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.

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