In this article, Simon Wilson rounds up the best Deep Water Solo ascents of the year in British waters and by British climbers. Whilst not many new routes have been climbed, many hard routes have been repeated in good style.
The summer of 2013 will be remembered as a good one. Some of the best weather of the millennium so far saw sunshine and warm seas grace the UK’s coastlines. And an increasing number of DWS devotees made the most of it.
The standout ascent of the summer was Bob Hickish’s ‘soup-up’ ascent of San Simian, 8a, at Hollow Caves Bay, Pembroke. It was first climbed on gear by Charlie Woodburn in 2004 who graded it E8 6c. It has since been deep water soloed by Neil Gresham and Gavin Symonds, they both pre-practiced the route before soloing it.
The crux is crimpy and dynamic - and even at a high spring tide is almost 20m above the sea. Then follow several more tricky/loose moves until the top.
Gus Hudgins, no stranger to a spicy DWS himself, watched Bob’s first attempts from an abseil rope level with the crux, commenting:
“I couldn’t believe how high it was. I’m usually the first to offer encouragement, but on this occasion I was genuinely reluctant to egg him on."
Like the saying goes – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all...
Bob tried the route over several weekends in June and July, often frustrated by the greasy conditions the wall is susceptible to, he eventually worked out a sequence to the crux - a point where he could really start giving his coccyx some abuse! A fall two days before the eventual ascent rendered Bob unable to sit, stand or walk. However, liberally applying ibuprofen gel while ‘grinning like a Cheshire Cat’ sorted the problem long enough to allow another go. And with the prize of the first ‘soup-up’ ascent dangling in front of him like a carrot, he did the route as dusk arrived.
Bob had this to say: "The height, my current weight, the faff and the conditions meant there was definitely a temptation to try the moves on a rope. But deep water soloing is 50% a spectator sport and 50% about swimming. No one wants to see a successful ascent and the thing about swimming is; if you don't get wet you're not doing it right."
“With this in mind I packed two towels and had plenty of bobs in the sea. Though it did feel souper (sic) to eventually stand dry on the top and tuck into a pie.”
Also in Pembroke is The Wizard at Kato Zawn. This route, first climbed by Neil Gresham in 2004, was the first 8a ground-up first ascent in the UK. Despite being an absolute belter, it had lain neglected for the best part of a decade – it should be on the ticklist of anyone operating at the grade. Bob Hickish managed the second ascent over two sessions on the same day. Simon Wilson and Matt Pickles returned the following weekend for the third and fourth ascents respectively.
Still in Pembroke, but over at Broadhaven Beach lies another 2004 vintage - Jaws. This 8a prow of Tim Emmett’s has had a few repeats and has even been flashed by Tyler Landman. During the August bank holiday it received a very impressive onsight from Jordan Buys. Ryan Pasquill and Neil Mawson both flashed the route after watching Jordan on it.
At the start of August Ryan and Neil made the first flashed ascents of Cutlass at a very busy Berry Head, Devon. This route was first climbed by Neil Gresham in 2006 and graded 8a+. Bristol-based Cailean Harker made a very quick ascent earlier in the day and, after arming Ryan and Neil with the beta, watched what happens when a 9a climber and an 8c+ climber go deep water soloing.
Cailean had a productive summer, also climbing Christine, 8a, at Long Quarry Point and Andrenochrome, 8a, at Lulworth, both in a ‘soup-up’ style.
Further north, even North Wales enjoyed heatwave conditions. Pete Robins took advantage of the weather to explore DWS on the Little Orme, Llandudno. He repeated Rob Lamey’s 2007 traverse Heel Hook Look, 8a, and confirmed the quality and grade. He then extended the traverse to give Tide is High, 8a+, to the left of these routes he also added Ledge End, 7b.
He said: “The weather was good this year, but in terms of a DWS ‘scene’ round here – it’s basically just been me... These routes are so good though. It would be nice if they got more attention.”
Not in the UK, but worth a mention is Ryan Pasquill’s flash of Loskot and Two Smoking Barrels, 8a+, at Cova del Diablo, Mallorca. This fearsome route of Klem Loskot’s features a wild dyno at 15m – a height from which you wouldn’t want to be landing in a wild fashion.
It was an ascent made more impressive when you consider he turned out in 1980s fancy dress and received strong heckling from the other members of Gus Hudgin’s stag party.