Friday, 31 October 2014

Enigmatic Affection

Joe Simpson once described climbing to be a mixture between gymnastics and ballet. This joy and freedom of movement is usually the tipping factor in the balance between selfish indulgence and unacceptable risk.

Looking down one of the classic of the chimney genre;
the mighty Savage Slit of Coire an Lochain

However, there is a mysterious and foreboding derivative branch of mountaineering which doesn't conform to this pattern. Where freedom is impeded by lithological incarceration and joy is long forgotten commodity. Chimney climbing is undoubtedly the 'dark art' of climbing. If 'type 2 fun' had a definition in the dictionary it would list one of the many classic UK chimneys. Ascending these huge dank clefts really forms the basis of much of the UKs climbing history back in the early 20th Century where breeches and hob-nailed boots were as essential as a stiff upper lip.

Ian Stevens 'getting stuck in' on Just Fits, the a-typical route
dominating the western edge of Carreg y Barcud in Pembrokshire

Such routes are best saved for 'wild conditions' as if you're going to suffer, you may as well not waste a descent day! It would also be a grave injustice to attempt these in anything other than big boots and full waterproofs as rock shoes are not likely to provide any more 'stick' if the walls are covered in an inch of slime!

Many of these routes maintain there fearsome reputations and call for an abandonment of traditional ethics. Monolith Crack of Clogwyn y Tarw for example (see below UKC extract) is often climbed using combined tactics and in exchange for safe passage requires more than a generous donation of blood, sweat and tears. 'Swimming', 'trashing' and 'thrutching' are often endearingly used techniques to enable upwards progress however to describe this as a 'technique' would probably be misleading.. Arm jams, leg jams, chest jams and of course the full body jams all must be employed. Ascension is often a slow process leaving one bruised, battered and drained. The best training for such an outing would probably be several years worth of brick laying!

A captivating extract from the logbook notes of Monolith Crack from UK Climbing

The Vice at Gogarth, once you get inside you become the gear
placements! Perhaps take a car jack?

On the penultimate pitch of The Needle in the fantastically positioned final chimney crack.
Being over 300 feet up It's a one of the most 'out there' sections of chimney you'll find anywhere! 

So considering all of these facts why are people still drawn to such routes? Well the answer is simple - Adventure. These routes present the optimum challenge of strength, determination, flexibility and perseverance! Conquering a classic such as Lochwood's Chimney, Great Gully, Gwynes Chimney or Chasm Route is a monumental achievement and will propel the ascensionist to stardom! However some would sooner see the person sectioned. It's true, chimneys aren't for everyone. Think of them a bit like Marmite; you'll either love 'em or you hate 'em. But to be honest, you've got to love them! Chalk and wires are replaced by overtrousers and hexes, calming and relation replaced with panic and suffering and that pint at the end of the day will have never tasted so sweet. I'm also told they're best enjoyed wearing wellys but I'll let you be the judge of that..

Deep in the slimy bowls of Chasm Route on Glyder Fach on
a wet and wild October day

It would be an understatement to say that climbing has moved on since the first ascents of many of these routes. Yet the draw and allure of tackling something with such a strong natural line will likely continue to enthuse victims for many years to come!

No comments:

Post a Comment