Author Archives: Martin Hore

IMC Champions Cup 2015 Results

I would add a special thanks to Rich who not only set around half the routes but also prepared all the route cards and the “Rules”. And to thanks Dave Tonks and Action Outdoors for kindly donating the prizes again this year. And of course, thanks to everyone who competed, for fun or for prizes, or contributed as belayers or spectators.

The “podium” places were as follows:

Beginner Class

1st Place – Ethan Masterson –  1391 points
2nd Place – Corey Miller  – 1282 points
3rd Place – John Burns  – 892 points

Intermediate Class

1st Place –  Steve Mace – 1591 points
2nd Place – Richard Williams – 1058 points
3rd Place – Caryn Lofthouse  –  858 points

“Expert” Class

1st Place – Ali O’Connell   – 3260 points
2nd Place – Ian Thurgood – 1900 points
3rd Place – Ian Ackerley – 1543 points

Congratulations to Ethan for being our youngest ever class winner, to Steve M who somehow persuaded the “adjudicator” to allow him to enter as a Beginner but was promoted half way through the evening for being too good for the class – he would have been placed 3rd as an “Expert”! – and to Ali who showed us how to climb Copleston’s two previously un-led problems in style and gained 2000 of his points in the process.

So now it’s onward to the summer season!

A (Preposterous) Tale in Three Parts

By Guy Reid, Simon Chandler & Martin Hore – June 2005

The weather in Pembroke over this year’s May Day Bank Holiday weekend meant that
the IMC had a slightly later than usual start each day as we waited for the
overnight inclemency to be burnt back by the hoped-for sun before making any
rash decisions. However despite all precautions, and with some previous
knowledge, a rash decision was still made. Martin Hore has long felt that the
current guidebook does not paint an adequate picture of the route so within
hours of returning from our jaunt he wrote a new description (see below) that he
will be submitting; what follows that are two slightly more personal
reminiscences of . . .

Preposterous Tales, 190 feet, E2 *** (by Martin Hore)

This route enters the western-most of the two sea caves to emerge from a
prominent hole 40 feet back from the cliff edge: an unique and memorable
expedition not to be underestimated. Many parties have epics. Pitch 1 (the
daylight section) is E1 5b. The remainder may be ungradeable; E2 is proposed to
deter the unprepared. Experience of caving or mountain routes in bad conditions
may be an asset.

A fall by either leader or second from the crux on pitch 1, or from any part of
pitch 2 is likely to leave the climber hanging in space. Come prepared to
prussic! Though the route can be climbed by natural light, head-torches are
advisable for gear placement and possible benightment. The route should not be
attempted in rough seas. Start as for Quoin.

1. 80 feet 5b. Traverse horizontally right (facing in). Avoid a blank section by a short
descent then climb back up to a prominent flat handhold on the arete. Cross a
short overhanging wall on jugs and enter the apex of the cave beneath a large
thread. Chimney onwards into the cave, and arrive at a stance where the gap
beneath ones feet temporarily closes.

2. 60 feet 4c (if dry, but expect it to be wet). Bridge onwards into the cave
descending slightly until the passage opens into a huge cavern. At the very
brink step precariously across to the right (East) wall and pull left above the
void to a small square ledge. Ascend steeply to a niche, face right and cross to
the West wall. Large holds lead right and slightly down to a narrow ledge above
nothing, from where a stiff pull up around a rib gains the bottom of the exit
shaft. Good stance and belays 15 feet higher. Careful ropework is essential to
protect the second on this pitch.

3. 50 feet 4c (if dry etc…). Climb the corner, on the right where it steepens,
and emerge, relieved, into the daylight.

More Preposterous tales

By Simon Chandler

Seven us were camping at St Petrox over the May Day bank holiday weekend
for the annual IMC climbing trip to Pembrokeshire. Saturday morning started
grey and damp from the previous night’s rain, but as always Guy and I were
keen to get to the cliffs. We’d shared the journey to Wales with Martin
Hore, and had agreed to climb in a group of three with him on this first
day. We made a hurried plan to meet the others at St Govan’s, and then hustled
Martin into Guy’s car. Just as we started to pull away I was struck with a
crazy idea – Martin’s done the route before, so lets get him to show us the
way through … drum roll please … Preposterous Tales!

