UKC

Lost Rock

People climb for a variety of reasons, but few step into the outdoors without marvelling at the geological majesty of it all. It is quite a privilege to scale a cliff in the knowledge that you are passing over something so ancient that its lifespan has seen the rise and fall of nations, ice ages come and go and in a great many cases witnessed us - both as individuals and a species - pass in time too.

Craig Doris, world renowned for its looseness, but is it going to fall down entirely?, 165 kb
Craig Doris, world renowned for its looseness, but is it going to fall down entirely?
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

As a result, it's easy to believe that these cliffs are permanent structures, unchanging, and there to remain forever; however, the reality is that whilst many will remain for millennia to come, many won't. In order to make things a little more fun we've broken it down into three categories:

  • Lost Rock - routes that are gone forever, rendered unclimbable by a complete collapse
  • Changed Rock - routes that have lost a key feature, changing their character (and potentially their difficulty), but are still climbable
  • Ticking Clock - a hypothetical category of routes and/or crags with the potential to fall down
Disclaimer: if you're faint of heart, or suffer from head games whilst leading, it's probably best to stop reading now - nothing good will come of it

Lost rock

T. Rex, Gogarth

The bottom pitch of T-Rex was one to remember, with a move so obscure nothing could really prepare you for it. A wide, awkward chimney led to an impasse where it constricted, forcing you outwards and - via an extremely convoluted sequence of moves - into a layback position on the outside of the chimney.

n.b. this could end up being 'changed rock', but seeing as the rockfall was recent - plus it looks pretty major - we thought we'd include it in 'lost rock' for the time being

photo
T. Rex collapse of start
© SimonWooden, May 2018

photo
T. Rex at Gogarth - collapse of start
© SimonWooden, Jun 2018

T-Rex, 230 kb
T-Rex
© Nadir khan, Jul 2017

Yankee Doodle, Cornwall

The first ascent of this classic crack line of the South West was anecdotally missed by Pat Littlejohn, supposedly because it wasn't there. Did it form after, or did Pat just show an unusual sign of weakness in missing a king line? Clearly the idea of it forming so quickly seems absurd, but the fact it wasn't there again a few years later makes you think twice.

photo
Yankee Doodle (E2 5b)- sadly an ex-route
© Kafoozalem, Jun 1987

Romanesque, Pembroke

We all know how stacks form, starting as headlands before being eroded into arches, then finally losing their arch to become a stack. Still, as you sit there looking at the Green Bridge of Wales it is hard to imagine the time required to achieve this, as it spans too many years for us to truly comprehend. Still, it's just as incomprehensible to imagine that this route, which I climbed back in August 2017, was destroyed just a few months later during a massive storm. It was good too!

Green Bridge of Wales, 214 kb
Green Bridge of Wales
© John2, Jan 2009

Green Bridge of Wales after rockfall of October 2017, 198 kb
Green Bridge of Wales after rockfall of October 2017
© John2, Nov 2017

Deer Bield Buttress, Lake District

I was talking to Stephen Reid (owner of Needle Sports) about this the other day, as Deer Bield Crag is - apparently - quite good; however, due to the fact that its flagship route (made famous by Hard Rock) has fallen down, there's an impression that the rest of the crag is unstable (which it apparently isn't). So for those still reading, maybe it's time to have a re-think about Deer Bield and put it back on the menu.

photo
The black cleft of Deer Bield Crack is clearly visible. Deer Bield Crag. May 1968.
© Tony Marr, May 1968

Formula One, Lundy

Lundy as a whole has a tendency to 'shed' large chunks of rock from time to time.

Controlled Burning is a good example of this, when the right hand side of the crux roof fell off. With care it was still climbable, but it would appear something more major was afoot deeper within the bedrock, as now the start has begun to disintegrate and the route is in a very unsafe state.

Formula One is another good example, not least because it was one of the most popular routes on the island, with the large flake feature that formed the top of the route abandoning ship and setting sail into the sea below.

