Author Archives: Steve Culverhouse

Sicily Hot Rock trip – March 2014

The IMC March hot rock trip went off virtually without a hitch, last week. 9 Intrepid IMCers braved the wild Mediterranean March climate and even wilder rock faces to return triumphant, if not very bronzed.

It wasn’t a bad spot to stay in – this is a view from the Col above our rented house

The rock is pretty sharp though…


Ali powers his way up a 6c

Karen cranking in sector Bunker

Tom in sector Bunker

Robert styling his way up a 5c+


Although the climbing was excellent, the food & drink wasn’t far behind. John & Sylwia came over one evening for dinner, meanwhile Robert admires possibly his greatest cocktail creation yet, a pear juice & mandarin liqueur combo (that still needs a name…)

Bluff your way in climbing

Part zero of the IMC essential skills series

It’s often been said that being a beginner climber is tough – you’ve got no credibility, no-one wants to climb with you, and none of the IMC cliques will let you in and invite you down the pub. Of course it’s totally unfair as the likelihood is that you can burn off 90% of the club members at the wall and you’re a star in the making, so here’s my solution to the problem….

A little knowledge goes a long way if you’re careful how you use it, so here’s a quick guide to some techniques for impressing the gullible in the club (don’t worry, there’s plenty of us), establishing almost instant cred and impressing all and sundry with your levels of competence and experience.

Firstly pick your victim – there’s only one real rule here: avoid Martin Hore. All the bluffing techniques I’m about to impart are likely to fail in the face of many years’ experience on the rock and a photographic memory – that and the fact that he’s basically an ex-teacher and everyone knows that they’ve got a sixth sense for detecting little white lies….


It’s important to know at least a handful of crags but if you choose carefully you really need only to memorise half a dozen key points and you can pass as someone with years of experience.

The first thing to do is to establish your ‘specialty crag’ –Just like on Mastermind this is the one you’ll claim to be an ‘expert’ on and you’ll have to do a tiny bit of homework for this. Steal a guidebook from some unsuspecting member whilst they’re not looking and flick through the crag guide looking for key words such as ‘industrial’, ‘unpopular’ – basically you’re looking for something small, esoteric (a handy term to remember), and preferably falling down. Stars are a real-no-no here – no more than 2 on the whole crag. You’re looking for somewhere that no one has been to or would ever want to go to in a million years. Your line will be that you picked it because you were recommended it by a friend or perhaps by an article on the Internet.

Classic choices would be Stannington Ruffs or something from the ‘connoisseurs crags’ section of the Yorkshire guidebook. Get a rough idea of where it is – phrases like ‘about 20 miles West of Sheffield’ or ‘Just East of Manchester’ are suitably vague for peak district crags. If your memory is excellent you can then memorise half a dozen routes that you can claim to have done but there’s really no need as I shall shortly explain.

In addition to your specialty crag it’s worth being able to bluff your way in one or two more popular ones. You don’t need much here – the trick with these crags is to choose those that everyone’s been to and get the victim talking about routes they’ve done rather than the ones you’ve invented – really this is like taking candy from a baby as all climbers are suckers for talking about their own routes and just a few encouraging noises and useful phrases can keep the attention off the details of your bluff. The obvious choice here is Stanage (pr. Stannidge). Phrases like ‘That’s at the popular end isn’t it?’ and ‘I hear that’s tough for the grade’ will be your stock in trade here to keep the conversation flowing.


When choosing routes to have claimed to have done, check the guidebook and always pick routes in the less popular areas of the crag. Selecting those with the words ‘traditional’, ‘squirm’ or ‘thrutch’ in the description will reduce the chances of anyone having done them. As a bonus you can claim to be climbing in the footsteps of the climbing forefathers – Don’t lay it on too thick or you’ll get pointed at one of this sort of route when you get out on the rock with words
like ‘you like this sort of thing, off you go and I’ll see you at the top to help with the belay’. You don’t want that.

As I mentioned, you don’t actually have to memorise any actual routes at all. Climbers are a pretty unimaginative lot, and never more so than when naming routes. So here’s a handy crib table that should help out when lost for the name of a route you can claim to have done.

Puttrell’s Chimney Variant
Green Crack Direct
Leaning Gully Indirect
Straight Route Eliminate
Chockstone buttress
Heather wall

Don’t get too cocky here. Claiming to have done ‘Turquoise zigzag wall indirect’ is likely to cause raised eyebrows.

