Wednesday, 28 January 2015

String of Pearls

The sun cut through the mist and our senses were blunted by the technicolour glare. The plaques of granite became a gaudy mosaic across the face, and the String of Pearls acquired a lustre to match its name. To be frank, the Bosigran Girdle needs the magical touch of the sun, just as jewels need bright lights to sparkle. At risk of heresy it must be said that girdle traverses can be very boring indeed, and the middle sections of this one all but founder in the complex folds of granite. But not the start.

 At the right-hand end of the main cliff there juts a magnificent set-square of overhang, beneath which the early pitches nestle. Damp whiteness clamped the rock in cold monochrome as we swung on the Bow Wall. Some way across it the enfilading thrust of the sun flared on to the cliff. Our parting memories of Bow Wall were of granite as yellow as Catinaccio limestone, and of the 'Coalface’ slab of Suicide Wall glistening like newly spread tar.

And the rock was so hard. Three days on Bosigran had not lessened our wonder at its bruising density, as numbed Easter fingers, grown careless on more gentle,northern stones, came off the holds polished and raw. From a splendid pedestal stance in the middle of Suicide Wall, the great plates of granite pucker into a complex cluster of ribs and bays.

From this point the tempo changes completely, in a way that would have alarmed Glenn Miller, from one of whose titles Goodier and Deacon are reputed to have named the climb. Hitherto the scale and style of the surroundings have overwhelmed the deficiencies in detailed interest. Now, sustained only by what they can offer in climbing detail, the next four pitches are found wanting. Even the crux, a difficult and exasperating teeter across a very steep slab, is totally isolated in this confused and mediocre zone from those parts of the cliff which would give it real dignity.

It is in crossing Raven’s Wall, whose total height is only 120 ft that String of Pearls gets it together again. An overhanging fist of rock presses the route to within 40ft. Of the ground; encirclement of the knuckles provides a marvellous and disturbingly exposed 70ft. pitch. Tiny overlapping slabs lead to a steeply dropping hand traverse round the lowest forefinger of white granite; then the painful certainty of tired hands, thrusting deep into dirty cracks, brings this strenuous section to an end.

 As is so often the case,powerful rock architecture invests the lines that pass it with something of its majesty. The last pitch is delicate, unprotected and very lovely. For the first time the foreground is not the toy cove and picture-book island of Porthmoina, but the dramatic silhouette of the Seaward Cliff, creaming out of the Atlantic. The convex bulges glisten with a silvery, slickered sheen,roughened in striding sequence with a regularity unequalled by any human step-chopper.

The last pitch of Beaker Route completes the girdle, after 750ft. Of sustained, varied and often strenuous climbing. Regard the route as being like a rather dusty stretch of road, with the Bow and Raven Wall sections representing two automatic car-washers at either end, whose atmospheric drenchings erase enough of the journey’s grime to make String of Pearls fit for inclusion in this book.

Dave Cook

This article was intended for inclusion in ’Hard Rock’ but was omitted. Hence the reference to 'book' at the end. Like the essays in 'Hard Rock’ this piece highlights descriptive personal writing which seems so lacking in the magazines.

** After failing to make the cut for Hard Rock, Dave's article eventually appeared in Crags32.