I'll stick my neck out here: DWS came to be because it's the purest form of climbing. Let me clarify this: I mean climbing as in fingertips-on-rock, as in aesthetics of movement, as in unencumbered, as in FREE. You won't get the same feeling from dragging a full rack and two ropes up a classic trad pitch, and you won't find the same experience on a hard sport route, with a harness and rope always to hand.
DWS involves climbing on rock that has been developed in one of three ways. Here's the gen, and with examples:
Traditional cliffs. These includes venues such as Conner Cove in Dorset, and Berry Head in Devon. The routes at these venues were first developed as traditional routes; even the traverses were first climbed with ropes and gear! The routes then fell prey to the deep water soloists...
Sport cliffs. The most famous example of this is Dorset's Lulworth Cove, which was developed as a sport crag in the early nineties. It has since lost just about all of its 'roped attention'!
DWS cliffs. A look at the routes and the history of Cave Hole, down on the Dorset Isle of Portland, tells us that this superb area was mostly developed as a solo cliff, ie. just about all the routes here were first climbed without ropes. Pembroke's Barrel Zawn is another great example of this.
It won't cost a lot to get going with DWS! You'll need a selection of rock shoes (three pairs should be enough), a slightly larger selection of chalk bags (say half a dozen), and a short rope and a little gear to set up the occasional abseil or safety/exit rope. Add to this a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts - and a camera, of course.
There's slightly more to DWS than just jumping on a route. Here's a short list of the things you'll need to think about before you put your rock shoes on:
© Mike Robertson
Barrel Zawn, PembrokeOne of the best beginner's venues in the UK. Excellent short routes on perfect sandstone, and all above nicely-placed above good water.
© Mike Robertson
Lulworth Cove, DorsetA little tougher with the grades, but a stunning venue, with pockets galore. The traverses prove a little easier than the vertical routes.
© Mike Robertson
Devon/Berry HeadJust brilliant. Devon's long traverses include Magical Mystery Tour and Rainbow Bridge – two of the best sideways expeditions in the known world. Add to this the vertical routes, and you have utopia.
© Mike Robertson
Cave HoleDorset's more tidal crag, but none the worse for it. Time it well, and you'll find plenty of short and spicy routes on great limestone.
Mike Robertson is the author of the new Rockfax guidebook, Deep Water. Mike was one of the first climbers to ditch the rope and security of traditional protection and rely upon the safety-net of the sea. Areas covered in this guidebook include: Swanage, Lulworth, Portland, Devon, Cornwall, Pembroke, North Wales, Scotland, Portugal, Costa Blanca, Mallorca, Sardinia, Croatia, Thailand, Vietnam and Tasmania.
The routes in the guidebook are described in full and are attributed Sport Grades in conjunction with the now accepted S-grade that gives an indication of the climb's seriousness, with regard to height above the water, and tide considerations. The difficulty of the routes included spans all grades, ranging from dreamy grade 4s, 5s and 6s above the warm waters of Asia and the Mediterranean to many hard grade 7s and 8s, some above the less-tepid seas of Northern Europe and the Southern Ocean.
All areas are covered by colour photodiagrams and the book is enticingly illustrated with many stunning action photographs, the majority taken by Mike Robertson.
Mike has climbed worldwide and in Dorset for over 20 years. He is a professional outdoor photo-journalist.
Deep Water is avalable from:www.rockfax.com
Keith Sharples has a Deep Water Soloing - Photo Gallery at www.keithsharplesphotography.com
Also check out dwsworld.com, a web site dedicated to the art of Deep Water Soloing.
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