Exposure Explosion (HVS, 5a), Ogmore

The nerves started to fray as early as the second pitch. The bulging section of rock only a short distance right of the belay was clammy. I moved onto the leaning rock, my feet undercutting my hands. Immediately the tips of my fingers were damp. I grasped the shallow holds that were filled with sandy moistness, my fingers seemingly slipping with each adjustment. Anxiously I retreated back left to safety in a corner. I leaned out rightwards and placed a cam at full reach in order to better protect the moves but my subsequent second attempt ended with the same outcome. Sweat was rolling down my brow. I wiped my forehead and arms, then chalked my fingers. It was time to wipe my brow again... I studied the rock. The moves looked moderate in principle so why was I struggling to execute? How much were the conditions playing a part and how much was the jaw-dropping exposure to blame? Worryingly for me the pitch was only 4b and technically moderate compared to those forthcoming. There could be no retreating off the moves for a third time I counselled myself as now I was confident there was no other way. I moved quickly from insecure hold to the next and soon it was over. Then dry rock presented with relief. Suddenly the moves felt easier and the climbing fluid. My mind de-stressed a notch.

The 2nd pitch
(Photo credit: Ivan Bicknall)

In-situ belayer - Ivan at the 1st belay

I was almost out of cams by the time I reached the belay. The pitch had swallowed them up and offered little else. Nuts were almost redundant. My 1.5 friend slotted into a gap at chest height but then scratched and twisted in the marginally friable rock each time I tried to load it. 'Bite!' I shouted. Soon it halted. My only other cam, a size 0 friend, slotted high above my head in a horizontal narrow crevice. I extended with a sling down and then cautiously leaned back to load both bits of gear. Not my finest belay but as good as was available I thought. Best not fidget too much.

Ivan on the 2nd pitch

Ivan's third pitch was comparatively short, leading into the back of a damp cave via a sequence of rapid moves. Then began the fun to exit the cave.

The obvious way looked to be along another line of holds on undercut rock. The third hold was slimy and so I quickly backed off in dismay. I tried to traverse lower down but now the holds were too thin and spaced. It seemed I would have to climb up into the dark roof a little and then descend. This proved an effective, albeit indirect way across. I stepped down unknowingly into a big puddle of seepage and then slipped on the next foot hold. I retreated then painstakingly dried the soles of my feet as best I could. My mind was starting to fry again. The sweat rushed down my forehead and arms. I rehearsed a long straddle to a foothold but with so much dampness under my feet out of the cave my commitment to the moves was showing fatigue. Time to place another cam. Time to get on with it more to the point. But only after I'd wiped my soles once more. The move passed quickly. Then more faffing preceded some tricky moves around an arête and finally to the belay. Time to breath.

Ivan on the 4th pitch leaving the cave

Now the climbing was easier as Ivan led a longer pitch that extended out of sight around another kink in the cliff face. Even easier climbing felt absorbing. From here it was a short pitch to a bottomless belay beneath Siren Corner. I bridged the rock either side of the empty space below and belayed Ivan across.

Ivan on the 5th pitch

Looking down between my legs at the 6th belay beneath Siren Corner

Ivan was content to finish up Siren Corner rather than step right 5m and finish up the steeper wall. Friendly bridging moves soon led us back to the surface. The only anti-climax being that after many hours of slow traversing left to right we were able to walk back along the cliff top to where we had started within minutes.

Rising to the surface
(Photo credit: Ivan Bicknall)

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