Saturday, 27 October 2012

Crash and Burn on Some Like it Hot (V), Dover

Jack and me could afford a casual start. It was 11am by the time we arrived in the White Cliffs of Dover National Trust car park. There was even time for a slice of cake in the shop. High tide was at 9.20am so much of the morning would be a write-off. We descended the zigzag path to the beach. Waves were still extending the full length of the shore and showering the boulders strewn beneath the cliffs.We waited patiently. Then we ran out of patience...

We clambered over the boulders, avoiding waves, sometimes getting soaked by waves. We reached a section of cliff with no boulders that would forced us to pause and wait for the tide to recede a little more. Everything in this area was too steep to consider climbing so we had to press on. There was soon another impassible section. Beyond this the cliffs cut back from the waters edge before reaching the huge section of cliff that collapsed over the summer. We donned our crampons and traversed above the waves to the safety of a strip of shingle beach.. We had barely traversed 500m beneath the cliffs from the zigzag path, yet it was already 1.30pm.

12.45: over three hours since high tide
Contemplating the traverse (photo by Jack Wooding)
Jack traversing above water
This summer's collapsed section of cliff
Routes were difficult to identify from the guidebook. From what we could tell we were in the area of Some Like I Hot (V) and Dover Soul (V). Both looked worthwhile but the former's chimney/gully looked more of an adventure (partly because the difficulties at the very top were hard to assess from the ground). We opted for Some Like I Hot.

The chalk was deceptively steep. Often it looked as though it was easing back ahead of me but in reality was pretty much a uniform 80 degree steepness. The chalk was very hard from the ground up with each placement requiring about six swings of my axe. I struggled with gaining purchase from my crampons, which were probably too blunt for the job at hand today. At least the protection was sound although it needed a lot of effort to place.

The chalk was interspersed with small shelves of vegetation. These were not totally stable but generally felt OK to stand on if treated with care. Now 30m off the ground I was a matter of metres shy of the last difficulties. I needed to bare slightly up and left and so placed my left foot on a convenient section of vegetation in that direction. It felt stable enough. I moved my axes across, first making a hold for my left axe, followed by my right. The chalk was too hard in the region of my right axe so I returned to deepening the placement for my left axe for security. Without warning the vegetation beneath my left foot ripped from the cliff and I was falling before I could react. I fell around 12m before coming to a halt upside down. I looked down to see a shower of warthogs hit the deck. Some of my gear had presumably not held.

High point before the fall on Some Like it Hot (V). The grassy ledge directly above would have formed the belay
I was OK, albeit with a slightly grazed hip and forearm. I took a minute to recover. I had no interest in calling it a day after the hard work I had put into this pitch. At least I was now on top-rope for the immediate 10m so would be able to retrace my steps quickly with my axe holds already cut. I decided I would return to the top warthog and make a belay from there. With a restock of warthogs I would be able to lace the final steep section if need be. I looked down at my waist and realised there was a problem with this plan. During the fall both my ice clipper gates had somehow buckled open with the rope slotting itself into the right clipper. The warthogs crashing to the ground were in fact from my harness rather popped gear. Worryingly my lump hammer had also fallen to the deck.

We formulated another plan in which Jack would lower me to around 10m height where I had placed two warthogs in quick succession. I would use this as a belay and bring Jack up with all my dropped equipment. I could then quickly climb back up to my top warthog. I made myself safe. Jack untied to find the items scattered amongst the rocks. Time was pressing on. It was now late in the afternoon and we agreed to assess the the situation once the gear above was retrieved and we were at the higher belay.

I quickly climbed up to the top warthog. The top pitch of Some Like it Hot now looked unjustifiable at this time of day. I bore right towards Dover Soul, which I hoped would offer a quicker escape due to the final ramp pitch being only about 70 degrees steepness. As I got closer it became apparent that it was the same bullet proof chalk as on the first pitch. I could definitely climb it but it would take time to cut axe placements and plant warthogs as it had done with the first pitch. I set up belay and looked at my watch. It was 5pm with only an hours day light left. By the time Jack had stripped the warthogs and joined me daylight would largely be over. Of greater concern was that I had parked my car in a car park that locked the gate at 7pm. I had no interest in spending the night in a Dover B&B in order to free my car next morning. It started to pour with rain. We had not brought torches. It was time to leave!

Our plan had been to climb the wide left-hand chimney called Some Like it Hot (V). The obvious ramp on the right-hand side is Dover Soul (V)
At the belay: Time to get to the car! (and have a wash)
Sunset from my belay
I brought Jack up. It was now 5.45pm. I abseiled off a warthog with a second as backup. Jacked stripped the back-up and followed. A second warthog abseil and we just touched the ground. We jogged all the way to the car park, arriving with 5 minutes to spare before 7. I started the engine. We threw our filthy wet gear in the back and promptly left. We had failed to finish the route in time but with Dover only a short drive from London there was every reason to return as soon as possible to pick up where we had left off. The difference being was that next time it would be with an early morning low tide.

Jack ab'ing the final pitch

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Saltdean: Season Three

With winter approaching it was time to begin the season of chalk again. Having been plagued with shoulder injuries for much of the summer I was keen to ease back into things gently to avoid re-injury. I headed to Saltdean together with Julia, another member from the London Mountaineering Club, who was keen to try some chalk for the first time. We met Kirill and his climbing partner Paul at the crag.

Back at Saltdean
Julia and me climbed the usual regulars on the West side including Day Dreaming, Back in Time and Back Off Back On (all C5). I also top-roped (there are no bolts) a direct version of Day Dreaming, which climbs through a low jutting roof and offers much better value than the regular line. Kirill and Paul managed between them to climb most of the routes in this part of the crag.


Julia climbing Day Dreaming (C5)
Julia climbing Back On Back Off (C5)
Paul climbing the unnamed route (C5) between Back in Time & St. Jerome
Rain struck shortly after 3pm. Kirill and Paul promptly retreated to the pub. Julia and me made haste to join them but the shower passed quicker than expected and we were left with some of the most dramatic skies that I have seen in a long while. It seemed a shame not to linger and get one more route done so I quickly nipped up the Strangeness and Charm of the Quark (C5) before we made tracks to the Smuggler's Rest. It's good to be back on chalk.

Dramatic late-afternoon skies