A few days ago, I was climbing with Mick Lovatt at Llawder, Rhoscolyn, north Cymru. Ray Wood came along to take a few pics. It’s always fun when Ray comes along, he’s a mate and he makes me laugh, and his company adds an extra element to the day. It’s also great to get good quality pics of an area, a new route, or even an existing line, because, occasionally, I’ll write about the experience, and having good pictures is always better than having crap ones!
I enjoy writing; piecing it together, crafting, editing, and on occasion it leads to remuneration. Most of the time, I never really know what I will write about, I certainly don’t go out thinking, I’ll write about this or that, and even when I begin, I never know where it will end up. Sometimes, the climbs that I think will make the best stories, don’t interest me, it’s often the small, insignificant climbs that will have the best thread. Writing is one of the limited ways I make cash from which to live, although I must admit, calling myself a writer makes me cringe, so I’ll only do it under duress. And on the occasion someone asks, “are you a professional climber?” ha, this always recieves the same response, no, I’m a climbing bum, I’m not good enough to be a professional. I could make a small amount of money from my blog as I receive regular emails asking for guest posts. I could also make money writing gear reviews; I receive maybe one or two enquiries a week, offering me a piece of kit, or payment if I write an article about it. On occasion I reply to these people explaining that I’m sponsored by three companies, and to write about other brands, would not be ethical. I don’t say, I’ve never written a gear review, or gone out of my way to endorse a piece of gear even from the companies that sponsor me, companies, I will add, whose gear is very good, so I’m certainly not doing it for other brands. I don’t cope well with the whole consumeristic element of society, I really do think most people consume too much, and its destroying the enviroment, and explaining this to the people contacting me, would, I’m sure, be lost on them, possibly because we now appear to live in a time where selling and buying, advertising and promoting (including a style of life, or the individual), has become massive, loads of folks are at it. A large section of society appear to love the idea of selling themselves and self-promotion (look at all of the people you see taking selfies, some even have big long sticks to attach onto their phone!), and in our ‘outdoor world’ given the chance to get a free pair of shoes, or a straw to suck water from a puddle, outdoor enthusiasts and climbers appear to jump at the chance to endorse products.
If you’re still with me, you may be starting to see my problem. I’m a climber that writes, and on occasion my writing about a subject appears a bit close to the bone. How can I call-out something, when I’m the one also doing it? It’s a weird one, but I suppose, you will only feel similar, if you take the time to really look at yourself, and think about this kind of stuff, and even then, are you bothered about what you find? Recently, on two separate occasions, I’ve been told some of my diet choices will make no difference to the long-term effects of life on the planet, and unfortunately, I agree, but at what point does a person start caring, (for life on the planet, for the future and for yourself), and at what point do you take a stand, if only a very tiny stand that possibly makes no difference, apart from to the individual?
Anyway, phew, back to Rhoscolyn and the spray about a new route, that is possibly the main thrust of this piece… or is it?
Ray, Mick and I walked across the grassy headland. If you’ve climbed at Rhoscolyn, you will know it’s a beautiful and peaceful bit of coastline. The day was overcast, but there was the promise of sun for later in the day. The wind was a mere tickle, and anyone who regularly climbs quartzite will know, a mere tickle and overcast, is not the bests to transform the rock from dark and greasy into light and crisp. But whatever, we were here, it wasn’t raining, the company was good, and more to the point, it’s a gorgeous place. I was hoping to climb a line that had burrowed into my brain after climbing another route called, Warpath Direct. Warpath Direct was first climbed by Steve Long and Twid Turner in 2013, and I climbed it a month or so ago.
Not wanting to get to bogged down in the finer intricacies, but the story needs background, so here goes… Warpath Direct climbs a line to the right of the original start of Warpath, that great E5 6a, first climbed by Jim Moran and Paul Williams in 1984, and finishes up the original, making a superb E6 6a. On the right side of the Warpath headwall, is a fine, flying arete, that was also climbed by Twid and Steve (Steve belayed, but I’m not sure he seconded?) two years later in 2015, and called, No Country for Young Men E7 6b. No Country for Young Men, was climbed as a fifteen-metre pitch, starting from a belay half way up the Sun. High runners were placed before undercutting left, to reach the arete above its steepest section and the arete was then climbed to the top.
