Friday, 3 August 2007

Clowning Around

An old doubt raises its head.

“Why am I doing this? This isn’t sensible.”

My left foot creeps onto the edge, hips shifting; I match the pencil width edge and continue to traverse to the left. The ropes are sweeping back a seemingly exponential distance to the roof to my right and the solitary gear. Directly below, the tide is crashing in; Andy is perched on top of a large block patiently holding the ropes as I hesitantly move across the quartzite face.

The Clown E7 6b at Gogarth, not a laughing matter mid-route; looking at the run-out and the foam washed boulders below. Falling is inadvisable from this point 15 metres up. A foothold creaks under my pressure and fleetingly a memory whispers. A memory of a foothold snapping, a silhouette poised in midair before hitting the ground. My body recoils, finding another foothold. Hips adjust once more to accommodate this new position, keeping both feet glued to the wall.

Coldly detached, I reach the flake of The Cad and the first piece of gear for 10 metres and start enjoying life again. More gear is placed; I de-pump my arms and my calves by standing on my heels, constantly shifting position to relax a different part of my body.

Smiling, I allow myself a quick moment of excitement; it’s going well, the lower crux rock-over managed without too much difficulty, the dangerous section negotiated and the top is in sight. A goal that for so long has eluded me, hovering just beyond my fingertips at the top of this lichen encrusted wall.

The wind has picked up and having stopped moving, I start to chill. I try to leave the rest into the continuation and top crux section of The Clown several times but have to climb back down, limbs moving like frozen cogs.

Doubts bubble up again. Stuck on the rest with shivering arms, the next bit looks impossible and the top further away than it should. But I’ve been here before, dealing with these uncertain emotions. I decide the next time I move up, I am not retreating.

Committed past my previous high point now. Precariously out of balance, I high-step a foot high up onto my left hand hold, a flake the size of a postage stamp. Undercuts are reached wrong handed. I fight to adjust my fingers into a better position. A crucial crimp is found higher up. I place an RP quickly behind a wafer thin flake. Moving up, my left arm cramps from placing the gear. My foot skitters on a smear. A flicker at the corner of my vision, the RP has fallen out. The wind sounds louder, roaring through me.

Finally, growing relief as my fingers curls round an incut flake that signals the finishing easier section. A break - bomber nuts and cams - the first gear in the 10 metres since the rest flake. I wave to Andy, a thumb up in response: I reconnect from isolation. Then I am standing on top, my first true E7 onsight.

Happy but cold at the top of The Clown, Gogarth (photo: Andy Hein)


Niall said...

Big up to Andy Hein for belaying me on this route! I am sure it cant have been much fun for him as I sketched about on the crux...

We both went on to Pembroke afterwards but that's another blog post...

Andy said...

It didn't look you were sketching around from below...But, I was a bit concerned when you started reading the route description from the shake-out!! :-)

Good effort! A

Hot Aches said...

belated congratulations Niall. A great ascent and a cool piece of writing. Keep sharing your climbing thoughts and experiences.

John Cooke said...

I've just heard about this now Niall. An amazing achievement and incredibly inspiring. Nice one!

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