthogs. My first placement didn't install much confidence so I placed a second, then a third. Long cracks kept forming around each warthog. I regretted my hastiness to climb to beneath the crux without placing any protection prior. If I fell I had no doubt that three warthogs were more than strong enough to hold my weight but would the chalk simply fracture away? And how much stronger was Laurence's belay if this did happen? Best think about the climbing.

I set about making initial placements for axes. Soon there was no choice other than get on with it and plant the feet higher and commit to the overhang. I moved my axes up. The top of the cliff was now in reach. I fired an axe into the grassy topside turf but there was little bite. I tried again. Slightly better but still fairly rubbish. It was as good as I would get I figured. With the chalk having abruptly ended on the top of the cliff, a garden fork might have been a better tool than my axes. I reached up and desperately grabbed the head of the axe with both hands. The axe held steady. I swung and leg over and crawled on top of the cliff in ugly fashion.

Happy to be on top
The CC guide grades this Scottish IV. I would hazard a guess that maybe the top of the route has changed since graded. The climb is easy up to the crux but then things quickly get very serious.