20 April 2010

Winter Returns

It is strange how things develop a reputation. Media or rumour rightly or wrongly influence how the majority of people perceive something.

What has been printed about climbing in Margate is not correct.  Margate is a great place, go there!

The first ascent of Rock-a-bye Baby Wi6 on the RHS (yes right!) of the arch

Photos by Lukasz Warzecha

The chalk at the Northern tip of Kingsgate Bay is unlike any other I have encountered: it is pleasantly soft, with a couple of blows I was able to bury an entire pick. Other plus points: there is good access for hours either side of low tide and there are plenty of belays at the top of the routes. For anyone living in the South East who wants to climb ice routes then this is the best training available in the UK. And the routes are three star experiences.

These cliffs have been climbed for years, I re-discovered them while working on planet Thanet a couple of years ago and did some bouldering/soloing then a couple of routes with Toby Dickens. When I first saw the cliffs I noted pick/crampon marks and fixed gear, which must have been from climbers doing routes that topped out.  When we were there this weekend one of the many interested walkers turned out to be a 75 year old chap who had climbed at Kingsgate and Dover 40 years ago.

I had been intending to return to Kingsgate for some time and when the opportunity arose to go back with Toby and Lukasz it was all systems go, well.... dig out a couple of stakes and some rusty Warthogs from the bottom of a cupboard. The purpose of the trip was to try and onsight some new lines and hopefully provide something interesting for Lukasz to shoot.  To do this we had to coordinate light, tides and routes, this turned out to be extremely taxing as we had to wake up painfully early saturday AND sunday morning.  At least we had time to sleep in the afternoon before an evening session of hammering stakes, soloing slabs and moving flashes.

Soloing the Right Hand Slab

During one solo I climbed to 2/3 height and clipped in to a solitary Warthog while Lukasz took some shots. As I waited attached to the Warthog I must have lost concentration and it was truly disconcerting when I had to climb again and solo the top section of the route.

Narrow Slab Wi5. This route had been climbed by
someone else before we did it

Climbing at Kingsgate is fairly straightforward all that is needed is about half a dozen Warthogs and a decent hammer. I don't think any axe hammer is up to the job of driving a hog in to chalk, it can be done but using a real hammer is a 1000 times easier. The top outs can be a bit crumbly so it is worth getting a couple of good pieces before the top and maybe a belayer with a soft catch would be useful if things did go awry. I was using Nomics this visit and even with head weights they felt too light to easily get good placments in the chalk (and obviously they are useless for hammering) I remember the orange Fusions feeling like they penetrated better (heavy DMM tools might be good here??!).

About two thirds of the way up Sweet Dreams

Toby and Lukasz stood above Sweet Dreams Wi6-
Lukasz couldn't use a lot of the shots from this route

because my eyes were either shut or very wide!

Sweet Dreams, note the rubble on the beach and Toby hiding


See UKC for map

13 April 2010

no ice - nice

Classic Swanage. What a treat to relax in the sun and belay, no drips of water and no fear of falling ice (still prudent to belay below an overhang though!)

Later... on some E3 I was trying to find holds that felt like big juggy axe handles then I accidently found myself comitted above some small RP type gear. The rock had turned a bit nasty and I could only see these shattered flakes split by thin cracks and no jugs in sight. The real pisser of the situation was that the ab rope was now within reach!! I had already watched as my hand briefly held the rope, surprised by the almost involountry movement I snatched my hand away and re-examined the route ahead. Then the gear. A few nanoseconds later I was tying a prussic one handed.

I must either get some self control or keep the ab rope well away!!

Classic Swanage 2

Ramon Marin nice and steady on the start of one of those cool E1's by Gypsy at the Ruckle.......
Strongbow; I have done this route before apparently! (with Neil Adams in 07)

7 April 2010

Iron Mind

During the last four days I have immersed myself in some deep deep holes in the ground, the reason for this insanity? they are slowly filling with climbable ice.

Kris jumaring with his breath hanging in the still air

I'm writing this after a few relaxing strong Danish beers, well deserved beers after the physical and mental exertions of the last few days. Since friday I have experienced some very dark abseils, gnawing wet and frozen jumars, long boring waits for someone to finish ascending the rope and some of the absolutely craziest ice climbing that I have ever done. Maybe not the hardest climbing or the purest lines but top marks for adventure.