So there you are: instant crag-cred without the hard work.

Cornwall Easter 2009

Steve’s account of the Official IMC Easter trip

Steve Culverhouse – April 2009

For Easter 2009 a team of 9 keen folk turned up in the middle of the night just a
few miles from Lands End and pitched up next to the hordes of Surrey University
climbing Club with a forecast of mixed sunshine and showers in prospect.

Friday saw most of team IMC visit the cliffs of Bosigran to tick such a list of
classic HSs & VSs as Doorpost, Little Brown Jug, Anvil Chorus and, from the team
who may not have read the guidebook as well as they should, something now call
‘Anvilberg’. Although the day started chilly, the scene was set for the rest of
the next few days as the sun came out and folk were soon moulting Buffaloes and
fleeces as if they’d gone out of fashion (oh hang on, maybe they already
have…). The sun was to continue until the end of Sunday, and very welcome it
was too.

For Saturday most of us went to Chair Ladder to tick some more classics such as
Terrier’s tooth, South Face direct, Bishop’s Arête & Diocese (a good lead from
Joe on the tricky 1st pitch).

Sunday was spent back close to Chair Ladder at a small crag called Fox Promontory
which is well worth a visit at the HS & VS grade. Between us we pretty much
climbed out the whole crag. Good leads from Joe – on a hideous HS going on VS
off-width and Guy on a VS-going-on-E1 horror next door. The day finished off on
a high note though with team keen (Martin & Guy) leaving it just a little too
late for their chosen last route of the day. Steve had topped out on the route a
few minutes earlier and Joe was 3m off the ground when the combination of a
rising tide and a lively sea had it’s inevitable effect… Undaunted however Guy
& Martin retreated to safer ground and finished the day off in style with a new
route – is there a name yet chaps?

Ian and Christina had made an even earlier retreat from Fox and wisely packed up
and left on the Sunday leaving the rest of us to wake up to blustery showers and
grey skies on Monday. We all made an early exit and by the time we reached
Exeter the skies were cloudless and blue again so Martin & Guy made it to
Cheddar for a couple of routes (6b I hear!) and Joe & Steve did a tour of Avon
Gorge in Bristol. After an uninspiring and rather scary start (in hindsight, the
route name – Nightmare – should have been a clue) they finished up on Giant’s
Cave Buttress. This route is ideal for show-offs or publicity seekers as the
last, crux, pitch goes up within 6m of the tourists on viewing platform at the
eponymous cave and the top belay (off a venerable Victorian iron fence) is
perfectly placed for more gawping (“Mummy, I think that man’s stuck”).

A top trip!

Early Snow in Mid Wales

A December IMC trip finds winter conditions against all expectation

Steve Culverhouse – December 2008

Despite Johnboy’s minor car issues (apparently the Pug became a low-rider when the suspension went bang on Friday morning), we met up successfully at Bury and made it to the very plush bunkhouse (Duvets, en-suite facilities!) in time for last orders in the Slaughtered Lamb Cross Foxes (though why they were cross was never clear).

After a brief guidebook discussion the whole party decided on Cyfrwy Arête on Cader Idris and by 8.30(!) we were on our way. An hour or so pull up the hillside leads to the foot of the Arête which is a striking feature on the horizon. Johnboy and Martin leapt into the lead and led us up 6 pitches and then a section of moving together to reach the summit plateau. A good route all the way including one “that can’t be Diff!” pitch which turned out to be jugs all the way (steep though!). The front parties made a quick nip to the summit and met up with the others to make the descent back down the tourist path. Martin, with shoulder only just recovering was having more trouble on the descent than the ascent and took a couple of tumbles – but thankfully no re-dislocations. A great day out with blue skies all day.

After a jolly evening in the bunkhouse Martin talked us into a look at winter climbing on Snowdon on the grounds that there was snow lying above 800m on Cader. I have to admit to being a bit dubious and thinking that if it was in nick then it would be heaving. Anyway, an even earlier start was decided on and by 7.30 we were out of the bunkhouse and on our way, with the temperature showing as -4.

