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’

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