When you’re looking for an archetypal sea cliff then Chair Ladder seems to fit the bill, especially when thinking of multipitch routes. And so when Rory got hold of me to say he wanted to come down prior to the Boardmasters festival and do some sea cliff climbing…. the destination almost picked itself.
To say it was a fairly intense introduction to sea cliffs would be an understatement. I have always found Chair Ladder a bit intimidating. Possibly the ab in and the fact all the climbs literally start from sea level on a small platform. Anyway, my initial idea of starting on Flannel Avenue evaporated as it became apparent that we’d need to swim to get access to the start. So plan B was Diocese and so we went for it.
It is such a good climb. An opening technical bridging pitch leads to a very exposed traverse (the so called crux but probably only for the intimidation factor a I found pitch 1 harder technically) and finally a couple of pitches on exposed slabs high above the sea.
It has everything. And I hope Rory enjoyed himself on this one, because it is one of Cornwall’s finest outings on granite.
One climb in a day may not seem a lot, but this actually took a lot out of me and by time we had been exposed to the sun and wind for 4 hrs I was prepared to call it a day.
A quick mooch over to Hella completed a really enjoyable, relaxed day with good friends. Even the 30 min hike out along the road was pleasant, before the inevitable struggle with the summer traffic. Remember “Your car is not as wide as you think it is!”
Loose Women – E1 5b – Alt Lead (dgd) Right of Spring – VS 4c – Lead Notre Dame – VS 4b – Second
So here was the big day. Sacre Coeur here I come. Or maybe not… As a believer in ‘climb it when you feel it’, this proved not to be the day for pushing my grades. My general nerves seemed to tidy up a bit, thanks to some generous encouragement from Nick, but I never quite got into gear this time.
It didnt detract from an amazing adventure on Loose women though. What a climb. From the bottom it gives you a distinct feeling of ‘this will be quite out there!’ and it didnt fail to deliver. Nick led the bottom jamming pitch which is worth three stars in its own right. I got the harder and quite out there second pitch, but it is all there. Lots of pro, the holds you need and incredible airy climbing.
I think I talked myself out of cleaning this pitch, but once I worked it out, it went fairly straight forwardly. Its the exposure though that gets you. High above Blackchurch rock the views are breathtaking. It seems that the whole area has a bit of a Jurassic Park feel to it, with a stunning waterfall cascading onto the beach and jagged promontories everywhere.
Nick had the pleasure of the final pitch (if you could call it that). More like climbing a compost heap. Loose rock, grass, gorse for pro and a final ledge that was more likely to fall on you and kill you than be useful as a hold. I think Nick enjoyed it in a perverse way. It was definitely better on a second where you could admire the variety of plants and the interesting rock colours as they fell into the sea :-).
We moved over to the rock island for a lunch of proper cheese sarni’s and muffins, before Nick cunningly manouvered me into climbing Right of Spring. To be honest I wanted to have a go at it, although half way up with my muscles aching and a distinct lack of big gear remaining I wasnt thinking that way. The opening moves were very interesting. A move straight off the base would have resulted in grating a few layers of skin off and seeing as you couldnt see the rock for the molluscs, I came in from the right where an easy set of moves gets you above the nasty stuff. Placing the cam into the crack was tricky as my arms were 2 inches too short until I managed to move partway around.
Then it was off on a bridging fest, intermittently dispersed with laybacks and a few jams. I found it strenuous, but my chimney/corner climbing is probably not what it should be. But i have to say its a good route, full of character and with some excellent moves. A bailed left on the finla moves as the rock had the beautiful yellow moss on it. Great to look at, but not so great for friction. Nick of course made it look effortless the g#t. And he couldnt help posing for a profile picture either.
Of course it wouldnt be a day out with Nick if we didnt race the tide for at least a while. His accelerated ascent of Notre Dame went on as the tide washed over the normal belay ledge (I had climbed up onto the ridge which was eminently sensible). Finding gear on the underside of the climb was interesting, but it was run out in places and had a distinct airy feel to it. The final crack is poor though, full of veggies and not pleasant. It is great for the exposure but not the best the area has to offer.
