Trad Climbing: Box Bay, Bridgend

Booked to leave Wales the next day, I still had seven lead climbs outstanding to put towards my SPA Assessment, so Box Bay was the venue for a whirlwind ticking session.

It is a nice, compact limestone sea cliff, tucked away and out of sight from the main beach. It gets a good dosing at high tide, but only for a short time, and the rock is otherwise razor sharp.

The last time I visited was in the depth of winter and I climbed my first VS (Sweet Pea Souper – a bit of a soft touch), so was keen to blast through lots of the remaining lines, and perhaps something a little harder. The conditions could not have been more different – warm, sunny and dry, so off we went and got on with it.

We climbed Cow Eyed Arete (HS, 4b), Jellyfish Tickler (HS, 4b), Bluto (S), Black Buttress (S), Prickly Bulge (S, 4b), Belayers Folly (VS, 4c) and Dead in the Water (VS, 5a). As you can tell from the route names on the crag, Box Bay has plenty of character, but all the climbs were straightforward enough.

Tops off day, and happy at the end of the haul

That is, apart from Dead in the Water, which you may have noticed is given technical grade 5a, instead of 4b or 4c, as is often the case with a Very Severe. This denotes that the climb has plenty of gear, typical of a Very Severe, so is on the whole ‘safe’.  However, the technical difficulty is notched up slightly. This was definitely noticeable, as the wall was gently overhanging, and it took several ups and downs to place gear, shake-out and think through the moves before successfully putting it all together.

Joel with our clutch of rockpool mullet!

Climbing with Joel made the whole experience more enjoyable. He gave me plenty of input for my SPA Assessment, ranging from tips on belay setups at the top, abseils and technical climbing tips. What is more, the icing on the cake was a bit of fun in a nearby rock pool once we had finished climbing. Joel noticed a group of mullet which had been trapped by the retreating tide, so with no lines, rods or lures, it was off with the t-shirts and some combined tactics to corner the fish and snaffle them. We managed to catch two with a good bit of luck and trashing around, but it was a great end to a great day!

The canny little things

First climb on gritstone

Eventually Sam and I will have an epic – a good epic – after our recent inauspicious attempt on Peak limestone.

I was up for some gritstone action, despite my unfounded suspicion of it, rather like sandstone, so we headed off to Black Rocks, a set of  crags with a massive amount of character and history.

The merry men, sheltering from the rain in a handy cave at the top of the climb

It can be easy to underestimate gritstone, as it requires a much different style to climbing on other rock types – big round breaks and parallel cracks. I wanted to drop down a grade or two, but took a shine to Curved Crack HS 4b, so couldn’t resist. A lot of the climbs below Very Severe or so tended to be of a traditional character (i.e., dirty, green chimneys that you have to squeeze, squirm and grunt up – also known as thrutching), which I wanted to avoid.

This, in a way, is the essence of climbing – seeing an inspiring line and getting on it, regardless of the grade (or almost). It was great for my state of mind, as I have been a bit off the boil recently.

Sam after a successful second

As for the climb, I placed some cams, which went into the parallel cracks beautifully, and after a bit of a think towards the top, swung round onto the vertical wall and rather ungracefully pulled myself over the top.

Unfortunately, by this point the rain set in, which seemed to create suddenly a magical layer of slimey mud on the surface of the gritstone, rendering its unique friction quality useless. We had a look at a Very Difficult [check out this pdf for an explanation of what a VD climb is] climb round the corner, but the climbing had turned from inspiring to horrible.

Hope to be back, though!

Rain on gritstone = mud, basically

Wet Day at the Office

I am back in South Wales, hoping to complete my SPA Assessment, so Dan and I risked an outing to the Gower in the face of a poor weather forecast.

Dan on an unnamed line to the right of Little Tor and left of Little Star Wall

We both wanted a solid outing to build some confidence and complete a few routes each, so Tor Bay was the choice. I have visited Little Star Wall a number of times, and so filled in the gaps, leading Scout Crack S** and Stella VS 4c. Dan lead Twinkle S and an unnamed climb.

The rock on the wall is nice and compact, but the bottom half was still wet from high tide. The top half became steadily wetter as the rain set in. Dan was keen for ‘just one more climb’, so headed up an undocumented part of the buttress to the left of Little Star Wall. It looked about Severe standard, but typically carried more of a punch on closer inspection, probably about Hard Severe.

Better day than before, but it was a shame that Midsummer’s Day was spoiled by the wet.

Bad Day at the Office

The other day I headed out with Sam to Wildcat Crags in the Derbyshire Dales for some more trad climbing.

