While friends of mine were ice climbing in Scotland, last Sunday I was climbing in the sun, down near Land's End, on a cliff known as Chair Ladder. For many climbers, this cliff is the finest in Cornwall, providing some of the best middle-grade climbing in the county, on solid
golden granite, seamed with cracks and well-endowed with holds and comfortable belays and sea level starts. The plan was to climb some of the lesser known and rarely travelled easier routes, to check the descriptions and grading for a new Climbers Club guidebook (injured ankle allowing).
Climbing in Cornwall at this time of year can be a real treat, as the climate is certainly a lot milder than other parts of the country, plus the crowds of climbers that swarm over the cliffs at Easter and during the Summer holidays are nowhere to be seen. In fact, on this trip, the only other people we saw on the cliffs were the National Coastwatch Institute observers in their lookout atop Gwennap Head.
First on the list was Great Slab Route. This 4 pitch route was first climbed back in the 1930s and follows an easy, but slightly devious line up the crag. During nesting season, this part of the cliff is an unpleasant place to climb, as every ledge is home to adult gulls and chicks. The smell of rotting fish can be overpowering, but after winter storms, most of the guano has been washed off, and coupled with the day's warm temperatures, it was a joy to climb on.
My foot was doing reasonably well too, despite injuring it a couple of months ago. It didn't hurt, but it didn't feel as strong as i'd hoped. In fact I felt awkward moving over the rock. At one point, while struggling to get to grips with an easy chimney, I had to stop and give myself a 'Talking to' before I could make upward progress. My climbing partner, Sue, didn't give me much sympathy! For those modern climbers brought up on artificial climbing walls, Chimneys are wide fissures where upward progress is made by pushing your back against one wall of the fissure, while pushing on the opposite wall with your feet. It is this outward pressure that keeps you in place. One must then move one foot up the wall, while maintaining this outward pressure, before moving the other, then shuffling your back up the wall. repeat as necessary!
There was no rest for us, for as soon as we got to the top, we were scrambling down Ash Can Gully to do battle with another climb. Original Route was first first climbed back in 1938 by one of my climbing heroes, Colin Kirkus. While on holiday in Cornwall, this rock climbing genius, who pioneered incredible routes on welsh crags, such as the sombre Clogwyn d'ur Arddu on the flanks of Snowdon, left a collection of little gems on the granite. There is always something special about Colin's routes, and Original Route is no exception. A short, but intimidating traverse across a yawning void, gains a ledge, before launching up a steep wall, festooned with large holds. Definitely one to seek out and, as it starts on a large platform above the sea, one doesn't have to worry about the tide.
During this climb, I felt more confident on my feet, so Sue and I decided there was time for one more climb, so we abseiled down the cliff to gain the start of Wolverine Chimney, a climb pioneered by Royal Marine Commandos, back in the 1940s. The Marines used many cliffs in the area to practise cliff assault skills and left many fine climbs, particularly at nearby Sennen. This climb involves awkward climbing over a series of high steps, before romping up a steep corner crack, utilising large holds for upward movement. I'm sure the Marines would have enjoyed the powerful climbing required to overcome the corner crack.
By now my foot was beginning to hurt, so we decided it was time to call it a day. Having recovered the abseil rope and the rest of our gear, we walked (I hobbled) back to the car park in the late afternoon sun, reviewing the days activities. It had been a successful day, as I had managed to climb ok, despite recovering from a serious foot injury, we had checked more routes for the new guide and we had been in the warm sun all day....who says winter has to be cold? Then it was time for a nice cup of tea.