Malcolm Kent had planted the seed of an idea for visiting the ice mines and had been patiently nurturing it for probably as long as I have known him (since 2007). Inspired by a film featuring Will Gadd that Dave Brown had worked on. Malcolm succeeded in pulling a team together for a visit to the mines during the easter break, happily I was able to scrape together the last of my savings and fly out to meet Malcolm in Copenhagen. We drove to meet photographer Lukasz Warzecha and Gory writer Thomas Mazur. Danish alpinist Kristoffer Szilas also made a flying visit for the last couple of days to set some quick times for power jumaring and repeating our routes. As the team congregated so did the equipment that we needed to access the mines. About 400m of rope, a dozen ascenders, half a dozen axes, 20 screws, slave flashes and a drill were transported by various means. Additional baggage allowance was purchased from the budget airline con artists....
"Do you want to pay for this ticket?"
"Ok, that will cost you another 5 pounds!!!"

Malc testing the water

Lukasz and Thomas near the new route Feathers

The vast mine system had several slightly innocuous looking entrances, each hole in the ground was lined with granite blocks and a few birch trees surrounded the fenced off holes. On closer inspection "1817" could be seen carved in to a block and the heavy wooden timber that once supported roofs and platforms over the holes looked like it had been decomposing since 1817. Between the holes the vaulted roof of the cavern was smooth rock where fire was used to mine the ore, deeper down shot holes are found from blasting. During this visit our maximum depth was about 100m (with 70m free hanging abseils at a couple of locations) though a rucksack did make its own way down to 120m.

A huge consideration when down these holes was safety, as soon as we arrived (well, as soon as Malcolm set foot in the mines to be accurate!) ice was falling from the roof and not just small stuff either, massive chunks that could be heard ripping through the air then blasting in to the floor. Extremely atmospheric when confined in a cavern with nowhere to run!!!. Every day we were there something big fell although on the last day it was the rucksack (luckily still tied on) making an impressive noise after a 40m fall.

As no one in our team had actually been down the mines before we guessed the best access point, took a deep breath (in case of gas) then Malcolm and Lukasz went for it. Once they had touched down we heard over the radio that the subterranean scenery was just as outrageous as anticipated. Now that we knew that the rope system was ok and the climbing/photography objectives were worthwhile it was full steam ahead with the new routes.

I had spied a reasonable looking mixed line with sensible access and set about climbing this, unfortunately thin brittle ice and super compact gear unfriendly rock required that a couple of bolts were placed for protection (and a 6mm aid bolt and a single bolt lower off and belay) all drilled while backed up by a rope from the surface, nice! I redpointed the first ascent of this route (Feathers) first go to give a 25m M7 Wi5 then later it was onsighted by Kris (even if he did mutter about it needing a couple more bolts). The route has an interesting start on thin ice then some cool mixed moves through the niche with some slightly disturbing ice to finish. The final Scottish mixed layback flake crack pitch to top out is unclimbed.

Me on Feathers M7 Wi5 (photo Thomas Mazur)

Malc then set about two amazing photogenic lines he had seen (Lukasz had been getting shots all the time we were there), the first route attempted was an overhanging ice line that would probably get M7/8 if it was bolted rock.  I have no idea how ice forms like this but it was probably originally some kind of mushroom then the aerated chandeliery stuff has melted away from below leaving an impending wall.  Or the entire 1000 ton blob has tipped over??

Me abseiling. The overhanging M grade water ice
can just be seen top centre of the photo

Thomas and Lukasz setting up for photographs

Malc on steep ice

Then Malc climbed the crazy iron stained pillar from a hidden col and Malc, Kris and I squeezed on to the summit for a photo.  As we balanced on the narrow ridge half a dozen screws and a birds nest of slings secured us to the top of the ice/mud tower, Lukasz had a list of requests as we held our poses in the failing light but I was thinking about the life cycle of these enormous towers as they grow heavy, melt away from the rock walls and crack!

Kris abseiling down the hole (look closer!)

Malc starting the iron stained pillar (photo Kristoffer Szilas)

A view down from the final jumar
(the iron pillar is top left)
I had to shield the camera below my jacket because
so much water was dripping from the hole above

After we topped out on the iron ice pillar a soaking 80m jumar up iced ropes was required to get back to normality, I pulled my hood tight to insulate my mind from the surreal danger outside and watched the rock walls slowly turn and descend. During this dream I saw a small round hole in the rock that had been boarded over some time in the past.

Lukasz's Blog
Malcolm's Blog

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Dont look now it's the cops!
L > R me, Kristoffer Szilas, Lukasz Warzecha, Thomas Mazur and Malcolm Kent.