Monday 19 February 2007

3 days cragging

Enjoying an excellent sea cliff climb, Comfortably Numb E8 6c, Aberdeen sea cliffs. Photos by Hotaches Productions. If you click on them you can view the images bigger.

Focusing in on the final move of Comfortably Numb.

Leading Comfortably Numb with Dave Brown taking photos on the rope. Photo by David Ogden.
I arranged with the Hotaches crew and Kev Shields (you need to get a blog mate so I can link you!) to head to the Peak for a few days but for once the forecast was best in the north and specifically the east. So a quick change of plan and we went to the county for a day and then the Aberdeen sea cliffs, to clean up a couple of quick repeats I fancied. In Northumberland we spent the first half of the day wandering in a moor looking for a crag while carrying a stupid amount of kit (yes that is a crane in the photos below!). So we sacked it and went to Rothley which even we could find.
It was damp and drizzly and I brushed lots of chalk into the holds on Masterblaster Superdirect (E7 6c) to try and dry the holds. They kept coming through green so I declined to go for the onsight. Then I kicked myself after flashing it on the toprope! Serves me right I suppose. So I got that led anyway and salvaged something from a dank day with a lot of travelling and little climbing.

Onsighting Gies a Squid E7 6c, Scimitar Ridge, Aberdeen sea cliffs. Malcolm Kent belaying from my armpit
Next day we travelled to the north east sea cliffs to try Tim Rankin's route from last year, Comfortably Numb E8 6c. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive and find Gordon Lennox already on it. Its good to know that you have to queue even at E8 in Scotland - there is life in the trad climbing scene yet. So while big Gordon had the route, I abbed over the other side of the ridge with Malcolm Kent and onsighted Gies a Squid, a lovely E7 6c line up a slabby arete of pristine granite above the swell. It the first time I'd tried to onsight a route harder than E6 since 2001, so I was relieved that it was very much in the tradition of Aberdeen sea cliff routes - soft for the grade!

Day of the digital triffids, Rothley crag
The next morning Gordon nailed the E8 first try, so I got my chance. After a couple of half hour stints on the shunt I led it. It was a superb piece of climbing, nice and safe with exquisite moves in a lovely situation above the sea. The hardest climbing is at the bottom too, so in the top half you can just relax and enjoy the moves. I was a bit worried that my pinky would dislocate again in the fingerlocks but it didn't happen thank god.
My ascent was the first placing the gear on lead. Last year I got a fair bit of flak for making comment about the style of the first ascent, where the gear was pre-placed. I felt that this style had well and truly gone out and that these days in trad climbing it is assumed you place all your gear on lead, all the time, with all but a tiny minority of climbers doing this.
The criticsm I got was that the motivation of the first ascentionist was lost on me and that it was up to them how they chose to climb. Of course anyone has the freedom to climb a piece of rock however they please and this is a great thing. But to give a route a name and grade is to enter into the sport, not just the activity, and as such your actions affect others, not just yourself. Would you claim a grade for a route you had only toproped? No, because the accepted standard is to lead. I trad climbing, the accepted standard is to lead placing gear. So its important to make the effort and do so in order to be fair to everyone else who goes to a lot of effort (training for years and risking their neck) to follow the accepted standard. However, this is really a side issue. The main thing is that I have enormous respect for Tim for going out and climbing the hardest route in his local area, and for climbing at his limit.
Anyway, I felt it would be a good thing to show this by making the effort to travel up there and climb the route. And I can confrim its excellent. I guess I also put my money where my mouth is by placing the gear on lead.

Masterblaster Superdirect E7 6c

Where the hell are we? - somewhere on a Northumbrian moor.
I was most impressed with Kev's necky lead of End Game E3 5c at the end of the day. It was getting more and more greasy as thesea spray stuck to the granite after the sun had gone. Kev went through that familiar process of trying to read his own mind for a confident decision that he could lead it safely. Kev only has one hand, so placing gear is extremely difficult in most situations. So most routes are really solos for him. He made the decision, looked a bit serious for 10 minutes, and then dispatched it. Relief all round, and we packed up and pondered a nice few days climbing in new places. Hotaches blogged about the trip here.


  1. Nice one Dave, good to see the NE sea cliffs getting some serious attention, and at this time of year too!
    Surprised about your comment on first E6+ onsight since 2001, more to come there laddie!

    Having to queue for an E8 :-)

  2. "so I was relieved that it was very much in the tradition of Aberdeen sea cliff routes - soft for the grade!" do i detect a hint of disapproval, in grading terms, of Tims E8 problem he put up in the summer? And why the attack on aberdeen climbing, have you done that much in the area yourself??

  3. Not an attack at all. I like the climbing there. People always told me the hardest routes there were softly graded. I have only done a few routes there, but they confirmed what others told me.