Check back at the Guard House by last light
Added to these cautions should be, always wear a helmet and be prepared to spend some time locating the crag, let alone the route.
Range West is different to any place I have previously climbed. Not in the climbing itself but in the difficulty of gaining access and the environment in which one is surrounded.
Looking for the abseil© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Aug 2006
Range West is still active. During the week the Army train using live rounds. The cliff tops and inland downs are covered in derelict tanks, cardboard soldiers, heavily fortified bunkers, targets both stationary and mobile, the fragments, casings and shards of metal from ordnance ranging from .762 to 120mm.
Local transport© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Sep 2006
It is tempting to take one of these remnants home as a souvenir, but don't. The ammunition may be unexploded and even if obviously not, if caught doing so it may result in a ban not only for you but for all other climbers. So stick to the rules otherwise this wonderful climbing area may be lost to us all.
This was our first visit to the range, Mark having done the briefing earlier in the year. It certainly won't be our last. Mark had studied his guidebook at length, so after checking in with the Guard House and obtaining our passes, numbers one and two, we parked at Stack Rocks and entered the restricted area heading to Linney Head, one of the few obvious landmarks, where Mark had located a couple of routes that should be easy to find. The two and a half mile (as the bird flies) walk seemed never ending with our heavy sacks but after about fifty minutes we were at the lookout sheltering from a shower before investigating the crag below.
Orientation gets you official documentation and permission to climb© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Aug 2006
Wow! It looked steep loose and intimidating and after a bit of a wobble the day before I was not feeling confident about rapping down to the stormy wavewashed platform 130ft below. Mark however was confident which got me over my initial fears and after improvising an abseil, our 50 metre rope extended by slings only just reaching the bottom, I was gliding down wishing I had an abseil protection device and more importantly a helmet rather than a woolly balaclava.
One must dress appropriately for the occaision© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Sep 2006
Once at the bottom however, things looked less intimidating and Mark was soon sailing up the initial overhanging 30ft wall of “Flake Shake”(HVS) while I stood well to the side and under the overhangs, just in case.
Mark cruised up the flake above and after a pause to dispatch the crux disappeared over the top, leaving me to start doubting my abilities and contemplate the long jumar out if I failed. Then CRASH! A brick size rock hit the platform, I cowered under the overhangs. A shout. Zoom CRASH! Another rock hit the platform. Then the ab rope disappeared soon to be relowered with Mark's helmet attached. I scampered out untied, it adjusted it and thankfully stuck it on my all too exposed bonce.
The ropes come tight, three tugs and I'm off. WOW! This is incredible thirty feet of overhanging jug pulling, I've never climbed anything like this, it's like a climbing wall. Pull onto a ledge I can now see Mark above me. Thumbs up a short breather and up the flake. Much easier than it looked from above. Now I'm at the crux. “It's a little tricky there”. We are now in audible communication. “Yes I thought it might be.” The flake has run out with a flat top. The problem is to get standing on it. There are no more jugs just a crack in the gently overhanging wall above. So pull up, smear, stick a hand in the crack, get a foot ontop of the flake, stuff another hand in the crack and pull. Phew, I've made the move, now just the loose stuff to the top. Relief, excitement, enjoyment. What a great route. We excitedly babble about the climb and how we found it while sorting out the gear and retiring to the shelter of the lookout for some food and a well-earned fag.
After our break we scouted around for another route, our investigation took us to Funlands where lo and behold there were another two climbers. Having broken their solitude we asked what they had done and they pointed us at a fine looking slab, I was keen but Mark was seeking a more dramatic setting. We looked in Funlands crater which was green and dank, “I'm not going in there” but Mark wasn't put off scoping the routes but eventually agreeing that he didn't fancy it either. We walked back to a large open zawn with manky looking straterd walls supposedly there was a VS going up there, I was sceptical and went off for a crap while Mark worked out the line. On this point, Range West is very open and it is hard to find toilet cover, luckily there are few people there and I managed to find a shell scrape by a wrecked tank to make my deposit. I retired to the shelter of the lookout and smoked a fag expecting Mark to abandon his plan for the zawn and agree to head to the slab. No chance. Mark had sussed the line and after the most minor protest from me quickly scotched by a sharp “well that's what we're here for” we were again improvising an abseil from a rusty target pulley and lump of concrete. As Mark abbed a blue land rover pulled up and a very friendly man came over. He explained that he was monitoring a couple of seal pups in the back of the zawn and we would be ok until ten that night when the mother would come back with the high tide to feed them. I assured him that we would be gone well before then, if not I thought, we would be in serious trouble.
The abseil© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Aug 2006
So once more into the breach. Once at the bottom of the zawn I felt more comfortable and with the company of mummy seal, who watched us throughout from the sea, Mark effortlessly despatched the route (“Bird on a Wire – VS). After an initial steep wall things turned surprisingly slabby the climbing straightforward but the situation superb. I was soon at the top and starting to get into this Range West thing. What next?
We could have gone to the slab, but now enthused I was keen to check out Juggy Point, which from the guidebook sounded great, but it was not to be. We marched off back from whence we had come but took a wrong turn ending up in the middle of Bulliber Down. Bugger. Should we go back, carry on or cut across. Deciding not to break the rules and not wanting to go back we eventually found a path that cut back past more tanks, targets and shrapnel to the coast path where we should have been.
Mark starting up Bird on a Wire VS.© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Aug 2006
We scrambled down to the cliff top but in the gloom found it hard to locate our exact position so bagged it until the morrow in favour of a few pints in the St. Govans.
The next day we followed the same procedure and were again numbers one and two, except this time we were the only ones as confirmed when we checked our passes back in. Where else would you have such an extensive range of climbing all to yourselves?
This time we forsook the long walk and headed straight to Juggy Point. The day was beautiful, blue skies with a few tall clouds on the horizon and warm sunshine. We located the area quickly, but to our disappointment there was a heavy sea running, the waves breaking forty feet up the cliffs. Juggy Point was out so we contented ourselves with an easy day on the 40ft Wall, the angle of which and the height of the ledge being such that the routes were still dry. This wasn't to say that as the tide went down and the sea grew more ferocious we weren't hit by spray. I manfully lead a VD that was excellent, interesting climbing all the way. Mark followed this with a VS, again excellent and quite technical. Mark soloed a couple of other routes and I rounded things off with a disappointing VD. By then the attraction of the wall had worn off and we wanted bigger things but unfortunately time and tide stop for no man and so it was we departed to the prospect of a long drive back to Bristol and London respectively.
We only scratched the outer skin of the surface of Range West, yet we came away enthused, keen to get back for more. Although we were climbing existing routes listed in the guidebook, the lack of chalk, polish, other climbers and easily identifiable features made the weekend feel exploratory. Of course with familiarity this will lessen but to any climbers who want to feel a sense of adventure, enjoy the solitude and value this above pushing the grade or counting the numbers, get down to the next briefing and go west, Range West.
So long and thanks for all the fish© Geoffrey Odds and Mark”Pylon King” Davies, Aug 2006
and Mark Davies aka Pylon King
are rock climbers. Mark collaborated with Chris Jones on the Moonraker article, you can read that here. Geoff is the author of 'Fear and Fascination: The 100 Best Rock Climbs in England and Wales' and made the film 'Steel Women' about women climbers in Sheffield.