We route-marched our way up the Miners’ track to the base of the NE face in increasingly snowy conditions and it became clear that the whole face was ‘in’ and in excellent nick. With Martin in the lead we all romped up the classic Central Trinity (I/II) in classic IMC fashion (i.e. with stacks of rock gear, ice gear and ropes, all left in the rucksacks for extra training) topping out just 50m away from the summit. There was only one other person on the route too (and he was behind us). A quick, and much appreciated, lunch break in the lee of the new caff and the descent was being discussed. Johnboy, Ian and I were immediately keen on Crib Goch whilst the others were for taking the Pyg track back. Eddie, Andy & Martin agreed that they were OK to wait for us at the car park whilst we did Crib Goch so we rapidly packed up and headed off as quick as we could. Crib Goch was in fantastic winter condition and Ian, showing no sign it was his first outing in crampons, led us across the ridge at a gallop and we made it back to Pen y Pass for a cuppa only a few minutes behind the others. An absolutely brilliant day out!

On Central Trinity, Snowdon

The Scottish for fun

Trip report 3rd March 2008

Andy and I set off at 7.00pm on Wednesday evening for the usual overnighter, hummed and hawed our way up the A1 and decided on starting on one of the buttress routes on Aonach Mor West face since it would be low avalanche risk.

By 5am we’d made it to the Gondola car park in the clag and with regular rain showers coming down the original motivation levels for a pre-dawn start had weakened to the point that we decided that an hour’s kip would be in order. Six o’clock was even claggier and since the first Gondola was only two hours away we agreed there was hardly any benefit in walking up. By 7.30 though, the sun was up and the excuses had run out and we were gearing up in the car park with a handful of keen skiers and climbers.

At £1 per minute the cable car isn’t the cheapest option but the value is certainly excellent compared with 500m of laden uphill walking and soon there was nothing for it but to shoulder the packs and hit the hillside. An hour or so later we were at the head of the Allt Daim looking up at the cliffs of Aonach Mor and comparing them with the rather hopeless topo. Thankfully there was some local help and we eventually decided that a featureless buttress matched the description of Western Rib (** III) and made the final 150m slog to the base of the route. We geared up at the top of a gentle snow slope after kicking a small ledge – but not until Andy had practised his ice axe arrest after stepping back off our little ledge to eye up the route.

Andy soloing at the start of Western Rib
Andy soloing at the start of Western Rib
(click on any image to view in Flickr)

The start looked fine I thought, so while Andy geared up I decided on a quick ‘look see’ and started off up the blunt rib – naturally I immediately got committed and a few exciting minutes were had scrabbling up disintegrating turf before safer ground was reached. Since both the ropes were down with Andy there was little to be done but to call down ‘The start’s fine’ and rely on Andy’s sense of self-preservation.

Rather chastened, ropes were tied in and the rest of the route went moving together. Three to four hours of steady work and several ‘I-think-we’ve-done-the-hard-bit-now’s later we popped out, with some relief, right by the summit cairn as the effects of the previous night were beginning to catch up with us. Thankfully the navigation off the top is straightforward, basically head due North until you hit the ski tows, but still we ended up 150m off course after we saw another team topping out on one of the other buttresses – a brief chat, ‘Hi guys. What have you done?’ ‘Hi, Stirling Bridge… so long’ and they were off at what appeared to be a sprint. ‘I think that was Neil Gresham’ says Andy and sure enough he later discovered it was indeed – they’d obviously been having an easy day on a VI, 7.

The forecast for Friday was utterly dire and after Wednesday night’s drive we needed no other excuses for a lie-in and a late start at Fraoch lodge. A leisurely breakfast staring out at the lowering clouds and rain led to the obvious choice of spying out the attractions of Aviemore. We even had the ideal excuse for a visit to the gear shops as Andy had managed to drop his belay device the day before. So the morning was spent very pleasantly touring the gear shops and the Cairngorm Mountain Sports Cafe, lightening our wallets somewhat.

