Monday, 20 October 2014

10 of the Best - Part 2


This is the second half of a blog about ten days climbing in Pembroke and North Wales.
 
Day six,

 

"What did you guys get on to today?" At Easter Duncan and Guy had been on the Fascist and Me. They regaled a story of prussiking, falling on pegs and very greasy connies. I'm not sure how I failed to take their story into account when deciding what to do on the 6th morning. Neap tides meant that at high tide we were able to get to the bottom of the route, but only just and the swell made belaying a touch stressful. The first groove is described as "awkward" in the guide. In the ten days it was by far the closest I came to falling without actually taking flight; greasy (read wet) laybacking and tricky gear, its hard work. Jack followed fine and despatched the top pitch in fine fashion. Someone even stopping to take a picture. We were a bit pooped after this, but after some food I was revived, and the range would be open soon. We didn't have time to do  another route but had time to climb something. I ran over to Govan's with my boots, if there's an ab rope in place I'll go down, if not its a sign. But of course there's one there. The Arrow is the aim. Flowing up it proves to be one of the highlights of the week, pulling through the roof on buckets at 20m was life affirming.

 

After a quick conversation with the guard he waves us in and we head into the Leap. Jack fights his way up the incredibly greasy Just Another Day/Scorch the Earth, a great effort in those connies. Back in Easter on my first day in Pembroke I threw myself at a route with a reputation, Luke Skywalker. This line has an impressive scalp list for a mere E5 and I soon found out why, taking two falls from the top crux crack. I remembered it vaguely and therefore it seemed the obvious next route. The route was a massive fight, slapping into finger jams at the top and yarding on detached fins fighting the clock. As jack topped out in the fading light we were grinning ear to ear, not much beats a top trad day.

 

Day seven,

 

Our last day in Pembroke, wilted arms necessitate a change in tact and angle of rock. Ships That Pass in the Night fits the bill, slabby and delicate is all I'm up to. Its cliche but you run out of words to describe routes like these. Jack then puts in a strong effort of Barbarella only to agonisingly blow the top. I prevaricate about doing Yellow Pearls and choose against it, escaping up the ace E1 the Hole. And with that our time in Pembroke closes.

 

Day eight,

 

Its a muggy day in Bangor, the mountains are cloaked by low cloud and the humidity is high. Its Oli's birthday. A decision to head up to the Gravestones is eventually reached. The idea being to try the diminutive but also intriguing shallow groove of King of Rumpy. Its more in the vein of grit than of welsh mountain trad, similar in undertaking to things like Thin Air at the Roaches. After a few ups and downs I commit to the groove, where a rockover enables a no hands rest to be gained. A period of time goes by, probably at least 20 minutes, where I fanny around trying to work out whether its worth committing. We have a couple of pads but the landing is poor and rocky; falling didn't feel like an option. Eventually a sequence involving an irreversible foot cross threw is committed to, and the gamble pays off as the juggy break is gained. "That looked horrible" comments Grounsell. Afterwards we indulge in some greasy birthday bouldering followed by a great swim across lyn padarn with Soph.

 

Day nine,

 

Sport Climbing! Despite humidity being off the scale and no sun we head to the Diamond; a very much in vogue venue. Despite poor conditions it stilled lived up to the hype, the classic 7a Rub a dub dub providing a perfect warm up. Next was Non-Tidal Screamer, a truly fantastic route with a bit of a reputation for being runout. To me it felt like the Femme Noire of the Diamond. Bouldery low down, to a good rest, then a sustained middle with a scary top. Definitely keen to get back to this crag in future, hopefully without the grease!

