Normally such monstrous tests of skill don't interest me too much, but there has been a little race between the parties of myself and Dooge and Luke Hunt and Ian Jackson for the first free ascent. The route is given E2 5c A1, but the Aid section looked Desperate- a loose crack with little else but the crack for holds. All this after over 200 metres of climbing a pendulum abseil and insanely loose rock. This was going to test our route finding abilities as well as our rock assessment skills.
So a fine Thursday was forecast, we packed Dave’s Espace with hammers and pegs, bivying gear, cameras and Lewis Dale (Lewige- the trainee photographer). We made good time and arrived at the Sutton Bank car park early enough to find a lay-by. We walked the short approach for Dave and Lewis's first glimpse at the cliff. We were apprehensive, but confident. Niether of us had climbed more than 3 pitches before and this 18 pitcher was going to test us.
We made good progress across the first walls, passing ‘The Nightwatch’ and ‘The Skab’ in a fine, pumpy pitch, about 4c/5a. Dooge then led an exposed but easy pitch around the corner, with a 'leap of faith' to reach the next belay ledge. I was left with a short scrambley section to belay on a tree and brought Dooge up who then looked at the next line with interest. It was unclear which was the correct line and I led out to find a tricky move, returned and recommended Dave went a different way. Dooge then led, with a massive run out, out to the arête. He made a hilarious, but terrifying whale/mantle on to a tiny ledge, where he traversed and then belayed. I was impressed with the difficulty- perhaps 5b, and worried that this '4c pitch' was so hard.
We re-cooped and I led across a madly loose wall, above a extremely scary Cassam. With no meaningful gear I reached the bottom of a crack- it looked like soft rock, but better than the rest. Dave Followed over carrying the rucksack and I led again, up the crack. At the top it was hideously precarious, but it was soon dispatched and I moved onto a great slab; bashed the first peg of the day in; clipped a piece of in-situ Gas Pipe; and continued. Dooge dropped a nut and I dropped a belay plate- sweaty hands and a bit tired. After retrieving them (down-climbing 30 metres to a ledge) we carried on. With a little more scrambling we managed to reach the abseil.
We stopped for a drink and realised we'd been on the route for over 6 hours-in the blazing sun, without taking a drink. Dave was starting to talk of packing it in, but I was eager to get to the Aid Section. A mad abseil- involving swinging to a ledge and climbing across whilst still on a prussic gained the start of the '5a pitch'.
I took the lead once again. I was eager to see if i could climb it as I knew Luke had been rescued off it before, so I pushed on, over increasingly poor rock, to a dodgey flake. A mad rock over, with no hand holds (rock too soft) led to the belay (at least 5b), before the Aid Section. Dave said He wasn't too happy seconding this pitch, which gave me the convenient excuse to lower off.
So defeated this Time, but A massive sense of achievement. I feel prepared for the alps (wasn't too tired) and I recon it will fall with some cleaver tactics and perhaps renewed optimism?
The first drink after the 9 hour traverse. Learnt a lot and have a much better chance next time.
We bivvied at Peak Scar that night and the following day I added a direct start to ‘Bivy’- E3 5c with my direct start being soft 6a and very strenuous. Happy Days. See you after the Alps! (hopefully)