Rob arrives in the Robmobile with a huge cardboard box in the back. No idea why there's a huge cardboard box in the back but as he's a doctor I don't like to question these things. Off we go. King Kong I think he announces. Well this is an E1 I had always wanted to do. But the lack of any 'leading up to it' had me fumbling for the book; 90m, E1, two pitches both 5b, and a horrid reputation for being polished lower down. Silence for most of the journey. ' You're OK to do the first pitch?' I try – 'don't want to take your lead mate' – is the reply. However fear gives me courage and I insist Rob has the right to lead the first pitch. Silence for the second half of the journey, just a quick exchange on sandwiches he's got Jam –' Cheese I think' - I say – which is bloody stupid as I made them and should know! Rob doesn't comment on my new beanie. Maybe by fiance was right about it.
It was turning into a lovely warm day for February with blue skies and no wind. We park up above Wintours Leap the home of 'King Kong'. 'Box staying in the car I ask casually thinking it might be some extreme on economic bouldering. No reply. Quick check on kit. Two racks and a clip stick I got off my daughter for christmas. 'Why are we taking that?' Clip stick goes back in the car.
Wintours Leap takes the breath away and is so utterly deserted, huge, quiet and beautiful. The River Wye on its last legs before it meets the Severn estuary is tidal and gently meanders in loops through a huge gorge leaving glistening mud then woods at its edges, and then brilliant climbing cliffs. The tide is out which is great as that means it will be coming in through the day – no idea why this pleases me but probably I have some subconscious idea that if I fall off King Kong and the tide's in I will be saved. Or maybe it's being a Pisces.
We wander down to the gorge in glorious sunshine discussing the weather, the climb and the operation Rob performed on his finger to get all the puss out earlier in the week. We meet the mandatory 'local' who tells us everything we already know about the area. Then with amazing perception possibly due to the ropes, racks or maybe my beanie; he looks at us with a sly smile, 'Wouldn't be climbing I suppose?' We reluctantly have to agree and get another half hour of fascinating background to his walking hobby. It seems this is much safer than climbing.
We warm up on 'Guytha' an HVS; two pitches both 5a. This goes surprisingly smoothly as I normally have some sort of epic on HVS climbs. Bit of a debate about trees. I reckon if they chose to grow in the middle of a route then they must want to be involved. Rob says pulling on, hanging on, standing on, or putting gear on them is not on. We agree to differ.
It's Rob's idea to abseil down. We check and the ab point is at 50 metres, we have two 50 metre ropes. Thinking they wouldn't designate it an ab point if 50m wasn't enough we tie them together around a tree and abseil down. Wow! About 2 feet to spare on Robs but mine seems to have grown. Never knew it was 60 meters! I wonder off to check on my cheese sandwiches leaving Rob who had tied the knots to bring the ropes down. Well what do you know they're stuck. No movement at all. I really can't believe this as it is a very long walk back around and up to the top and then you've got to find the abseil point from the track at the top. He tugs I tug, then using an old sailing technique I tell Rob to take a turn around a tree with one rope and I pull the rope sideways letting go as he takes in. The rope gets tighter and then when we are both sweating – it starts to move – but the effort is a killer. We both need to haul the ropes almost to the end. It's a first for me, and a lesson not to abseil down 50 metres with the rope around a tree. I blame Rob anyway, it's much easier when it's somebody else's fault.
A couple of jam and cheese sandwiches later and we are looking up at King Kong. Not that intimidating, but the first pitch is a long overhanging corner crack with what appears to be no footholds and a polished surface. It's also in the shade which is a pain as the day was warming up brilliantly. Some people we knew from the Warehouse indoor climbing centre in Gloucester were doing impossible things on a bolted route next to the start. Rob hates an audience so we pretended to be interested in their antics till thankfully they realised they weren't going to get the fun of watching us perform – and moved on. Rob roped up, we discussed gear. Not sure I followed Rob's approach on this so I made a note to take a shed load more up with me to do the second pitch. The start is to climb up and swing out onto the bottom of the corner which sticks out from the wall a few feet about 5 meters off the ground.
What seemed like an hour later Rob is still talking a lot about swinging out, whilst doing a lot of wall hugging below the start of the corner. At one point he looks like one of those fluffy animals people stick to the rear windows of their car; spread eagled and glued to the surface. He's telling me about the lack of any decent footholds and being a mate I am commiserating – but also getting sweaty hands and terrible cramp in my arms and fingers. Rob eventually gets going by reaching up into the crack at the bottom of the corner and getting a large hex in. He then changes this for a friend, and eventually swings out into the bottom of the corner. As long as the friend holds he's got lots of air beneath him so I'm not worried about the belay, but he definitely didn't look in control. He moved up about 2 metres above the friend and is in the start of the crack. He's just telling me about a good ledge on the right when he goes. As falls go, not bad. About 5 meters and upside down on the end of the rope. Did wonder if I could tie off the belay to get a photo but thought better of it.
Rob's had enough and I lower him down. I am working out how to get the cam back when Rob like some roman to the christian says 'OK your next'. I seriously debate this point, as I am cold, cramped and really not happy about it. But blokiness prevails and off I go. I manage to get a bit higher than Rob and get to a piece of old gear about half way up the corner. I climb a couple of metres above this but looking up there is no rest for another 4 meters and then an overhanging ledge. I've slammed in all the cams I got ready. Do I go on with no protection as no way could I hang there and sort out some time consuming hex/nut placement, then If I fall off higher maybe deck it, or fall off now! I was pleased that I didn't end up upside down, but I did crack my leg on the bottom of the ledge.
After a lot of shouting in a high pitch at Rob I climb or rather get hauled back up to the in situe gear and mange to get all our cams back to be lowered down by Rob. 'Thought you had that mate!' This is followed by a lot of technical 'If only's'. Rob I think is genuinely disappointed. Me I never thought I could do it anyway, so pleased to have got off the ground. Not much sympathy from Rob for the leg. Seems if it's not broke it's beneath his professional interest.
We finish up on two single pitch HVS's to get our confidence back and try to end on a positive note: Black Wall left and Black Wall both 5a's. I lead the first one and practically pulled Rob up in time to get the sunset. But it's real end of day climbing as we are both having 'moments' on the top part.
Then packing up the 'what have you got in your rucksack' moment arrives when deprived of my clip stick I proudly produce another new acquisition, a head torch. Rob who has found a black balaclava at this point and looks like some badly dressed terrorist is unimpressed. However I knew he was secretly jealous. Nobody could tell the colour of my beanie in the dark so felt pretty secure in my atire walking back up the gorge to the car, helpfully shining the torch for Rob who was I think worrying about his cardboard box, and kept muttering about my ruining his night vision.
It was a good day out.
The list of entries so far is below (closing date for entries was Midnight on Monday 9th March):
Click to read individual articles in this series:
A Grand Day Out is another creative competition and a chance to express yourself and share your adventures.
FULL DETAILS HERE: LYON EQUIPMENT COMPETITION: A Grand Day Out
Dan Varian has more bouldering first ascents of 8A and above than anyone else in Britain. With 123 first ascents of problems from... Read more