Two years ago Mervyn had organized the May Day trip and had travelled to
Pembrokeshire several days early. A forecast of bad weather caused the rest
of the IMC to go to the Peak District, abandoning poor Mervyn. Fortunately he
managed to team up with the Cambridge Climbing and Caving Club (the 4C’s)
and joined them for a trip through Preposterous Tales. The tale of his
adventure, involving a fall from the overhanging first pitch and the
subsequent prussiking above a raging sea, was recounted in the June 2003 IMC
. Somehow this story had inspired me, and I was about to find out
for myself what an amazingly unique and surreal experience this route could be.

Preposterous Tales starts on a ledge at sea level, traverses rightwards
above the undercut base of the cliff into a cave. It then winds maze-like
inwards before exiting through a blowhole at the top of the cliff about 30
ft back from the edge. Arriving at the cliff top the blowhole was easy to
find. From a vantage point some 40ft to the left of this it was even
possible to peer over the cliff top to see the starting ledge. So far so
good. At least we knew where to throw down the abseil rope. We geared up
and did rock-paper-scissors to decide who’d lead the first pitch – at 5b
the most technical of the three, and the scene of many prussiking
adventures. I ‘won’ so abseiled down first. I almost made the same mistake
as Mervyn two years previously and stopped at the first ledge I reached.
Just in time I realized this was too high, and scrambled down to the lower
ledge just above sea level. While setting up the first stance Guy and
Martin joined me on the ledge.

From the booming sound of the sea you could tell that around the corner to
my right was a large sea cave. A slow rising traverse, I was told, would
take me to the very apex of the hidden cave mouth, which I should enter then
set up a belay. Once around the corner we wouldn’t be able to hear each
other so we agreed on a code of tugs on the rope: one for take in, two for
slack, three for climb when ready. I also took Martin’s advice and kept the
abseil rope clipped to my harness – this would prevent a fall into the sea
if I fell at the crux. I set off on the traverse, aiming for a prominent
flat hold out on the arete, silhouetted against the sky.

At first the
traverse was easy, then I reached a blank section. I either had to go under
this, or over it. Unfortunately Martin couldn’t remember which was the
right way. I first tried going under the blank rock, but dropping lower
makes your legs go under the overhang so putting lots of weight on your
arms. I didn’t like that, so backed up and tried going over the blank
section. Nope. No gear. So it was back to plan A. A committing side-pull
move took me under the blank section, but the weight was still on my arms
and I was tiring fast. I reached the arete with its big flat hold. It was
certainly a jug, but my legs were still under the overhang so weren’t
supporting my weight. Starting to panic I managed get a nut into a vertical
crack to the right of the jug just as my arms gave out. I was dangling, but
at least I was right by the gear and didn’t have to prussik back up to the

I could now see the cave 12ft to my right. A sequence of moves on big
jugs – but with little help from the feet – would take me to an obvious
rest at the cave mouth. I started the sequence and was almost there – my
hand inches from a massive thread hole – when the abseil rope that was
still clipped to my harness went tight. It was holding me back, preventing me from getting any closer to the
rest. Again my strength was fading fast and I started to panic. Fortunately I managed
to place a solid large friend and clipped my harness straight into it. OK,
so this was aid climbing, but I needed help and in this position nobody
could see my antics. I hauled up on the friend, unclipped the abseil rope
and managed to throw a long tape loop through the thread hole. I clipped into this,
so any fear of swinging out below the overhand was
gone. Detaching myself from the friend I made a couple of moves before
jamming my head and shoulders into the cave mouth. At last the weight was
back on my feet. I turned on my headtorch. Now all I had to do was
back-and-foot my way across 15ft of wet rock above a void, with no
handholds or gear placements. Somehow this didn’t seem so bad – either because of my experience caving, or because I was so thankful to have survived the overhang.
Safe at last, I placed several belay anchors then
tugged three times on the rope …

‘IMC 2 – Preposterous Tales 1’ or ‘When is the next rope-work course?’

