Finding Crag X - A top secret diary, by Fiend

From: Fiend
To: Pylon King
Subject: Top Secret.
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2006 11:50:14 +0100

FAO: Corporal P. King.

Warning: This document contains highly sensitive information and should be destroyed after reading. If there is a risk of a security compromise, it should be destroyed before reading.

Report of crag surveillance 13:30 - 15:30, 13/04/2006, by Agent Fiend.

Refer to attached images.

County: Dumfries and Galloway
Location: Galloway Hills.
Grid Reference: [withheld for security reasons]
Nearest Town: [withheld for security reasons]
Nearest Road: [withheld for security reasons]
Altitude: [unspecified]
Orientation: [unspecified]
Approach: 30-40 minutes gently uphill.
Access: No known problems, moorland.
Potential difficulties: Two prominent seepage lines, noted after a period of heavy showers, likely to be dry after longer dry spell. Some cleaning of moss etc would be required.
Dimensions: Approx 12 - 15m high, 30m wide.
Angle: Generally 5 - 10 degrees off vertical.
Rock type: Undetermined, possibly a type of schist.
Estimated number of routes: 10 distinct lines.
Estimated grades of routes: Severe - E2/3
Status: Unclimbed.
Recommended action: Wait until dry weather near end of summer. Clean and climb all available routes.
End of document: Document should now be destroyed.

Summer 2005 - I can't walk, let alone climb. A very slowly healing broken foot is not conducive to the best climbing summer ever. On a visit to Scotland, I resort to going for a leisurely drive around the area, a small pleasure due to the clear fast roads. I detour into Glen Trool and admire the scenery - I may not have a climber's foot but I have climbers' eyes, and spot some potential outcrops, albeit well out of hobbling range.

Spring 2006 - I can climb! Another visit to Scotland is sandwiched between inspirational trips to Pembroke and Northumberland. This time I stagger up to check out the buttresses - the tussocky terrain isn't easy even with two working feet, but neither is it that far. Most pieces of rock look insignificant, but one particular wall reveals itself from behind a small ridge, and is immediately the target. A small amount of seepage and moss can't obscure the rock quality, nor does it's diminutive size mask the sheerness.

So! It exists. There is something there and it must be climbed. Obviously I need a partner to do this with. But whom?? Secrecy is paramount, so it must be someone maverick and mysterious, someone with unusual social graces and a generally belligerent approach to the climbing community. There could be only one man: The Pylon King.

Hence the email above. Shortly followed by the email and picture below:

From: Fiend
To: Pylon King
Subject: Top Secret #2
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2006 22:55:44 +0100

Lines as marked on the diagram, colour-coded for expected difficulty:

A - Rambly cracked area, V Diff?
B - Cleaner cracked face, Severe?
C - Blatantly obvious crack, line of the crag, Severe - HS?
D - Nice looking face on breaks, HS - VS?
E - Thinner but still prominent crack, HS - VS?
F - Corner and tiny roof above via crack, VS - HVS?
G - Bold but easier angled looking rib, HVS?
H - Thin crack to hole then very smooth face above, E2?
I - Thin crack to break then thinner cracks, E2?
J - Bold face to break and thin crack, E2?

Thus, it begins:

Spring 2007: Shoulder injuries, lack of motivations, increasingly deteriorating weather, etc etc. Regardless. The King is in The Lakes, juggling his usual oddball collection of climbing partners. Eventually a plan is made, I drive up a day early and get cleaning, a necessary act before our new-routing blitz. The walk-in is tolerable and the face is dry. Several hours scrubbing later, and it's in a pretty climbable condition. The base rock quality is good and solid, although it doesn't look to be giving much away - the holds look smaller and the cracks look thinner than my first impression. I mentally revise all the grades upwards by one step.

The King joins me, and we have a day relaxing before our attack begins. On the walk-in we are, unsurprisingly, surrounded by midges and flies. As soon as we arrive and use a little midge repellent they all disappear. The King switches on his portable radio... "And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green?". It is an auspicious and inspiring start! The weather looked glorious and the view magnificent. We started.

We climbed, we cleaned more, we tried things and failed and tried again. We abandoned some lines and made up others. The face might be small but it is good. Even The King - a hoary old hill walker at heart - has no complaints about the outcropesque climbing. If it was tagged onto the end of Burbage or Ramshaw, it would easily hold it's own - after all, Long Tall Sally gets 3 stars! Of particular interest was how the grades turned out (all estimates due to our abseil cleaning) - they had to be revised upwards AGAIN from my second estimates. The end results are shown in the list below.

At one point during the day I was belaying on top when I started to hear an incoming roaring sound. Nothing unusual, RAF jets regularly fly over the hills, and I find the spectacle rather entertaining. Except, I looked around and there was no jet. Suddenly, a greater spectacle appeared: slicing through the air with no less vigour than our human aviatory monsters, two Peregrines shot past, the roaring coming from their high speed acrobatics. I later read that they can reach speeds over 100mph. Faster than I drive to the crag, even. An essential part of the day out, crag wildlife. They were far too fast for photos, of course.