 

Day ten,

 

Now the big one! All year this route has nagged at me. If Ghost Train had burnt a hole in my ticklist Lord Of the Flies had taken a flamethrower to it. There are very few routes in the world with the history it has, everyone who has done it has a story. Alot of the routes that I hold in the highest regard are lines that Dad talked to me about when I knew nothing about climbing, Lord was probably one of the first. The story of his huge lob off the top wall back in the day captivated my imagination, "when you fall so far you realise you're falling and wonder when you might stop." Time and again in the Pass I've chosen against trying it, but this would be my last chance this year. The next day I was due to head back to Sheffield for a week of carnage and knew that a return before it got wet would not be likely. Henry was psyched for Right Wall, it had all the makings of a classic day. Henry led up Left Wall to start, then swiftly moved on to the real business of the day. For a first e5 lead it doesn't really get much better than Right Wall, especially despatched in such a confident and assured fashion. At the top psyche was high, I abbed down with my eyes shut and started getting racked up. The first section went smoothly, fully in soloing mode above a shit hook (probably missed best place) and I was relieved to gain the porthole. From there the kit is ok and the climbing technical and blind, though chalk undoubtedly helped me. From there its mostly a blur until one moment at the top where I briefly saw myself taking THE fall I'd heard so much about. Snatching up the groove with the left and stabbing my feet up, looking down at the void. Yarding on grass to get onto the ledge its a mixture of satisfaction and relief. After abbing and stripping we head down and solo Flying Buttress, grinning all the way.

 

Now I'm back in Sheffield, ready for the grit (gulp) and training (gulpgulp) If this blog was a little to self indulgent for you then I apologise, but purple patches like that one don't come round to often. Now, back to chumming.

Monday, 29 September 2014

10 of the best - Part 1

Recently I spent a week in Pembroke followed by a few days in North Wales. This was a pretty special time where weather, partners and momentum all came together in perfect sync.

Day one,

"No red flag." A morning of cragging at Trevallen was instantly scrapped in favour of the grander, often closed off, locations on the range. Warming up on Just Another Day/Scorch the Earth  felt fantastic; it almost seems there's nowhere better to climb E5.

Certain lines burn a hole in your wishlist, often for many years. You find excuses not to try them and further build up the pressure on yourself, making the routes into more than they are. After Just Another Day I realise that the time for procrastination had ceased, it was time to head into Stennis. Half of what makes British trad specical can be found in the stories that surround it. Tales of a "thousand yard stare" and heroic belaying after a huge fall enhanced the reputation of Ghost Train no end in my mind. The route itself is perfectly laid out, danger but not death, a glory finish and some wobbly holds thrown in to cast doubt. This doubt varies from day to day, sometimes commitment comes easily and some its nowhere to be found. Thankfully on this occasion it was the former, which made for a perfect experience; even allowing for a pause mid runout to laugh down to Neil.

Day two,

Today Trevallen wouldn't be trumped. I was keen to check out the Sunlover wall, one of the most photogenic and well catalogued faces in Pembroke. Whilst this wall is famous for its classic twin E5's Barbarella and Yellow Pearls I was here on other business, with the bold wall climb of Orange Robe Burning in my sights. After a nervy start above the boulders the route went without a hitch. The top section is superb, ledge fever sets in at the break as you know you could stay there for days. Eventually when committed to it provides a great climax, with a tricky move to a finger bucket, ace.

Day three,

A return visit to Trevallen may have been unadventurous but with limited time it seemed logical. What should have been an easy day quickly became anything but as I made the somewhat appalling decision to try and warm up on Barbarella. After fighting flash pump and scraping through the hard bit my feet let me down and I slipped off some greasy fingerlocks. Hmmm. Oh well, at least I know I'm warm now, next go no worries. But wait, round two is somehow worse, shambolic climbing. After screwing my head back on and putting in another good fight it finally succumbs, whilst the kit is better it feels more of a proposition than ORB to me...

The day is finished by belaying Neil on what became Choronzon. I'm pretty easily impressed by hard routes but this line really did take the biscuit. On this day he fell off the last move of the crux, the season was drawing to a close. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I got the text the following weekend saying he'd done it.

Day four,

The plan is to head to Govans but the men with guns are role playing again. Mother Careys seems a safe second bet. As per though there is a hitch, a somehow unforeseen problem, the sea is crashing into the bottom of Brazen Buttress. This forces a retreat to the non-tidal ledges of the White Tower next door. White Heat, the classic E5 of the crag looks almost to good to be true, a rising thin crack-line forging up the perfect white slab. By this stage in the trip fatigue is setting in and after the palaver of Barbarella I do wonder whether to bother. But it looks like its got loads of kit on it, what's the worst that could happen.

