Monday, 7 July 2014

The Possum - Whitestone Cliffe

The line climbs somewhere up the right of the picture.

New phase = new cliff. Moors limestone is largely ignored in this weird little climbing scene, for a variety of reasons. It's big, it's scary, it can be quite loose and it's in the south west, so a fair drive away for most of the mooristas. It's the closest crag to the south of England however and can work out quite well for a quick pop-in on the way back from Leeds. That's exactly what I did today.

Since the traverse was freed a few years ago, there haven't been any new routes climbed at the crag, which is shocking considering how much rock there is. In reality, the number of lines could easily be trebled. There is a bit of a question about why you'd want to climb on most of this cliff though? Left of the stable Nightwatch area, the rock does have the tendency to crumble and gear can't really be trusted.  So it's adventurous. There are however some really good lines, exceptionally situated. The pitches get up to about 40 metres long as well, so you can get a real feeling of having 'an experience'.

So what's left to do? There are a lot of old aid routes still waiting for free ascents. Some of these are just odd moves that no one's quite managed yet and others are bolt ladders that were created through terrain seemingly impossible for free climbing. That great old word 'impossible' always makes my fingers twingle and the less freed the routes are, the dafter the experience is going to be.

Perhaps the most heavily aided pitch at the cliff was 'Possum'.  It takes an outrageous line to the right of the central arete, through several roofs and bulges, culminating in a very lonely and loose slab finale. I've wanted a look for a while and managed to get on a shunt today.

You start very low down, seemingly underground in a wooded alcove surrounded by enormous boulders. From here there's some unprotected moderate wall climbing aiming for a protruding peg at about 8 metres. I wasn't able to swing into this, but it looked somewhere in the English tech 6 category - low enough to be possible anyway. Once at the peg, there's also a small cam in a pocket, before a fairly loose bit of traversing up and left into the first roof. Here you could probably wangle a small nut in - you feel really exposed here, your footholds snap off, the gear isn't very good and if it rips you're already in very serious trouble. Then there's the crux. A big reach through the roof and then pulling through this on suspect small crimps. You're getting higher above the gear (that is now way off down under the roof and out to the right) and then you have to wack your feet onto some smears and try and slap into a sidepull. This would feel pretty exciting on lead. You then get to clip a terrible bolt.

What's great about the route is that when you ab down it, it looks like you'd be able to escape off right at this point (and maybe you could - still not sure about this yet), but it's at least as easy to keep going up a steep crack line directly above, which keeps throwing surprisingly physical moves at you and only the odd shite peg for gear. You'd end up on a loose moon-crack (at curbar) style crux, pumped from the main 6c crux and with only a poor peg and a rubbish bolt between you and a 20 metre ground fall. I reckon it would be a pretty harrowing lead, but a really good one. After this you're at about half-height and there's an E6 6a to the top, with some massive runouts and bad rock.

The old choss thing at Whitestone is an interesting one. This route certainly isn't solid, but it's also not the boring 'pulling so many massive blocks off that you just can't do moves' style choss. You sort of have islands of good rock in seas of filth. It makes you have to climb well, you have to join up the dots. You might be next to a huge jug, but if you pull on it then it will definitely come off, so you have to take the 6b sequence around it. Very complex, rewarding climbing. I'm interested to see how this thing progresses.

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