After I had climbed Warpath Direct, I wondered why the arete hadn’t been climbed as a continuation of the Warpath Direct start, that would have made a new, independent, forty-metre route, so one day, after bumping into Steve, I asked him about it, and Steve said this had been their original intention, but they were so hung-over after a heavy bout of drinking, they couldn’t face it, and took the Warpath Headwall option, only to return two years later and climb No Country for Young Men as a fifteen metre pitch, from a belay in the Sun. So, in my wandering mind, the challenge, having recently climbed Warpath Direct, was to do the direct start, and continue, without deviation, onto the arete by climbing the steep section that hadn’t been included in the original ascent. This is not meant as criticism, because Twid obviously climbed the line he saw at the time. I’ve done it myself; you get sucked into how something should be climbed, and the way to do it, and it often takes a fresh set of eyes to see other options. I now saw it as an opportunity to straighten the line, and make it into a brilliant forty metre climb, that would be hard and bold, and if successful, would turn a short, almost obscure route, into a belter. The thing I hadn’t seen at the time, was the completely overlooked lower section of wall between Warpath Direct and the Sun, this only became apparent, when Mick joined me to have a look at a route I climbed in 2010 called The Frumious Bandersnatch. On this day, Mick said, if he were going to climb the arete, he would climb directly up the wall below. So, I abseiled in, and climbed the wall, and found it was steep, but with good gear and great moves. It led directly to the Warpath flake, and onto the arete above, it was perfect to try as one big pitch, and if climbed like this, it really would be worthy of calling a new route and giving a name.
I worked the line over four visits, before feeling confident enough to give it a lead. The new, lower section, was well protected, but the arete wasn’t, there are only four pieces of gear from the knee bar under the Warpath flake, to the top, and to place any of them was almost as difficult as the climbing. Monster lob potential, without doubt! So now, on this, the fifth visit, I was stood beneath one of the steepest bits of rock at Rhoscolyn, expecting a bit of a scary fight, almost certain I’d be taking the ride!
The lower, twenty-five metre section went well, its steep and has its moments. As a pitch on its own, it possible merrits the grade of E4 6b, or E5 6a. But here I was, knee pushed under the large flake and shaking-out like a frantic shaking out thing. I had a knee pad on my right thigh, which cushioned the leg, but I only own one, so I had nothing on my left, apart from trousers and a big fat thigh. If I swapped legs, from right to left, the rock bit into skin, but for some reason, this wasn’t the top of my list of concerns! I’d already placed a cluster of good gear, so apart from shaking-out and swapping legs, there was nothing else to do until kicking-off. At one point, I placed both thighs under the flake, the exposure and craziness of it all was fun. The double kneebar felt good, and for a moment, I contemplated leaning back and hanging upside down, but a voice in my head told me not to be so bloody stupid.
“Right Mick, here goes.”
Grabbing the first in series of undercuts with the right hand was ok, I was still in the kneebar, but the kneebar had to be released, and when it was, the steepness kicked-in and the stomach almost buckled. My feet were now somewhere way below, and my body was almost straight. I grabbed another undercut with the left hand, and another with the right, threw a foot to a high smear, and made a bit of lunge for a good finger hold. Hmm, still here. Keep breathing, relax! Running my feet high, I now made a long, strenuous move to the flake around the arete where No Country came in. Crunch time! If placing the cam didn’t go well, it would be the end of the attempt, because maintaining a position to place the cam, was draining. It’s this type of thing you can’t practice on a top rope, because you never quite know how your mind and body will react to the situation. A scum with the right knee took a bit of weight, but it was difficult to remain calm. Taking the cam from the gear loop, it was almost impossible to stand and look into the crack, oh, how easy it had been on a top-rope! The positioning of the cam was crucial, and the first go at placing it, ended with the cam hanging on the edge of the crack, almost falling to the ground. Come on, just go in. I pressed toes even harder to smears and edges, and pulled myself in to have another go at placing it. OK, that’s better. I pulled up the rope, and clipped, and then gave the cam a bit of a pull. What a mistake, the flake I was holding onto vibrated. Ignore it, carry on!