Formula 1 - Now-Then-Gone  the bit that has fallen off, 185 kb
Formula 1 - Now-Then-Gone the bit that has fallen off
lithos+bradshaw+teffers
© lithos

Conscientious Objector, St. Govan's, Pembroke

Back in the 80s one of the best E3s in Pembroke was Conscientious Objector at St. Govan's. When this went it took down the entire section above the crux roof, including the even more impressive Mission Impossible to its right. A route called My Witness has been climbed up the scar, but it really isn't in the same class.

photo
Conscientious Objector (E3 5c), St Govans (eheu fugaces)
© John2

photo
St. Govan's Head, Conscientious Objector area after the rock fall.
© Rockfax

Changed Rock

Parallel Gully B, Lochnagar

Immortalised in Cold Climbs, this classic chimney pitch famously lost the right hand side of the chimney to create an equally impressive corner. That said, despite the loss it is still climbable as a thin ice route, but there's no denying it is unrecognisable from the original.

photo
Parallel Gully B - 1990
© DaveAtkinson

photo
The bottom corner of Parallel Gully B, Lochnagar. A thin, spicy section.
© stevef, Mar 2011

Cougar, Creag an Dubh Loch

When granite structures go they tend to go big and Cougar was no exception, as a chunk the size of a house went in/around pitch 3. The remnants are still visible from Central Gully, with huge blocks and rock scars still marking its destructive path downwards. It was thought to be in an unclimbable state until James McHaffie went in for a closer inspection. Rather alarmingly it took him two visits, but the new 'Toy Boy' Variation (great name...) found a way through. Grade as of yet unconfirmed, but let's face it - if it took Caff two trips it's going to be desperate.

photo
Is the crux pitch of Cougar still climbable? I'll think you'll find it is.
Ali Rose, Jul 2018
© arose

photo
Recent rockfall scar high on Central Gully Wall
© gforce, Aug 2012

Ferdia seconding the new third pitch of Cougar, 197 kb
Ferdia seconding the new third pitch of Cougar
© James McHaffie

Wraith, Mother Carey's Kitchen, Pembroke

I vividly recall climbing the immaculate arête high up on Wraith, airy and out there, stuck out on the edge of the crag with only the ocean waves crashing somewhere below to provide a sense of grounding. Perhaps the feeling of isolation is added to by the fact that the arête you're grappling with is - or perhaps I should say was - only half of the coin at one point, with the other being…well…another arête, which together formed a crack. Yes, Wraith was formerly a classic HVS crack climb and not the E3 arête it is today.

photo
Al launching into the final section up the exposed arete of Wraith
© msoldn, Oct 2012

Si Verspeak looking overjoyed with the prospect of tackling the crux Shield of Coronation Street, 219 kb
Si Verspeak looking overjoyed with the prospect of tackling the crux Shield of Coronation Street
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Coronation Street, Cheddar Gorge

The traverse around The Shield on pitch 3 of Coronation Street constitutes not just the crux of the route, but also the most sensational and exposed section. The Shield juts out above the road, above the parking, and above pretty much everything. It was therefore somewhat alarming when a portion of it fell off, leaving a slightly smaller shield (a buckler perhaps?).

Central Buttress, Scafell

The Great Flake of Central Buttress is a pitch of legend, immortalised by Lakeland Rock, where an overweight and out of shape Don Whillans wrangles with the infamous chockstone that both protected and acted as the largest hold on what is the crux pitch. The demise of the chockstone is a sad story that involves a fatality (be careful out there…), leaving the route in an altered state, as the easiest and most popular method is to climb it via Marr's Variation, which climbs the front side of the flake. That said, the Flake is still climbable and - in my opinion - vastly overgraded at E3 (E2, tops…).

The Central Buttress of Scafell in the evening light, 145 kb
The Central Buttress of Scafell in the evening light
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

King Kong, Wintours Lead

This was first introduced to me as the HVS that thinks it's E1; however, after rockfall on pitch 1 it swiftly turned into the E1 that thinks it's an E2. Despite this the quality of this Wintour's Leap classic endures, irrespective of what grade it actually is.

Exmansworthy, North Devon

Exmansworthy was once one of the jewels in the crown of Culm Coast, or at least it was until the cornice of rock that overhung the crag fell down and buried half the routes beneath it. Climbers have since returned and many of the routes are in a climbable state, but it lacks something of the charm and majesty it once had.

Boulby Boulders, North York Moors

Ok, a lot of boulders get formed as a result of rockfall, but usually this took places many years ago. The Boulby Boulders are somewhat fresher in this respect, insofar as they only appeared in relatively recent years. Maybe they would better be described as a 'changed rock' version of the highly unstable Boulby Cliffs??