By Guy Reid

This is my kind of climb, I thought, as I started after Simon on the
first pitch; the day was now bright, the rock dry, and seconding I only had to
worry about ensuring Martin was protected when he followed me. I was in my
element, the sun above and the sea below, as I moved up to the long tape loop hanging from the thread hole.

Passing underneath and into the mouth of the cave I started to get a sense
that this was no ordinary climb as I performed a not-to-be-recommended ‘head
jam’, though at the time it was all that I felt was possible. Extricating myself
from that dilemma I was then presented with a route that had a vaguely
anatomical feel to it. Now I have never climbed up someone’s colon but dark,
wet, slimy and very slippery is what I would expect, and that is exactly what I
was confronted with …

Simon says ‘Back and Foot’. I say ‘You can not be serious’.

Simon says ‘Put a foot there then your hand over there then your shoulder
then your back’. I say ‘You can not be serious’.

Simon says ‘Then shuffle along, that’s back and footing’. I say ‘You can not
be serious’.

He was serious, so I put my faith in his directions and set off. It worked a
treat and though I was bloomin’ glad to be on a rope the consequences of a slip,
just like on a traverse, did not look like fun.

Joining Simon on the belay was like taking my place in a spider’s web, and
after making myself safe I sat back and watched with admiration as Simon alerted
Martin and began taking in, as the latter began his climb to join us.

I think Martin ‘enjoyed’ the same qualms as I had as he made the final moves
to join us on the belay and then he was racking up ready to set off on Pitch 2.

Simon followed on from Martin and then it was my turn.

I had heard Martin and Simon discussing the way across what had looked like,
from the belay stance, a relatively innocuous small step, but I was soon to
discover the reality.

After a few failed attempts I called up to Martin for some advice.

‘Have you found some nice undercuts?’

‘Yes,’ I reply, pleased with myself.

‘You’ve gone too high.’

Back down, back across and I have to start again. And again. And again. And
again. And aaaagggghhhhh.

And all of a sudden I’m swinging in mid-air in the middle of a huge cave;
thundering sea way below my feet, the rope above me and the sloping ledge I was
trying to get to just at the tip of my outstretched fingers.

‘Don’t panic Mr Mainwairing, don’t panic.’

Martin and Simon were out of sight and communication was very difficult. In
such a situation it is imperative to shout loudly and clearly; concise
information, each word separate.


I always carry prussic loops and have read the books; but it was dangling
100ft above the crashing waves below that I felt that a little previous indoor
practice would probably been a good idea.

Suffice to say that I’m glad I couldn’t hear Martin as I expect he was
thoroughly cursing me as I flailed around on the end of the ropes pretending I
had any idea of what I was meant to be doing; but with a mixture of prussiking
and brute strength I managed to pull myself onto the small sloping ledge just
before Simon, having climbed down a short way from the belay, leaned round and
asked if I was all right.

‘Yes, fine thanks.’ I replied, ‘I’ll be with you in a mo.’

I can’t really remember the next stretch to the belay but the guidebook
assures me that there are big holds on a steep wall.

The second belay was a bit cramped; Martin and I were on a small ledge with
Simon hanging slightly below us. Though it was my turn to lead I declined. On
this day this kind of climbing was not my metier, and it proved a good decision
as even following Martin I went off route and had to weight the rope as I made a
precarious traverse across a wet blank face.

Later that evening I was asked what my favourite part of the route was.

‘The exit.’ I answered in a flash. But that does not to tell the whole
story; it was great day out on an extraordinary route, and I would not have
missed it for the world. One day I may even consider another go.

Lob of the year 2004

IMC Roll of Honour 2004Master of Ceremonies: Martin Hore

“Ladies and gentlemen, pray silence for “Lob of the Year 2004.

“Those of you with long memories, and given to more than average sobriety, may still remember last year’s ‘Lob of the Year’ presentation. Young Mervyn Lamacraft was cruelly denied his rightful claim to the title following a very late and, if I may say so, scarcely noteworthy entry into contention by yours truly, compounded by some highly dubious decision making by one of the most biased juries ever to deliberate on behalf of the IMC.

