A VDiff Epic

Posted: 23rd November 2006 by admin in Climbing, Sport

The names in this story have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

We knew it wasn’t prime climbing weather as we approached the rock, in this case Mystery Buttress at Widdop. The first sign was that the rock was more green than grey, not a good start, getting to the base of the rock only confirmed our suspicions. But we had come here to climb and climb we were going to.

We initially decided to climb the 35m of Ordinary Route as a single pitch, with both me and Mike to lead the route one after another. However these plans were later changed to Mike leading the first pitch of 20m, and me leading the second pitch of 15m. (as you can guess this was not the final plan).

Mike lead up the first pitch without any real problems, despite the general greasiness and extreme greenness of the rock. Taking care to put in a lot of protection for the grade, he made it up the belay platform in good time. Setting up a belay on a pre-existing piteon and a couple of nuts, I followed up cleaning the gear out as I went along. Making it onto the platform, that only left angus to move up to the first belay point, which was done in decent fashion.

This is where the fun began, there was a 2.5m wall leading from the belay platform to a large ledge,which lead to an easy chimney to the top. I was to lead this section. In dry weather it would have been a 5 or 10 minute job. In damp and greasy conditions it became a 2 hour epic. There were a couple nice hand holds and a “blast hole” finger jam as well as a sloping ledge for your feet.

(this lead wall has subsequently been identified as a different route, and in fact we followed the right route into the chimney, however the route is to move up the left wall of the chimney onto the next ledge up from our belay point, not set up a belay point at the same level in the chimney as the first belay ledge)

That was as good as it got, the top of the ledge was so greasy and wet that you couldn’t get a grip on the top, and the greenness of the foot ledge meant you could stand on it for more than 2 or 3 seconds. After several attempts at this, Mike tried to lead up the wall, and had as much luck as me!

Looking for an alternative route, I crawled along the ledge under a rock across to the buttress height chimney to its right, placing a medium cam to avoid excessive swing in the case of my slipping. This didn’t look too promising either, again due to the poor condition of the rock. Mike went and had a look and decided he could see a way up.

Mike placed a nut, again to prevent swing in case of a slip and slowly raised himself up by means of a hand / forearm jam and placed a cam in a crack to protect while he placed a nut higher up so he could lower down to a platform across the chimney and set up a second belay point. This all took about 30 minutes and resulted in him pulling a muscle in his arm from hanging it in the jam for so long.

I followed along the ledge, and after several arkward minutes of manipulating myself off the ledge (god knows how alkward it was for mike with no gear above), I got my feet on a small ledge and jammed my arm in the big crack, while I placed a couple of pieces of gear, a nut and a small cam, so I had protection for when I removed the higher gear.

Removing the cam was easy, however getting up high enough to manipulate the nut out was hard work due to the poor traction on the rock and my jammed arm starting to loose grip on the damp rock regularly. Even stepping onto a high ledge didn’t help much as the piece had been rested on. Also the fact the you were removing your highest protection didn’t inspire confidence in the conditions. We decided to leave this for Angus to clean out later.

I dropped down back onto the lower foot ledge, took out the two pieces of protection I had placed earlier and let a lower piece placed by Mike earlier take my weight, and moved over to the belay ledge, cleaning that last piece out when I had got onto the ledge. From there I moved through and into the easy chimney to the top of the climb. At that point, Mike came off belay, disassembled the point and moved to the top of the climb.

Between us we set up the belay to bring Angus up off the ledge, where he had been for at least an hour now. The top the ledge above the wall when he was at the bottom of, was in terrible condition. Even on the top rope he could not get any grip on the ledge, and the slippy foot placement was not helping either.

After 4 or 5 attempts, we had to work out a way of getting up, this was solved by the use of a couple of prussic loops, 1 hand and 1 foot, and finally we were all off the ledge, all Angus has to do was to drop down and collect the piece of gear I had left earlier, which was easy from above and then come up the chimney to the top of the climb.

The climb had took us 3 hours. We normally lead S-VS between us most times outdoors, so was frustrating from that point of view as this was meant as a warm up route. However it gave us a good chance to try out techniques we don’t normally have to practice, and also made us think about alternative solutions to the climb.