10m up I place a perfect rock 6 and climb till its by my feet, up to this stage the route has been unnervingly easy. The next bit looks thin, cant see much more gear but the last one was a bolt. Commit a few metres into the crux, the gear now getting further and further away. A crimp in the face provides some respite, but its a poison chalice, taking me out of the crack and leaving the gear out of sight. My right leg begins to shake, nothing for the left foot, I use up precious reserves trying to peer into the crack, it looks like a rock 2 slot, but my gear to eye coordination is not at its freshest. Try the 2, wont go in, try the 1, pulls straight through. By now the shaking is just comical. The climbing above looks hard, perhaps you should drop off. No. The pump has become terminal as I rag my foot high onto a blind foothold in the crack, stand up. Still no jugs, but wait, this looks more promising, a break a couple of moves away. By now falling is an unappealing prospect, as is continuing. The moves however turn out to be easier than those lower down and the break is reached with a whoop. Anna rinses up it seconding, waddage.

Day five,

Even before I ever visited the place I had a conception that Govans was the easy option of Pembroke, worthwhile but not why you go there, lacking in adventure and risk. This most likely comes from Rob describing it as "just cragging." He has a point no doubt, the routes are more chalked and polished than many of the other crags in Pembroke and there's always people down there. However today I had used up all my adrenaline reserves DWSing at Broadhaven Cove above seals and a rough sea, so an afternoon of cragging fitted the bill nicely. 


Starting up Get Some In I had high expectations, this was one of the routes I'd heard of before I could tell you where Pembroke was on a map. It wasn't a letdown per say and I'm sure climbing it in better conditions would help its cause (Hotter than the face of the sun that day) but it didn't fill me with glee in the way that other routes this week have. John Wayne on the other hand. Cruising up that top crack as it eats your runners one after the other was fantastic, perhaps having lower expectations for routes is the way forward. 

Thats enough for one entry, next five soon.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Trad on the Agenda

Frisbee on Mingulay Beach
I would describe myself as a trad climber; in that I'm weak at bouldering and unfit for sport. Up to a few months ago however I had done little to no climbing in some of the mecca's of trad throughout the UK. Sure enough the grit represents "trad" but in reality it almost deserves its own discipline, many of the routes I've done being essentially dangerous bouldering.

Mingulay's Finest
In the past few months however this has changed. Over several trips I've spent many days climbing on the sea-cliffs and mountains of North Wales and also spent a ludicrous week on the Hebridean islands of Pabbay and Mingulay. These trips, whilst not ideal preparation for a hard sport climbing holiday (gulp) have really opened my eyes to the variety that exists within British climbing. Even further to this though they have helped budge some of the dissatisfaction I feel with climbing when I become to focused on difficulty rather than enjoyment.

the youth loving it

Climbing Welsh classics such as Positron, Right Wall and Midsummer Nights Dream have provided memorable days out and the ridiculous routes on Pabbay and Mingulay were without doubt the best I've ever climbed. Four star lines like Ship Of Fools, In Profundum Lacu and Ancient Mariners all represent the creme de la creme of trad climbing. Massive exposure, perfect gear, surprising holds and beautiful locations. I could write about them all day. Its not just the climbing though; out on the islands time becomes irrelevant, you live almost nocturnally, climbing from afternoon to dark and getting up at lunchtime. If you ever want to escape real life and its sometimes mundane nature this is the place to go.

Robby G on Ship of Fools. Above it blasts straight up the wall to the
grass on some ridiculous holds!

Red Wall, a stunning crag

Soon I'll be departing for Ceuse, a place I've never been and by all accounts another stunning crag. With everything left to do there the aim is to tick as many classics as possible. Following this we head for Cortina and the Dolomites. This area holds special resonance to me, being the place where I first experienced climbing, exposure and the mountains. Returning now, four years after my previous visit, sights are firmly set on some of the big free classics.

The Mingulay Campsite

Dome tent scenes
On the psychebike

Why did we leave the tent??

