Two weeks earlier the three golden ingredients had combined when we'd climbed the Rabadda, Navarro route on Naranjo de Bulness. Arriving late in Bilbao on Wednesday, we reached the hut on Thursday, with just enough time to scope out the route. With our food organised and the route well researched, we set out in the cold, flat light of Friday morning. We spent 12 wonderfully isolated hours on the face, tracing the line so carefully worked by those masters of Spanish climbing. Summiting at 8.00pm, with a rolling Picos inversion beneath us, we enjoyed the added drama of a torchlight descent. On Saturday, 3 parties started the route – they couldn't all have finished. On Sunday it rained and on Monday we got our flight home. Pure gold.
Earlier in the summer I'd read a piece on UKClimbing.com about Welsh 'enchainments'. A few weeks later I did Castles Made of Sand, the 105m, 4 pitch sports route in Cheddar, and Goats 'R' Us a 2 pitch route next to it. Here was an obvious (though very short) enchainment, but I knew there was another multi-pitch route on the same side of the gorge – could they all be linked to make something more substantial? With a bit of careful guidebook research it looked as though Space Tourist was the obvious place to start. And so the planning was done. All that was needed was some chance and opportunism.
Gary and I live 3 ½ hours apart, me in Bristol and Gary mid Wales. Throughout the summer we've been taking our chances and getting out for some great Fridays. But it's always been me doing the long drive up to Wales.
At the start of the week, the weather didn't look too promising and I was struggling to find the motivation for another drive. What could compare to the Friday 2 weeks earlier in Spain? When Gary suggested that he came down to climb in Cheddar, the spark of the enchainment plan was re-ignited. As the week wore on the forecast improved and Friday dawned perfect. No wind, a clear autumn sky and the prospect of temperatures up in the mid teens – chance had done its work. The opportunity just couldn't be ignored.
When we pulled up under the buttress at 10.30 it was still cold. The Cheddar darkness, always there in the morning, hadn't lifted, so we retreated to the café for bacon sandwiches and coffee. An hour later, we arrived, full of anticipation, at the start of Space Tourist, only to find it occupied by the two Helens. Between school runs, these climbing mums from Bristol were making the most of their own chance and opportunism on a perfect autumn day. Needless to say they didn't hold us up, moving quietly and efficiently up the route ahead of us. The first crux comes unnecessarily soon. A small overhang, a pocket and a long reach woke up sleeping muscles for what lay ahead. Further on, a highstepping mantelshelf leads to easier ground and a hanging stance 40m up, already in a fantastic position beneath the big roofs and grooves of the upper buttress. But our line avoids these, getting into space through more amenable climbing off to the right. Gary arrived muttering about cold fingers and strenuous moves, before quickly getting on with the next pitch. A short traverse leads to a delicate, technical groove. At the top, an old bong provides the protection for the traverse right to the belay, which as Helen suggested to Gary requires a '3D approach'.
The last pitch, again long, is fantastic. Steep and juggy to start, the crux soon arrives. A couple of delicate moves left lead to a high step and clip from a small, sloping hold. One more move and you're back in balance, though the climbing is far from over. Another 15m of slightly grubby, occasionally loose and often sloping holds leads to the final muddy slope and a belay in the Sun, the first we'd had on our faces since leaving Bristol at 9am.
The view is breathtaking. 150m below, the road, still dark and cold snakes up the gorge, yet here we sit in bright, warm sunlight – not a cloud in sight. The drama of the gorge to the south leads your eye to the Somerset levels and the sea but there isn't much time to linger.
Space Tourist on its own is a great route, but a plan is a plan and an October day as bright warm and still as this doesn't come along too often. We were only a third of the way through our climbing, so we push on.
After coiling ropes on the airy promontory above Sunset Buttress, we scramble up through the rocks and trees out onto the plateau, follow the path for a few metres then cut off to the top of the pinnacle overlooking Spacehunter wall. This is the top of Castles Made of Sand and with 60m ropes you can get to the bottom of the cliff in 2 abs. A few more moments in the sun rigging the ab then off into the dark again.
10m right through the inevitable Cheddar nettles at the bottom of the ropes and we're at the foot of Goats 'R' Us. It's Gary's lead and I'm feeling the effects of my two leads on Space Tourist. He moves quickly to the crux (an awkward small roof into a groove) and manages to maintain upward movement, despite the wet holds. I fight the damp crux and arrive pumped at the belay, but quickly head up for the hanging groove 10m above. Gary arrives beaming, until he realises that the logical way down is for me to lower him and then rig the ropes to ab off myself. Even though the final stance isn't at the top of the crag, the position is still stunning. Right above the apex of Horseshoe Bend, the tourists below have to crane their necks to watch us. A couple of motorcyclists come and go several times, practicing on the sharp bends, their engines echoing off the walls. The drama of the gorge gets to you through every sense.
Back in the nettles a pause is called for. Neither of us have a watch but our bacon sandwiches finished offering any help long ago. We pull out some flap jack and relax for a moment before our final route.
The start is notoriously difficult - the guide says 6c (or 6b with one bolt for aid) but at 6c it's pretty tough. Tired, and with the day wearing on, the aid option is the only way. It's still strenuous and then delicate before a lovely sequence left and up to pass another overhang gets Gary onto the upper slab. A short traverse right and he's on the belay, another great position with plenty of space beneath his feet.
I don't know if it was just weariness, but I found the next pitch quite tough but eventually got myself ensconced in the dank corner beneath the final hard pitch. I've done this pitch before so set Gary the challenge of climbing it gracefully. It's a corner that draws you in for deeper and deeper jams with the result that the more graceful bridging approach becomes increasingly difficult. He did a pretty good job, only the odd grunt, and shouted down that the final pitch and more importantly in the sun was in sight.
Despite being one of the easiest pitches of the day, it's also one of the best. With almost 200m down to the road, the position is fantastically exposed. Climbing out of the shadow and into the sun on warm, rough rock there couldn't be a better way of ending a perfect day.
Half an hour later, packing our gear by the car, Sunset Buttress shone gold in the late afternoon sun.
In the discussion thread following this article it became clear that the descent of Castles Made of Sand by abseil is contrary to the access arrangements for Cheddar. As suggested by one of the posters, the same outing can be achieved by descending Shoot Gully (after climbing Space Tourist) then traversing across to the base of Goats 'r' Us. This would add little extra time and keep the whole outing within the access guidelines. If you're inclined to link these three routes please use this approach rather than the one we took. RichE
Cheddar Chain (235m - 770 feet)
Space Tourist (90m) 6b, 6b+, 6b+
Goats 'r' us (40m) 6b+, 6a+
Castles Made of Sand (105) 6c(6b), 5+, 6b, 5+
Guidebook: Avon and Cheddar by Martin Crocker (May 2004)
Artwork by Don Sargeant
720 pages of text, maps and photodiagrams (double-volume guide)
Published by the Climbers' Club: www.climbers-club.co.uk
There is a new supplement to the restored routes which is available for £10 in Cheddar at the Cheddar Caves' office or by sending a £10 cheque payable to Martin Crocker and two first-class stamps to : 23 Ryecroft, Long Ashton. Bristol, BS41 9NQ
Check the Regional Access Database for the latest about Cheddar Gorge at www.thebmc.co.uk