As in the previous few years, 2016 also saw a spurt of notable repeats, first ascents and, unfortunately, access issues in the South East. This has been supported by a competition scene that continues to go from strength to strength.
The first few months of the year are traditionally very quiet on the southern sandstone due to wet conditions making the vast majority of it unclimbable. This was unchanged in 2016 with the first notable ascent coming in March. Six years to the day that Ben Read made the first ascent of Judamondo, a notoriously blank looking wall at Eridge Green, I got the long awaited second ascent. Ben originally climbed this proud looking wall as a top rope, before repeating it as a boulder problem up to the obvious pocket mid-way up the wall. I chose to repeat the boulder problem due to the bulk of the quality climbing being in the first half of the route and the friable nature of the rock above this.
This was followed three days later by Steve Darling getting the third ascent in the same style. Originally graded at 7C, both of us wondered whether this may break into the 7C+ category, especially as this line has had a host of strong climbers trying to ascend it over the years. Whatever it does settle at, the quality is undoubted and it could be argued that this is the best of Ben Read’s many additions on the sandstone.
As spring brought fairer weather with it more and more routes became climbable. I re-focused my attention on Mount Edgcumbe Rocks, having spent little time at the crag the previous year. This resulted in a fruitful Bank Holiday weekend in May. The best addition of which was Fruit of the Spirit 7B. This ascends the very appealing looking roof that is in-between Smiling Buttress and Dusty Buttresses. From a crouching start on the only real holds under the roof, a pair of perfectly placed opposing side-pulls, a dynamic move to a jug leads to a classic southern sandstone stomach scraping mantle. I also added Meekness not Weakness 6C. This climbs the vertical wall to the right of Faith above a landing that unfortunately falls away above the climb, resulting in a nervy top out. The name reflects the nature of the climbing – a technical wall that strength alone would not unlock.
Unfortunately May also brought the news that bouldering had been banned at High Rocks as reported here. As High Rocks is the premier venue for bouldering in the south east, containing both the best and the hardest problems in the region, this is a major blow. It is hoped that in the future bouldering may be allowed again, but in the meantime it should be stressed that the current rules and entrance fees for High Rocks should be followed in order to protect the current access for top rope climbing.
As summer arrived with drier conditions and with High Rocks no longer a bouldering venue, Eridge Green became a focal point of activity. In July I managed to find a sequence through the blank looking wall to the right of Hypersonic. This resulted in Patience, a two move 7A+ pulling through sharp pinches to the vague crimp break at the same level as the pocket on Hypersonic. In August I also began exploring the rarely visited far left end of the outcrop for any potential gaps. It was here that I found a sloping ramp feature leading into a rounded arête. After some tricky beta this provided just enough in the way of features to provide a feasible route which became Joshua 7B. This was quickly repeated by Peter Wycislik using some quite different beta due to his larger stature, although at the same grade. I also added a small problem called Lord of the Light 6B+ to the right of Joshua.
In August Peter Wycislik also added another problem of his own to Eridge Green. In what turned out to be a surprisingly overlooked line Peter added Stampy 7B+. This climbs a small but steep overhang via an awkward toe hook and slapping between poor holds, into a technical and rather bold top out. This was eventually repeated by Steve Darling and me, although we opted to climb it to the mid-height break at 7B rather than push on to the top for the full and rather daunting 7B+.
As the temperatures began to drop in September Steve Darling was once again lured away from his indoor training routine for another brief session on the sandstone. He made quick work of Patience by flashing the problem, which was only the second ascent of the line. Finding that the moves suited him he then set about adding a sit start at 7B from a couple of small but positive pockets into the original problem. This has yet to see a second ascent and there is the possibility to take this line all the way to the top of the wall if it weaves right through the rather greasy (and high!) top out. A possible project for 2017…
Finally, in October I managed to complete my on-off project on the blank wall to the left of Faith at Mount Edgcumbe. This became Grace 7C. Although this didn’t provide the most physically challenging climbing, it took a number of hours to unlock a climbable sequence through the sparse monos. This line is also very conditions dependent, which forced me to return in the autumn for cooler temperatures. While this may have taken a number of sessions to work out for the first ascent, Peter Wycislik typically made much shorter work of it for the second ascent, despatching it in one afternoon. This is both the hardest and arguably the best line at Mount Edgcumbe now.
As the wetter weather rolled in the competition season also kicked in. Blokfest continues to go from strength to strength with an ever growing number of participants. Following the success of the first two rounds at Mile End in November and Brighton in December there are three more to go in 2017 at Chimera (new to the Blokfest series), Westway and the Castle. December also saw the arrival of the BIFF (Beastmaker International Footless Festival) at the Castle in the form of the Tour de Biff and I think it came as a surprise to no-one when Louis Parkinson, a previous winner, won the round.
So that is it – another year over for climbing in the south east. Let’s hope 2017 brings dry weather, or even more new and exciting events to challenge ourselves indoors! 2017 will also see a new Rockfax guide published for route climbing and bouldering on the southern sandstone.