When I first discovered climbing it was a revelation. I’d always been in the second tier for sport at school and was a bit of a mal-coordinated child, by no means unsporting but certainly nothing special. Here was something gymnastic, physical, mental, and above all fun. The only person judging me was myself – I lapped it up.
Climbing has taken me to some amazing places – El Chorro in Spain, Fontainebleau in France, Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco – as well as shown me the amazing places we have on our door step – I challenge anyone to abseil into Mousetrap Zawn on Gogarth and not be amazed by the geology.
Many people have tried to describe what climbing means to them and I don’t believe that anyone has truly managed to sum up what it is or why we do it. The only thing I can say is that once tried the challenges, emotions, scenery and sensations will lead you on an incredible journey.
Instead of giving you a list of achievement by grade or showing you the hardest climbs I’ve done I thought I’d list some of my most memorable routes. After all there’s always someone who is stronger, fitter or with the dedication to push the envelope further, but no one has the same experiences or memories.
Demo Route – Sennen Cove (HS 4b)
This was one of the earliest climbs I was led up. It was shortly after I’d started at the University of Bath and I was still getting to know people. The mountaineering club there were running a trip into Cornwall and I’d made sure to get my name on the list. Some slightly manic driving with at least three loops around each roundabout on the way down led us to a homely climbers club hut called The Count House. Drinks on the Friday night lead to some classic challenges like ‘the cardboard box game’ and ‘the broom game’. Before long everyone was making plans for the following day and one of the best climbers in the club, Timmy, was hatching a scheme to climb the ‘classic’ Demo Route at Sennen with the club joker, Ben. Not wanting to be left without anyone to climb with I crept over and asked if they’d mind me joining them. ‘Sure no worries’ was the reply.
The following day I was up and raring to go. Making sure I was set in the morning, as I hate making people wait for me or letting people down in any way. We drove over and Andy, the club chairman and Single Pitch Award holder, set up an abseil to get to the bottom of the route. My first time dangling over a cliff and with a fear of heights this felt a committing place to get to. I double checked my prussic, then checked it again (someone had mentioned that this could save my life so I wanted to make sure I’d done it right). My heart racing I made it to the bottom of the crag and found Tim at the bottom already organising the ropes. Ben soon joined us and before I knew it Tim had set off. I was belaying one of his ropes, Ben the other – as well as keeping an eye on me. He informed me that last year the previous chair of the club had been swept of the route by a wave!
Tim made it up the first pitch with some grunting and complaining about an ‘awkward chimney’ then it was my turn to climb. I set off, clinging on with all the strength I could muster. I’m not quite sure how I got to the belay but I was there. Ben joined me again shortly after – still cracking jokes and smiling. I felt like a rabbit in headlights – looking up at this enormous looking overhang. Tim danced up and around it and disappeared, we just paid out rope until the shout of ‘safe’ echoed down the cliff. It was my turn. I tired to do what Tim did but I couldn’t see anywhere to put my feet. Edging a little further and further leftwards to the good hold I could see coming and then I was off. Swinging on the rope. I looked down to Ben ‘what do I do now?’. He laughed and said – ‘don’t worry, I’ll probably fall off too. Stand on my shoulder that’ll get you round’. I did and made it to the good hold. From there the climbing eased and reaching the top came all too soon.
Cemetery Gates – Llanberis Pass (E1 5b)
Dinas Cromlech is an incredible piece of rock. It stands out near the top of Llanberis Pass with two vertical walls. I could have picked many of the other lines on these faces as they are all fantastic and it’s a great place to climb.
Cemetery Gates means a lot to me because it was my first ‘extreme’ lead. Just reaching the climb involves an exposed section of a lung busting walk up scree, scrambling, and some awkward down climbing. This leaves you feeling like a bird, perched in a tree which you’ve slung at the bottom of a ridiculously vertical crack. Your ‘unlucky’ follows you down the chimney and as a pair you’ll feel totally committed.
From your vantage point you quickly burst from the vegetation into a world of air and rock. At first it feels bolder than you’d like – yes, that flake does wobble. But soon you gain the bottom of the crack system which takes as much gear as you like. What can only be described as one of the most absorbing pieces of climbing I’ve done follows. Each handhold, jam, foothold, gear placement arriving as needed but never without thought. Just when you think you’ve made it to the girdle ledge the climbing starts to get harder with you having to use holds on the face. As you arrive, you’ll realise you’ve placed almost all your gear so have to use ingenuity to construct a belay. Then you can relax and enjoy the fly on the wall experience while your second has an equally mesmerising experience trying to join you.
If you’re lucky like me, the shepherds will be gathering the sheep down the pass and you’ll have an eagle’s eye viewpoint of the collies as they chase the stragglers.
If you’re feeling strong heading straight up from the belay provides the cleanest line access to the abseil stations above. While not the historic continuation it continues the theme of the previous pitch and isn’t much harder.
Camel-raderie – Crag H, Anti Atlas, Morocco
This climb is special to me because it was my first ‘new route. Mungo, a friend I’d met at uni, was keen to visit his mum who lives in Marrakech and was looking for climbing partners to go new routing with. This was in May, right at the tail end of the season for climbing in Morocco as temperatures climbed.
Staying in the Hotel les Amandiers we had got into the routine of being up and away by 4am to get back in time for a cool off in the pool during the heat of the day. The first few days had involved some torturous heat and subsequent rapid climbing. We’d explored some of the existing ‘classic’ lines (as the guidebook informed us) and decided it was time to start doing what we’d set out there for and put a new route. Crag H on the Lions Head looked an obvious place to go. Think of the biggest cliffs in the UK and with only a handful of routes. We set off and arrived for dawn as on previous days.
The sunrise was beautiful, as we’d come to expect, and soon we were following rough shepherd tracks far from any form of civilisation. There’d be no mountain rescue here. A bolder-strewn dry river bed formed part of our approach with poisonous cactus and prickly plants for company. We’d quickly learned that wearing tough trousers as the guidebook suggested was the best but not quite good enough defence against these.
Our aim was to find a way to climb the giant flying buttress you could see on the crag from the hotel. We planned to outflank it’s huge overhanging face by using the slabs to the left then traverse onto the buttress and finish on the pinnacle. The guidebook suggested it would be possible to descend from here, if we could get back off the pinnacle.
On the whole the plan, for once, worked. The slabs proved run out but not hard climbing. The traverse was a loose and bold affair but with good protection in the corner system before setting off and with the difficulties remarkably short lived. A properly traditional layback gained the final easy climbing to the summit.
You can see a full guide description of our route below as we entered it into the new routes book at the hotel.
I hold the highest level climbing qualification available in the UK, the Mountain Instructors Award, and can regularly be found on the cliffs and crags looking for more adventures.
Why not make some of you’re own stories and learn how to safely adventure close to home or further afield? Get in touch using my contact details.