Relax (IV/V), Saltdean

Trad chalk climbing is an odd style in so far as you need to clip in to your axes and hang on them in order to free up both hands to bang in a warthog with a lump hammer. Given that so few people chalk climb the ethics book hasn't been written yet. How often you stop to hang on your axes in order to place gear is entirely up to you. Therefore the style is similar to ice climbing with elements of aid. In the case of a route called Relax on the Western Cliffs at Saltdean I found myself hanging on my axes fairly regularly during the first pitch which was unrelentingly steep for the first half. My wrists burned with each successive swing of an axe as I steadily bridged up the beautiful corner. The chalk was top quality. Hard but very stable and a joy to climb. Every bit as good as the 'sport chalk' routes at the crag but of course without the bucket holds. The steepness eased as I approached the belay however the climbing was every bit as absorbing. I set my belay up on the knife-edge arête, from where the ground rapidly dropped away either side, and brought Kirill up. 

Climbing the first pitch
Climbing the first pitch
Belay stance
Kirill led the second pitch, which looked as though it would be softer than the first. In reality it proved nothing of the sort as the chalk became progressively harder and crampon purchase more tenuous. Kirill traversed out right a short distance in order to follow a line of weakness through the route's short section of questionable chalk. It wasn't as bad as anticipated and soon he was back on the rock hard stuff, delicately front pointing up a rising slab traverse to gain a tricky overlap. From here the top of the route was only a few axe placements away. As Kirill brought me up I could hear him in conversation with someone at the top of the cliff. It proved to be a policeman whose belief it was that climbing was not permitted at the crag. Although this was contrary to reality, the top of the route is is very close to coastal road and in full public gaze so attention such as this may be inevitable. This may unfortunately may be a route to avoid unless prepared to set up a lower-off beneath the top of the route as the CC guide suggests.

Kirill traversing out from the belay
Climbing through the chossy band

The steep upper slab


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