Wet Weekends in Wales

Wet Weekends in Wales

Sat in an abandoned quarry building, my mate Lee and I are placing gear into the cracks and fissures of the drystone building's walls.  Outside, it is pissing down, inside a pipe stuck through the roof leaks like a tap.  But the sky is light, which is why we haven't binned it off, hopefully this is just a shower moving through.

I have barely climbed trad before, hence the improvised training.  The wall is bristling with friends but nuts are harder to place, less suitable vertical cracks.  

"Right mate, grade these."

"Four.  Three.  Four, Four."  Pretty good! until- 'this one's bomber - Nine." I realise he has been grading them out of ten rather than five.

A few goes later I'm getting the hang of it more.  Plus the weather has cleared up a bit.  The wind is on, nicely drying off the crags.  Slate has an incredible speed of drying out, although tiny cracks can seep and dribble as they drain the entire impermeable level above.

We head out of the shelter and up onto Serengeti, good job as we are running low on pork pies.

Seamstress, VS 4c

We have a quick chat about what gear I am going to place and where.  Seamstress is a really nice gently slanting line up a crack.  Through the crack there are plenty of placements, and it is a really well climbed route, so if you want you can place the gear wherever you see scratches and polish.

I have previously climbed Seams the Same, which is a few feet to the right: I led that, but clipping into someone's preplaced gear, turning it into a sport route rather than an E1 trad lead.  Because of this, I know I can do the moves on Seamstress, as the routes are so similar.

Off I set and its a jolly jaunt. The gear goes in nicely.  Its easy enough climbing and the gear can be placed from super-stable positions, you can virtually stand hands-free while you place, so no reason to get pumped out.  

To the top; and I rapidly place slings round a couple of blocks, then belay Lee up.  I sometimes find belaying one of the most psychologically difficult parts of climbing.  Especially belaying someone up from above; the action of pulling the rope through feels really alien to me.  I'm not as fast at it either, so call to Lee to slow down.  Then he is there and we're done.

Down to Rainbow Walls

We head off from Serengeti down towards the Rainbow Walls.  Down the path, hop over a gate, and down a winding incline.

I love the black-purple-grey of the slate, rusting red ladders and pipes, drystone blast shelters and small almost-cottages with a wood-burner and sheep shit floor.  Then there are the  long drops, cliff edges, shattered blocks and scree runs: gelignite- and hydraulic-made.  Plant communities are recolonising, wood-sage, heather, and tiny white star-flowers of sedum grow everywhere.  Birch, rowan and sycamore jam into whatever holds they can, twisting into bonsai-shapes.

We abseil down the German Schoolgirl wall.  I have done rope access before, so climbing abseils always feel risky and improvised, without expensive anodised gadgets with clever levers to control the rate of descent.   

The worst bit is before stepping off over the lip.  A ghostly figure of someone I used to work with on building sites appears, as if to give a warning from beyond the grave.  "Its like fighting, fucking and feeding - its all a matter of getting started".  I had hoped for timeless wisdom from the ghost, but apparently Fat Kev will never change.

As he abs down, Lee spots a bit of crag-swag, "Gettin, its a Rock 4".  He starts fiddling it out "I am not sure how they actually got it in there, no wonder they left it..."

Project: The Take Over By Dept. C, 7a

My short term ambition is to break into 7a climbs.  When I see this climb, it looks really good.  Its fairly short at 15 metres, and well bolted.  I have to get on it, so I do.

After the start, the first clip is fairly easy, but it gets pretty tenuous after that.  I manage the second clip: I am definitely progressing.  As I fall onto the bolts, I get one of my favourite feelings when I am climbing:  feeling like its an amazing thing to do to be trying yet failing.  Surely the German language has a word for this...

I get the clip in on the third on full stretch, but I don't have the stamina to hold an awkward position with thinnish handholds.  I hesitate before pulling the rope through, because I know it will make for such a greater fall if I fail the clip at full stretch.  I choose to fall as my stamina gives out.  I need to work on committing to the necessary climbing, rather than accepting a 'necessary' fall.

Down to the ground.  Lee flashes it, which cheers him up.  I then try all the moves on top rope.

And fuck me, they are cool moves.  I can do them all (although I've left the last sequence as a treat), but I am finding it hard to imagine having the stamina to link them all up, and there are few decent rests on such a short route.  The level of difficulty doesn't feel impossible though.  Any of these individual moves, I could do on a boulder problem set indoors at Highball.  And now I have something precious to take back: the knowledge that I need to improve my stamina.

The sting is in the tail.

Unfortunately, the car is at Bus Stop quarry.  And we are well below it.  We do a scrambling abseil down towards Rainbow levels: even when you aren't climbing, the time in  the quarries is really good crack.  Then we have to work our way along and up through ruined mine buildings and amongst the humid trees of a stunted woodland.

It occurs to me I didn't need to fall off a climb to realise I needed to work on my stamina.  I am fucked, blowing like the little steam train that waddles up Snowdon every day.  

Good day, despite the weather.

To be continued...