Rock Climbing with Rohan

The Team assembled before the climbing begins (L-R- Robert, Miranda, Andrew and Charles)

The Team before the climbing begins Robert, Miranda, Andrew and Charles

Think of a rock climber and many will picture of an introverted, bearded man puffing on a roll up!

This may once have been the case, but during the 90’s and noughties, rock climbing has become a massive growth sport. Perhaps in part, due to the boom in indoor climbing walls but also the ever increasing safety and knowledge within the sport. Now when hairy, haggled old men visit the cliffs, they share it with colour, young children and yes, females! Things have changed a lot in rock climbing and in my opinion, for the better!

Miranda on Slack, Graded Severe 4a in the rain

Miranda on Slack, Graded Severe 4a in the rain!

Rock climbing is a challenging sport that requires not only physical and mental strength, but also a high degree of technical ability. It’s a sport steeped with history and tradition, which once it bites you, rarely lets you go!

Many of you reading this may have watched the upwards slow movement of a climber on a cliff, or seen a picture in a magazine and thought “What’s all that about?” or “Why on earth would someone want to do that?

The four Rohanists who attended the recent Rock climbing competition (Miranda, Andrew, Robert and Charles), met up at the Conwy Outdoor Shop to sample the ‘vulgar’ delights of a day on the cliffs! The forecast was for dryness but, this is Wales……

Robert, Miranda, Andrew and Charles shared their thoughts on their day on Clogwyn yr Oen, (Cliff of the Lamb) and highlighted the technical equipment they were introduced to.

Rock Shoes

Miranda talks about ‘Rock climbing shoes’….

“You’ve probably glanced at these while browsing for your new walking boots. They look like a cross between a trainer and a pixie boot; funny pointy toes and seeming far too flimsy to climb a mountain in. When you put them on, you’re told to look for a tight fit; not at all the sort of thing you’re used to with walking boots. “Tight, with your toes touching the end, but not so squashed as to be uncomfortable in half an hour’s time” were my instructions. Hmmm, I thought, how do I know what they’re going to feel like in half an hour?

Anyway, as I started clambering up the first bit of rock I realised how good at their job they are. The rubber bits around the toes make them quite amazingly grippy on the rock. Helped by the absence of any space between your toes and the shoe, you need only the narrowest shallowest gap and you can somehow get enough purchase to lift yourself up. You can jam them into places sideways too because the rubber goes all the way around. I felt completely comfortable in them – until we got to the top and had to start walking down! Whereas with walking boots you love the grass and mud’s no problem, rock shoes are absolutely hopeless on anything but rock. After nearly slipping over a few times I went very gingerly back down the mountain. The professionals tip: take your approach shoes up with you and change at the top!”

Charles on ‘Chic’ using his rock shoes with great effect.

The harness is a crucial piece of climber’s kit. Andrew tells us a little more about it….

Andrew in action on the first pitch (rope length) of Slick

Andrew in action on the first pitch (rope length) of Slick

Having no previous experience of rock climbing I was very impressed and reassured by the level of equipment and climbing procedures. The harness is probably the central point of your kit, providing a safe means of attaching you to the rope. It is designed so that you are secured at your body’s centre of gravity. The loops at the back provide a way of attaching, and allowing easy access to all your additional pieces of equipment, such as nuts and cams.

Miranda and Andrew attached via their ropes and harness to the cliff on Slick

Miranda and Andrew attached via their ropes and harness to the cliff on Slick

Like Charles, Robert had climbed before. They describe some of the ‘protection’ used on a climb.

Robert talks nuts

Robert talks nuts…..

Following Lee up an arete on Kirkus’ Direct certainly concentrated the mind! Always looking up, I was able to see how he had carefully placed walnuts to protect from a fall.
These alloy nuts on a looped wire had been size selected by Lee to fit snugly into cracks and crevices in the rock. Adding a karabiner meant the rope could be clipped in easily to ensure safety. My job was to get them out again and carry them up. I can certainly testify to the tenacious grip they had!

Robert preparing to remove a 'hex' (similar to a nut,) on 'Chic

Robert preparing to remove a ‘hex’ (similar to a nut,) on ‘Chic

Finally, Charles writes about the intricacies of ‘the cam’…

The Cam

The Cam

This wonderful device was invented in 1973 and in many ways revolutionised climbing. For the first time climbers could protect themselves using jamming devices that would fit into cracks in the rock that were either parallel or even those with v shaped  openings. The cams, sometimes three other times four are sprung loaded so that they try to fill the gap with one or two cams springing clockwise and the remaining cams springing anticlockwise. When a load is placed on them the lever system causes the cams to be further forced outwards with increasing pressure as the load increases. This therefore means they can even be used in v shaped gaps that face downwards.

They come in a range of sizes to accommodate gaps as little as 5mm up to 100mm. They are simply controlled by a finger pull loop which draws the cams together and allows the placement to be made. So long as they aren’t used at either of their extremes of compression or extension they work really well. The second climber can easily release a well placed cam but if the cam has “walked” or been placed too far back in the gap then it can be tricky to get them out. A climb on granite which has long parallel cracks of equal width has been made considerably easier since this fantastic invention.”

The Cammed Cam

Finally Rob sums up the day… More than 30 years since I had climbed anything more difficult than a set of steps!  Lots had changed, even the knots. Where had the bowline gone? I was certainly worried at times – about my ability to ‘multi pitch’ climb. But I had no cause for concern as Stu and Lee were superbly professional and kept up a great banter during the day.

The morning on ‘Chic’ was exhilarating with superb views from the top and a great confidence builder. After lunch the rain came down and being a safety conscious teacher I thought we might have to call it a day. Oh of course not. Instead, we went to climb something a little more taxing!!

Kirkus’ Direct was a brilliant experience even in the wind and rain. Not always easy to decide where to put your feet but following Lee, and with Charles behind I couldn’t really go wrong. If anything, this second climb was even better and I arrived at the top with a great feeling of satisfaction and a wide grin.

Lee and Robert enjoying Kirkus Climb Direct, Severe 4a, in awful weather

Lee and Robert enjoying Kirkus Climb Direct, Severe 4a, in awful weather!

There is much to learn about rock climbing, so be careful how you approach the sport. Be sure to get some basic instruction on keeping yourself safe! The aim of our day was to have fun and to learn some basic skills. During the day we used ‘probably the finest equipment in the galaxy‘ courtesy of DMM of Wales, and were kept dry thanks to Rohan.

Stu Stanley

To contact Stuart for your next big day out

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