Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Trad. climbing on Dartmoor

 Sunday 6th Oct 2013

A CVCC trip to the River Dart is always great  fun especially if the river is 'up'. It had been a showery week but now a ridge of high pressure offered the tantalising promise of some traditional climbing on dry granite as well as a soaking in the river.

Stephen and I arrived in Exeter at midday on Friday, offloaded our kayaks at my son's flat (cheers James) and headed for Haytor between Bovy Tracey and Widecombe in the Moor.

Haytor from the carpark
The weather was still showery so we abandoned any thoughts of climbing that day. Someone once said that 'a little time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted' so we set off from the car park in the driving rain looking for climbs. Haytor appeared imposing from the road: like a monstrous pile of elephant droppings, but it seemed to shrink as we got nearer. Guide book in hand we inspected  the wet granite,  and noted the sparsity of anchor points on the domed summit. After finding  Zig Zag  (50ft V.Diff ) on the west face we headed down to the misleadingly named 'Low Man'. Almost hidden from the road this secondary granite outcrop conceals the highest rock face on Dartmoor and the imposing  Raven Gully (100ft Severe)

 On our return to Exeter we stopped to photograph this amazing rainbow with secondary rainbow just visible and interference fringes. Yes the sky underneath the bow appeared brighter than that above: a well known phenomenon I am told.

A good omen?

The rainbow was indeed a good omen. On Saturday the sun shone while we enjoyed paddling the River Dart. This sunshine dried out the granite ready for a perfect day on Sunday. By 9.30 we were extracting my rope from Stephens newly acquired rope bag and sizing up the east face of Haytor in the morning sunshine. We decided to warm up on Super Direct (80ft severe) This climb was heavily moss encrusted and though only sparse protection was possible we seemed to climb with ease enjoying the great views and warm sunshine.

Delicate climbing on Super Direct

As the inevitable sight seers and climbers started to arrive we moved round to the west face to attempt Zig Zag. Graded Very Difficult we agreed I should have a go at leading this using a selection of gear from Stephen's rack.  Leading a climb using traditional techniques is quite different from a sport climbing lead. This is because on a traditional climb there are no bolts to clip into: the leader, faced with virgin rock has to make decisions about where to place his/ her own protection in the form of nuts and other devices before clipping into these. Traditional climbing requires a different mind set to sport climbing because one has to think more deeply about protection, manage more gear and rig anchor points at the top in order to secure yourself before bringing up your second. Some would say this is a much purer form of climbing because in the end it leaves the rock in its original unsullied state.

It had been a while since I last lead a trad. climb and did make some mistakes on Zig Zag. I placed my protection well but forgot to use extenders to keep the rope away from the rock: this caused unnecessary drag when later I pulled in the rope before bringing Stephen up. I also forgot my belay device so had to bring Stephen up on an Italian hitch which incidentally worked very well. I learnt that fumbling around in granite cracks can rip your skin to shreds! However I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of trad. leading and can't wait to have another go.

Zig Zag (50ft V.Diff)


Next we swapped crags and walked down to the west face of Low Man. Here the sun's rays were just beginning to penetrate and warm up a small herd of Dartmoor ponies. One or two climbers were already inspecting the rock face and after a little negociation we were able to take on Raven Gully. This climb is a two pitch 100ft severe.

Aerial photograph of the west face of Low Man. Note the climber on Raven Gully (100ft Severe)

Stephen led the first pitch of this classic Dartmoor climb. After a tricky damp and polished start, Stephen climbed out of the crack on drier granite. This strategy proved successful and set the tone for the remainder of this lovely pitch: straightforward climbing on big flakes led to an awkward slanting crack with plenty of holds available but requiring bold moves. This is because the crack slanted to the right but most of the good holds were on the left wall.

 After joining Stephen at the top of the first pitch, we swopped leads. I chose the route to the left out onto the sunlit face (see below) rather than the obvious dark chimney directly above us. To decrease the risk of a nasty pendulum into the right hand wall I placed protection at the base of the second pitch before moving delicately out onto the slab. This is an exposed position and I could not find any protection on my way up this slab. So I was relieved, on reaching the top to find an obvious anchor point to secure myself before belaying Stephen.

Raven Gully from below

Having completed the climb we were able to simply walk off the outcrop down a rock cut staircase: a bit of an anticlimax I thought.

On return to the car park the now almost inevitable sardines and oat cake made a tasty finale to a great day.

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