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

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…

Learning to love sandstone

I happily managed to slot in my third foray down to St. Bees South Head for some more messing around on the boulders. I have to say that I am definitely coming round to the attractions of sandstone!

The view towards Seascale from the little cove containing the first traverse

If you brush off the accumulated dirt, ignore the woodlice under your nose and the generally neglected atmosphere, there is some great climbing and training to be had.

Great textured rock for all kinds of funky holds: pinches, smears, monos etc.

I split my time between two traversing problems for the sake of consistency and stamina, and found myself using all kinds of holds and moves that I would never dream of doing on a lead climb: desperate one-finger pockets, shallow pinches, grabbing seam and smears with the feet, simply relying on the friction of the rubber on the rock shoes. Still, excellent training for conditioning and problem solving.

Looking along the second traverse

I was really encouraging also to notice the improvement and gains on the problems I tackled. I figured out all the moves on both traverses, but was just undone by my lack of stamina. Interesting to note how small factors make big differences, such as avoiding the temptation to overreach with hands and feet and trying moves in one push to use the momentum gained.

Historical graffiti

Unfortunately, this will probably be my last time at St. Bees, but it has been thoroughly worthwhile, without even visiting the excellent and more well-known North Head or Fleswick. I will definitely be back.

You can always tell the older graffiti – this one I quite like

Bouldering: St. Bees

Just got back from some more bouldering at St. Bees, South Head.

Good little wall for traversing at South Head

Pumped out of my mind by the end, but happy to have worked out a sequence to a traverse on which I failed last time. Great to be able to see some progression, even though I was mostly no more than 6 inches off the deck.

Beautiful views at sunset over to Scotland

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…

Bouldering: St. Bees

Just after a great day cragging in Eskdale and a glorious spell of warm sunny weather, the rain and cloud typically returned.

Characteristic graffiti carvings at St. Bees on the soft sandstone

I was gutted, rather naively setting my hopes on climbing in sunshine everyday in the Lake District – unlikely! However, after a few days of moping around, I took advantage of the late evening light and a lull in the drizzle to check out some bouldering at the South Head, St. Bees.

A perched block at South Head, St. Bees

I have to admit, I am not a fan of sandstone, finding it friable and dirty, but needs must, so I set out to explore under the characteristic red cliffs around the headland from the beach. After a bit of poking around here and there and a few lacklustre attempts, I found some good slabs, arêtes, and traverses to get the pump going and work on my footwork.

A good little cove for traversing training

I have to admit, it was quite enjoyable and I discovered some nooks and crannies for training that are almost on the doorstep. However, it is not exactly attractive, puffing and heaving under the dank, dripping cliffs, but certainly effective.

I will be back.

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