 Psyche is as high as ever!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Rare Lichen

View from Gribbin
Sat behind the counter in Outside on a quiet Monday I browse through the various guidebooks. Ignorant of Welsh climbing in general I scan through Gogarth North, The Pass, Cloggy and finally, Ogwen. New places hold mysteries, lines catch the eye and a list begins; the lifetime list. Since then this list has grown, routes from countless destinations, of all grades. At home I still have the original scrap of paper that the list grew from. The first scribbled name on that scrap, Rare Lichen - Clogwyn Tarw - Ogwen.

Arête's have and always will hold a special aura for me. There is something about them, they draw the eye, the exposure on such features is hard to parallel; further to this they tend to provide a cruel lesson in technique to the uninitiated. Rare Lichen represents all of the above. The level of danger is also perfect, there is gear there, but how "there" it will be when you fall is another matter. Don't get me wrong its not a total chop route but falling comes ill-advised.

Clogwyn Tarw
The line breaks into three sections -
- Steady ledge climbing leads to bomber cams, then a little sketchy section to place an awkward RP2 in a blind slot.
- Tricky section moving around the arete, don't fall!
- Hard crux section on the top arête after placing a few RP runners.

It was last weekend that me and Oli gambled off up into the hills of Ogwen to check out the Gribbin. With the start being wet we set to work on the top section. Flicking between sidepulls and the arete the top sequence provides superb on-off climbing, with just enough holds to get by! The start gradually dried, awkward placements were found and we made solid links on the top rope. Not returning was out of the question. Then came the Indy Party and the rest of the weekend disappeared into the mist.

Ogwen in all its beauty
So this Thursday I repeated the oddly convoluted and longwinded journey from Sheffield to Bangor. Friday was the day, looking just about dry, perched between days of rain either side. Waking up Friday morning it was clear the forecast hadn't let us down and we again wandered up to the Gribbin.

On top rope the route feels harder than previous, with my old sequence seeming unlikely and on-off. After sorting out a more slappy, yet bizarrely solid seqeunce and learning the nuances of the gear the lead seems on. Selfishly I ask Oli if I can go when I get down.

Pulling on with warm fingers the holds seem better and more positive than on the top rope. Arriving at the awkward RP slot I feel solid. But after placing it it doesn't look right, no time to rearrange, press on. Moving around the arete I'm trying harder than I'd like to be, the RP in the back of my mind. Once round onto the front face you can relax, place the key RP's and enjoy an almost hands-off rest. The only problem is the rest is so good you don't want to leave. You could lower off your gear here. There was no chance of this however (You'd only have to do the sketchy bit again!) and pressing on the arête went like clockwork, tick-tacking up, enjoying the position and some of the best moves about.

Team Chummer
The day wouldn't have been complete without Oli's ascent, which followed soon after. I've been badgering him about these routes for ages so it was great to get the team tick! Also thanks to Mike Hutton for coming over and taking photos, legend! Cheers for the place to stay aswell Henry!

We finished the day with a route march up to the Lily Savage boulders and managed to bag the mega classic 7b Paul O'Grady. Cracking day, may it be the first of many this summer!

P O G


Cheers for reading, Nath. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mid Season Blues

Golden early season grit

So far the "season" has been going great. Coming in I had a couple of routes I'd wanted to do, The Zone was the last one left on the priority list. It could be criticised for being a pretty mediocre line on a wall that harbours some of the best on grit. However the moves are really good and it makes sense to deviate around like it does. Its another route I'd tried last year and failed on. Not that it felt easy this time but its all in the tiny margins. One negative about the route is that it eats your skin, the holds being almost all edges, very unlike your average grit route. Another quirk is the gear. Skyhooks that sit on edges halfway up the wall.

They're alright really

 Whilst hardly bomber they're not too bad and  have been famously tested by both skinny youths Pearson and Grounsell. The day of the lead was a comedy of errors, searching for my keys on Stanage only to find them in the car, getting ridiculously pumped placing the skyhooks and watching my camera fall off a cliff. The lead was not so comical, the kind of boring plod some would say headpointing often produces, oh well, I enjoyed it, even if my fingers didn't. Nick Brown got some stellar footage of both this and Knockin. If you haven't seen the video yet what rock have you been hiding under??

