Opening the Trad season

In two parts, I’m in a mood for extemporising, sorry

There were no adventures in May. This is unacceptable, as by the end of May I was close to a gibbering wreck. I will admit that the hours of work each day in preparation for a 3hr quantum mechanics exam probably contributed to this. Turning down outdoor trips and sitting inside studying is clearly no longer an option for keeping my sanity.…

Although I sat my exam on the Tuesday I was still a little phased out by Friday when I was trying to remember what gear I needed. Especially when I remembered our weekend escape was a Trad trip; none of this light packing for Sport climbing or Bouldering!

After going through my gear three times to work out what I had forgotten I decided that the old image of the loaded down Traditional climber with their heavy metal work is essentially redundant (cue gasps of outrage from the climbing community). The only additional kit I take on Trad is my rack (a collection of nuts and cams that have to be used as you are climbing routes with no fixed bolts in place to clip to). You still need a rope, harness, helmet, slings, belay plate, headtorch… etc etc for sport climbing. If you are not being a muppet, packing for a trad trip should be no less complicated than Sport (in my humble opinion; yes I know I carry too much gear all the time and this is probably why my Trad kit doesn’t feel very different.)

And for those boulderers, climbing rope and harness free – feel free to laugh at the loaded down Trad climber as the wind clips the massive pad/mattress strapped to your back and you have to scramble back up onto the path swearing at the squashed banana in your ridiculous ‘front’ pack (no room on your back – too much padding).

After finally managing to pack (didn’t forget anything, took way too much gear and too much flapjack – standard), I picked up the boys at the station at 7pm and we left the station at…. 7.20 after sitting in a traffic jam, in the station, for nearly 20mins! Dear gods this did not bode well..

To get to Swanage it took us…. Just over the minimum time of 3hrs including a food stop! I swear that is the clearest Friday drive I have ever done!

We were still fairly exhausted when we arrived at the campsite and finding somewhere to stay involved a little bit of being discrete, a little bit of diplomacy and Roly managing some excellent sweet talking of the manager in the morning (there was nearly a fight between two other campers, Muhammad Ali had died – these sad things meant I didn’t have to pack up my tent, there’s a possibility I’m a bad person).

We managed a surprisingly early start (I blame a stupidly overenthusiastic Raven trying to pretend it was a cockerel at dawn) and Ben won definite brownie points for providing real fresh coffee. A quick trip in the car and we were at the Cattle Trough crag on the gorgeous Dorset coast, by 10am ready to climb.


note: this is not a scramble, this is just a walk, on a nice neat path

A lot of the guys I know are funny about climbing in a three as it can take a lot of time, particularly if there is any rope faff 20160604_151808(there is always rope faff, have you ever tried untwisting two 60m ropes, quickly, on a ledge 5m up a cliff by the sea). However Roly, Ben and I climbed together last year (don’t know if this helped), tend to be fairly relaxed (this definitely helps) and are definitely getting better at a quick turnaround. The only thing that slowed us down was the route down to the Cattle Troughs ledge, as this involved a scramble/downclimb that I was ludicrously slow on. By the sixth go I had it, but still didn’t like it!


The second ridge, just out of view, that was the scramble

We did some awesome climbing and I felt pretty good on Saturday; led a Severe climb that I nearly freaked out on, but the boys were great at getting me to focus on gear/moves and recognise that I was more than capable of getting up the route. Roly did this by soloing up the route next to me (git), which he started when I heard Ben go “umm” and my first piece of gear spiralled down to the ground. Although not a technique I would suggest (things can go horribly wrong when someone is trying to help out someone else), the route Roly was on was well away from the sea (and me), clearly an easy route he could climb and seeing him on it helped me keep my calm and get the next couple of pieces of gear in.

Roly picked some interesting climbs and accidentally led another E1 (standard, pick the hardest HVS in the book and discover the next day it’s been upgraded) – I swore my way up afterwards and Ben followed more successfully but with only slightly more grace.


Ben chose a couple of fantastic Severe leads, and then what was honestly the worse VS (very severe) I have ever been up – successfully demonstrating he can place gear very well when he decided to come down! Roly topped out the route but it was generally agreed that Ben chose the only safe point at which to come down… he was capable of climbing it, which he promptly demonstrated, but it was not a good one for the head game (more of that to come later)

We climbed fairly continuously throughout the day, snacking in between each climb, and by 6 were ready to head to the pub.. Kings arms, Langton Matravers, good burgers and good beer, not only that but the sun (briefly) came out. An excellent day.

Time for a break. I’m going to leave writing up Sunday for a little bit, as I need to think through some stuff. It’s mostly about fear and the head game – what happens when you are strong, fit and competent enough, right up until the fear hits… I’ll keep you posted

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