“In revenge it falls this year to me to take on the mantel of judge, jury, chief prosecutor, private investigator and raconteur.

“My spies report that a spectacularly early entry into the 2004 ‘Lobbers Diary’ occurred on the 2nd of January. Under crisp and clear skies an assorted party of IMCers were spotted toiling up the slopes from Wasdale Head to the Shamrock face of Scafell. With crampons fixed and axes to hand, fast progress was made up the initial snow slopes. Just as the slope steepened a cry of ‘expletive deleted’ emanated from our esteemed president as his supply of insulin and assorted needles cartwheeled down the snow slope below. Fortunately, after a hasty search and rescue operation by the assembled club members, young Peter was reunited with his fix of the day and a memorable ascent to the summit of Scafell was completed without further incident.

“Barely a month later, after a swift flight from Stansted, further winter action was in prospect in the Cairngorms. The ensuing events were recorded by John Buchan in that masterpiece of classic English literature ’39 Steps to Ice Climbing’. I hope John will permit me to quote, somewhat loosely, from his abridged version which appeared in the IMC journal under the title ‘The True Story of Jacob’s Ladder and the Missing Ice Hammer’.

‘Right then the sun broke through the cloud and lit up the most stunning ice and snow covered vista of the weekend. With grins as wide as the corrie we geared up in a flash. The going was steep. Shaft plunging was the order of the day until a very ‘boney’ rock outcrop about 20 feet up was reached. Very careful pick placements were required as we were soloing for speed and it was a flippin’ long way down. The last 20 or so feet were slightly overhanging rock with a very thin plastering of ice. No way without protection. The alternate exit was a very steep mix of snow and rock, horrendously exposed. As we had no gear this was soloed as well. A stunning climb with a real sting in the tail.

‘Now all that was left was to get off the top, exhausted and with no visibility. What could possibly go wrong? Phil giving me the compass, that’s what. Luckily the sun reappeared briefly and Phil performed a fast but well-controlled glissade down the headwall of Corrie Cas. I followed, gaining speed rapidly, until my heals suddenly dug into the snow, throwing me into a series of dramatic somersaults and cartwheels. Eventually I managed to get my weight onto the axe and arrest the fall. The rest of the walk out was uneventful, until we reached the bar and I realised that in the tumble I’d lost Mike Hams’ ice hammer. I was so upset I had to drink beer.’

“March passed, April too, and no further action to report……. except, yes, a terribly minor indiscretion by your raconteur himself, taking place so far from the prying eyes of the IMC paparazzi that if it were not for his renowned honesty it would doubtless never have come to light. It’s the Easter weekend. Sundry ‘duties in law’ have drawn me across the Atlantic to Boston, and then a few hours north to an obscure bolted outcrop overlooking the village of Rumney, New Hampshire. Four bolts up, a tiny slip leads to a minuscule ‘lobette’, remarkable only for the fact that my companion, no lesser person than the president of the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, succeeds in simultaneously photographing and belaying my fall. Who says Americans can’t walk and chew gum!

“Back to a familiar haunt for the May Bank Holiday weekend – Pembrokeshire. where a gullible Mike Bayley, on his second outing of the year, is well and truly sandbagged into attempting “Chieftain” (VS 4b – going on 5a) at St Govan’s Head. A slip from the polished starting holds is the inevitable consequence, but the resulting damaged ankle and two month lay-off disqualify Mike from contention for “Lob of the Year”, which, may I remind listeners, can only be awarded for incidents in which no injury is incurred, other than to pride and reputation.

“Meanwhile, over at Mother Carey’s Kitchen, young Steve Culverhouse is doing battle with ‘Rock Idol’ one of the most unlikely lines to go at E1 anywhere in Britain, taking, as it does, a soaring corner line whose apex overhangs its base by several metres. (As an aside, Rock Idol’s companion route is named, with typical climbers’ humour, ‘Bone Idle’).

“At half-height the route steepens alarmingly. Placing a high runner, young Steve moves up left, cunningly avoiding the huge jugs on the right. Steve insists that what followed does not constitute a lob, but as yours truly was lifted off the ground, the verdict must be that weighting of the rope took place.

