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Trip Report: Climbing Certain Surprise E3 5c

Date: September 6, 1998
Climbers: Mathias & Martin Beale
Climbing: Strenous E2 5b
Area: Split Rock Quarry, Cheddar, U.K.

By both choice and necessity, rock climber Martin Beale takes an experimental approach to his life on rock. For him, the Rock's confining limitations are inspirations, leading him to uncover the medium's hidden flexibility. "I figure if it's beyond my control," says the English-born climber, "I'd rather have fun with it - and enjoy the fact that it's beyond my control, and not try to force it into doing something. Actually - I just love climbing rock. It's my life."
Written by Martin Beale, Bristol

When Mathias and I walked into the quarry, there were a couple of guys on a difficult looking route up the red wall at the left end of the quarry. We recognised them as a couple of hard people from the climbing wall. One of them had taken a real whipper at the wall and unbeknown to him, he was about to repeat the experience. Whilst uncoiling the ropes, we heard a yelp and a crack. Looking round, I saw the leader plummeting through the air holding a large lump of haematite in his hand, smaller shards of rock showering down around his helpless belayer. "I knew it wouldn't hold. I had both hands on it and I could feel it peel". It must have been an awful feeling holding that hold and knowing that a mega-plummet was in the offing. He took a 30ft lob; the nut held. He walked away from it chastened but otherwise unharmed. Beware "A Magenta Smudge".

It was an inauspicious start to the route. To compound matters, Mathias was sure it was going to rain. I bluffed it out (also sure it would rain eventually). I had tried the start in my approach shoes and it seemed hard. It was still hard in the Lasers, but I felt confident with the landing prepared, Mathias spotting me and the beta from the Woo Li boys. I reached a layaway, moved my feet a little higher and then reached a little higher for the mother of all jams. A confidence inspiring Camalot then allowed me to move up the steep cracked wall to a semi rest. It bulged a little above, I kept trying to escape from gravity's pull. Maybe an egyptian, maybe a knee bar, maybe a jug, maybe a jam. Nothing really allowed me to recover, but I slammed in more gear with every little manoeuvre.

Nothing really allowed me to recover, but I slammed in more gear with every little manoeuvre.
"I think a shower's coming on". It was all too obvious. I had been trying to persuade myself that there were a few drops coming from a tree in the bushy niche above. There was no denying it - it was raining. The route was so steep and the protection so good that it seemed fairly pointless not moving up speculatively.

I found the next few moves past the thread to be the crux. I was promised good holds by the support team below, but they seemed to be a long time in the coming. "Come on, one more move Martin and it'll be a monster". And it was. Elephant stopping friends in horizontal breaks and stonking jams made the situation feel less hostile. The sanctuary of the niche was just above. I could get there and lower-off feeling that I had done a good job of the meat of the route.

Once in the niche, the upwards view didn't seem too bad, but the rock was obviously fairly wet. A plan formulated that I would wait in the niche until the weather made up its mind and I would then either continue or back down (it's up or off!). There was nothing better to do for half an hour so I honed my gear placement skills - 10 pieces, I was quite pleased with that. It had stopped raining and I was waiting for the rock to dry off.

Ground control had said that the top might be fairly dodgy in the wet - easier but poorly protected. I hung around looking at the route ahead. I bouldered out a few moves - there was nothing better to do. Boy - what a jug that is; but there isn't the gear. If I slipped off the wet holds, I could hit the ledge below. Then I saw it. Next to the jug was a small vertical slot - that must take something. Rock 7? Sideways rock 5? Quadcam 0? Eventually I reached higher on the jug and I could see right into the slot. In went the technical friend 0.5. What an elephant stopper.!

The technical friend was more confidence inspiring than the 10 pieces of gear in the niche.
I wasn't aware if Mathias knew that I was going to go for it. I'd inch up a little higher every time, but I thought I was only passing the time. It was raining hard now. "Go on Martin, just tick the route, then we can go to Cheddar and have a cream tea". I moved up on the jug again and felt a crimp on the right. It was dry! I got my feet up and I felt in balance. I was in no worse position than in the niche. The technical friend was more confidence inspiring than the 10 pieces of gear in the niche.

It was clear that further moves left were possible. The holds were OK - incut at least. Left I moved (joke superrock 3) and then right. I was fired up. "Don't muff it now, it's in the bag. Watch the top, it could be muddy". Chalk up (its only nerves - the white munge on the rock has no frictional merit). I pull over the top and belay on the trees. Yes!

My white T-shirt is now bright red - so are the ropes (it would end up being a fun evening of rope washing). It is raining hard. I hope that Mathias will want to second the route. No worries - rock is all that counts to the last viking at the moment. I understand that the rock is dry at the bottom, but he does the crux in the rain. No whimpering, just focus. It takes a while to deconstruct the web of gear in the niche but soon we are both standing at the top coiling the ropes. Drenched and muddy we walk back down to the packs and admire what we have done. Well worth it; a quarry classic as South West Climbs says.

Cream teas in Cheddar were great - watching the rain lashing it down outside and enjoying the civilisation within. Pretty waitresses serving strawberry cream teas to old ladies. I could only focus on one thing - the Cheddar guide - there are so many possibilities.


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