Southern Sandstone Round-Up 2021

© Jan Masny

This time last year when I was writing the 2020 Round-Up, I reflected that 2020 was a year like no other. Unfortunately, 2021 started with a lockdown and finished with COVID dominating the news again. Despite the year being bookended with bad news, there were some significant ascents on the southern sandstone and some important changes to the top-rope anchoring system. 

Peter Wycislik on Bad Habit.  © Jan Masny
Peter Wycislik on Bad Habit.
© Jan Masny

In April Peter Wycislik kick-started the year by climbing one of the remaining obvious gaps on the southern sandstone. Bad Habit at Stone Farm climbs the obvious blank wall on the Key Wall Buttress. It was originally presumed that this would be an enormous break-to-break move, but Peter climbed this by pulling on some miniscule intermediates. This is now the hardest line at the crag, surpassing routes such as SuperDry, another addition by Peter last year.

With Eridge Green still being banned for climbing in 2021, more attention was given to Harrison's Rocks and Bulls Hollow.

Having ticked off everything of note at Stone Farm, Peter Wycislik turned his attention to Harrison's, which has often been overlooked by boulderers. In April Peter added Ritual on some nice clean rock on Kirby's Adventures Wall. Peter suggested either 7A+ of 7B, but when I had a look, I had to rewatch the video to even find the holds. One for the steely-fingered to be sure!

In May I added a small addition to Fang Wall Baby Tooth (get it?!) which goes at about 6C on the steep but short side wall. I followed this up in August with a direct start to the classic top-rope Woolly Cub, which I rather unoriginally called Woolly Cub Direct Start at about English 6b (which is the same grade as Woolly Cub, but it does provide a different start for those looking to get a bit more mileage out of the line).

Tom Gore on Woolly Club Direct Start, English 6b.  © Tom Gore
Tom Gore on Woolly Club Direct Start, English 6b.
© Tom Gore

However, probably my best contribution to Harrison's this year was on Wildcat Wall. The left end of this had already received some attention in June when the slab on the far left had been climbed by George Jones and Alex Ham. In September I added Caracal to the blank wall/rounded arete to the left of Wildcat Wall at 7B+. I was initially drawn to this wall by the obvious pocket feature that made a big move up to a left-hand break possible, thinking that the top out would be a mere formality. However, I soon discovered one of the slopiest top-outs I have encountered on the sandstone! The only method I could find to solve this was a big dynamic move up to a flat hold on the top, hence the name Caracal (a cat renowned for jumping!). Future ascensionists: take care of both the uneven landing and be gentle with the pocket which is a little sandy.

Bulls Hollow also saw more attention than usual. In April I added a couple of new problems: at 6C, Wallow in the Hollow to the right of the Coal Face (another recent addition from 2020) and a rather unusual problem starting halfway up the crag called Neptune Arete. This climbs nicely, but be very careful to hit the top lip or spot your landing to avoid a much more serious slip to the bottom of the quarry. In July I added Barrel Arete, which would be a classic 7A if the landing wasn't so awful. I opted to climb this one on a rope! In August Peter Wycislik added a direct start to Time Waits for No One, which was the previous hardest climb at the crag. The direct line is a grade harder at 7c. Finally in September I added Gore's Gulley Grovel at 6C+ at the back of the Triangle Climb gulley. While this is a short addition, it features some nice slopers and a less-than-elegant top-out…

Tom Gore on Gore's Gulley Grovel 6C+.  © Tom Gore
Tom Gore on Gore's Gulley Grovel 6C+.
© Tom Gore

There have been a couple of other minor additions at some other crags. At Mount Edgcumbe in April I added Sting in the Tail at 7A. This is a right-hand exit to Through the Dust, but it is probably the better set of moves. The name reflects both the crux at the end and the wasps' nest at the bottom of a tree I was trying to attach my rope to – I realised a little too late! Finally in September I added Stairway to Heaven at 7A at High Rocks Annexe. This climbs the line of delicate ironstone holds up the blank slab on Valhalla Wall. Ben Dawson was quick to get the second ascent and even started the climb from a more direct start.

Tom Gore on Sting in the Tail 7A.  © Rachel Gore
Tom Gore on Sting in the Tail 7A.
© Rachel Gore

This year has also seen some significant changes to anchors used on the southern sandstone. Firstly, at Harrison's Daimon Beail and Emma Harrington have installed new pairs of bolts above Rotten Stump Wall, Giants' Ear and Small Wall, and have added new bolts to the existing pairs above Ejector, Belt and Braces and Unclimbed Wall. Daimon and Emma have also been busy at Stone Farm where they installed 5 pairs of bolts in the area where the tree stumps were taken down above the Stone Farm Crack area, and also a new pair of bolts above Moss Wall- Left Block at the far end of the Rocks.

New sandstone anchor set-up.  © Tom Gore
New sandstone anchor set-up.
© Tom Gore

The most significant change to anchors on the southern sandstone came in September with a new method of top-rope set-up being advised. In short, the swaging (wire that joins the main bolt to the secondary bolt) has been removed from all bolts, as it has been deemed safer for climbers to equalise between the two bolts themselves. If you want to read more on the specifics of these changes and why they came about, you can read an article here. It is important that climbers are prepared for the new system of setting up anchors and bring the necessary equipment. If you have been used to the old system of setting up top-ropes on the southern sandstone (I have been using this method since I started climbing in the late 1990s) then this might take some getting used to!

So, that wraps up 2021, let's hope for a 2022 with less COVID and plenty of dry weather.

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