“And so fast-forward to the Spring Bank holiday in Langdale. Carol Fowles and Steve Gray are gearing up beneath the first pitch of Gimmer Crack. Luckily this was a warm day, for this is indeed the same Carol Fowles who, according to one of my more reliable sources, had been heard to remark earlier in the year on a cold day at Bamford Edge ‘I think I’ve picked the wrong day to wear a thong!’

“Apparently the rumours that Carol and Steve were able to make use of the fixed ropes and bivouac gear abandoned by the same pair on Gimmer Crack two years previously are entirely without foundation. This time progress is fast. Their line soon deviates to the right up Gimmer String, and then still further to the right as Steve heads off route across the traverse of Kipling Groove. He completes Kipling’s crux moves around the front of the buttress just in time to obtain a grandstand view of the next entry into the 2004 lobbing annals.

“It’s Mr Culverhouse again, (audience interjection – ‘Dr Culverhouse’) on the appropriately named ‘Spring Bank’, determined this time to put down a proper marker in this year’s lobbing stakes. He floats up the initial steep slab and fixes bomber gear at the crucial overlap. So far so good. He stretches up for a slanting flake, and up again for a shallow finger pocket. Feet skating on the lip, he falls. A second attempt follows, and a third. The outcome is the same. Thoroughly frustrated he asks to be lowered off, a manoeuvre not without incident, as he is already way out beyond 25m on a 50m rope.

“And so it falls to yours truly to complete the route. Even with a free ride to the crux it proves a tough task. ‘Spring Bank’ ultimately succumbs to a team effort, but moral victory belongs once more to the rock in the long-running contest between E2 and the senior members of the IMC.

“There now ensued a layoff in reported lobbing over the high summer months, broken only by a further episode in the ongoing disagreement between Simon Chandler and the crux move on the Left Unconquerable. He assures us he’s now got it wired for next time.

“Come September, however, there followed a veritable spate of lobbing activity.

“First on the scene is Mervyn, back in full swing and up to his old tricks after an enforced early season layoff. The Crag is Black Rocks, the route ‘Birch Tree Variant’, and the lob fairly standard fare for one of our most seasoned exponents of the art.

“Next, however, something altogether more spectacular. The venue is again the Unconquerables at Stanage. The challenge on this occasion is the right hand crack, one of the most recognisable and photogenic climbs in Britain. The challenger, our very own president, Mr Peter Krug. I’m reliably informed that what followed developed into an adversarial contest of truly epic proportions, best described as ‘The Unprintable versus the Unconquerable’. According to my source, the lobs were many and spectacular, with air time accompanied by wild flapping of arms in a vain attempt to maintain altitude. Truly, let it be recorded, our man does not give up easily. Top marks for determination, technical merit and artistic impression.

“Finally, September saw a series of attempts to break into parts of the grading system never before visited by members of the IMC. Seldom far from the lobbing action since his introduction to climbing a mere four years ago, the chief protagonist was, of course, Mr Chris Harbottle. Much of the action took place under the cover of darkness, or in the small hours of the morning, so verification is hard to come by, but evidence of airtime was produced in the form of a mangled Friend 6. Rumours surfaced of attempts at E4, even E5, but allegedly the most spectacular lob took place on a mere E2, none other than the scene of last year’s winning entry, Regent Street at Millstone. Apparently the ascent was almost complete when gale force winds intervened (this man climbs in all conditions). I understand I have to be particularly careful with the phraseology at this point, but I believe a certain section of the club would appreciate confirmation that young Chris was indeed …… (the next bit is censored as unsuitable for reproduction in a family publication, ed.)

“And so through October and November – no further lobbing. Surely the diary can be closed, but no. With the verdict virtually decided, Simon Chandler re-enters the fray on a crisp December Sunday at Stanage, with a final fling on Little Flake Crack. Only an adroit ducking of the head at the vital moment saves yours truly from the scars of an aerial collision with the flying Chandler.

“But now, finally, to the verdict of the jury.

“First a new departure for the IMC, an inaugural ‘lifetime achievement award’.

