Saturday, 29 September 2012

LOST: Virginity

A swift phone call to my climbing partner, Mark Stevenson on Friday night ended with the destination set: Swanage. I've never climbed on sea cliffs before, so naturally, I was a little nervous. I'd become so attached to the shy little quarry of Fairy Cave, knowing what i was and wasn't capable of climbing, I was worried that the sea cliffs of Swanage would dissolve my ego, built by the many slab routes of the quiet, tranquil quarry, and watch as they wash away into the English channel...

5am, and I'm up. Ready to meet Mark at 7am in Stoke Sub Hamdon. The cold morning air reminds me that winter is coming, and during the drive, my mind was not on the climbing of the day, but of the snow and ice that are soon to send Ben Nevis and the rest of the Scottish highlands into hibernation. I arrive at Marks at 7am, wait 20 minutes for him to get sorted then we're off.

We drove into Tom's field, a campsite site just before Swanage, and sat outside of the Cafe over a full English, courtesy of Mark, reading over the guide books. The realism now had dawned. Climbing on sea cliffs is nothing new, or even an elitist outing. Any climber can do it. But for me, it was my first time: I was a sea cliff virgin. i was excited. I've seen pictures of the exposure, the waves swallowing the boulders, only to spit them out again. And now i was finally there. We approached the top of the cliff where there was, what appeared to be, a rusted old metal pipe, cemented into the fractures of the rock. We took it with a pinch of salt, rigged the abseil (backed up with some tat of our own) and decended into the Zawn.

The first route of the day was one called Batt Crack (VS 4c). I took the first lead. The climbing was easy, up a wall and into the corner. Follow up the corner to beneith an overhang, then go right around the overhang to the belay. Easy. Right up untill the top of the corner. The wall out to the right, up to the belay, featured...nothing. No protection. So i bit the bullet and decided that the last piece of adequet gear in the crack will do. I pulled up onto the belay, made myself safe, and sat down. being up on the ledge, on my own, was peaceful. It's somewhere i could have sat all day, overlooking the sea and tracing the horizon for any imperfections it may have. None. For a minute or two, I forgot about Mark on the other end of the rope untill he shouted up 'CLIMBING'.

The day prog
ressed smoothly, as soon as one climb finished, we found ourselves abseiling and standing at the base of the next climb: Ledgend Direct (HVS 5a). The start was bouldery and soon after leaving the ground, I met Mark at the 'Cosy' belay ledge. We swapped gear and in the mean time, listen to the failing crys of an out of sight climber. As i lead up the last pitch of this climb, the distant climber still let us know that he was falling, failing on his route. The made me chuckle to myself, knowing I was going well, and for once, it's not me falling off something.

The final route of the day was another VS, Tennsor II (VS 5a). Again, I took the first pitch. All easy, up untill the roof that I had to traverse under. Jamming, with poor feet, and overhanging exit onto the belay. The traverse was made harder after I dropped a cam. Luckly it landed on Mark. Looked like it hurt too. The belay was a large flake, and again, I found myself sitting on the ledge, on my own. There was even room to lie down.

And so the day ended. My first experience of sea cliff climbing will most definatley not be my last! I will be back, and next time, with greater ambition and an idea what I'm getting in to. It was also the first time I had used my new rock shoes on an outdoor climb. Many a virginities lost today.

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