Dreadnought (E3 5c) in 1969, by Frank Cannings
John Cox's excellent account of his gripping epic on Dreadnought (UKC Article) at Berry Head reminded me of the early days on The Old Reboubt and of our initial eventful forays across the traverse above the Great Cave to the hanging belay.
The first occasion was on the first ascent of Barbican on 3rd September 1967 with Peter Biven seconding me. We started the route by climbing the first ascent of the surprisingly amenable pitch that has now become subsumed as “the first pitch of Moonraker” (which previously started much further to the left).
Having been the undisturbed abode of sea-birds for centuries and not subject to any prior inspection or cleaning, the traverse pitch was slimy, crumbly and stinking, so aid points were used. The wooden wedge is not a relic of Littlejohn but dates back to that first ascent of Barbican and is probably one that I made illicitly in woodwork class at school in Exeter. Metalwork classes were for making chunky mild steel pegs and there are probably still a few of them in-situ in Devon crags over forty years later!
Having done the traverse to the hanging stance on the tiny ledge above the lip of the big overhang, I belayed Peter across. We didn't have harnesses then but tied on with hemp waistlines and we simply stood in slings to take the weight off our waists. Our gear was primitive; laid nylon ropes, basic aluminium wedge runners and of course pegs.
I attempted the groove above but didn't get beyond the little overhang so retreated back down to the stance. Peter was getting quite freaked out on the hanging belay; he was clearly “out of his comfort zone” and also wanted us to escape by abseiling off over the cave overhang and into the crashing sea below!
That was not for me so I climbed up to the right and on to the small cave from where we escaped up the slabs to the top, thus completing the first route “to breach the fearsome walls above the Great Cave”.
It was 18 months later, on the fourth of April 1969 that I returned to The Old Redoubt to complete the direct line above the traverse – this time with Pat Littlejohn seconding and we too had the memorable epic on the hanging stance which is told in the South Devon & Dartmoor guidebook*.
“Dreadnought .. must have had them seriously considering that they were in over their heads, after a huge chunk of rock fell away (containing the greater part of their belay). Cannings recalled that they were left hanging (nose to nose) from a dubious and solitary peg. Surrounded by a tangible aura of hushed menace, they began to tentatively reconstruct their rickety stance. A couple of pegs later they stole a glance at each other and were overtaken by a bout of near hysteria. After welding just about everything they'd got into the rock, Pat commented that ..”Frank chain-smoked three fags and sprinted up the (5b) pitch.” Cannings lightening lead was made with only two runners, probably because that was all he had left!”
* Reference: South Devon & Dartmoor – a climbers' guide by Nick White pages 23-24, 210, 354, 356
The photos of Frank Cannings and Pat Littlejohn on Pantagruel (Daddyhole) and Barbican (Berry Head) clearly illustrate the minimalist approach to gear in 1967! No harnesses - only hemp waistlines!