“A strong contender earlier in the year was young Mervyn Lamacraft who for a short while faced the possibility that he might have made his last entry into the lobbing hall of fame. However, as we have heard, he has since “bounced back” and with good fortune has many lifetimes of achievement still ahead.

“So this year’s lifetime achievement award goes to a long standing club member who is sadly not with us tonight. Someone who has made his mark by serving for many years on the committee, by establishing the first club website, and by probably devoting more time to coaching beginners and newcomers into our sport than any other club member. He has now hung up his rock-boots, and we wish him well with his new wife and his narrow-boat. This year’s lifetime achievement award goes, of course, to that veritable legend on his own gear-loops, Mr Keith Lodge.

“And so to the Lob of the Year Awards themselves. This year the jury has awarded gold, silver and bronze medals, which I shall announce in reverse order.

“In third place, the lob of the year bronze medal is awarded posthumously to Mike Hams…….(that must be wrong….turns sheet over). Sorry, the lob of the year bronze medal is awarded posthumously to Mike Hams’ ice hammer, for it’s irreplaceable role in the saga of ‘Jacob’s Ladder and the missing ice hammer’.

“In second place, the lob of the year silver medal is awarded to the young climber who has who has made all the rest of us feel a little older this year with his exploits in the E grades, culminating with his experience at the top of Regent Street.

“And the winner, the gold medal for Lob of the Year 2004, goes to……..(oh sweet revenge!)……for the entertainment provided to those privileged to witness his attempts at the Right Unconquerable, and in appreciation for his work guiding the club over the last two years, the winner, and Lob of the Year 2004, is our dear and great leader, our esteemed president for life, Mr Peter Krug.”

The presentation followed, a photomontage of Pete on ‘Right Unconquerable’, photos courtesy of Caroline Goldsworthy.

Falling off less often


Anyone reading what follows who was present at Millstone recently, or
heard about certain exploits through the club grapevine, will realise
that it was written earlier in the summer. However, I’ve decided to
leave it basically unchanged, and add a short postscript. (I should
also add that the first paragraph is not a reference to Martin S’s
fine efforts on Agony Crack – it too was written beforehand and wasn’t
a reference to any particular events).

Do you recognise the following scenario? You’ve anchored yourself at
the top of a pitch and are bringing up your (often, in my case,
slightly heavier) second. The top section is vertical, your partner
tires, and (expletive deleted) he or she is off. It’s at this point
you realise that (i) a dead weight on the end of the rope is a heavy
weight, (ii) you weren’t tied quite as tightly to the anchors as you
thought, (iii) belaying with the rope over your thigh wasn’t such a
bright idea, (iv) perhaps you should have backed up the belay with
another anchor point or three, and (v) “Just hold me there while I
take a rest” are not the words you most want to hear at that moment.

Somebody suggested recently that I might be persuaded to write a
newsletter article or two on safety points in climbing. My main
qualification, I guess, apart from professional interest, is that I’ve
built up rather more climbing experience than most, though it could be
that I’ve just been making the same mistakes as everybody else for
rather longer. This offering is entitled “Energy absorption in nylon
fibres, stress fractures in sedimentary and igneous rock formations,
and Gaussian probability theory”. No, just kidding. As you can see
above, it’s actually called “Falling off less often”.

If you’ve been in the situation I described above you’ll know how it
feels, particularly the nagging thought in the back of your mind:
“Just how good are those anchors?”. If you’ve not been there, you may
wonder what the fuss is about. The fact is that most of the time we’re
insulated from the full forces generated if our partner falls. When
belaying a leader, or a climber top-roping on the climbing wall, for
example, there’s normally a lot of friction in the system, through
karabiners, over rock edges etc, and there’s also our own weight to
act as a counterbalance should the climber fall. Unlike in the
situation above, the belayer doesn’t experience anything like the full
force of a fall, but the anchor or protection point which actually
arrests the fall certainly does. In fact, the force exerted on the
anchors when holding a second from above is just about the minimum
that the anchors can experience in a fall. It’s twice as great if
you’re belaying from the bottom, and potentially many times as great
in a leader fall.

