With wetter weather, 2014 proved to be a slightly quieter year than 2013 on the Southern Sandstone. Nonetheless there is still a fair amount to report on, both inside and out.
Where better to start than with the Bas Cuvier of the South East, High Rocks. Not much happened at High Rocks this year in the way of newsworthy ascents. That is except the new hardest boulder problem in the South East being despatched! Barnaby Ventham (who else!) decided that sending Don't Pierdol, 8A+ in fewer than 10 goes back in 2012 was a little too easy (UKC News Report).†This year Barnaby set himself the challenge of linking into Don't Pierdol from the far left hand arÍte of the Matterhorn buttress, which involves reversing the 7A traverse Old Kent Road. He completed this project in May, naming it Font Blues, the new hardest problem in the South East. Barnaby has not graded this problem, but it appears to me that this has to be 8A+ at least. Whether the 7A traverse adds enough to make the problem enter the 8B bracket is for future repeaters of the problem to argue about, but a great send nonetheless.
Stone Farm is sometimes a little overlooked as a venue, being further west than the other major sandstone outcrops. However, it received some well-deserved attention this summer. In June, Belinda 'Be' Fuller added Quoi Faire, English 6c or highball 7B in new money, to her soloing repertoire, building upon her ascent of Change in the Weather at the same grade last year (video).†As far as I know this is the first female solo ascent of this route. It looked like Be was heading for a great season on the Sandstone, as she followed this ascent up with the first female ascent of Maybe When You're Older, 7B at Bowles in August. Unfortunately her season was cut short by a finger injury on the infamously crimpy Jack Strong, 7B+ at Eridge Green. Hopefully she will regain her strong form in time for the drier summer months next year.
In August I also managed to complete what I believe is only the second ascent of The Painkiller, 7B†(video)†.This was first climbed by Peter Wycislik back in 2010 and adds a difficult sit start into the classic 6B+ Milestone Mantel. The big question is why hasn't this line been repeated so far? The answer is that as well as Stone Farm being a quieter venue, the climbing on The Painkiller is also significantly harder than 7B ñ for me it felt more around 7C. The climbing is superb though, featuring technical slabs between poor slopers and a barn-door move that requires a lot of core tension to control.
The final bit of news for Stone Farm is actually at Standen Rock ñ a small outcrop that is a 15 minute walk from the main crag. In September I had a little look at whether there was potential for new routes here, and I stumbled across a nice stepped overhang next to the main buttress. This became Hidden Pearl, 6B+†(video).†Unfortunately I climbed this in poor light at dusk, meaning the video is more than a little bit dark†and the wall has been wet since, not allowing another repeat. Once it dries out again I would thoroughly recommend the walk up to Standen Rock, especially if you are looking for some solitude.
Mount Edgcumbe Rocks:
The final crag that was developed this year is Mount Edgcumbe Rocks. This is a small outcrop on Tunbridge Wells Common, a mere 10 minute walk from the train station. This venue has been overlooked for years, as the huge roof features that look so inviting from afar, are disappointing on closer inspection as they are too sandy to climb on. However, what has been missed in the past is that in-between these unclimbable roofs are two bays of very climbable rock.
I developed the smaller of these bays first, climbing the most obvious line through a nice looking dish feature, which I called New Jerusalem, 6C+ in†April†(video).†I followed this up with the more amenable The Diaconate, 6B+ (video)†in June, and on the same day a one-move wonder from a curving smiling sloper that I had to call The Smile, 7A+ (video). On the other buttress I quickly added Through the Dust, 6C+ (video)†with the name reflecting the condition of the rock when I first found it. However, the line that really caught my eye was on the far right of this wall weaving its way up a tall section of rock that involved overlaps, pockets and sloping foot holds. This took quite a while to unlock the sequence, but in July I sent Faith, 7B (video)†which is named after the trust you have to put in your feet and is the best line of the crag so far.
As autumn approached the sandstone season began to come to a close. However, the good news is that means the competition season in the South East kicked off once again!
Competitions (written with the aid of Matt Cousins):
You would be forgiven for thinking that the competition scene in the South East is limited to Blokfest. It is on a scale that is unprecedented in the South East, not to mention most other parts of the UK. The highly successful first round took place at the Westway in October and was reported on UKC†here. This was followed by the second round at Boulder Brighton in November. The third round took place last Saturday at the Castle†and seemed to be the biggest, and arguably the best round†so far. With two more rounds remaining at The Climbing Academy (Bristol) on the 17th January and Mile End (London) on the 1st March, there†is still all to play for in all the categories.
However, a number of other competitions have taken place in the South East this year. On September 20th Boulder Brighton hosted their second Boulderfest. Like last year it was a roaring success with quality blocs and an entertaining final. Becky Whaley claimed victory in the women's category, while Matt Cousins extended his unbeaten run at this wall by winning the men's.
September was a busy month for competitions, as White Spider also had their second birthday and celebrated by hosting their SEND competition. With a total of £1000 up for grabs it drew in the best talent in the South East. Matt Cousins took victory in the Men's again (demonstrating why he is beginning to be dubbed Matt 'The Machine' Cousins at this wall!) and Alexia Basch was the clear victor in the women's, being the only competitor to finish any of the blocs in the finals.
The final competition to be mentioned is The Arch Monthly Round Up or TAMRU, which runs on the last Friday of every month at the Arch (surprisingly!). Now a monthly competition is fairly standard practice for most walls these days, but TAMRU comes with a twist. Every ticked off climb on a handed in scorecard is worth 50 pence, with the proceeds going to charity. In their two most recent events alone TAMRU raised £581.50 in October for Bede House (a local charity), which was bettered in November with an impressive £595 for the Evelina Children's Hospital. Other charities that have benefited include The British Red Cross, Help for Heores and Climbers Against Cancer to mention but a few. I think this is a great idea and the Arch deserve kudos for combining climbing competitions with raising money for a good cause on such a regular basis.