The Rift (VS, 4c), Gogarth

The mouth of the cleft repelled my attempts to enter her bowels. My pelvis wedged between the opposing walls but wouldn't pass. There was little room to adjust. I squirmed higher and found a slightly wider space to enter the confines of ‘The Rift’. The rope led up and left into the darkness. Virtually no gear separated me from my belayer but the chances of pendulum'ing within such a narrow cleft seemed almost impossible.

The space was only marginally wider than my girth. I spread my hips full width and flexed my knees like a frog. Wedging the inners of my knees against the rock I dropped the palms of my hands down to hip height and slowly shuffled myself higher as though climbing with four legs. My helmet clattered against the rock each time I surveyed my position. After ten minutes of fighting and I had moved a matter of metres. This was ‘traditional climbing’ in all its glory. I looked down at the rocks and saw blood. Was it my blood? How could I tell given that my visibility stopped largely at my chest? I climbed higher at a pathetic rate.

Anna entering 'The Rift'
The cleft widened a little around half-height but the rock became more friable. Desperately I inched my feet up to meet the occasional foot hold that I hoped would hasten my progress. Often the holds would break off, sometimes they wouldn't. Now the occasional hand hold but their presence offered little help given that I was heaving my bodyweight together with ample friction and with little foot purchase. Now past half-height I neared the first piece of gear. How had my climbing partner Anna led this pitch so calmly?

I breathed heavily as though I was climbing a Himalayan peak unacclimatised. Inhale-exhale-inhale… Sweat drenched my body and filled the surrounding air with vapour. My knees were becoming increasing sore and bruised. Bone wedged against rock… My body was not built with comfort in mind. I straightened my legs to given them rest bite knowing I was lessening my purchase against the walls. Awkwardly I pushed my chest and backside against the walls and let my legs hang for a moment. I stayed put, unclear where exactly my leverage was coming from. My breathing settled a little and it was time to push on.

An arête that formed the edge of one of the walls now presented. I tried to exit but the climbing on the arête was too steep and reluctantly I shuffled back into my dark hole. But now daylight shone into the top of the chimney and could see my belayer’s face clearly for the first time. Encouraged by this I picked up the pace with successive shuffling movements between each rest. Then my fingers met the top edge of the chimney and I pulled through to slump onto the belay platform in a wasted state.

My body felt exhausted. The second pitch was only 4b but it climbed a crack, which would require some degree of jamming. Or more to the point some degree of strength. Falling off seemed a realistic prospect until better recovered. I didn't want to fall off given the tremendous physical effort to complete the first pitch. Fifteen minutes passed before I felt ready to continue.

48 hours after 'The Rift'

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