From here, it was a series of off-kilter slaps for sharp side-pulls on the left of the arete, and wobbly pops for sharp crimps on the right. I’m sure someone with better fitness and strength than me could climb it controlled, but that person isn’t me! It took me two attempts to get going after the flake. I thought I’d gone wrong, but it was the extra effort needed because of the weight of the ropes. Heel-hooking, first on the right, then on the left with loads of tension running through my body, I attempted to control the rising pump and panic. Placing the first of two, small, brass nuts, didnt make me feel like I was invincible, but with that done, another slap, and another pop, meant I could now place the second small cam. This cam, similar to the one below, had to be placed in the correct position for it to have any hope of holding a fall, but at least it was alongside me and visible. Please go in, I silently begged. My left arm was about to explode, but the cam was now placed. The crux sequence followed – a hard move to a sloping pinch on the right, a high left toe onto the arete, then another slap around the arete.
Holy shit, I was still on, but my left arm was almost useless! There was the last small brass nut to place, but I was so pumped, I didnt contemplate stopping, hoping that whatever dregs I had left in the arms, would take me to the top. Slapping, and popping, and slapping again, I somehow held on, and grabbed the first big hold in a while. Even climbing the last few metres, I could have fallen because I was so pumped, and even crawling over the top was an effort.
Sitting down, I took my first gulp of air for a while, and almost vomited.
Ray took some great shots, and the day after, posted them on DMM’s social media sites, that leads into what I was saying at the beginning, it brings quite a bit of confliction, but I do believe in the old saying that goes something along the lines; let others do your talking, don’t do it for yourself. Praising yourself feels boastful to me, and I must admit, I hate putting climbing pictures of myself on social media. Nowadays, I find it almost impossible to brag about my climbs on social media, it all feels basic and crass. There is another knock-on from everybody posting only good times, and that’s the effect it has on some people’s mental state, so, as in this case, I prefer to tell the whole story and give the story some depth. YOU, yes you, the readers; you have also made a conscious effort to click and read this piece, it’s not just hijacked you in a newsfeed, and by the time you read it, I will have spent four or five days, writing, editing, re-writing, thinking, editing, more thinking (yes, I know, I’m slow, it doesn’t come easy, and there are no-doubt, still loads of mistakes!), and in the end, I will have hopefully written something that might inspire, or maybe you will disagree, but maybe it’s something that has integrity and value and tells the whole story. Hopefully it gets you thinking and questioning more than a single picture and a couple of lines?
Mick and I went back to Rhoscolyn two days later. Mick is trying something that he keeps letting go of (come on Mick, do your stuff!). James Taylor and Big Dom arrived soon after. I don’t really know Big Dom, but he’s Big and called Dom, and on second meeting, comes across as friendly and a bit of a laugh. I know James reasonably well, James is very strong, and very understated, and lives by the philosophy mentioned above, let others do the talking for you. In June, James climbed a new route at Porth Saint. Porth Saint, or Painted Wall is an overhanging sheet of quartzite just across the headland from where we were now. James’s new route was called Prisoners of the Sun, and given the grade E10 7a, it’s really bold, and really hard, and it took James several visits, over a few years to complete.
Painted Wall has gone from being an exceptionally quiet, and sleepy back water, (almost no-one climbed there for years) to being the go-to place for so many people, and after leading two of the routes (when it was less well known), I’ve decided to give it a miss for a while, because it’s become busy, and has lost that isolated, and somewhat quirky feeling it once had. I’ve joked with Mick, telling him it’s all his fault, because he has sprayed all the routes he’s done across Facebook, which has led to an almost non-stop procession of people coming to climb, who then post their own pictures on social media, and fill in logbooks, that encourages even more people. I say this knowing that when I climbed Staring at the Sun (also one of James’s routes at Painted Wall), Ray came along and took pictures and posted one of them on DMM’s Facebook page, so I’m also to blame, although that was in 2019, and it has taken until now to become very popular, so I’m not sure that made much of an impression, but maybe I’m a hypocrite living in denial?