However, it was not a good day.

We got to the foot of the crag after a little detour, and I had just decided on a route to lead when I realised that I had left my harness at home.

This was not conducive to a good session.

After much searching around, including back at the car for a potential spare, I rigged a top rope, improvised a harness out of a sling and karabiner and we managed to salvage the day, climbing Jackdaw Grooves, VS 4b and Broken Toe Groove, VS 4c.

However, after all the time wasting and muddling about, my head was in a mess, and my climbing was equally messy. I just wasn’t in the zone and it was surprising how a few small factors interfered so much.

I also thought I was clever, packing my gear into an Ikea bag on the suggestion of an UKC article last year and turning up in jeans and t-shirt, as if I were going sport climbing in France. These were two additional mistakes: the bag was awkward and uncomfortable to carry, and the muddy, greasy approaches to the crag were treacherous in trainers.

Sometimes you just have a bad day at the office…

Trad Climbing: Eskdale

Finally, a break in the cloud and drizzle, and it was back to Hare Crag for some more leads to put towards my SPA logbook.

I cannot convey how glorious the weather and situation were, and the contrast of how depressing West Cumbria can be in the clag. In any case, I got down to business on The Upper wall with Labyrinth Route, MS to warm up (but again rather disconcerting because of the lack of gear). Then, to cut to the chase, I decided that VS and above is the standard I should be climbing at, so ticked Right-Hand Route, VS 4c and Upper Slab Route 1, VS 4b. Right-Hand Route was particularly good with a thoughtful crux move and then beautiful steep upper wall with excellent cracks and crimps – lots to keep the climber thinking and moving.

Crux moves on Right-Hand Route, VS 4c

To finish on a high, we headed down to The Lower Buttress and I lead Fireball XL5, MVS 4b. The name of the route had intrigued me ever since I came across it, and apparently had some significance. However, it was only till I spoke to John and Bridget that it became clear – the rocket from a ’60s television programme!

More crux moves on Fireball XL5, VS 4b

As for the route, the ‘gasp!’ comment in the guidebook route description made me a little apprehensive, but once I had stepped off the flake and onto the crux moves, it was great fun. The warm granite was simply superb, and I felt confident with the moves, so it was indeed a good way to end the day.

Slightly odd comment to finish the description…

Let’s hope there will be at least one more break in the weather this week…

Trad Climbing: Eskdale

Oops, two months without a post. Oh well, I do have a fairly good excuse – daughter number two joined the family at the end of April.

So, given that we would be back in the UK for some time for the baby, I decided to finish off my Single Pitch Award for rock climbing. It felt like a slightly risky strategy, but, basically, you never have enough time to do things the way you like, so you might as well just go for it.

High on Easy Slab VD

This strategy worked well, with an excellent outing to Hare Crags in the tranquil Eskdale valley. I ticked off five lead climbs, which was a good warm up and got my trad climbing head back in gear (think fiddling with pro, long run-outs, the occasional bold move).

Getting to grips with trad again: Pleasant Slab S

John was game for some cragging and happy to belay, so we started on Easy Slab VD, which was on lovely, rough granite, but slightly lacking in protection. We then moved onto Pleasant Slab S to its right – again good, but slightly bold after a bit of a lay-off from trad. To end the session at Hare, we sneaked around to The Central Slabs and I lead Jugged Hare MVS* and Slab Route S. Jugged Hare definitely got the heart going, with no protection at all on the first slab!

Slab Route S

Continuing with the Eskdale trad road trip, we stopped in at the Fisherground bouldering area, and played around on some problems. Of particular note was The Diamond, a superlative highball problem. Although slightly delicate once on the face, and seemingly far off the ground, it is a great problem. We then strolled up to Ranks Bank, also known as Fell End or Outward Bound Crags. The last route of the day was an unnamed line again on superb granite, but rather polished at the crux and similarly without much protection.

Superlative boulder problem: The Diamond

Great to be back in the trad game!

A Ton Up and Pushing the Boat Out

I will be returning to the UK soon for several months to welcome baby no. 2 on board, so there was again a small window to get some climbing in this afternoon at our local crag, St. Montan.

Matt and I top roped a couple of local lads on Mono 4b, Dr Ding Dong 4a and Les petits trous 4a. Then for some fun! Wanting to push the boat out, I led Le bide 6b cleanly and then Pat Hibulaire 6b. This was just the ticket, sh0rt and punchy (each with a small dyno) and gave me a good idea of what to expect higher up in the grades.

Maybe one more outing before we leave, but a good way to celebrate my 100th post.

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