We walk to the top of the crag, heavy legs, slippery roots, humid woods. Lying flat on my stomach, head poking over the top, my eyes gawp at the drop. Far below, oak sways in the wind and the updraft pulls at my hair. I inch out further and further, eager to see the line I’d heard so much about; but the line remained hidden.
Yes, I can see the start: the fat lip of a black and grey ledge at the base of the headwall. The finish: a jug just below the square top of the crag, hanging like a lure to pull me over. The beginning and end were obvious, but the middle? The rest of this infamous line? A bulge hid the secrets of Strawberries. ‘But where does it actually go?’ The blood ran to my head so I ran away.
Abseiling over the top, I hung in space, slowly kicking my legs in circles. The line looked desperate, fierce, steep. rumours were confirmed. A line of most resistance, of pain, of true colours. It looked more angry red than soft blue. Bright, warning of poison. The sting in your fingers will last for days.
Of course, everyone wants to onsight Strawberries. But there’s only one Steve McClure, and I’m certainly not him. A flash attempt? Sure, but who’s going to mess around for hours showing me every move, every bit of gear, every sequence? I’m not talking ‘James Pearson style’ - although that obviously get results - but a bit more info than ‘up and left for a hold’ would be nice. I suppose the psyche took over and I (unsurprisingly) just got on the thing instead of going for a flash. Oh well, another time. There’s still loads of routes I’m saving for the onsight/flash, so they can wait.
Nick and I tried ground-up, and I think we did quite well. We took some lobs but got pretty high and dry. Since we’re not in ‘alpine-mode’ and probably started climbing shortly before lunch, we didn’t have loads of time left when I finally topped out after a few falls. For the sake of progress we dropped a rope down it and I managed to do the crux whilst boxed. ‘It goes, boys!’
The following day was wet. Shit on it. I hate resting, and I hate rain even more, but it was all I needed; a red rag to a bull (or an enforced rest day to a mad-for-it climber), as they say. The day crawled by, moves floating through my mind over and over again. I must’ve climbed the route five times, getting more and more psyched for it. The more you wait, the more you want.
The next day was bright - ‘fat suns’ to be precise. We made the pilgrimage to Tremmers and the line glared down at us from the car park again. I wanted to escape but was snared, condemned to walk the line until I climbed it.
I love the difference between feeling tired and fresh. The moves felt fine and I decided to go for a lead, choosing to place only three bits of gear in the meat of the route.
I nervously set off and fired through the jams. I placed my first two pieces of gear but couldn’t find a restful position for the top piece so just pressed on anyway. It would’ve been quite a pisser but I knew the fall was safe, so ignored the run-out and set up for the crux. Autopilot kicked in (hop, hop, hop the right foot and ssstrechhh!) and in a quick second I was on the finishing jug and whooping with delight. Nick’s voice wafted up, keeping me focused: ‘don’t fall now!’ I might’ve gone past the belay!
There’s so many little technicalities, specific tweaks and mini-moves which make it a delight to climb, and perhaps so hard to onsight/flash. Nico and Caff didn’t onsight it, and they’re total onsighting wads. (I did hear Caff placed a wire on the crux section though - legend).
As ever, I’m really pleased I climbed it; but in the same breath it’s a shame the ‘relationship’ with the route is over. The climbing is brilliant, with proper decent moves and a slightly spicy run-out. It made for a great start to the season. I can see myself going back to climb this route again at a later date, which is quite rare for me. I’ll probably get smashed for six but I’ll still be laughing as I fall, all the way down… and down…
- Tom Livingstone