When you mention the words Sport Climbing most people think of a casual day cragging, climb a few routes and clip a few bolts. I’m not saying you expect it to be easy, most people go sport climbing because they want to try HARD, in relative safety.
Well the sport climbing in Swanage is all together different! Long and complicated (for sport climbers) approaches, loose rock, rough seas and massive routes.
Last weekend Ben West and I travelled down to Swanage with two routes in mind. Infinite Gravity 8a+ and Palace of the Brine also 8a+. The weather forecast for Saturday was for a big band of rain to sweep across the UK in the morning, followed by an afternoon of sunny spells. Infinite Gravity starts in the back of a massive cave called Blackers Hole so we thought this might be a good place to be in the rain. After the approach which involved a 40 minute walk in, a scramble down a cliff and a via ferrata above the sea we arrived in the cave. The conditions in the cave were almost perfect with only the last few moves of this huge route being affected by the torrential rain outside.
Infinite Gravity climbs a massive steep arete feature for its entire 40 meter length and overhangs at 45 degrees.
On our first go up the route we equipped it with numerous extended quickdraws, got warmed up and worked out the moves. There was one move that concerned me, a big throw to a flat edge off a finger lock and an undercut.
First to climb was Ben. He climbed steadily for most of the route, regularly shaking out on the many big holds available, he climbed through what I perceived to be the crux with relative easy. “He is going to walk up this.” I thought to my self. How wrong I was. 5 meters from the end his elbows were up, he’d missed two clips and he was desperately digging around in a sandy break trying to find a big enough hold for is leaden arms to grasp. Somehow he made the last few moves to the belay and clipped the chains amid whooping crys of joy and fatigue. I couldn’t help but chuckle, seeing such a strong climber having to fight so hard on what I had assumed would be easy moves.
The thing with this route is that you have to make every go really count. If you fall high on the route it is questionable if you will have enough juice in the tank for another burn. Its not like short routes where you can fall, pull the ropes and have another go. This is definitely an endurance exercise which fatigues you with every go. I knew I had to do it this go. I climbed steadily through the first third, this climbs a steep groove split by a crack to the good rest. I felt good. Next up a steep section through a roof before pulling onto a hanging fang, undercuts and bad feet here really make the pump kick in. A few more moves lead to the crux, I was already feeling worked. “Ben had looked steady here and still had to fight at the top” I though to myself, “How am I going to have the beans at the top?” Banish the negative thoughts. Psych up for the crux. A little power scream and I have somehow latched the hold,my left arm was going to jelly,move on to the jug. “Ahhhhh” glory jug, shake out here. The foothold rips off I lurch onto my already fatigued arms but somehow hold on, flick my feet back onto the wall and move on. What was supposed to be a good rest and turned into an extremely unrest-full experience. Nearing the top my forearms have gone away from me. Its not really a pump but a tired empty feeling. There is no energy left in them. Five moves to the belay. I flop them onto holds blindly hoping they will grip, some how they do. I clip the chains. During my time on the climb (about 45 minutes) the sun has come out, I bask in is glory and whoop for joy.
We finished the day with a quick flash of “Rise of the Robots” 7c on the promenade before heading to the put to sink a few pints of celebratory cider.
The next morning we woke to bright sunshine. Today’s route of choice was Palace of the Brine. We had tried this route earlier in the summer but greasy conditions and hard and bizzar roof moves had shut me down. Ben had come close but not cigar. Today was a different story. Conditions were perfect, not a wet hold or damp crack anywhere. The only things that weren’t in condition were our bodies. I felt ruined from the climbing (and the ciders) the day before. “Oh well” my turn to put the clips in. The moves and the conditions felt great. The route climbs a vertical wall with funky moves on bad feet to a no hands rest at about 15 meters before questing through a groove feature in the massive horizontal roof. I climbed past my previous high point and on through the roof. Flarred hand jams and knee bars are de rigour. There is a hard section in the middle where you have to spin 180 degrees in the roof, I climbed through this section relatively easily and on to the the crux move out on the lip. This move involves a huge cross through off a bad hold into a slopey jug. I couldn’t reach the hold, my beta was whack, my feet were in the wrong place and I was off. I pulled back on, worked out some different beta then lowered off into the sea.
Ben’s go went smoothly. He had achieved what we had come to do, the big Swanage 8a+ double. I wanted it.
I had one more go in me. I was achey and and shaking from fatigue. As I set off up the route a sea kayaker paddled past “Your mad!” He said.
“Yes we are” I thought “and I love it”.
Somehow I managed to finish the route. Knee bars saved the day!
Overall it was an epic weekend with some of the most enjoyable climbs and climbing experiences I have had for some time.
The holds are chalked and the conditions are good. Get down there people.