In 2015, the South East saw a fair amount of first ascents, notable repeats of some of the hardest problems in the area and the creation of futuristic climbing walls and events.
The first few months of the year are usually very quiet in the South East as the rock is almost unclimbable due to the wet weather. Only the very keen, or perhaps deluded, head out before March in the hope of finding some dry rock. However, my own enthusiasm payed dividends with a series of mid to lower end grade problems being put up early in the season. The first of these to fall was a small addition to the previously unclimbed upper tier of Mount Edgcumbe Rocks in February, which due to its diminutive size was named Mustard Seed, 5+ (video). Later in the season this would provide the end for a newly established traverse dubbed Curb Rash 6C (video), due to the low height of the climbing (this was also my late Granddad’s nickname during World War II due to him being a short arse, so it seemed fitting!). This turned out to have very little powerful climbing for the grade and instead is a real test of technique and sandstone finesse.
March turned out to be a more fruitful month as the drier weather began to return. At Eridge Green I added what I think is a first ascent to the large roadside boulder just up from the main crag. There is no record that I can find of this line being climbed before, but at 6B at one of the more popular crags I wouldn’t be surprised to find it has had a previous ascent. Nonetheless the route, which I named Ashes and Dust (video) provided some nice climbing with a typically tricky sandstone top out.
Mount Edgcumbe Rocks also yielded another couple of independent lines in March, bringing the tally for this crag to nine problems. First up was a short blank wall on the upper tier of the crag, which pulls off an obvious sloping rail through some skin destroying monos before slapping the top. As I was trying it some children at the adjacent pub gave me a label I have never been given before in shouting, ‘we believe in you old man’ (I was 28 at the time!). Considering the location of the boulder at the top of the crag and these ‘encouraging comments’ I couldn’t help but call this one Over the Hill, 6C+ (video). Finally, the last remaining independent line on Smiling Buttress, involving a strenuous first move from a pair of monos, yielded at 7A which I named Covenant (video).
As drier weather became more frequent, other (wiser?) climbers also ventured out onto the sandstone. After a quiet couple of years, no doubt due to becoming a father, Peter Wycislik made a couple of significant ascents. First of all he added Grunge Rover, 7C (video) to the Mojo wall at High Rocks. This climbs the line of Mojo (7B in itself) before moving right via a huge move off the infamous sloper on this wall. However, he topped this in May, when he got the second ascent of Barnaby Ventham’s Font Blues, 8A+, at High Rocks, the hardest problem in the South East. Font Blues is an extension into Peter’s problem Don’t Pierdol, so it is easy to see Peter’s appeal to repeat this.
He also confirmed that it is harder than Don’t Pierdol (which gets 8A+ on its own) – although whether it is hard enough to warrant 8B requires further ascents to truly confirm the difficulty of this problem. The final noteworthy ascent in May was by myself in what I think is only the second ascent of Bum Dragon (video). This is a low level traverse at High Rocks first climbed by Pete Zeigenfuss in 2003, who gave it 7C+. Despite attention from a variety of strong climbers it has resisted further ascents due to the weird nature of the climbing, involving high feet, flexibility and precise hand movements onto small crimps, all while being no more than a few inches off the floor (hence the name). I personally felt that it warranted an 8A grade (taking far longer for me to climb than any other problem I have done) but, as always, further ascents are needed to confirm or deny the grade. If it does settle at 8A, this would be the first of the grade on the sandstone. Regardless, it is one of the hardest problems in the area featuring some fairly unique moves which I hope will encourage others to get on this in the near future.
A continual topic of conversation on the sandstone this year has been how to solve the access situation to the highly popular isolated buttress at Harrison’s Rocks. The boulder, which has been used for decades to jump from the mainland to the isolated buttress, became unstable last year and the decision was made to break it up before any accidents occurred. However this created the problem of how to get on and off the buttress. Various ideas have been put forward, including the construction of a bridge, but no permanent solution has been reached yet. In the meantime perspective climbers are advised to take care when accessing the isolated buttress and reminded that abseiling is not permitted on the Southern Sandstone and that this is not an acceptable method of descending from the buttress.
As the season came to a close I managed to sneak in a few more ascents. Probably the best looking new problem of the year was at the rarely visited Rocks Inn in August, which climbed a gently overhanging face with few features other than the two arêtes. This became Broken Tombstone, 7A (video). At Eridge Green I also added an extension to Goat Rage on the same day, so that the low level traverse continues through the whole overhanging wall. This actually makes the problem easier than the original (which goes at 7C), but does involve some nice campus moves into a large cross through. Goat Rage Extension goes at 7B+ (video). Finally at Eridge Green I also repeated Jack Strong, 7B+ in September (video). This would not normally be of interest in a summary of climbing news in the South East for the year, however I have included it as I climbed it in a completely different style compared to its previous ascents. Rather than pulling of a minute crimp to an unhelpful sloper, I dynoed from the starting rail to the top jug missing out both these holds. While this is probably no easier, it does provide alternative beta to those who are crimp adverse!
As the wetter weather drew in the climbing walls in the area took it upon themselves to amuse us in new and wonderful ways. In September Boulder Brighton introduced a Battle of the Brands, as reported on UKC here with team Scarpa taking victory. This was matched by the Castle turning 20 in October, as reported by UKC here. They celebrated the way that all twentieth birthday parties should be, with a UV bouldering competition! As you can see from this video it made quite the spectacle! Finally, while on the subject of climbing walls Tunbridge Wells received a brand new centre in late October, Karma Climbing Wall, which opened its doors to the public in style by flying in the legendary Jacky Godoffe to set the first batch of problems. Hopefully 2016 will start to dry up a bit soon, but in the meantime at least there are lots of high quality indoor options in the South East.
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