Slings, wires and red wine.

Andy Kirkpatrick asked me to write something for a feature in Climb Magazine called ‘Kit List’. I find writing to order and writing to a set formula near impossible. Below was my attempt to write about gear. It was never published in Climb, but has now been published in the American magazine, Climbing! The full essay about climbing ME, an E6 on Yellow Wall at Gogarth will be published in the book. 

Adventure starved… We craved adventure. Hunched conspiratorially over the old oak table, Tim Neil and I studied the Gogarth Guidebook. Slurping more red wine, Tim, a.k.a, The Big Guy and I decided ME on Yellow Wall at Gogarth would give us the outing we required. Adventure detox over, a binge was heading our way.

            “Let’s open another bottle!”

            ‘A barbaric top pitch.’

Arms kicked into shape by bolt clipping at Ceùse do not help while thrashing and clinging to clay. Sweating-swearing-shaking-quaking, slipping…slipping… Hanging from a flat hold with an open-hand, sand-ball bearings grease my palm.

“Got-to-get-some-gear”, got-to-get-some-gear”.

Fiddle a nut into an exfoliating crack, heel-hook crumbling grey fins. The voice in my head between the pounding brought on by dehydration screams,

“IDIOT, STOP DRINKING RED WINE.”

The best, and worse placement had been the one last night, the twist of the sharp shiny point entering the cork. Solid and firm, squeaking with each turn, I was strong then, even stronger as the cork popped and the thick-red alexia of courage was gulped. I wish I had that strength now. My body was rebelling, filled with dark de-oxygenated Cabernet Sauvignon sweat pumped from pores. Gorged on lactic acid my forearms were two useless baguettes hard and crusty that had been left-out overnight.  

Aiming for two rusty pegs that had survived from the first ascent, the Big Guy shouts,

            “Lasso the peg with a sling”.

Easier said than done while hanging from slimy clay holds.

Slap. The sling missed. Slap, it missed again. Pumped, gasping-grasping…slap, missed. Look down. The ropes arc into space uninterrupted. The Big Guy hangs from 5 equalised pieces of gear. His face looks up at me full of concern and below, the chaotic Irish Channel pounds into the zawn.  

“Factor two, factor two”…

‘A factor-two fall is the most dangerous and the most force a climber can place on the belay. Always place a piece of gear immediately when leaving a stance’.

Yeh, ok, perfect world scenario, how many authors of, this is how to do climbing, had climbed E6 on Yellow Wall? Not all climbing in the real world is found in the index of a manual. Slap…

Thoughts race, voices shout instructions.

            “Make the move, do it, do it now, make the move and clip the pegs”.

Releasing the heel-hook, a leg wafts into space, shoulders tense, a toe is smeared to a dirty edge.

            “Pull and go-pull and throw-pull and go….

Don’t trust the pegs, sea cliff pegs are like sirens, they call and draw you on and lead you too a salty grave.

In amongst the purple Chianti haze, I spot a thin crack in hard rock. Replacing the heel-hook I grab the small wires from my harness and without hesitation bite the green wire. A sickly-battery-taste makes me gag. Green equals number two. Green equals life, green gives encouragement and energy to continue. Anodised wires were just a selling gimmick I thought on first seeing them. Yes, colourful and shiny, sexy looking and light, but it was just a gimmick wasn’t it? In a flash the green number two slots perfectly, an extender is attached and finally the rope is clipped.

            “Go…go now.”   

Screaming, I dyno for what I hope is a jug a body length away, but it is another sloping hold. Eyeing the flaking pegs close enough that I can smell their ravaged state, but unable to do anything apart from hang, I attempt to calm myself…and fail. Swinging legs flounder. A toe-hook is all I can find. Ripping a thin spectra sling from around my neck I wrap it around the head of the nearest peg wishing I had read the article on how to tie one handed clove hitches. These thin slings are a revelation both in the mountains and on rock climbs. Very narrow, but very strong, they squeeze through the smallest of thread placements and drape around tiny spikes and nubbins. Also, like now, if I could tie a clove hitch, they are brilliant for tying off pegs so the force comes on the peg where it enters the rock. A granny knot will have to do.

Slapping and fighting, control is long forgotten. Lumps of rock fly, sand pours. Clothes covered in clay flap and crack like a string of prayer flags. On-an-up-draught, large drops of rain whistle up the cliff, blasted from a turbulent white-capped Irish Channel. Dark thunder-clouds race across the sea. Then I’m falling…and falling. And as I fall a thought crosses my mind,

            “Isn’t drinking red wine supposed to be healthy?

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