Monday, 24 July 2017

Skeleton Ridge - The Needles Isle of Wight

The reasons why people climb are many and varied. Some people climb for the joy of movement. Some people climb for the adrenaline rush. Others for the adventure. What reason did we chose to climb a crumbling chalk cliff then? Well I guess adventure was definitely our reason, as it couldn’t have been either of the other ones...

Although it is generally a little know route, Skeleton Ridge is probably the most well televised rock climb in the country (it’s just all those people watching the BBC One program introductory image of the Needles and the light house didn’t know what they were looking at). The line climbs out of the sea up and along the knife edge arĂȘte along nearly 200m of climbing back to the cliff top. Its famed in part for its poor rock and lack of any meaningful protection but mainly for its mind blowing exposure. How could we say no? We booked our ferry and grabbed our bikes and off we went on one of the best adventures I’ve ever had.

Reading about the details of a route can be a bit tedious and uninspiring and for those intending to scale its heights, may spoil the thrill of your adventure. So instead of describing everything in detail I’ve posted below a load of photos plus few tips if you are thinking of giving it a go.. I hope you enjoy!

1) Buy Pat Littlejohn’s West Country Climbs V2 – It’s got loads of tactical advice and most importantly numbers for the Battery and the Coastguard, who both need informing before an attempt is made.
2) Check the tide – If you can’t be at the base of the cliff within an hour of low tide don’t bother. The last 100m of walking is most definitely tidal. The tide came in too much to walk out by the time we’d done the first pitch.
2) Call the Battery – The National Trust manage all of the land at the top of the cliff at the Needles. The abseil stake to descend the cliff is within the fence boundary and you’ll probably need the staff to help you find it (its location is at the head of the ‘moat’ on the right and requires you to down climb a section of collapsing wall above the cliff). A chap called Cameron came in early to meet us so we could make the tide.
3) It’s not a winter route – you don’t need an axe, so don’t bring one. True the rock is truly awful in places, but the idea of smacking a peg in for us was too incomprehendable. The hardest parts have already got pegs (for now..) so probably don’t bother. We had a set of DMM wallnuts and a load of slings and that suited us fine, although how well they’d hold a fall is a different matter.
4) Use 60m ropes – the last pitch is only about 20m of (shit-yourself exposure) climbing but you need to walk about 30-40m to the lookout fence for a belay. We only just reached it with 60s!

5) Do it soon! – It’s not a route to wait for, as its certainly not waiting for you!     

The Needles. Skeleton Ridge is obscured by the cliff you abseil down

Rob on the abseil into Scratchells Bay. We used a 60m static plus a 50 dynamic from the stake and had about 20m spare

Nearing the base of the abseil. The amount of chalk that was kicked loose during our descent was unnerving to say the least! 

Looking along the deserted beach of Scrachells Bay

The tidal bit of the approach to the base of Skeleton Ridge. The first pitch climbs up the slab just to the right of the first tower

Rob seconding the first pitch. Some imaginative runners using flint 'chickenheads'

Rob starting the second pitch on the ridge proper

Me clipping the pegs on the first 4c pitch. Wind was getting quite strong at this point! (Photo Credit Rob Steer)

Moving through some pretty exposed terrain on the upper pitches (Photo Credit Rob Steer)

(Photo Credit Rob Steer)

The wind was so strong by this point it was blowing our slings off..

Rob straddling the mind blowingly exposed ridge on the final 4c pitch

Looking back down the ridge. Perhaps a view that won't look like that for much longer?

Looking along to the belay at the Battery after the last pitch

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