Slate: Flail or Fail

Another blistering week of sunshine in the Dinorwig Slate Quarries, sometimes you just can’t complain about the weather.

After a mad rush packing up the last few bits and bobs on Saturday morning we were finally off on our way. The first stop on our trip was the Slate. Now many people have laughed at this as a kick of destination for a grand adventure, but Lee and I are both self-confessed slateheads. The Norfolk club trip has become a key date in the calendar for us, and it’s always a good laugh.

Although numbers are smaller this year everyone has their goals. Some to get back to climbing after time off, others to tick off long-standing projects. Although I’d love to say I have some big goals and projects, I’m just happy to be cranking on those tiny edges again and pulling off some stupidly high rockovers.

Starting slowly was the aim of the game, not just jumping on the hard stuff because you will fall off. Steps of Glory and other easy climbs in the Lower Australia levels paved the way and I was soon doing a couple of top rope laps on Just for fun. This is an often overlooked E2, on Looning the Tube level, but it is a right corker of a route. We were soon limbered up enough to try some new routes.  After a few days fo blistering sunshine, Mister Blister must be dry – so Lee, Pete and myself trundled up through the levels to go seek it out. Lee managed to onsight the route last year, and I top-roped it clean first go – so I didn’t think that it should be a problem to work it on lead this year. How wrong I was.

The Fail

So for those of you who don’t know me – I don’t like not being able to do things, especially if it’s a thing I think I should be able to do. And herein lies the problem. Finger strength, confidence, and state of mind are so important when climbing, especially at the top of your limit. Some days things can feel easy and other days they are impossible. And that day, Mister Blister beat me, the bugger. I could barely make some of the lower moves, my fingers refusing to pull on the tiny edges, the next hold looking too far out of reach. How the hell did I cruise it last year? After a few failed attempts and a minor strop bubbling away, Pete gladly took the rope and tried the route. Thankfully it turned out to be a successful plod up the hill, as he managed to redpoint the route in just one session, a great achievement – well done Pete. Pete has his own blog here, check it out!

The next day I was firmly in the mindset that I would not try anything hard and would just stick to easy climbing. So when Lee suggested trekking to the top of the quarries a few days later to ab into the giant hole of ‘The Lost World’ so he could check out a hidden away 7a I didn’t mind at all.

The Flail

I have this habit when we’re out climbing to say “I’m climbing terribly today, I’m not going to do anything hard”, and then go and top a hard climb. That day was no different. Wioleta and I decided to potter up some easier routes in the Never Never Land area whilst Lee went to check on the boys doing a multi-pitch in Twll Mawr. And then we saw it – Swiss Air, it was dry. This is another route that needs a few days to dry out, and even after the streak of water has gone you still have to be careful of seepage on the lower footholds. I’ve eyed it up before, technical lower section – tricky but fun, very me; and then a blocky groove to negotiate – shouldn’t be a problem.

Got psyched, racked up with (what I thought) was plenty of quickdraws. Haway, let’s have it. The technical first section involved a hand swap in a shot hole, then a combination of small hand holds with a balancey rockover to non-existent hand holds. This section was quickly dispatched. A few tricky moves came next to get established in the groove, launching for one hold I wouldn’t see but was praying was there worked. I soon passed the second bolt and found myself at the third looking up at the groove. Lee’s words of wisdom “don’t under-estimate the groove” soon showed to be good advice, as I struggled on a bad rest eyeing up the undercuts and wide pinches looming down at me. The resting was starting to take its toll as I started to get pumped calves. I was scrambling around trying to find better holds hand-holds.

“Shit, I’ve sliced my thumb open. I’m going to have to get moving.”

Luckily I had some tap eon a quick draw, some trickery and balancing with teeth as an extra tool to get this loose meant my thumb had a single layer of tape to stop the blood ruining my chances.

The next section can only really be described as type two fun, reminiscent of some HVS choss you’d find in the Lakes. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t my most elegant climbing, and to those on the floor, it must have looked like a completely different climber to the bottom section. I was bridging, jamming myself into the corner, backfooting, half laybacking – generally pulling on anything possible to haul myself up the rock to reach the next bolt. There were at least two moments between each bolt when I managed to put my feet on moss or miss holds entirely. Goes to show how quickly your technique goes downhill when panic sets in.

Somehow I managed to get to the final bolt, without coming skidding down the rock. Reaching up to the top of the groove, the holds vanished. I realised the mistake I’d made in keeping to the relative safety of the blocky groove when I saw the lower off to the left, on the face. Balancing on a bad foot and an undercut I groped around the rock, hoping for a decent hold to appear. Finding nothing but a slopey sidepull and with the strength seeping out my forearms it was now or never. I flung my foot onto the only foothold out in the groove, let out a power scream Adam Ondra would be proud of (although it might have involved a few swear words – it’s a good job the mother wasn’t around). I somehow managed to switch hands mid rockover and grab the arete. It was good. After running out of quickdraws I managed to fumble a screwgate onto the chains. “Safe! Take Please!”, elation. It might only be a 6c, and it might have been a flailing mess at the top, but that’s the most effort I’ve put into a climb in a long time, and it’s only my second 6c. Victory beer awaits.

[Note to self – set up the GoPro or recruit some friends to take photos instead of just watching next time]

The heat stayed up for the rest of the trip then the drizzle hit, scuppering most chances of hard climbing (or that’s what I’m telling myself). Nonetheless it’s a great place to hangout, from bouldering in the pass or pottering from level to level in the main quarries there’s many an adventure to be had. I’ve not known the Norfolk bunch for that long, but they have quickly become good friends over these past few trips; deconstructing the day’s exploits and planning the next send over a meal and a pint does that to you.

You never know – we might even make it back in time for next years trip…