Sunday, 14 December 2014

Moonraker, Berry Head

Rob lounging in the sunshine at the base of The Great Cave below Moonraker (HVS 5a), Berry Head

Having just moved down from Scotland I was worried I may not find the same inspiration to go climbing as I did up north with its abundance of mountain crags, so I needed something special to re-knew my excitement to be back in sunny Devon! Luckily we had a cunning plan! The Old Redout at Berry Head is amongst the finest sea cliff venues you'll find anywhere in the Southwest. It’s limestone precipices cascading into the turquoise ocean exclusify access to all but the most intrepid explorer so this seemed like the ideal proposition to re-knew some psyche. The pièce de résistance of the areas lithological architecture is of course the Great Cave, a seemingly impenetrable series of monstrous roofs as overhung as they are high. For some this presents the Southwests ultimate challenge and is the ideal proving ground for skill, stamina and probably considerable lunacy! Merely the names of the routes here can’t help but excite the imagination; Caveman, Dreadnought, The Lip Trip. For the mentally stable there are more conceivable alternatives the most celebrated of which is of course Pat Littlejohn and Pete Biven’s 1967 route; Moonraker (HVS 5a) which provides an excellent vantage point to view the afformented lines however the rout itself is no pushover. It climbs the initial overhanging wall via a long traverse and then drives a central line straight up the cliff for over 100 feet to the top and is more adventurous than Ranulph Fiennes with blank cheque book courtesy of the Government!

Rob making the arduous traverse out of the cave above the sea
over to the starting ledge of Moonraker

I’ve heard you can abseil to the bottom, however you have to remember to kick out and generate some perpetual motion otherwise you’re left dangling above the ocean faced with either a long climb back up or a swim! The more favoured way is round the side where a descent path leads through a gate and down a steep grassy slope until you reach a small rocky bay at the top of the cliff. Rather alarmingly from the off you’re confronted with a particularly steep looking blind step which marks the start of the traverse into the Great Cave. We lowered ourselves gingerly round very conscious of the 30 foot drop into the sea and eventually landed on the slabs below the jaw dropping Great Cave which loomed overhead. We sat and worked the impossible looking lines which dissect it before turning our attention to the equally impossible looking Moonraker. Tracing its line up the through cracks and over guano covered ledges makes for an intimidating exercise but essential none the less!

Making the strenuous traverse out toward the hanging crack
on the first pitch of Moonraker. Photo from Rob

From here we had to scramble to the back of the cave then hand traverse out along its overhanging wall on bucket sized holds. Easy right? Well it would be if it wasn't for the dazzling light as you exit the cave and all the bucket holds being filled with sea water! After some grunting and burling we eventually reached a large ledge clinging desperately to the base of the overhanging cliff and got ready for it all to step up a gear!

The second pitch of Moonraker high over the swishing tide by now! Photo from Rob

I then led the traverse out and up above the calm sea lapping at the cliff. The exposure is incredible as you move up the steepening wall to a tough move past a peg to the base of a crack. Because I had laced the lower section with some much gear I was quite pumped when I got to the overhanging crack but the holds are big and I managed to find a rest. After the crack a quick skip across the sopping hanging slab I reached the belay. Rob then raced up wondering why I was fannying about so much! Rob then led the next small 4c pitch up to a wonderful ledge belay below the final corner pitch. Crux led, I was quite happy to let him have the corner pitch as well which he danced up with no bother. The last pitch is outstanding climbing in a sensational position with a couple of ‘thinky’ moves with great gear . I defiantly regretted letting him have that one but hey I guess I'll have to go back! The route is truly deserving of its legendary status and kudos to anybody that climbed it in big boots and breeches using a hemp rope and wooden wedges!


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