Friday, 29 August 2014


It went against the grain for a gritstone climber to approach a route with mud curling round the toes of the battered old EBs. But this was Baggy on a sea-misty morning and the top of a route called Ben-smiling Ben Wintringham’s route. Marion is the name of a friendly crack in the same slab and named for his wife. But all this pleasantry from me is simply delaying my recall of the first fall of that Easter Day,backwards from the muddy slope over the edge of the slab towards white foam shifting uneasily round a wet platform 130' below.

What anchored me to earth seemed a chain of increasingly thin things: descendeur, rope, Krab, sling and stake in the sloping mud. In pulling down the ropes it would have been impossible to have avoided them falling into the big sea-salty pool. Feet and hands on the first holds were wet too. Really, flippers seemed more suitable.

An applause of spray agreed. But the clammy crack hid sharpness for fingers and pinched feet until friction- even better than gritstone - emerged above the level of high-tide sea spray. Mist still hid Lundy and its familiar Old Light.
A hundred feet up I came to an impasse, thankful for a small Friend and a big one below. Big Tim-Noble by nature as well as by name- came up to solve the problem, laybacking past my ear up the parallel sides of a mud-smeared groove.

Trying it Tim’s way I had to agree with him that, yes, there were finger
pockets, yes, in fact, the feet do stay put on the inside of the groove, and yes, I could see now that there were big holds to the top.

This second fall of the day was a moral one. A bite of a Friend offered a belay and I took the way out of the forbidden fruit - a climber who stopped climbing belayed below the crux of a Hard Severe! The third fall of the day brought me even lower psychologically, but it also brought me onto a redeeming slab of brilliant white rock, the journey up which is paradise regained. What could be more kinky than the start of Kinkyboots: forcing yourself to fall, hands outstretched, across a black greasy pit where the sea at high tide surges slobbering, white and green? Everything tells you not to. Yet you have to make that fall to find the long exquisite slab of light.

‘It’s out of condition!’.... I had tried whilst Tim made his unhesitating preparations. ‘We’re not  going to do this route today, are we?’ was my final attempt. Tim was so tall that he could make that fall, place a Friend up under a loose leaf of slate and push back upright again to walk down a few feet and lean across for The Move opposite The Hold. I watched him pull across and then up through the layers of  little overhanging pieces of slatey blocks with the concentration of one about to pick his way through purgatory. When it came to my turn I studied the greasy sloping faces that were footholds on the other side. I seemed to have stood staring and muttering ‘I hate this kind of thing,’ for a long time.

When eventually I fell across and took out the Friend I found that I couldn’t push back. Now really on the rack. I had to walk hands and feet down at full stretch to find The Hold to pull across on. When I moved I moved fast and picked the right slots over the blocks to rest in balance at the peg before the acid test. Tim had left a long sling from a tiny brass nut in the crack round the overhang in which you’re supposed to finger-jam. In the event I pulled on the jug on the lip, got a right knee in the sloping V-groove and, with great physical and moral effort, avoided touching the long sling. I grabbed the krab instead. Out of the darkness into the light! Only one or two stances on only the best of routes provide that equal balance between relief and anticipation. As you look up the slab you know it’s going to be good.
In fact it is such a journey of discovery that it deserves not to be over-described. I’ll only say that, searching for the way, you find a fascinating variety of rock formations, textures and colours. It a much more interesting pitch than anything on Pink Void, which in comparison seems over-rated.

Indeed if, after the fall, you ascend the gleaming slab of Kinkyboots in one pitch, you’ll generate a relationship with rock forms and textures that is a re-affirmation of what rock climbing is about...... But only after The Fall.

Terry Gifford: The Joy of Climbing-Whittles Publishing