Incognito (VS, 5a): An Accidental First Ascent and a Harrowing Escape
The CC description for the classic route on Lundy's largest sea stack, the Devil's Chimney, was baffling. Nothing completely matched up but after spending 30 minutes examining all aspects of the stack we convinced ourselves that the line climbed a faint crack near the right-hand side of the West wall.
|Into the depths|
(Anna bottom-right in the photo)
The initial wall was damp from sea spray and covered in small barnacles that cracked and fractured with pressure. But the handholds were positive albeit small, and footholds substantial enough to perch and fiddle with gear. Then an unnerving balancy move off a steep sloping barnacle-covered foot hold, which proved to be the crux of the route. A shallow ledge presented on the right-hand side. Not the "large platform" described in the CC guide but surely the belay.
Anna continued up easier cracks to a large platform on the left. Again not the "boulder-strewn platform" described by the cc guide but a substantial platform nonetheless. I led through a bulging wall above to a large platform and slinged a spike to my right. A steep wall led to the to top on large holds. I stopped at half height to try and place gear but the cracks were poor and so I pushed on regardless.
We skipped between boulders trying to identify the surrounding cliffs, or more importantly a weakness in the cliffs that would allow escape. Some steep grassy slopes were in close proximity but these we anticipated would be loose and scary. We couldn't even identify the Devil's Chimney Cliff, which was supposed to neighbour the sea stack. The sea stack even cast a shadow over the cliff in the CC guide photo so surely we must be staring it in the face? Having followed the cliffs one way and then the other and still without clue we cut our losses and opted for some rock that looked stable enough to scramble up.
|The way was blocked|
I faintly brushed a breeze block-sized rock to my left and it slid towards me then stopped in a delicately perched position. I missed a breath as my belayer was currently about 8 metres directly below me. It seemed sensible to try and wedge the rock in a safer place given its exposed position. As I moved it another rock stacked behind it, which was over a metre in diameter, nudged forward in my direction. Panic-stricken I slid the breeze-block sized rock back to its natural resting place to jam the considerably larger boulder behind for fear of Anna's exposed position below. Time to make a belay. I shoved 2.5 cam in the only stable crack I could find, cut my losses as to finding any further anchors and suggested Anna 'climb'! She stripped the belay and moved out of the firing line. Relief. Our bags were now only a short traverse left.
|Anna departing the exposed belay|