Andy, the boss man at Fraoch lodge, had suggested that we might like a day’s rock climbing and had suggested that we pick up the NE outcrop guide and head off to the East coast and a crag called Cummingston; ‘it’s in the rain shadow – it’ll be dry’, he says. A quick look in the guide and it’s clear that the easiest thing at the crag is a lone VS and then a glance at the driving rain outside the tea shop window and the decision was made. Aviemore indoor wall it was

Saturday was forecast to start dreich and windy then clear up during the day so another lazy start was on the cards; but as soon as we woke at eight with the sun gleaming from a blue sky we realised we should crack on. After a quick breakfast we were on our way to the Cairngorm car park where normal Scottish service was soon resumed as snow showers hit us from an overcast sky – ah well, the forecast was still for an improvement. After Thursday’s success on grade III the plan was to push the boat out with a IV, 4 in Coire Lochain called Andromeda, a classic of the crag. By the time we reached the Coire though several other teams were ahead of us heading for the area of our route and, to the left, the obvious slot of The Vent, a grade II and the scene of a recent IMC team’s minor epic involving a cornice collapse.

By the time we reached the bottom of the route it was clear that the late start had cost us the route but possibly saved our pride as we saw a team ahead puffing, panting and swearing their way up Andromeda, the leader taking well over an hour on the 1st pitch in the end. Luckily though Milky Way, a starred Grade III, was free, and soon Andy was galloping off up the snowy gully that was the start of the route. At the top of the snow the rope slowed somewhat as gear was placed and the crux contemplated. A confident pull, a knee up and Andy was over and the rope was moving steadily again. As Andy led onwards I spent my time excavating a larger and larger ledge as a way of keeping warm in the face of the ever-present spindrift that was unusually blowing up the crag in the North Wind.

Andy on the crux of Milky Way
Andy on the crux of Milky Way

As soon as the rope went tight I was glad to be on my way and soon reached the pair of dodgy ice screws protecting the crux and emulated Andy’s technique to surmount the short corner. Then it was a set of rocky ledges covered in powdery snow that provided insecure axe and crampon placements that led to the belay – with just 2 bits of gear in 55m, a damn good lead!

A very icy Andy greeted me at the belay and no time was lost in swapping the gear and a quick 20m solo up the final gully led to the top and relief for Andy from the perpetual spindrift.

Amazingly, the weather forecast was nearly spot on and the walk back over the plateau was clear and we had good views of the nearby peaks of Braeriach, the Lochnagar peaks and the impressive-looking Shelter Stone crag which may be a venue for later trips.

Four go mad in the Dolomites (& Ortler Alps)

The start was from Martin’s house in Ipswich on a grey Thursday afternoon where (under strict orders of no boxes or crates) Steve Gray’s C5 was loaded to the gunwales with all the paraphernalia for a 6pm start. Twenty-four hours later a very tired team pulled into the campsite at Madonna Di Campiglio whacked up the tents and cracked the first beer. In the intervening 1200 miles the main excitement had been the destruction of the nearside wing mirror with an impressively load bang whilst passing the French equivalent of road cones at 70mph – thankfully the car’s owner was driving at the time! Gaffer tape and a vanity mirror got us as far as the Citroen garage at Innsbruck

The following day we decided to start on the Via del Bocchette Alta (or Bugatti alta as Martin insisted on calling it), the classic via ferrata (Iron way) of the Brenta that we planned to do in two days. That afternoon after much faffing and lunch-shopping we headed up the Groste cable car (bliss!) and headed off for a short via ferrata to get us in the swing of things before heading back to the Graffer hut for the evening. A good meal, another beer and a bunkroom to ourselves felt pretty luxurious by alpine standards and we had a relatively relaxed 6am start to look forward to as well. The following day we were out by 6.30 and heading up to the ridge where the Bocchette Alta starts. Initially it’s over ugly ski-developed land but soon we were on an amazing limestone pavement and were being overhauled by a fit Swiss party. At the ridge we started to see cables on the harder sections but the tricky terrain is about Grade 1 or 2 scrambling and you can avoid the cables if you like. Three and a half hours later and we descended rickety ladders to the first col – the not-very-Italian-sounding Bocca Del Tuckett – and eyed up the climb to the day’s high point. We slogged to the top via a series of short ladders with a lunch break halfway and soon we had the plateaux in view where our destination – the Alimonta hut – is sited. So far it had been a lot of walking with a little scrambling and a few ladders, but the next two hours were a series of steep and exposed descents and ascents on ladders in amazing terrain.

via ferrata
Via Ferrata (click on any image to view in Flickr)

It was with some relief that we eventually spied the hut around 4pm.
Steve Gray nipped inside with the kitty and soon returned heavily loaded and with a large grin on his face – a ‘birra grande’ turned out to be a full litre – but we weren’t complaining.

