Alpinism in Kent - The Tube (IV)

It wasn't until 7pm that we arrived in St Margaret’s Bay car park following delays (on my part) leaving work and escaping London. My natural first route at Dover was the Tube, a classic grade IV man-made gully descending from the top of the cliff to half height. It was first climbed by Mick Fowler and Pete Thornhill in 1983. By the time we had reached the bottom of the route it was nearly 8pm. Still, the route was only 95m so the remaining couple of hours of daylight I felt would be sufficient.

The Tube - 7.55pm
This was Chris’s first time on chalk and he was more than happy to second the route. Five metres of slightly overhung chalk marked the route's low crux only a short distance above the ground (but high enough to cause injury). Having banged in a warthog at head height, I rehearsed the first few moves, composed myself, and then committed to the steep wall. A line of bucket holds reduced the difficulty and allowed swift ascent, however the section was still certainly capable of providing a shock to any grade IV climbers system. The ground eased back to 60-70 degree slopes above the crux. With it went the buckets. I banged in another warthog above the crux followed by three more before the belay at about 50m off the ground. The chalk became softer, requiring greater care, and grass became more prevalent.

Below the steep section - 8.05pm (Photo by Chris Ellyat)
My belay stance was poor but with three warthogs buried I was happier. Dusk was already upon us by the time Chris started up the route. With no prior practise, removing the warthogs was proving time consuming. With little experience myself I was not much help. Banging the warthog back and forth, in the manner that a peg would be removed, proved fruitless as the chalk dampened the force from the lump hammer. With each successively warthog it became apparent that the only way to remove them was by hammering the head in a 360 degree circle in order to loosen followed by a crowbar action to remove.
Chris seconding the first pitch. It's now too dark for my camera focus. 9.15pm
Darkness had largely descended on us by the time Chris had joined me at the belay. The sound of waves and ferry horns reminded us of our where-abouts though. I racked the warthogs and started up the gully. The route was stepped out making climbing more swifter but this was counteracted by the near darkness that left me feeling my way blind. Unprepared for an after-dark finish in Kent we had left the torch at home. I wasted little time with gear, placing only a hand fall of warthogs on the pitch, and clipping the occasional bit of in-situ gear. Halfway up the gully I struck something hard. It felt like metal sheeting of some sort. Extending the width of the gully it was firmly wedged in place. Reaching high I hooked my axes onto its top edge and precariously bridged around it.

I belayed Chris up. We were now only a short distance from the top with the climbing becoming progressively easier. A delicate finish through a short earthy band offered one more surprise before I was on horizontal ground. It was 10.30pm by now. Unexpectedly late. With little time to rest  with packed our climbing gear caked in chalk and blindly navigated our way back to the care park.

Top of the route. It's very foggy. 10.30pm

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