Ticking Clock

Castle Rock of Triermain

A few years ago a crack was spotted at the top of Overhanging Bastion, which caused some degree of concern (click here to see the news report). In the immediate aftermath there was uncertainty as to whether that was it, it had moved, but remained stable, however a glass monitor was fitted and it seems the block is definitely still 'active'. As such, we would suggest extreme caution for anyone going anywhere near it (and don't even think about doing Overhanging Bastion or North Buttress Eliminate!!).

"Compared to 4 years ago the crack looks to have grown perhaps 5cm. It surely can't be much longer now before the outward weight of the cliff along with rainwater lubrication leads to collapse."- Al Todd

Mind the Gap!, 200 kb

The gap is getting bigger!, 162 kb

crack at the top of overhanging bastion, 183 kb

(Old Man of) Hoy

It doesn't take too much imagination to think of this 120m sandstone monolith falling down. The fact its two feet - the very feet that gave it the name 'old man' - fell down as late as the 1800's makes you realise that in certain circumstances geology can actually act quite fast. That said, we really don't know do we: The Old Man could be there for another 100 years, maybe even another 1000, but I guess that's the point isn't it.

So, here's the big question: give it a wide berth or get it done quick? If you decide the latter here's a destination article/itinerary.

The Old Man of Hoy and St. Johns Head in the evening sun, 166 kb
The Old Man of Hoy and St. Johns Head in the evening sun
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing

Slate

It's not exactly difficult to imagine a quarry falling down, as most of the surroundings suggest that a whole lot of things have fallen down in order to create the present day scenario. However, that the most recent rockfall took place just a few weeks ago does lead to the question of how soon and how much more is to follow?

photo
Lost World Collapse
© Rockfax

photo
A close-up of the slumped middle fin at Lower Sharpnose, Cornwall.
© Mark Glaister

Lower Sharpnose Point

This was possibly the scene of the greatest ever April Fools that UKC has ever run. The reason for its success was that (in a tenuous kind of way) it was almost believable, as these rather implausible fins, barely 2m wide and 30-40m tall, do appear somewhat unlikely in reality.

Portland

This is an interesting one, as unlike many of the others outlined above the hazard does not come as a result of falling rock or collapsing buttresses - it comes from the ground both above and beneath the crag. The major landslide back in 2014 certainly created fairly major issues to access of Blacknor Far South and Battleship Main, despite the fact the cliffs are still there and in fact, the ground is...well...a whole lot lower, not to mention more unstable!

Feb 2014 landslide under BNFS and Battleship on Portland. , 167 kb
Feb 2014 landslide under BNFS and Battleship on Portland.
© Ben Thorne, Feb 2014

Spantastic, Flodigarry

This unique and wonderful feature is slender to the point of absurd, yet it still hangs in there.

Mike Cocker on Spantastic
, 234 kb
Mike Cocker on Spantastic
© cathsullivan, May 2010

photo
Mike Thomas on the amazing first pitch of Spantastic.
© TimAshlin, May 2018



Forums 58 comments

Yes, I thought so. I understand that's how the lad who fell off ended up bashing his head on the large boulder. (The bit that I was describing as super safe was the slightly bouldery start off the ground)
Hard and very safe if you had a tall mate to reach over your head to put the wire in. I know of someone who fell off it in its new form and on to the boulder bashing his head hard enough for a trip to the hospital. I'm...
No way! The route is now way bolder because the wires that formerly protected the fall from the crux moves and kept you off the deck fail to keep you off the boulder, which is in turn 4m off the deck. I backed off it! ...
There’s a similar thread here: https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/rocktalk/routes_you_have_done_that_have_fallen_down-607250#x7972605 Swanage’s Squeeze Chimney seems strangely named until you realise that one side...
an alternative take is that it used to be a relatively safe fall into space, the crux is a fir way above the boulder and with the runner placements worn out there is now a nasty fall onto the boulder   
Azure Window on Gozo - https://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.php?id=290341 I'm not sure whether there were any routes on it, but plenty of people walked across it. Now there isn't even a stump ! Makes you wonder...

Read more

This has been read 7,777 times
Return to Latest Articles or list other Destinations articles

Staff Picks

Nov 2008

thumbJohn Cox relives a particularly pant-filling experience at Berry Head in Devon: "The belay is a ledge six inches wide by two feet...

What's Hot Right Now

9 Aug 2018

thumbAndy Moles and Ferdia Earle are an enigmatic climbing couple whom you've probably never heard of. Together they have climbed...

Top Spot: Climbing Destination

Aug 2013

thumbThe deep water soloing season is upon us so here is an in-depth destination guide to the world famous DWS paradise of Mallorca...