4 having a beer
4 having a beer

Another fantastic hut with a menu, comfy bunks and copious beer meant the 6am start wasn’t too onerous the next day and we set off back to the col we’d left the previous day and then up a series of ladders. This section was the most spectacular of the trip so far with narrow ledges, rickety wooden walkways, huge drops and views of the big limestone spires and faces, all well-protected with steel cables. 10.00am saw us at the end of the Bochette Alte and all we had to do was get to the Groste cable car back at the start of the route. Thankfully there was an ‘easy’ way back via a lower-level path but still it was a pretty shattered crew who got back to the tents at 6.00 that evening.

The call was for a day off so we headed off for the fleshpots of Trento (surely the underwear capital of the area given the number of such shops) before Martin started talking us into the next objective – the Fehrmann route on a limestone spire called the Campanile Basso.

Steve C with The Campanile Basso behind
Steve C with The Campanile Basso behind

Martin sagely kept quiet about some of the details of the route, sticking to the line that it was a classic and that he’d done it before without any trouble. It was only after the plan was agreed that it transpired that we had signed up to 13 pitches of up to VS and an abseil descent. The Fehrmann finishes 4/5ths of the way up the Basso and, if you’re quick, you can continue up the ‘easy route’ to the top. We reckoned we’d need to finish the Fehrmann by 1.30 to give us time to get to the top and back down for dinner.

The start of the Fehrmann at 7am in the mist

The day didn’t start too well when we followed a knowledgeable-looking Italian team in the fog to completely the wrong place – they were back down before we’d left the ground though and soon we, along with the Italians and a team of four Germans in their 60s, were at the proper start and the Italians disappeared upwards. We got going too, moving as fast as we could and placing what we thought was minimum gear. The Italians and Germans though placed virtually nothing, typically just clipping three pegs on a 40m pitch and soon the Italians were out of sight ahead and all the Germans had overtaken us. 1.30 was now looking optimistic and a small HVS (at least that’s my story) diversion didn’t help. Ultimately we all got to the ledge by 4.30 to see the racing German pensioners descending off the summit above us. Four abseils later we were back on the Bochette Alta, the last half-mile of which constitutes the start of the descent route. A thirty-minute gallop down the moraine and we made the hut five minutes before dinner finished at 8.00 – a memorable day out and at least we beat the Germans back to the hut!

Steve, Carol & Martin 12 pitches up on the Fehrmann
Steve, Carol & Martin 12 pitches up on the Fehrmann

Having warmed up in the Dolomites, the decision was made to head to higher things and, after much faffage, we decided on the Ortler Alps just 150k or so North of the Dollies. After seven hours of driving over three passes, some very narrow roads, more hairpin bends than you can shake a stick at and huge numbers of mad motorcyclists and fit pedal-cyclists we ended up at Trafoi just outside the National park area of Sulden – where hotels are permitted (and rich tourists!) but camping clearly constitutes a danger to the National park – Grr.

We headed up the next day to the Dusseldorfer hut which, according to our guidebooks, sat near the foot of a set of glaciers running down from the Hohe Angelus and the Vertainspitze, both around 3500m. Sadly, global warming had done its thing and both glaciers had virtually disappeared to the particular disappointment of those in the team who had bought new crampons and an axe. Still, we were up at 5 the next morning and set off for the Hohe Angelus via the newly exposed rocky ridge and then, on a point of principle, onto the remaining snow and ice to the top. At 9am we were on the top and then it was down onto a huge dry glacier on the far side, clearly melting fast. Dropping the sacks at a col we nipped up the Vertainspitze too before a consultation of the map revealed we had 1000m of descent to make to get back to the chairlift home. With much groaning of knees we slogged downwards over hideous chossy moraine and it was a very relieved team who sat down at the lift station. Here some confusion was caused by the waiter being under the impression that we would like four bears – you’d have thought these dashed foreigners would understand their own language wouldn’t you?

We did a bit of cragging at a very chossy little crag on the Tuesday where we watched a local guide teach belaying techniques that would give Libby Peters a heart attack, and then on the Wednesday went to Bolzano where we took in the Museum where they have ‘Otzi the Iceman’ – well worth a visit.