The day was capped off by a swim around the rock, both ways for Nick, which revitalised an aching body for fairly long uphill walk out. We didnt see the Turkey’s (I think thats what they were) on the way out. Coming in there had been a large flock of them who had mindlessly kept running away from us instead of getting off the track. I think I might return to this area for the walking. Beautiful woodland, stunning coastal views and a slightly remote feeling make this a must visit area.
Lost Horizon – VS 5a – Lead Doors of Perception – E1 5b – Second
So what do you do when the drive up to the Culm delivers constant rain showers right up to when you pull into the quaint village of Hartland. The answer is to look North. Or at least it was on this occasion.
My main target of the weekend was Sacre Coeur, a three star E2 on Blackchurch Rock, but in my mind it had to be perfect conditions as I didnt want to ruin the whole experience. With Baggy Point only a short drive away (or shortish if you ignore trying to get through Broughton) it seemed churlish to not give it a go and at least recce some of the many starred routes it has to offer.
Of course at this time of year Croyde is in full swing, but I think it actually adds to the whole ambience of the area giving it an uplifting vibe. Baggy Point itself is impressive. Reminds me a little of Sharpnose, at least ‘The Long Rock’ area did. Its only after you make the dodgey descent onto the fin that you realise how impressive the slab is. And also how high it is. On Lost Horizon the route seemed to go on for a long time, which of course I was glad of as it is such an amazing route.
Now for some reason both days on the Culm were punctuated with me getting the Heebee Jeebees. Not sure why but something played with my mind and unsettled me. That said, even nerves could not mask how good the climbing was. Lost Horizon is a crack that just keeps going. For a lot of it, it is jammable, but there are a few tricky sections. It was interesting to see the two entirely different ways Nick and I tackled the route. I searched out edges and on the face and only jammed when I had to. Nick ‘Turkeyed’ up the route using impeccable technique imported from the USA. It was something I was trying to emulate the following day and does make crack climbing easier and more graceful (even if my foot still hurts).
Nicks ‘finest hour’ was about to come around as we abbed back in again and set up for Doors of Perception. From the bottom the move up into the groove looks difficult and bold. When you actually reach it you discover that ‘Yes it is difficult and bold’. Nick unlocked it with a delicate traverse left to a crack with far better protection possibilities. A move I managed to blow resulting in some air time, before I tried again, this time making it.
But it’s not just about that move, although that is the memorable one. The climb keeps coming at you with a series of technical moves and finishing with a really fingery layback up the final ‘looser’ corner. A great climb and well led by Nick.
Despite our best efforts to get another route in (A potential Kinky Boots/Midnight Cowboy combo) we realised that time was not on our side and headed off for the campsite. A good call in fact as we arrived fairly late and after being unceremoniously turfed off our initial pitch, we grabbed a homemade curry and some excellent wine that Nick had brought along.
As an aside, Hartland and the campsite we were on are both really nice and I think I may well use it as a base if I come up this way again. Also good value at £7 a night.
Nipped in the Buddha – VS 4c – Second Little Black Dress – EC 5B – TR Brother Chris – E3 5c – TR (dgd)
Dave had been wittering on about NITB for ages so it was only fair to let him have his moment (of fear). NITB is one of those VS’s that doesnt look too bad until your trying to find your equilibrium as you move up into the groove. From the ground it is quite steep. From the groove it is overhanging. Either way it’s not easy.
After I had dropped the ab rope into the sea we dropped down onto the ledge below NITB. For a change most of the climbs were dry. Unusually.
The Black Zawn never really looks inviting but the truth is that there are a large number of high quality climbs here. The harder varieties suffer from a distinct lack of gear, but the moves and holds are brilliant. Most of the E numbers are on the buttress starting right of The English Way and heading all the way around to the seaward face. A awkward traverse gets you to Merchants of Menace a very good looking E2 which I think I’ll have a go at one day.