To finish, we stroll down and soothe various limbs in a nearby stream. As we reach the car the midges return in full effect, we've obviously timed it right. One last important item on the agenda, we reach a quiet local pub well after last food orders....but the friendly bar owner perhaps senses we've earnt our refreshment, has an enthusiastic word with the kitchen, and we round off the evening with suitably full bellies.

A final thought: We're just ordinary climbers, and we still managed to find several good new routes on solid rock with a reasonable walk-in. It didn't take epic descents into terminally adventurous sea-cliffs, nor massive walk-ins to obscure Highland hills, nor squeezing in random eliminates to esoteric quarries. What it did take was looking at the fringes of climbing areas, keeping an eye out for rock that lurks just beneath the radar that picks up the more obvious and evident. There IS that sort of rock out there, I've seen more in other places, and it's not that difficult to find - go explore.


1. Ball Ache E2 5b (estimated at: HVS)
We had to draw the line with stars somewhere. After realising the routes were turning out harder than planned, I abseiled down this again for further cleaning and gear checking, a good plan as there wasn't much of the latter. The crux is bold and good but some of the rock below is fragile and the crucial gear out left is a real ball ache to place...

2. Fiend's Folly E1 5b ** (estimated at: VS/HVS)
The first route I did - jumped onto the lead straight away thinking it would be fine to warm up on a gentle HVS - folly indeed!! The overlap turned out to be easy and good, it was a surprise reach move that caught me out. It could well be gentle HVS for those who can make the reach (I did abseil down so The King could also lead it later on, but he ran out of steam). Shall we call it E0?? The line to the right was abandoned due to being both a non-line and blank.

3. Stolen Dreams E3 5c *** (estimated at: E2)
The route of the crag!! The King has berated me for the arty farty self-help-book name, but it deserved something evocative. The first attempt resulted in skin of the teeth success on the lower crux and a rapid retreat due to flash pump below the upper wall. Another abseil to confirm gear and holds, and I blasted through it. Not the purest of tactics but we were establishing paths for others to follow. Go to it!

P. Project E5 6b? ***? (estimated at: E2)
After climbing the other routes, the estimated grade of this had rocketed way out of the realms of bust-shoulder-baking-heat-end-of-day-no-idea-about-the-real-grade ground-up leading. Thus in the interest of science, I had a play on a top-rope (remember kids, unclimbed new routes in a new area are an utterly different matter to well established / described / graded trade routes at honeypot crags). Suffice to say it is adequately hard and brilliant. Thin, committing wall climbing the whole way with a crux finish, and spaced but decent micro-cam protection. Now you know that, go ground up first ascent it, it will be worth it.

4. The Slither HVS 5b * (estimated at: HS-VS)
An eliminate, but still quite good - the line at least is obvious. This went without any fuss and had some nice moves and jamming to finish.

5. Pylon King Crack VS 4c ** (estimated at: Sev)
The line of the crag!! The King's first attempt was aborted below the top due to my inadequate previous cleaning. Well, what was I to know, it was supposed to be a classic little Severe... He finished the job - a good idea, uncovering a gear slot - and finished the route. A good route with some thoughtful moves and a now nice finish.

6. Seal Photo Liberation Front HVS 5b ** (estimated at: HS-VS)
One of the more instantly attractive pieces of rock, with climbing to match. We both led this, The King first then myself. Thin wall climbing with a boulder problem start and some long reaches between good positive breaks above. Again a bit reachy, it could well be E0 too!

7. Of The Capsule We Are, Lord HVS 5a * (estimated at: Severe)
The lower wall direct was swiftly abandoned due to being an unduly hard boulder problem, but a bit of brainstorming revealed a cunning way to outwit this swinging in from the right. This provided a well-balanced route with a pretty goey start, led with conviction by The King.

Addendum 1: I submitted the crag details to Lake District and Galloway guru Stephen Reid, who sent an acknowledgement back with an admission that he'd seen the area but hadn't managed to get up there yet, and we'd pipped him to the post - an accolade indeed!

Addendum 2: The King and I have just returned from another May trip to Scotland, this time to the classic Torridon cragging arena. Even in that better known area, we managed to find an accessible new grit-style craglet, and climbed several short and sweet new routes on good Torridonian sandstone. Details to be posted soon. Did I mention something about exploring and keeping an eye out....?

Mr Smooth himself, pimping away at Caley...
Photo: Some climber
© Fiend
About the Author:

The ever mysterious and mad-cap Fiend has "been climbing for quite a few years and likes exploring different areas..."

Other Articles by Fiend:

Ceuse for mortals
Trad E0: filling the gap between HVS and E1?
The Fiendish guide to climbing in New Zealand

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20 May, 2008
interesting, good article. Is the picture 'Fiend in action on the new routes' the new crag?
20 May, 2008
I thought Mr Fiend was banned? Is this what you have to do to get re-established nowadays? Bend over and flash your articles?
20 May, 2008
I cannot believe that Fiend has top roped something. Brilliant. It sounds like a nice little project.
20 May, 2008
If you prick him does he not bleed?
20 May, 2008
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