Anyway, here we were at Rhoscolyn again, Mick, James, Big Dom and myself, and James told me that Jim Pope was travelling from Sheffield to come and give Prisoners of the Sun a go, which got me thinking of another new, hard route that had recently been climbed in the Lakes by Neil Gresham called Lexicon. Lexicon had only been climbed a few days before, and given a grade of E11, and somewhere that morning, I had read about Steve McClure, Dave McCloud, Neil Mawson and Franko Cookson, all climbers I respect for their climbing achievements, and all travelling to the Lake District at the same time to attempt Neil’s new route. This got me thinking, and to be honest, I’ve not been able to draw any conclusions, apart from we are all different, and we all get different things from our activity. But, I cant help thinking, that even if I climbed at such a high standard, I’m not sure I would want to go there when a bunch of other folks were also trying the same route, but I do appreciate this is my preference. This got me wondering then about the motivations involved in this rushing to drive somewhere, to join a queue, and take a turn. Is it any different than going to Spain and standing in line on a brilliant sport route, I’m not sure it is (I suppose it’ll be warmer and sunnier and the beer will be tastier, and the consequences of falling off and remaining uninjured, better!), although, to be honest, I don’t do that often either, because I just cant help feel there are so many climbs, and so many places, and life’s too short to stand in line, but, in this Lexicon situation, there is something I can’t put my finger on, something that makes it feel a tad weird. I dont understand the having to go and immediately get on this route only days after the first ascent, and being alongside a bunch of other folk all doing the same thing, but maybe I’m the weird one in not understanding? I can see how, if you climb at this grade, there are a minimal number of trad routes around to test yourself at this level (although it will be there next year, and the year after). I can also see because it’s just been done, maybe it’s in great condition (although it will be in this condition again at some point in the future), dry and chalked, so it’s better to get on it sooner, rather than later. I can also see that if you climb E11, the other people at the crag will possibly be mates, or at least, known to you, and you can share ideas and moves, banter, etc, and of course, that’s fine, each to their own. But still, to me, there is just something that makes it all feel a bit forced, like the route is being turned into something of a commodity, a thing to be quickly conquered. Tranquillity and nature go hand in hand with the action of climbing, these are some of the reasons I climb, and I wonder if in a situation like this, they are being lost and for what? But like I say, I’m just airing thoughts here, I have no answers, and a reason for writing, (for me anyway) will be to help myself understand, and hopefully, to make other people think a bit, and maybe I’ll get some answers that’ll make me think even more?
Mick didn’t let go yesterday, 29/9/21, so the crack to the right of the arete now has the name, Pathological Crack.
Pathological E7 6c. 21 Sept 2021
40m. A steep, physical and uncompromising line that is very well protected in the lower and middle sections and sparsely protected on the upper arête. The route climbs without any deviation, straight up the middle of the wall between The Sun and Warpath Direct, and onto to the stunning, hanging arête on the right of the Warpath headwall. A section of the arête was climbed in 2015 by Twid Turner/ Steve Long and called No Country for Young Men. This climb starts from a belay on the small ledge halfway up The Sun, placing high runners on the right, before stepping back down and undercutting left to ‘grope for a low sidepull around the arête’, before continuation of the arête.
Start from the beach, the same as for the Sun if you are taking the, ‘from the beach’, start. Climb a little way before moving left to a large ledge and arrange protection. Move right, and climb the white wall, until the good holds at the break beneath the overhang. Pull through the overhang (good gear), on quartz flatties, before climbing a faint grove on positive snappies. A collection of flakes and bulbous fins are now reached, where a quasi, lie down rest can be taken. Climb the overhanging groove/corner above, before moving slightly right and boldly yarding through a very steep section that leads to the large break beneath the Warpath flake/kneebar, and the arête. Arrange bomber protection, before easing yourself into the kneebar. The first in a series of undercuts, just to the right of the arête, can be taken from the kneebar, before wild undercutting and a couple of hard moves, reach the obvious flake on the left side of the arête (this is where No Country for Young Men came in). There is gear here, but it’s awkward and strenuous to place. Continue directly up the arête, using crimps on the right, and side-pulls on the left, before reaching the top of the arête as for Warpath. On this upper section, there are a few small bits of OK protection, but hanging-in to place them, makes serious inroads into the arms and head!