As September draws on, and with moorland projects not looking a go, I have been back at the usual grit crags, scraping my final routes before I plunge into the depths of North Wales. Some fun highballs have already been dispatched (lets be honest this really is the best way to enjoy grit under 9m), but I needed one last full on grit buzz, something scary, which even a week or so later would give me a sense of satisfaction when I thought about topping out. In the end it wasn’t just 1, but 3. Two on the the cold North facing walls of Burbage South, the third the line of the crag at Hen cloud.
Last Sunday was my first introduction with the steep, gearless and quite frankly intimidating arete of Simbas Pride (E8 6b). I have had my eye on it for a while now, ever since I watched the video of Nathan clearly ecstatic to top out after the utterly comitting final move, quite rare for someone so cool headed when it comes down to these grit horror shows. After a few plays on the rope though I very quickly realised I would soon find myself in this exact position, the very prospect was scary. This is the worst part of headpointing, the part when you wish it was so desperate that you could just walk away, but it’s not desperate, and you know you will soon be on the sharp end.
After thinking about the route for two days we return. I warm up and know it’s a goer. I will do it today. Half an hour later I realise it will be sooner rather than later. Sat in it’s shadow I remind myself that in a few intense minutes time this will all be over, it’s exciting fear. But the thing with Simbas is that it just throws you straight into the deep end. You almost don’t realise your there, and with that said I find myself on the crux. The wind bringing the winter like conditions buffets me as I commit to the first of three moves, but as the fingers of my right hand sink into the crystals of the next ‘break’ the wind eases my foot of it’s hold. Scaring Nathan, Niel and John more than I did myself I keep my composure for the final two moves. Latching the finishing jug the excitement takes hold and I allow my feet to part with the rock as my left hand hurriedly matches, the whole motion giving the effect of a double dyno, but I can assure you it wasn’t. The wind pushes me over the top, and obviously I feel great.
Already a fantastic day, it was about to get better. The shaded walls of the Northern Quarries at Burbage South hold an esoteric wall climb straight out of Consumed. French Kiss (E8 6b) takes the obvious flake and groove feature on mostly positive, perfect holds and is protected by two skyhooks and a laughable peg. Rarely dry and with the moves already figured by Nathan I take a look, getting them sussed myself. Before I know it my mind is back in the zone of anticipation, the novelty of a rope and lack of dynamic slaps now makes the notion of a lead feel almost relaxing in comparison. Knowing that the route may soon be wet again Nathan makes a smooth ascent, as do I (if I may say so myself) of this rarely climbed piece of esoteric grit. We felt it was probably closer to E7, as did Neil who loves his esoterica when he grabbed an ascent a few days later.
And finally, to Hen Cloud’s line of the crag, the stunning arete of B4XS (E7 6b), said to be Western Grit’s ‘End of the Affair’. Ramsden was over from France, so with me and Guy in tow we ventured west. When you approach the cloud this is the line that sticks out, no doubt. From a distance there looks to be a break quite high up the arete, which you would hope takes gear, yet as you near you in fact realise this is not the case, and said gear is a further few metres below. Disappointing. To further liven up proceedings the rock is a little sandy, and not quite up to scratch with the eastern peak. None of the moves were too bad, nor too easy. Basically it is your typical gritstone horror show. Ramsden led the way, then I followed suit, riding the flutings to the top of the crag, with 10 metres of useless rope below made for another fantastic grit experience, and the end of perhaps one of the best weeks I’ve ever had climbing.