The plan was then to go back up to a hut and do the big peak in the area, the Ortler, but 2 days of solid rain and a poor forecast decided us on an escape to drier weather cragging in France. Sadly, by the time we got to Dijon it had been raining all day there too and showed no sign of letting up – the restaurant for the evening even had a fire burning in the hearth. The forecast deteriorated further overnight so finally the decision was made to run for home. All in all though a good trip with, for me, the highlights being the fantastic rock and scenery of the Dolomites.

Gypsy – A tale of grade-pushing at the IMC Pembroke weekend (at Swanage)

By Wednesday morning the forecast for the weekend was getting worse and worse, the forecast for Pembroke being particularly bad, and nervous emails were flying backwards and forwards. By Wednesday evening things had got so serious that people were actually talking to each other on the phone. Eventually Guy and I snuck off on Thursday night on the promise of good weather for the Friday at least. Halfway around the M25 and a final decision still hadn’t been made on whether to come off at the M4 for Pembroke (as they say, “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure”). Finally a call to the Ipswich weather service made our minds up and soon we were on the M3 heading to Swanage where the forecast was for dry weather all weekend.

Typical Swanage steepness
Typical Swanage steepness (click on any image to view in Flickr)

Now, Swanage was an interesting choice for both Guy and me as we both had a little “history” with the place. Guy in particular hadn’t been back since a big fall had put paid to most of last year’s climbing season. My memories were much better; Swanage is one of my favourite places to climb but, despite several very good trips, I still had some unfinished business.

The Way In
The Way In

A year ago I had been there on an early-season trip with Craig and we had decided to finish off our first day with something memorable; and in that I think I can fairly say we succeeded admirably. The aim was to do Gypsy, a *** classic E2 at Boulder Ruckle with 2 pitches of 5b and that worrying RockFax pumpy arm symbol. Now as some of you will know E2 has been a bit of a mission for me for several years, my previous experience involving either falling off or subsequently finding that the guidebooks have downgraded the route to E1. So, at 3.30 that Saturday it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I looked up pitch 1 at the overhanging start (and the steep middle section and the vertical final section). Just over an hour later, completely spent, I had just enough energy to claw my way over the finishing jugs on the first pitch and let out whoop after what felt like the hardest lead I’d ever done, complete with copious swearing, up-ing and down-ing, not to mention a little gibbering thrown in for good measure. By 5.30 Craig had followed up making leader-pleasing noises and had led off across the initial traverse on pitch 2 and was disappearing over an overhang. Time ticked by but given my shenanigans on pitch 1 I could hardly complain that Craig was going too slowly. Eventually though a yell came from above – ‘it’s too hard and there’s no gear’ and the comedy really started.

Now, the sensible option would have been to lower Craig off to the halfway break, reverse the traverse and then swap ropes on the belay. Far too simple of course, and so another half an hour later I had climbed up to Craig’s awkward hanging belay at his high point and was attempting various gyrations to clamber over his head and get to grips with the crux. It was at least 7.00 by now and the combination of a previous hard lead and pub opening time is enough to sap the will of nearly any leader. So that’s how it was that half an hour later we had jacked it in, abbed off and were standing back at the bottom of Boulder Ruckle with the sun setting, eyeing 40m of abseil rope that was our way out to civilisation.

A quick prussik and we’ll be out we decided, having temporarily lost our taste for Swanage limestone. Now I’d forgotten how strenuous (& slow) prussiking is so _ of the way up I stopped for a chat with some friendly students who were finishing an evening’s climbing with a quick E3. ‘Ah yes, Gypsy’ said one, ‘Tough second pitch eh?, crux of the route…’. We eventually packed up in the dark, long after the students had finished but at least in the end we made it to the pub before closing time.

Lightning Wall
Steve C warming up on Lightning Wall before the ‘main event’

A year later and I am standing at the bottom of the route again. I’ve been for a pee three times, so I am as light as I am going to get; this time it was 2.00 (I’ve learnt, see) and Guy is on the sharp end for pitch 1. That’s me just left with the crux then…. So, with phrases like ‘nothing ventured…’ and ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ on our lips Guy sets off on the 1st pitch and cruises steadily to the belay point in the break, bringing to mind again the old suspicions that he has a secret source of monkey gland (or perhaps Gecko gland?) extract stashed at the pharmacy – very impressive.