Dave made NITB look relatively easy, which it isnt. A sloping slab leads to difficult moves up into the groove. Then its a case of using the angles to make it easier for an exciting finale.
The E2 was an excellent climb, but leading it would have been a different proposition. Very little gear, particularly protecting the crux moves which were fiddly before you arrived at the jugs.
The E3 was superb. Beyond me to clean it on this day, but what a climb. It looks so unlikely from below, but as the guidebook says, miraculous holds appear when you need them. Unfortunately for me I didnt see one of the hidden miraculous holds so had to rest about half way. But for the main part it is just excellent move after excellent move. I’d love to say I’d lead this but I’d have to have a closer look at the gear first.
A tired group of three discussed Joes horrendous feet before a steep walk out on a stunning evening with a huge moon rising over the fields and part noises drifting across from Polzeath. The end of a good day.
And as a final point. How can you not know if a chicken is dead or not. Daves hutch cooked chickens some how rose from the dead – maybe they are Frankenchickens.
Thane – E1 5b – Lead Gneiss Gnome – HS 4b – Second The Stormbringer – E3 5c – TR (dnf)
I love Carn Kenidjack! It’s official. Probably the crag of my best leads and always a ground breaker when it comes to grades.
So Thane isnt any higher in the grade than any other E1… but sometimes it is reputation that counts and Thane, thought to be easier than Rock Dancer by many, is less attempted. Why?? Cos its f#*king scary that’s why.
There are two sequences on the climb, one fairly low down and then another once established in the upper groove. Both are above your gear and both are a bit iffy for your head. It makes for a really interesting battle between your head and your feet. Head says ‘Go!’, feet say ‘Nope.. I’m going to stay right here where its safe’.
In the end, after my usual deliberations I went for both moves and both were OK, although my advice to others would be to keep going once you commit, because there are a number of moves before you reach more gear.
So sat here in the safety of my home I can say that Thane was an incredible climb, full of character and with some great moves. At the time of climbing I might have given a different opinion, but it is a big tick for me as it has long been on my list of ‘wanna’s’
Of course it wouldnt be fair for me to hog all the epics so Dave had his own version on Gneiss Gnome, discovering that the lower slab is particularly run out for a Hard Severe. Fortunately Tom did leave something for Dave to climb after his attempt to destroy the cliff when having a go on Seiging the Castle a long lost E4 5c which tackles the crack in the face to the left. Ripping breeze blokes off the cliff is just not cricket.
Joe was as usual smashing his way through ridiculously difficult routes. I let him persuade me into attempting an E3 5c on the top rope. Having seem Joe on the crux, I knew it would be difficult, but my general power let me down on what was a really good route. Just need that explosive burst and I might have made it. Note to muscles ‘must get stronger’.
And so ended another epic day on the crag. I am absolutely bursting to get out again now. Thane has instilled a bit of confidence in the system. It was needed.
The header just about summed up my feelings as I started on the opening moves of Blue for the umpteenth time (8 or 9 attempts at least). A period of inactivity, too much good food and a liberal dose of wet rock was playing devestating games with my confidence.
A actually really like Lands End. There is something special about climbing on the tip of England and as usual the views are stunning. If there is a down side it would be the varying rock quality, which can feel insecure and crumbly. This is possibly due to lack of traffic, but the integrity of the rock does change.
Joe and Nick were definitely suffering from this over on Dr Syntax’s Head, finding some nasty HVS’s to occupy themselves on. Meanwhile Dave, me and Pete were wrestling with Blue. From below it looks reasonably inoccuous. But this hides the steepness and difficulty of the opening moves. It overhangs for a start and the holds are small.
Gear is OK but you make the difficult moves above it until you reach the first break. With wet holds I continually found myself slipping off until after one abortive attempt where I had to lower off, I managed to climb it clean. I was so stuffed by the end though. Absolutely drained in fact.
Its a great climb in fact, but not HS and harder than 4b. VS 4c probably, because of the opening moves and the top jam. The wet didnt help, but it was still hard.
