Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Freeing The Whitestone Traverse HXS 6b

A cliff that crept into our peaceful dreams to morph them into our worst nightmares, with visions of blocks falling, crimps crumbling and belays collapsing; the mesmerising pure white cliffs held the line of the encapsulating and infamous Whitestone Traverse.

The eternal torment drew us before this climb for one last effort, where we had failed so many times before. The sight of what lay before us should have induced that deep trembling that this route had caused on all those previous occasions- A thousand feet of loose climbing, with a threat of serious injury for the entire guidebook time of 8-12 hours. But we had ‘our plan’, along with good form and perhaps most crucially the boldness of youth.

The description and history of Chameleon (The Aided Whitestone Traverse) runs for an entire guidebook page, with tales of bad weather and pegs popping on the various attempts to; first cross the cliff; and then to reduce the aid used to do so. A determined effort in 1989 from the Alpinists Chris Woodall and Mike Mortimer managed to free ‘most of the Blitzkrieg pitch’, but still left the entire previous pitch dependant on aid.

So we racked up, we opted to go light- taking a set of nuts, a few friends, a hex, a handful of biscuits and a litre of water. Our plan was to do the route in reverse- climbing from left to right, so that we would gain the harder pitches earlier on and therefore have more to throw at them. This worked quite well, with four of the most horribly loose pitches in Yorkshire falling in a couple of hours, perhaps giving the first E2 4c, with massive flakes departing from the cliff and half my belay collapsing into the trees.

Luke set up a hanging belay in Clutcher and belayed me across a reasonably sketchy slopy traverse. From here I could see ‘my pitch’; a blind traverse around the corner that eventually led to a tiny ledge on an arĂȘte, where I could thread a poor insitu peg with an RP. Perched on my little ledge, I looked across the rest of this pitch that had been ‘mostly freed’ from the other direction. A crimp crumbled under my meagre weight, which drove me to loose all fear and push on into the black Mamba Cave, down-climbing a 6a move along the way. Luke soon joined me and we looked up at ‘The Aid Pitch’.

On a previous attempt Luke had described this pitch as ‘absolute cheese and about fifteen degrees overhanging’. This assessment was not wrong. He gingerly climbed up to clip the archaic pegs and even more tentatively give them a two-finger tug,

“Bomber” I shouted up, my voice breaking- showing my psychological encouragement for what it was. After a couple of attempts he managed to cross the sandy rail, which soon ran out and he was forced to leap for the slopy arĂȘte; cutting loose briefly as he swung onto a poor foothold against the backdrop of the Jurassic landscape below. The poor foothold promptly broke and he was once again hanging from the lifeline that was the sloper. He smeared round and managed to gain the ledge with expletives mixed with shouts of joy. The pitch had gone free!

I joined Luke on the airy belay ledge to a telling smile as we knew we’d done it. The sun was now beating down onto the cliff which reflected a blinding white with immense heat. There were still a lot of loose and tricky pitches left, not least the next ‘5a pitch’- an epic descending traverse to the Detached block at a stiff, runout 5b. We managed it without too much difficulty and then simul-climbed the remaining pitches to The Nightwatch.

Leading the two pitches either side of the aid pitch and carrying the bag had taken it’s toll on me and I wanted to escape up the classic finish of The Nitghwatch, but luke, eager for more and wanting training for his coming dolomites trip insisted on continuing and finishing up the crux pitch of Jurassic Scarp (E3 5b) at the far right hand end of the cliff. It was nearly a steep wall too far for me, but I managed to pull over and collapse, basking in the baking sun, with thoughts of release from my tormentor- The Whitestone Traverse..

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