Now I’ve recently got a bit more cautious about repeating routes, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said to myself, “it’ll be easy, you’ve done it before and you’re climbing much better now” only to scrape to the top by what feels like the skin of my teeth. So this time with my heart in my mouth, I set off to follow, hoping that I don’t embarrass myself on the 1st pitch. However, with the advantage of reassuring toprope and previous experience the pitch goes pretty smoothly and, amazingly, I reached the belay quite fresh.

A quick swap of gear and then it’s my turn on the sharp end. A few feet of traverse leaning out under an overhang, clip a rusty old peg from a reasonable jug, power up, feet on the lip of the overhang, reach up again; bugger, it’s not a jug, pull anyway and phew, I’m resting in a niche, 1st obstacle overcome. OK, so that was the easy bit, not far above is where Craig got stuck and, somewhere in the next 50 ft, the crux. So it’s up again and in with some gear until I’m contemplating gently overhanging terrain without any obvious gear, handholds or footholds – Hmmm. 30 minutes later the 1 gear placement at my waist has multiplied to 3, all within 4 inches, but I’ve still not worked out the move or found any higher gear. Suddenly I spot what looks to be a little ledge about 6 inches wide wayyyy up on the left, it looks a little polished and I can’t tell if it’s a jug or a sloper but it’s the only thing in sight; and level with it is a crack that should take gear too – result! Another mere 15 minutes and I’ve got a number 5 halfway in the crack and the excuses are running out.

OK, so it’s grab the solid sidepull, feet up, feet up again (best not to let my mind dwell on what), reaaaach for the ledge, not a jug, but it’ll do; uncurl the left foot onto a tiny spike, the right foot pops, hold the balance, match hands, rock over and up on the left foot and, phew, I’m in balance. But it’s not over yet. Right foot up high on that little ledge, another rockover and, oh yes! It is a jug. A number 9 nut later and I’m feeling much happier and those first dangerous thoughts of ‘bloody hell, it might be in the bag’ start to intrude. Still, it’s plumb vertical at this point and, jug or not, it’s not a rest so onwards and upwards. A blind reach round the corner and a good hold is revealed and I pull round rightwards into another overhang-capped, bottomless groove with a lot of air below my feet. I move up the groove to the overhang, reach up strenuously over the lip and … more jugs! A final welly up over the roof and it’s done – Result!! So there it is, a very pleased leader sitting in the sun at the top of the route. So was the 2nd pitch harder? – Well, no not really we both decided, so some of that fear was for nothing but it’s still one hell of a route!

I’d have been happy to call it a day with that but, as they say, ‘Needs must when Guy drives’ and I was chivvied down again for Guy to lead Elysium (E1) to finish the day’s climbing. All in all, I felt it was a well deserved few pints in the Kings Arms that evening!

E2 leader
E2 leader Steve C coils his rope

So, with an E2 ticked I can relax now and take it easy…. Though there is always Springbank on Gimmer and, now I think of it, I really ought to have a look at Vector at Tremadog…. and what about Left Wall? – I hear that’s supposed to be a classic….

Postscript: I was obviously on a mission to relive my entire previous episode that weekend. Simon Curtis and I abbed down again a few days later only to find the rock too wet to climb. The 40m prussik was just as hard work the 2nd time around.

Great Western (**** HVS 5a, Almscliff)

Great Western
Great Western

Eee, that Brunel chappie can certainly build a good route!

It has to be said that there were some rather brave words spoken the
night before in the pub (and not just by myself!) – ‘It’s got four
stars you know’ I remember saying, ‘A must-do’. The phrase ‘Chickens
coming home to roost’ sprang to mind as I looked over at it, but as I
traipsed to the bottom of the route with a disturbingly large number
of IMC ‘spectators’ (didn’t they have anything better to do for
heaven’s sake?) I was rather glad to see the route taken. It looked


Sadly, however the team in front consisted of someone who was clearly
an E11 climber taking his (mere E1 leader) mate up a quick warm-up VS
sharing the same start. To say he made the initial common steep
layback section look easy would be to understate things – the term
‘saunter’ seems more appropriate. If he’d been a proper ‘ard
Yorkshireman he’d no doubt have rolled a quick fag whilst doing it

I’m never quite sure what to think when I see a team on a route that
is probably near my limit. Is it worse to see the leader lobbing
repeatedly from the crux or cruising effortlessly, obviously well
within his/her limits? I mean, if the bloke’s that good what’s he
doing on a VS? Surely it’s got to be a complete sandbag?

