Awareness of Danger.

Wen Zawn with Caff on an on-sight attempt of Hardback Thesaurus.

I was reading a forum topic on UKC a few days ago started by Chris Craggs, the title of the topic is, Awareness of Danger, here is a link

In his opening post, Chris explains,

“We were climbing at Horseshoe today and Colin pointed out the team to our left. The leader had gone up about six clips, taken a few falls then lowered off, stripping all the remaining quickdraws on the way down. The other guy top-roped up to the high bolt, pressed on then promptly fell off.

I put my best schoolyard voice on shouted the he should lower down and clip at least one more bolt below him ‘just in case’. He apologised, thanked me and did just that. One of our team chatted to them later, it was their first day climbing out doors.

I was a bit shocked at their apparent lack of understanding that they might be in danger, bolts don’t generally fail, and ropes don’t usually become unclipped – but it can happen.”


Reading the post, reminded me (loosely) of a situation a few years ago when Jack Geldard, James McHaffie, Adam Wainwright and I decided to go climbing in Wen Zawn at Gogarth.

The day was overcast. The kind of monochrome sky that gives one thing, and it isn’t a good thing. The four of us abseiled into the zawn, the sea was well out, the boulders all proud and slippery. The rain started almost as soon as we began boulder hopping and looking around. The sea must have been on spring tides, it was swirling around the boulders, but shallower than I’d seen before. The swishing noise of the sea reverberated around the enclosed, and dark space. The steep, glistening walls loomed.

Adam and I were hoping to climb a route first climbed in 1991 by Paul Pritchard and Leigh McGinley called Rubble, it was an E7 6a, the best line in the zawn, and possibly, the softest. Jack and Caff were going to try a Johnny Dawes and Bob Drury E7 6b, called, Hardback Thesaurus. The first ascent of Hardback Thesaurus had taken several, ground up attempts by johnny, over several days, and set the standard for the route. Without hunting through Google, (other search engines available) there is a film somewhere of Johnny attempting, and repeatedly falling from the climb, that was given the grade E8, and obviously dangerous. Caff was, of course, going on-sight, armed with a big rack of gear, that he would not need, and several skyhooks, which he would!

The rain was now heavy, and the four of us took shelter in the back of the zawn. Mr Softy and The Mad Brown, both routes, alongside George Smith, Adam had been on the first ascent. The walls, blocks of orange and yellow and grey, spiralling above, were running water. The light was foreboding, the rock was dark and getting darker. Oh well, I thought, nothing doing today. At some point the rain stopped and Caff edged his way across the boulders to stand beneath Hardback.

“Shall we give it a go, Jack?” Caff suggested.

Jack looked a tad perplexed, but he wasn’t the one about to launch onto this wet, unprotected wall, so said,

“Erm, yeah, OK, James.”

[I’ve always known Caff as Caff, but Jack had always called Caff by his proper name, James. To this day, I’ve never really wondered why this is, and I’ve never asked Caff which he prefers?]

Adam and I boulder-hopped across to the start of the pretty mad looking, overhanging concrete dyke, which is rubble. I ran my hand over the rock, it was soaking.

“I’m not trying this today, Adam.”

I turned to look into the depths of the Zawn where Caff, (belayed by a very concerned Jack) had pulled onto the wall. I was pretty sure the attempt would end quickly, once Caff had decided it was not in condition, but carefully, and cautiously, Caff made progress. I should have known Caff would keep going, as on other occasions where I had belayed, his tenacity, in the face of adverse conditions, was remarkable. In some ways, it was possibly this tenacity, to give things a go, when a whole host of things were against it happening, is what got Caff up many of the hard routes.

There was the odd bit of gear, but as he crept higher, it really was, the odd bit, and it really didn’t look to be that good. Sporadically, Caff would ask Jack to keep an eye, although to be honest, I’m sure there wasn’t enough distance for Jack to run, (one side of the zawn to the other) to save a ground fall.

Caff made some quite tricky, wet and unprotected moves to the right and placed a skyhook. If the hook ripped, he would certainly hit the ground, as the last gear was a long way beneath. Shaking out, repeatedly chalking-up, (remember, the rock is wet!) he aimed for a small overhang where he said he could see a possible nut placement. He reached the nut placement, which he then shouted down saying it wasn’t so good, and eased another skyhook onto a small edge. After some time, he began, what looked to be a hard sequence of moves, undercutting a small overhang. Shouting, Caff said he could definitely see a good hold and some gear a little way above, but in a flash, one of the flakes he was undercutting ripped, and he was flying. I’d never before, or since, screamed while watching someone fall. I was sure I was witnessing the death of my friend, but he stopped, the hooks, one on each rope, had held.

“Let me down Jack.”

He reached the floor and untied. I must admit I felt a tad wobbly, Jack looked nauseous, but Caff looked OK.

“What are we going to do now?”  Jack asked, looking up at a wet wall, with a few bits of gear, and the two ropes hanging from the two, distant skyhooks.

Caff looked up, then turned to Jack saying, “You should give it a go on top rope Jack, those hooks are bomber.”


I must admit that Chris’s story, and his shock at the climber stripping out all the draws beneath the one he was lowering, and then the next person top-roping from this one draw and bolt, reminded me a bit of the Wen Zawn episode. I wonder if Chris would have put on his best school yard voice that day and had a word with Caff?

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2 Responses to Awareness of Danger.

  1. Steve Mayers says:

    Brings back memories of my ground up attempt of Hardback. Much better conditions than that day by the sound of it but still very sub optimal…as was my performance!

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Hey Steve, great to hear from you, hope you’re well? Ha, did you do suboptimal in those days, find that difficult to believe 🙂

      Hope to bump into you at some point soon,


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