Friday, 23 May 2008

The Deep South

Alright my luvver? Drink up thee cider, and other colloquialisms from Somerset. That's right, I'm down here for one more day, then back up to the Highlands to start my new RSPB contract. It's been a good wee trip thus far.

The Mendip Morris Men

You may recall a T.V. programme from almost a year ago in which Tim Emmett took Julia Bradbury up some classic rock routes, Commando Ridge in England, Crackstone Rib in Wales and Ordinary Route on The Old Man of Stoer in Scotland. It was during a period in which the BBC seemed to be paying a lot of attention to climbing because there was also the 'Great Climb' thing which led to Macleod's To Hell and Back on Hells Lum. Anyway, my brother, not an 'outdoorsy' type at all, contacted me after the Emmett programme, asking me to take him climbing sometime. Go on BBC! Well, time passed, Christmas came and went, snow fell and melted and eventually we were both in the same place at the same time, so we headed up to Overshoot Wall in Cheddar Gorge. I climbed a couple of easy sport routes and illustrated belaying and all that jazz, and and he got top-roping and really enjoyed it. Once happy that he wasn't going to kill me if I took a whipper, he kindly offered a belay on something harder. I'd eyed up a little 10 metre 7a called Whose Line is it Anyway? a few times in the past, but never been on it, so decided to see if I could get the redpoint (lead it cleanly after rehearsing the moves, for those not in the know). Well, bugger me, I got t! It's a 70's boulder problem that they used to jump off, but has recently been bolted to the top of the crag. The technical crux is pretty low down, but it's certainly not a path from then on. After putting the rope up it bolt-to-bolt style I played around on the top-rope to become familiar with it. Within half an hour I was pretty confident that it would go, so pulled the rope, chilled, and went for it. My first F7a, and back on home turf, where this daft love affair all began. Cheers for the belay bro!

On Monday I hooked up with Em, a buddy from the Edinburgh Uni Mountaineering Club who's from Bristol, and we headed south to the mighty Dartmoor. Beginning at Hound Tor, I got spooked off the short, sharp Aerobic Wall (E2 5c), so went for a look at the micro-route Anaerobic Wall (E1 5c). Described as scary, dangerous and 'not fall-off-able' in the guide, all illustrated with a tale of some local boy smashing his leg up, I opted to see if there was any gear. Having hung around for a while to find the crucial wire and place it, I pumped out going through the crux and took the fall, splendid! Second time round it went fine, which is fortunate, as a fall from any higher would definitely be on to the rocks. Tasty. Em then climbed Liar's Dice, a great little Severe, before we had a picnic and headed round to Haytor and Lowman.
Em dancing up Liar's Dice, Hound Tor

Down on Lowman I got embroiled in Tom Patey's classic HVS Outward Bound. It climbs through a sizable roof on HUGE holds, pulling onto a very accommodating belay ledge, before weaving it's merry way to the top of the crag. Immense. To use guidebook language: very impressive situations for the grade. Up on Haytor, we then did the fun Letterbox Wall (VS 5b, 4b). The first pitch is a 5b boulder problem, with nay gear until it's all over. Not the average VS then.

Moving onto the roof on Outward Bound, Lowman.

It's funny, these short routes, where the adjective grade basically boils down to the likelihood of hitting the ground. It may be technically nails, but it's not going to kill you to fall off the crux, so it's HVS! It may be a 5b move with no gear, but it's only 4 metres up, so it's VS! I guess it's the same as lots of grit and sandstone crags, short routes have to pack a punch to earn the grade. Anyway, we all know that these little crags aren't proper climbing! Bring on the mountains.

Em and I met up later in the week and went for a look at a little bolted wall in Trym Valley Gorge, North Bristol. The easiest line there is F7a, so armed with my recent success I was looking forward to another fight. Sadly, as seems to be the way with crags round here, part of the wall was covered in ivy, so we opted for the only clean and accessible line, a F7a+. With a spot of swearing, some aid and general faff I got the rope to the top and we both had a go at working the moves. Blimey Charlie! It was nails! I've very little experience of routes at this grade, but am aware that on top-rope I should at least be able to work some of the moves out. Unless you're very tall, I can't see how it's 7a+. Slightly disgruntled, we gave up and went home.

Musical Pick of the Week

A new feature on Soft Rock, should anyone care. This week I have been mostly listening to Buck 65. Nova Scotia born, world traveled, pretty much the epitome of modern music. Rapper, story-teller, scratch artist. Tells tales of the everyday to a backdrop of hip-hop, folk, tv themes, rock, classical music. Who else manages to make a song about being a shoe-shiner (besides Johnny Cash, of course), being a centaur wanted by the porn industry, or about how small-town gossip ruined the life of Stella. That's not a tear in the corner of my eye.....

Check him out here, and you can listen to a collaborative concert he did with Symphony Nova Scotia here.

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