Pushing these thoughts to the back of my head – it’s a bloody VS
layback for heaven’s sake – you can see the jugs – and he laced it
with gear. I stand at the bottom and contemplate the initial steep
move. The presence of a large band of spectators magically pushed out
of my mind by the thought that this looks rather steep for rather a
long way. Right then, gear in, grab the edge, pull hard and I’m going.
Not that bad really, some bridging footholds reduce the stress on the
arms and quickly I’m near the hand traverse level. I’m sure there’s a
nice jug about 5ft up (that E11 leader had a quick cuppa there) and
these footholds aren’t that good so it’s a quick sprint upwards to the
safety of the jug and, hallelujah, jug it is. More gear in and I
contemplate the hand traverse, now about 4ft below, realising that
this position isn’t quite a rest – oh dear.

The traverse had looked scary from the ground and it didn’t improve
much close up. Yeah sure, I could now see that the handholds were
mostly OK but how about that bit there, or over there? The footholds
don’t bear thinking about at all. I lean down and stuff a Friend in
near the start of the traverse line and retreat back to the jug. I can
easily imagine quite an extended stay attached to the jug at this
point, shame I haven’t brought the portaledge I think. Eventually, I
decide I can delay things a bit further by adding a second Friend a
bit further along the traverse line. So it’s down the crack a little,
slam the Friend in and clip. At this point, my conscious brain is
about to tell my muscles to send me scampering back to the jug except
I find I have both hands on the traverse line and I’m moving leftwards
– how the hell did that happen? In the confusion the autopilot
continues to run and I absently admire it at work on the traverse –
damn! Why can’t I climb like this all the time?

Autopilot abruptly kicks out at the end of the traverse and I’m
hanging there on a single sloping foothold, a mediocre jam and a
decent lip on the traverse line. Its overhanging about 20 degrees and
the last gear is now 8 feet away – time for a quick decision. I’m off
autopilot so it’s into full coward mode and out with the gear. I mean
this lip is pretty good, I reckon I can hang off it for ages no
problem and anyway I can just about hang on this jam. Friends are on
the wrong side of the harness but I reckon the crack will take a hex
OK. A bit of wiggling and the hex is in. Don’t want it lifting out, so
it’s out with an extender and the growing realisation that the clock
is running in my forearms.

Some abortive fiddling around ensues; I’m sure that good edge has
shrunk and if this was at Cape Canaveral some American with a deep
voice would be clearing his throat in front of a microphone. Right
then, time for a last go at clipping that extender in. A bit of
fumbling and the extender is heading earthwards – bugger! The gasp
from below to reminds me that I’m not alone in the Universe – er Hi
Guys. The chap at NASA has now turned his mike on and there’s no time
now for another extender. Thankfully the rope clips in quickly to the
hex and, oh goody, I can look up and contemplate the crux. At NASA the
countdown has now well and truly started although main engines are now
feeling distinctly below par. Still, no time to worry about that, foot
up into the vertical crack, jam in as good as it’s ever going to be
then it’s up with the right hand, that jam’s not as good as I’d like
but pull anyway, left hand up for a pinch, feet up and – Allah be
praised – jugs and a rest. A few minutes later and some perspective on
the world returns and I can think of things like adopting a more
elegant position than arse in the air, head in a hole (it’s not for
nothing that this point is known as ‘The Gargoyle’) and the fact that
some more gear would be a good idea. I’m peculiarly loath to leave the
depths of the resting niche so fiddle in a sideways nut in the depths
before squirming outwards to contemplate the final crack.

Mmmm, looks interesting – it may be only 10ft to the top but the route
is clearly not over yet – a gently overhanging jamming crack looms
above and I suspect that the spectators haven’t had their full value
for money yet. So it’s jam up, reach over the top and – not a bloody
sausage. So it’s a retreat back down to the niche for a whimper. Right
then, this time it’s got to go – up on the jams, foot on a tiny edge,
reaaaach over the top and yep it’s another rubbish jam but I’m going
up anyway, leg over the top and, flop, I’m there!

By ‘eck Petal, it’s a good route.

PS – Thanks to Pete for removing the gear and making all the
appropriate grimaces and grunting noises and to my faithful band of
spectators for avoiding the ‘Oooh, he’s a long way from the gear’