The comedown from the last two weeks is exacerbated by last night’s activity (or is it the other way round?) and as the rain lashes down against the windscreen of the car my mind flits between past, present and future. The present is just about manageable with biscuits, though the future is bleak with winter and potential unemployment so my mind flits back to my sea cliff odyssey…
Huntsman’s Leap - Pembroke
I slide down the thick, stubborn abseil rope away from the blinding light. It is a journey I have made many times before and I casually bounce my way down, trying not to show how tense I feel. My rack jangles around my waist, feeling heavy and cumbersome, yet in a pair of thin trousers and a t-shirt I feel exposed - I question what I am about to set out to do.
All too soon my bare feet make contact with the smooth football-sized pebbles at the base of the Leap. I call up to Bob: “ROPE FREE!”.
Like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, one half of me tingles with excitement, the other with fear and apprehension. I take a deep breath, calming myself before making my way to the base of my chosen route. I am the first down and the loneliness gnaws at me despite the other team’s presence as I look up into the light.
I can’t take the easy way out. The time is right.
Soon enough Bob is down, with Malc following soon after and Guy bringing up the rear. With easier objectives or the blunt end of the rope to enjoy they whoop and holler as they descend, enjoying the acoustics of this marine cathedral, I can’t begrudge them this joy as I too usually take advantage of it. All the same, each echo chips away at my resolve.
“OK Bob, I’ll go for it this time”
I latch the jug, my body and soul simultaneously relaxing and exulting - it is done! A few quick pulls bring me to an alcove and soon enough handfuls of strong, green grass. I tie into the stake, “SAFE BOB!”. I sit in the strong, green grass, dragging up the slack before putting Bob on belay. I take a deep breath, feeling the satisfaction washing over me like a wave of warm water. I can barely believe it, drifting off into ecstatic daydreams, occasionally jolted back into reality by calls from Bob to take in.
Sharpnose Point - North Devon
“How do they not fall over?!?”
As we make our way down to the crag, the drizzle hits my face, washing the psyche away. We pick off the easier classics until the sun recharges our psyche and I tie-in for what I came for.
“WATCH ME!” I shout as I begin to slap my way upward, hoping against hope that the next hold is good enough for my lactic-infused forearms. I reach the niche signalling the end of the difficulties and scrabble my way in. Looking down, the rope arcs down to a single small micro-cam, and then the rusty pegs. I shudder at the thought of the fall and climb on to the belay.
My forearms ache from my battle as I watch Guy consider his next move and execute it smoothly before placing another runner. I enjoy this display of climbing skill, though this enjoyment turns to glee as the lactic sets in and he begins to Break on Through the final sequence. A fine effort.
Mowing Word - Pembroke
“I’ll nip over and call you once I’ve set up a belay”
The tide is too high for Stackpole so I have offered Guy a lead of the classic Chimes of Freedom. I don’t remember the traverse feeling so hard last time, but console myself that it is probably climbable anywhere. I am climbing well but a decision must be made; high and thin or low and snappy?
I go low, crunching along barnacle infested rock. It all seems to be fine, though tentatively I weight a fragile looking foothold with undercuts holding me in balance. Phew, seems fine. The next foothold is trusted implicitly, and therein lies its deceit.
“Dunc? You ok?!?”
“Yeah I’m fine, just a bit wet” I gargle, scrabbling out of the sea like a cat thrown into a bath.
I head back the way I came, this time staying even lower - half submerged at times. I can’t stop laughing. Guy leads us out up an easy classic, stopping only to look down at me and giggle.
South Stack - North Wales
“For what may or may not occur in the next few whiles - I’m sorry”
Before Guy is even fully around the corner my apologies start streaming thick and fast. Fortunately for him I managed to get a good runner straight after the difficulties, no such luxuries for me but it was my idea to travel this hostile path and I should therefore feel the brunt of the fear.
Sandy crimps, poor feet and what in the business is known as a ‘yawning void’ drags Guy from the rock. The cam holds. I apologise further and offer to lead the next pitch.
Roughly mashing the tatters of his mind back together Guy impressively leads us out of one of the most intense places I have had the pleasure of Hanging Out At. Soon it is my turn to second, one rope is stuck so I coil the remaining 20m round my shoulders. My feet are in agony and all too soon it is me that is spat off the rock… laughter once again erupts from my mouth as I swing around in space, quickly I relearn how to prussic and head up easy ground to the belay.
We exchange a knowing look as Guy tops out and head straight back to the car. Jimi blares out of the speakers as we head back to ‘beris for the night.
Connor Cove - Swanage
“Getting higher! Better climbers than you have died here…”
I do the final undercut move to a huge jug, taking a moment to look down and observe the waves crash into the sea below me. The heckling I experienced earlier in the day is just a distant memory and I long for someone, anyone to be near me, praying for the return of some brutal heckling.
Solo, seemingly Fathoms above the sea I feel out of my depth.
I start the crux, fear making my decisions and movement less than perfect, fortunately it is not too hard, though falling is nearly a reality on the dirty, crusty crimps at the top. Eyes on stalks I heave myself back to horizontal. It is definitely the end of the day.
“How you doing?”
My mind jolts back to the present as my passenger asks me a question.
“Fine. Are there any biscuits left?”
“No chocolate ones.”
The present has taken a turn for the worse, but, thinking ahead I remember my plans for the next weekend involve Berry Head and another Littlejohn classic; Dreadnought. This lifts my mood as the smell of salty rock and guano fills my nostrils, the call of fulmars and seals drowning out whatever crap I have put on the CD player.
The odyssey continues…
- Duncan Campbell