Good on Pete for a stirling effort after a long period of semi retirement. Good to see him back on it and no mishaps on this day. Dave, who is climbing better and better made short work of it. Many thanks for the patience they both showed in waiting for me to sort my head out.
I am going to return here and repeat this one in good conditions (and the tough and bold looking VS to its side), hopefully on the same day I bag Cormorants Bill. 🙂
Well there’s a few lessons to be learned from this climb. When guidebooks refer to Carn Gowla, they are basically using a different form of climbing dictionary..
‘Generally good rock’ = ‘Some holds may remain attached to the cliff”
‘Reliable protection’ = ‘Placements will only explode after you load them’
‘Good holds’ = ‘They may break and you will plunge to your doom’
‘exhilarating climbing’ = ‘You’re going to die’
I base this upon the adventure Dave and I had tackling Silver Dollar and fantastic, if mentally draining climb on the Baptist Cliff. The abseil in sets the tone for the adventure. A long drop down a V groove which involves free descending for a way. Then having arrived at a ramp in an amazingly beautiful but overwhelming section of coast you traverse across to a large cave and the start of the climb.
From the bottom it looks intimidating. Once on it, it becomes a mental game of you vs the unreliable rock. I had the honours for the first pitch which climbs slightly rightward, angling over the cave initially and then cutting back to finish under the silver dollar.
The climbing is great, forcing shapes and moves, but none too hard. The pro is spaced and only just adequate. Of all the pieces I placed I would probably only have really trusted 3 to definitely hold.
However, the cliff forces you into a level of concentration you normally dont have to create. Move delicately, test each hold and foot placement and work your way up into a magnificently exposed part of Gowla. So good and so terrifying at the same time.
Dave set off from my only just adequate belay and moved up and around the Silver Dollar. We used the Pat Littlejohn guide and I think the route diagram is wrong in this book. It stay too far right of the dollar. The climbers club book is more accurate. As a result Dave ended up on the upper reaches of Castaway, an E1 variation. This was still brilliant climbing but was definitely more 5a than 4c and more E1 than HVS for pro. Still Dave handled it well and reached the second belay, which was effectively a pile of tottering choss. It was in keeping with the final 10 metre scramble across mounds of earth, grass tussocks, loose gravel and paper thin flakes of rock.
As I crawled over the edge onto the grass above I have never been so relieved to grad a Rabbit Burrow, which was the best hold I encountered during the whole of the last pitch. Next time, we will be placing a pre placed rope for the final section. God it was awful!
The evening’s end though was not. A setting sun, warm breeze and massive amounts of contentment and self congratulations capped of another Gowla epic. Will this place ever stop scaring me?
Needle Direct – VS 4b – Lead
Seabreeze – HS 4a – Second
Tourist Trap – E1 5b – Lead (dnf) T/R
Neither Nick or I have any concept of how long it actually takes to get to the Culm. We were both 45 minutes late and arrived within a few minutes of each other. Doh! Obviously tuned in on the same wavelength.
The drive up to Hartland is lovely and the lanes leading through the village and out to the quay were decked in purple rhododendron and vivid green trees showing their new leaves. Quite spectacular. Of course you then drop down to the quay itself which has its own splendor, this time with stark rock outcrops and prehistoric jagged runnals heading out to the sea.
Screda Point sits to the South and is only a short walk away. We decided to ab in so that our gear wasnt at the bottom (a good decision that one) and head straight out to the outer fin where an HS and VS lurked. Both turned out to be great routes. The Needle Direct was a well protected and tricky route up the centre of a slab. Fantastic climbing with a real out there feel because of the isolation of the fin. Nick’s HS also had a character of its own. Following the arete and then breaking out onto the slab it was a cool peer for the VS.
The tide was chasing all the way though and we left as the waves started surging up the runnals toward the main face. Just enough time for me to bag an E1 in order to get to the grassy saddle… or not???