The Grinning Zone
As per usual mid season staleness kicked in around early December, when the weather turned shit and the psyche went through the floor. Resuscitation arrived in the form of a trip. Just after Christmas I had the pleasure of visiting one of the best crags on the globe; Siurana. Arriving in the dark gave us no clues as to the grandeur of the valley, the sight of which left me gobsmacked the next morning. Sport climbing has always been somewhat of a sideshow for me, never drawing much focus away from the boulders or routes of the grit, but Siurana has changed this.

On the flash on Ya Os Vale

 For starters the El Pati is simply ludicrous, I cannot picture myself ever being fit enough to scale the steeper regions, I get the feeling alot of things will have to change in my mentality to make it happen. Watching the eurowads attempting these extra terrestrial routes gave food for thought, the training is probably worth the effort if this is where it leads you. Most of the trip was spent ticking away, resisting the urge to spend all my time on things too hard for me and repeatedly eulogising on how cool this place was. All I can say is that being back in England for the wettest January for years was horribly sobering. The Works must be raking it in.


El Pati! Jack on one of the 7a's



Monday, 2 December 2013

Time Flies 1

Time flies when you're having fun. The first month and a half of Uni has breezed by. Freshers seems a distant memory, though the flu lingers on now and then. The weeks after are a blur. I had my doubts over moving to Sheffield. Even such minute change, for a creature of such repetitive habit, is not often welcome. During a hectic first week I did little but drink and flail in the Works. After Unknown Stones it was good to have a cooling off period, to forget climbing and just enjoy the fun. After fortuitously bumping into Katy and Rob the hunger for the grit soon returned.
                          
Armed with a huge stake and sledgehammer we headed to the rarely dry Burbage South Quarries. The walkers who saw us wandering the moors that day would be forgiven for thinking we were planning some kind of pagan crucifixion. The stake sunk into the heather-clad ground and so the fun could begin. My intention was to try one of Pete's creations, Inspiration Dedication, which climbs a slightly overhung wall on positive crimps. The only thing about this route reminiscent of Gritstone is the potential to deck onto a boulder from 9 metres. After drying the holds and working the moves it was a smooth lead. This really is a rough diamond, perhaps a little better than its older brother French Kiss.
The crux of Inspiration @Rich Sharpe.

Pre and post this day were some nice evenings spent at Millstone. Katy and Rob on form with ascents of The Bad and the Beautiful, whilst I dabbled in some esoterica, climbing two of the least well known E6's in the Peak. Golden sunshine till 7 seems distant now as I glance to the window and see darkness setting in at 4 O'clock. I never remember the downsides of Winter.

One of Gritstone's main faults is its size. The Promontory at Black Rocks has no such problem. If life were fair this 20 metre ships bow would overlook a perfect moorland plateau, miles from civilisation. Luckily for the lazy its sits in a dank, Carlsberg can-filled wood just outside Cromford. Rising up the right-hand side of the Promontory is an enticing line of pockets, some small, some large. Linked they create one of grits most aesthetic sculptures. Seb's psychobabble on Meshuga is one of the lasting legacies of Hard Grit. Coming into the season alot of those I spoke to had this route top of their winter list. It has been top of mine since I did the neighbouring Hard Grit classic Gaia, a year ago.

Last year I could barely link the route. What a nice feeling of progression it was when this year I was linking it steadily. It boils down to two moves. The slap and the rockover. A fall from the first has been taken, all be it with painful consequences. A fall from the rockover is likely to be a messy affair. After two sessions this year I was ready. The next good day I would do it. There followed two weeks of rain and warmth. At the time it seemed an age, a real indication of how much I wanted this route done. On the next dry opportunity we made the regular pilgrimage to Cromford. Dad came out to belay and the lead itself passed without incident or hesitation, full immersion. I have to thank Rob and Katy in particular for helping me to get this done. Without a car Black Rocks is a long way from Sheffield!

