Authors & Image Contributors: Oli & Matt
For the first full weekend out since the start of lockdown conditions, the weather wasn’t looking good. Nationwide torrential rain had been forecast and gale force winds were expected all weekend. Out of the dozen or so that expressed interest, only half remained: Oli and Matt were there for the climbing while Sarah, Mags, Marie, and Christine preferred to take in the scenery by walking.
Given the forecast, Matt and Oli decided to accept Saturday as a write-off and travelled down in the evening – leaving the weekend’s walkers to enjoy their first day. Climbers apparently don’t do ambling about in the rain for hours, even with the vague promise of a cream tea at the end!
The forecast for Sunday looked only half better and all decided on a late start in the hopes of giving the weather a chance to lighten up (as being predicted) after lunch. But their fortunes turned! The psyche suddenly rose along with the mist and fog that morning to sunshine and far less wind.
As neither had been to Cornwall before and sea cliff climbing was somewhat new to them, they chose the non-tidal, non-abseil-approached Bosigran to start their Cornish quest. A brief walk-in followed by a slightly scrambly approach brought them to the main face and they set their sights on the Bow Wall Area, where the amenable classics of the crag are concentrated.
Doorway (S 4a) was the gentle introduction they needed. Looking at the topo Matt immediately declared pitch two a “nothing pitch” and decided to climb pitches one and two together. Careful ropework made the decision a good one, reaping efficiency bonus points. Oli led pitch three which has some nice exposure as you round corner under the overhang. Belaying from the top of the cliff gives wonderful views of the mean looking Commando Ridge [so called because the Royal Marine Commandos used to use it to train] and the roaring sea below.
The crag was getting busier and the next route on the tick list was taken, but Matt was feeling strong and aimed straight for the imposing-looking Anvil Chorus (VS 4c), electing to take the tougher sections himself.
Before starting the climb, a pair of chaps appeared without a guidebook and having never been to the crag before (whaaat?) looking a little lost. Matt & Oli recommended Doorway as a good intro and pointed out the line.
Leaving them to it, our lot started up Anvil. Oli climbed the first pitch, which weaved about a lot and with some perplexing moves. Matt climbed pitch two – a steep layback up twin cracks with slippery feet. The classic dilemma then ensued – to place gear and get more pumped? Or to push on and run it out? Matt opted to stop and place lots of gear, ending up pretty boxed at the top of it! Luckily the traverse had good feet and bar a tricky mantle, the route was done.
As they climbed Anvil, they glanced over to the lost pair they encountered earlier who were now lost in the vertical as well, being off-route from the Doorway and pressing on into harder terrain. Unfortunately, they were soon to be beating a retreat on sacrificed gear.
Little Brown Jug (VS 5a) was next up with Oli taking on the tough bits this time, starting with Pitch 1 – a delicate dance up the slab with significant run outs and only small wires for protection. Luckily the granite provided good friction and just enough holds.
Matt took pitch two, a pleasant slabby traverse that led to a sheltered and cosy belay underneath an overhang. Pitch three was what it was all about though, where things steepen, get a little more technical and end with a great exposed pull up some actually-not-so-little brown jugs.
Pitch three of Little Brown Jug was also apparently where the lost guys bailed as their gear was found, clipped, retrieved and then returned to the grateful owners!
The end of the day was drawing, and the walkers were enquiring about the pub, so with an eye on moving safely, but quickly, they jumped on Doorpost (HS 4b) which was now free. Oli took a leaf out of Matt’s book and strung pitches one and two together, climbing quickly and placing few pieces of gear [good training for the mountains!].
Matt took the glorious final exposed push to the top as the sun was starting to lower in the sky and the crag turned golden.
A solid day. Spirits were high on the brisk and winding drive back to the hostel.
Monday was brighter but windier, so the pair headed to the Sennen Cliffs which they believed to be sheltered. They were not. Despite a couple of attempts from various directions to get to the base, they were beaten back [quite literally] by 40mph gusts. They determined it was too sketchy to keep trying and called it off. Not for today.
Oli remembered reading that Kenidjack was definitely a sheltered crag and being only 15 mins drive away they headed there with their sights on a 46m single-pitch route called Saxon (HVS 5a).
A picturesque walk-in (lovely enough to maybe make the walkers a little jealous) was interrupted by briefly taking shelter from a passing rain cloud in the entrance of an abandoned mine, before bringing them to above the crag.
Finding the top of the right bit of cliff took a little searching around, but from the side of the bay the imposing black slab was unmistakable. The route was definitely steeper than it looks in the guidebook, but it was criss-crossed with breaks so at least it would take some gear!
Some convenient rock formations close to the top of the cliff enabled the building of a solid abseil anchor station and the pair descended into the unknown, arriving at the base at low tide. The pools of water at their feet and sideways glances from moody seagulls being a reminder that the clock was ticking!
Oli was all set to Rock-Paper-Scissors for the lead on Saxon, but Matt was happy to forego the hand-to-hand combat and elected to be the second. A bouldery start gained the face proper, and from there to the top the finest face-climbing was to be had – thin and crimpy moves, but with holds when you wanted them and gear when you really needed it.
With a long drive back to London ahead and the tide creeping closer, they decided to call it a day… but what a route, what a day and what a weekend!