The start of the E1 was fine but I soon found myself high up with just a micro and a difficult move. The combination was enough to stop me in my tracks and with the water lapping at Nicks feet we opted for a me to downclimb and both of us to shimmy up the ab rope on prussics. So it was a lower off to fetch the gear and then a climb out.
Of course I couldnt help but try to impress Nick with my magic tricks. David Blane makes planes disappear into nothingness. I make quickdraws and runners disappear into the sea in a blink of an eye. Impressive huh? The trick is to switch off your brain, use a bit of thuggery on a stuck nut and not bother attaching it to your rope. That way it cartwheels into the ocean and its possible to just stand there and look really stupid…
When will I learn. So with Nick safely up the route as well, we called it a day fairly early and so ended a brilliant session and a good return to ‘business as usual’ for me and Nick. Lets hope for loads more days like that in the near future.
Aboriginal Sin – E3 – Second
Casablanca – E2 – Alt Lead
Rendezous Manque – V Diff – Lead
Sometimes you have a vision of how a climb will be. I imagine myself climbing it and invent the holds, hoping they will be as good in real life. On a beautiful sunny day, Joe and I stood below Aboriginal Sin and I considered whether I was in good enough form to actually get up it.
The guidebook describes a series of juggy flakes leading to ‘the fang’ that sticks up at the end of the steeply rising and overhanging crack. Easy then! Get on it and move quickly until you can get hold of the juggy fang.
After creating a bomber nest of gear Joe launched out for the fang and as I watched him fight with the crack and eventually grab the fang, I realised that this was going to be really tough. Of course it’s not over at this point and Joe had another sequence to negotiate before it was my turn.
Now in my mind the holds were going to be positive flakes and the main problem pure grunt. No, the main problem is that the jugs are actually rounded and not positive and so my first attempt ended in some air time. The second time I was lucky that Joe kept me on a tight rope as I used my last reserves to gratefully hug the fang, gasping for air and with my poor arms blown. Of course the exploding hold which literally dissolved in my hand didn’t inspire confidence and nearly shrugged me off again. Still, I got up it in the end and what a great feeling. Brilliant lead by Joe, who is going from strength to strength.
We joined Tom and Dave who were having there own route fest, baggy some of the class VS and HVS of the main cligg. These really are good climbs, if a bit bold at times.
My initial suggestion of a VS traverse turned into a two pitch E2 after both me and Joe liked the look of Casablanca. I led the opening 5a pitch which was great fun. Not difficult, but nervy as the gear comes late. Joes lead of the top crack was another stirling effort. My try ended up with me jammed in the crack facing the wrong way. It was only when I extricated myself and faced the right way that the finishing moves became possible. Still a really good route and maybe I’ll try the top crack on the lead next time if I’m feeling brave.
Joe and I finished up a V Diff chimney (great…?) with a laughable belay on boulders that were more likely to kill you than save you. And so at the end of a hot, sunny and memorable day it was icecreams/drinks and a contented drive home.
Un-Named – HVS 5a – Lead
Mach 3 – HVS 5a – Lead
Ink and Ointment – E1 – Second
The upper buttress is a brilliant evening location. Fairly easy to walk into, non tidal and relatively close to Newquay (relatively…).
The rock though is not the best and the climbs are fairly short. That said, this particular venture was perfect and we successfully got three good climbs in.
What I would say is that the climbs as a whole are over-graded. Take one technical grade off for a more realistic indication. The severity part is probably not too far off on Un-Named because of the poor rock quality, but again for the other two, they are well protected so maybe one grade lower here too.
That said, they are still worthwhile climbs. Un-Named heads up the crack and face of the main slab and although not hard, is insecure and requires care. Both the others are one move wonders, but they are good moves that require a bit of thought. Tom’s E1 was tricky to start and probably the most technical of the three, but again, once through the hard part it finished quickly. Mach 3 actually looks harder than it is. Get your body shape right and its a breeze…
I’ve nearly climbed this venue out in two visits. There are still three more routes to grab, so no doubt this will be another visit when the tides are all wrong.