Of course the gear we use these days is always strong enough for the
job (as long as we’re not relying on micro wires, rusty in-situ pegs
or 20 year old ropes). But is the rock itself strong enough? Have we
placed that Friend correctly (and is it still where we put it)? Have
we tied on properly? Is the rope running clear of sharp edges? Most of
the time it is, and we have. Occasionally it isn’t or we haven’t.

Not that this will necessarily result in disaster. Normally two things
have to happen together to cause an accident. There has to be a
serious fault in the system (anchor points or equipment) and the
climber has to fall. If the system is sound and the climber falls
then, distance above gear and/or deck permitting, the team should
emerge unscathed. If the system is poor but the climber doesn’t fall,
then the team will live happily on, probably none the wiser.

This is where the probability theory bit comes in, with apologies to
any science and computer buffs, racing tipsters and insurance types
who know more than I do about this already. If the chance of the
system failing is, say, once in a thousand climbs and the chance of a
climber falling is, say, once in a hundred climbs, then the chance of
both happening together is only once in a hundred-thousand climbs.
These figures are just hypothetical, of course, but I still reckon
this makes climbing safer than driving to the crag.

The problem with the above, however, is the assumption about the
chance of the climber falling. If we practice sound belaying
techniques, place lots of protection, always back up our anchors and
look after our gear, the odds are quite strongly against setting up a
system which will fail catastrophically on any given climb. Falling
off, however, is a different matter. Any weighting of the gear
(including abseiling, lowering off or ‘resting’, as leader or second)
technically counts as ‘falling off’ in this context, though obviously
full frontal ‘lobbing’ loads the system more heavily. The IMC has a
rather romantic attachment to lobbing (Lob of the Year Awards etc),
and the frequency of ‘falling off’ on an average club weekend is
certainly higher than the once per hundred climbs assumed above.

The message is becoming clear, I suspect. The more often we fall, the
greater the risks. If we fall off every time we climb, the chance of a
serious mishap is equal to the chance that the system will fail to
hold us. Once in a thousand climbs is probably not a bad estimate for
this but I, for one, was hoping to do rather more than a thousand
climbs in my climbing career. (I’m sure I’ve already done so by some
margin). I accept this is a little simplistic. Some types of anchor
(the lower-offs on the climbing wall for example) are a lot more
reliable than others. We normally give some thought to how good our
anchors are before deciding whether it’s ‘safe’ to risk falling off.
However, there’s little doubt that the easiest way stack the odds in
our favour and make our climbing safer (discounting giving up
completely of course) is to fall off less often. I’m not suggesting we
abandon ‘falling off’ completely. Pushing our standard occasionally,
whether as leader or second, is fairly essential if we wish to improve
our grade. A little practice in holding falls is also good for all of
us, particularly beginners, as is learning to trust the equipment. The
odd ‘lob’ is certainly part of the game (I can vouch for the fact that
one decent lob is sufficient to win the LOTY Award). It’s all a
question of degree, and in particular, perhaps, not spending too great
a proportion of our climbing time attempting routes that are likely to
prove too difficult and result in higher than average rates of
‘falling off’.

Well, now I’ve put pen to paper, I ought to hold up the mirror and see
how I measure up myself. Have I ever pushed my standards by attempting
a lead that’s likely to prove too hard??? Have I ever persuaded
someone else to follow (or lead) a route that’s probably a little
beyond them??? Perish the thought !. Perhaps, on reflection, I
might do it a little less often in future.

In fact, if I can avoid lobbing for the next few months, I might just
consider putting myself up for the 2003 inaugural IMC ‘Falling of Less
Often’ or ‘FOLO’ Award.


As hinted at in the preamble above, since writing this I’ve been
forced to admit, not for the first time, that I hit my climbing
ceiling at around E2. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I nearly
managed to hit the floor as well. I now seem to have become (rather
undeservedly perhaps) a candidate for my second ‘Lob of The Year’
award – any hopes of a ‘FOLO’ award have definitely evaporated.
Phrases such as “Humble pie” and “Hostage to fortune” spring readily
to mind…