"The Move" on Meshuga

What's next? is a question I've heard alot in the past few weeks. I had no idea. One wet day Katy suggested putting a rope on Knockin On Heavens Door. This route had somehow slipped my winter target list, and without her keenness I'm not sure I would have bothered. One time a few years ago I walked up to Curbar with a shunt and tried it. It was around 25c and the backs of my legs got sunburnt, optimism and naivety are rarely a good mix. Two years forward and another gamble was taken on the weather. On a day when the rest of Sheffield sheltered in the wall we headed out to Curbar. It was only for top roping but the few goes we snatched on the route felt like a steal on such a grim day. Sometimes optimism works out. After Katy and Dave's Super Sunday at Black Rocks, we had Majestic Monday.

A day of near perfect Gritstone weather. Not a cloud in the sky, 6c and windy. The kind of day you wait all year for. The history of Knockin is chequered. I choose to use the cams below the lip out left. These "protect" the route though you're still likely to face a nasty fall from the crux moves. The way I did it seems logical to me, I'd be angry with myself for avoiding gear and then breaking myself falling off. The route itself felt like velcro on this perfect Grit afternoon. The lines at Curbar always seem special to me, perhaps as they're the first routes I ever knew existed. Later that evening in the fading light we watched Jake climb another of Curbar's gems; The End of the Affair. A great day. 

Second half coming up.

Stretched on Knockin.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Unknown Stones

On the way into Sheffield I stare out across the saturated countryside, its a grim day, the first of winter perhaps. With temperatures dropping and leaves gathering in the gutters its not long before the season begins. Of course when thoughts drift to winter I prefer to remember only the days of perfect crisp weather, rather than the many depressing hours spent inside on the plastic, watching the rain. The bus crawls through the villages and past all the great gritstone outcrops, long ago pillaged of their true lines by the key figures of British climbing's history. There are of course new routes to be done, but most are mere sideshows surrounded by the greatness of the past. As Sheffield approaches I again find my mind transfixed on thoughts of a small group of stones, stuck into the cliff-face, perched above the old mill towns of Lancashire.

It had begun on a warm, balmy afternoon in the Chew Valley. The day was progressing in the usual unproductive fashion, try this, try that, "too bold", "too snappy". Wimberry is an unusual crag in its angles and dimensions, its bounded by sharp soaring aretes and walls interspersed by deep dark corners and cracks, almost like the keys on a piano. The jewel in the Chew crown has had a special summer, many of its lines have seen rare attention whilst its true last great problem was claimed in a blaze of bamboo canes and grunting. As the day progressed the thought of leaving without doing something, or at least having a reason to return, made me spur into action. I told Oli that I was going to abb a potential new line, being needlessly coy about its location only 30ft away. I guess I just didn't want to jynx it. On first acquaintance the wall had no holds, aside from a small edge with a thumbcatch and a fat pebble just next to it. However, being just this side of slabby, it gave me enough reason to set up the top rope. Working out the moves proved tenuous and tricky, with several holds coming off in the process. After around an hour of practice the moves were done, the crux revolving around the crucial thumbcatch edge. At least now there was reason for return.

The red line of Unknown Stones on this Gritstone axehead
For just under a month the line occupied my thoughts. We returned only to be warned about clouds of midges on the walk in, and whenever there was another opportunity the weather callously intervened. After starting to feel as if time were running out to try the line again, I was granted a days belay from Dad. In the cold winds we made that familiar trudge up the hillside. First time up the rock felt sticky, I cruised from the resting hold to the top crux move, I was stunned, the climbing felt easy. Then all of a sudden I was on the rope. Something had happened, and the noise on the thumbcatch edge hitting the ground 15m below let me know loud and clear. At that moment there was a mixture of emotions. Anger at the rocks betrayal, relief at the fact it had snapped on toprope. This was the third "crucial" hold to have fallen off the route now, I needed another new sequence. After more working one came to hand, undercutting a pebble to reach the good holds just below the top. The main downside of the new sequence is that its now the crux of the route and relies pulling pretty hard on a pebble. After working out the traverse over to the resting foothold (moves on Dougie Hall's masterpiece Appointment with Fear) I was able to link the route three times, a real coup considering how badly the day had started. Now there was real reason to return, which was both awful and amazing in equal measure.

