Saturday the 4th May saw a very impressive day with three big ascents made at Wimberry Rocks in the Chew Valley.
First up, Tom Randall made the second ascent of Appointment with Death (E9 6c). First climbed by Sam Whittaker in 2003, the route has waited ten years to see its first repeat, likely owing to the long walk in and near protection-less nature of the climbing.
Protected by a single low wire in a crack on the right, a fall would be a very serious prospect with the belayer having to jump off a ledge to have a chance of taking in enough slack. After a few sessions working the moves on a toprope, spread over a few days, Randall soon dispensed with the myth that the crucial pebbles which one must put 100% faith in to climb the wall were friable, and the lead was "inevitable, though success was not".
Tom takes up the story further on his Blog:
"The night before going up to Wimberry, I had the most terrible night's sleep. I woke up twice drenched in sweat thinking about the route... My problem was that for the first time I was thinking about dying on a route!"
Once up at the crag Tom experienced a slight false start at the bottom of the route when he couldn't quite achieve the mixture of sub-conscious and conscious control he needed to tackle such a mentally taxing climb. Not letting it set him back, Tom climbed the route on his second lead attempt, describing his successful lead further;
"This time, I feel the balance. I can rationalise when I want to and likewise switch off when necessary. Even at the crux, I'm all four points of contact on pebbles – what a ridiculous proposition – but I'm happy with it. The route flows reasonably and I top out taking a certain joy in shouting, 'I'm alive, I'm alive!'"
The next ascent of the day came from Nathan Lee, who made a quick 3rd ascent of Order of the Phoenix, (E8 6c). First climbed by Kevin Thaw, Ben Heason then made the 2nd ascent in October 2009.
Speaking on his Blog, Nathan described his ascent in more detail;
"Having stopped top-roping it due to thin skin, I hadn't managed a full link but team psyche is more than enough to make up for any doubts! The ascent was a bit scratchy down low, but felt steady on the no-fall moves, aside from the crux pebble cutting my finger even worse. This must be the most at ease I've felt on/before a hard headpoint, which just goes to show what kind of a day it was."
Watch the video of Nathan's ascent:
Finally, Pete Whittaker crowned the day by making the first ascent of the Wimberry Prow project AKA Baron Greenback. An old Miles Gibson project, the rumour mill coupled with the only protection being three old aid bolts had put off any would-be suitors, including Pete as he explains his motivation to try the line on his Blog;
"When I abbed down the line for the first time I was shocked to see actual holds... It was snowing, windy and freezing but I still got my boots on and had a go at the individual moves. After an hour or so of freezing to death and swinging about in mid air trying to jug about and make rope directional's, I'd actually managed to do all the individual moves... Rumours of font 8B had obviously been Chinese Whispers and f8b seemed like what it might be."
With the line a real possibility, Pete then returned 5 or 6 more times over a few months, working the moves further, testing the gear, managing to climb the route in one go on his last session. Reckoning that the bolts were good enough to collectively hold a soft catch, Pete headed up with Tom and Nathan to give it a lead attempt. Due to the unusual protection for gritstone routes in the form of bolts, it stands to reason that there would be an unusual way to clip these, with Pete using a short bamboo 'clipstick' to clip the awkward 3rd bolt. Commenting on the unusual gear, Pete said;
"Some people might think this is daft, stupid, unethical but at the end of the day I think it's these little things that bring routes to life."
After falling off "outrageously pumped" a few moves above the bolts, round two was more successful;
"Overall it has to be one of the most satisfying grit ascents that I've done. The quality of line, climbing, position, holds, danger and safety are all perfect, you couldn't have asked it to be better in any other way."
Declining to give it a grade other than say it is approximately Fr8b, Pete described the different line he took at the bottom to Miles at the bottom;
"I started round the left side of the prow and Miles was coming straight underneath. Miles' way is definitely harder and bolder which is why maybe he never did it."
Keep an eye out for the forthcoming film about Baron Greenback from Hotaches.
These ascents have already been discussed in the UKC forums here:
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