The traverse on Fear
As the days ticked by I felt more and more nauseous at the idea of returning, at the idea of climbing on that slab. I thought constantly about those tiny stones, each one of them a completely unknown quantity, and for all I knew held in by nothing more than a few square millimetres of coarse moorland grit. The week crawled to its conclusion, Friday was the day, it had been set in stone. There were people keen, the weather forecast was good, this was it. Until it wasn't. It drizzled most of the way there, on arrival the crag was damp in some places and sodden in others. This had not been forecast. In an act of blind and naive optimism we set about chalking and towelling the damp rock, after a few hours of no rain and a strong breeze the route had dried out enough to work the moves again. I was hesitant to try the slab, pebbles pull out of damp rock much more readily, and if I lost another of my confidants the route may cease to exist. Drier and drier the route became, the excuses were slowly dissipating on the breeze. Two more full links and I'd reached the magic number in my mind, five.


Leaving the sanctuary of the foothold
Everything was set up, pads on the ledge and my rope through a siderunner in the crack. Both become redundant as soon as Fear is left, and from the last crux move a 13m deck or slam is obligatory. Pull on, swing out, the crux mantle on Fear runs smoothly on the now dry slab. Stand in balance, tug the rope, its dragging. Commit to the next section of Fear, a balancy step through and rockover. Stood on the resting foothold the situation suddenly becomes all too real. My position, standing on the lip of this great axe of rock slicing clean through any thought of control. The option to doubt yourself there is immense and, like a certain slab in Wales, you have to choose to continue.


Pausing Mid-Crux
After a few tricky set up moves the long crux section is reached. Thumb down on one pebble, pull hard on pebbly crimp, reach over for a tiny pebble. Then its another tiny pebble, then a good pebble, undercut this to the good holds. Halfway through this sequence and I pause, the rope is dragging. I experience a feeling new to me within the realms of hard grit climbing, a complete lack of control. In that instant there is no choice to be made, instinct kicks in and you keep pulling, no matter how fragile the little quartz stumps. The good holds are reached about two metres below the top, and so begins the victory march. When the jug is reached I'm in no rush to top out. This route has dominated my thoughts for weeks, and now I let the relief wash over me. Even after topping out its a few seconds before the inevitable release of anguish. Lent on my knees at the top I wasn't sure that I had climbed the route with the respect it deserves, but perhaps it had let me off.

Reaching salvation

In the past few weeks I've had time to consider everything about this route. I think I'll get the boring stuff out the way first. The route is physically harder and more dangerous than its neighbour Appointment With Death. On this basis and comparing it to the other E7-8s I've done Unknown Stones is likely to be at least E9 6c.

I think I'll finish with these thoughts. Why do I and some people obsess over these kind of routes? My motivation to do this route came from several sources. Firstly it always stuck out to me as an obvious gap, I appreciate it may look slightly contrived to some, but I can assure you that were the line escapable into either of its neighbouring routes I wouldn't have bothered doing it. It is only the direction and location of the holds that make it possible, yet also inescapable. Secondly the moves on it are great, its a good example of minimalist climbing, with only just enough holds to link the wall. Lose one of the crucial ones and it would be far, far harder. So, as far as the climbing and the line go, its a great addition. Of course there is also the mental aspect. Routes like this captivate my mind in a way that no boulder or sport route ever could. You really have to question your motivation and then back yourself to the hilt when climbing on the lead. Second thoughts are not welcome, and its the challenge of controlling this gathering doubt that is so interesting.

Further interest came from establishing a new line on what is arguably (sorry b-south) the most hardcore grit crag in the country. Every line has a level of distinction. The "easy" routes being known for their sandbag difficulty and almost all of the harder lines characterised by their utter seriousness and complete lack of meaningful gear. Finally, climbing a new route means leaving your mark, you're writing a piece of history, on something that had been and will be there long after you've gone. I deny anyone to claim that this has no bearing on their thoughts when considering a new route, even if they're primarily climbing for the line or themselves. I think that is enough of that, you've done very well to read to here.

Thanks alot to Neil, Steve and the ever-patient Mike Hutton for waiting around on the day, belaying and helping me to dry the route!

In the end, when I weighed everything up this route just seemed worth it. In hindsight perhaps it wasn't. Clear cut as ever. 
Happy eejit.