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Climbing Coronation Street 1995

Mathias & Fred, 6 hours of E1 4b,4a,5b,5a,5b,5a, Cheddar Gorge, South West England, U.K.

15OCT95 I spent the last three years in Bristol and in two weeks I am leaving for the states. Mathias arrived a few weeks ago to live in England for a while. This was the perfect time to do a Willerup ascent of Coronation Street in Cheddar Gorge. The climb had been on my wish list for a long time as I had climbed in the gorge several times before, each time admiring the awesome line.

As we rack up in the car park below the climb, two cars pull up with other climbers. It is obvious they have come to climb the same line, but luckily we can start off first so that upwards progress is not blocked by occupied stances, falling rock etc. The first two pitches are shared between the country-wide classic Coronation Street and the less serious Sceptre so they get a lot of traffic. We discuss what to bring with us on the climb - an estimated one hour per pitch gives at least six hours of climbing, so we bring lunch, water, warm clothes and trainers for the descent which result in a fairly heavy pack to be carried by the second. The leader would also be pretty loaded: a full rack including a dusin camming devices to see us through the steep cracks coming up the next 400 ft or so.

We are of roughly the same technical ability. However, on any given day we climb one of us tends to climb with more attitude, more determination, more "Yoooor!"

I start climbing the first pitch - a 110 ft 4b. The first 10 ft are a good indication of what the route will offer: non-trivial bridging, steep, but with excellent protection. The rock induces a mounting feeling of uncertainty with its vegetation, some polish and the odd loose block. The guidebook calls it the unmistakable "Cheddar Quality". This is not a climb to be rushed. The stance confirms it: the in-situ gear comprise a crumbly peg and a bleached sling but a couple of good nuts make it safe. Mathias, new to Cheddar rock, arrives shortly afterwards confirming the feeling that if this was 4b, we were not looking forward to the 5b pitches further up. We exchange gear without much conversation and he leads up the next pitch which is shorter but very similar to the first one. A small roof is negotiated on good holds and he sets up a hanging stance in a groove below an overhang. I join.

This becomes the moment of truth. At this point, Sceptre splits off timidly to the right where our route goes straight up through some very steep terrain - the first 5b pitch. We are not sure we are going to be able to make the original proposition. We didn't find the first two pitches particularly easy, and are we now going to embark on four pitches all graded two to four grades higher than the beginning? From here on there would be no easy possibilities for retreat! Should we climb Sceptre instead? An enjoyable VS which we know we can do. Coronation Street will be here for another day. The morale is low. We ask ourselves: "why do we climb"? Some contrived answers are given only to buy a little more time to make the decision. Two other parties have now started climbing below - one has reached the first stance bringing up his second and another leader is setting off. I have wanted to conquer this climb for about two years -- and suddenly I make the decision: let's go for it! The worst that can happen is... well, never mind... let's just do it anyway.

I have wanted to conquer this climb for about two years -- and suddenly I make the decision: let's go for it!

I set off to the first overhang, fairly easy because of good holds. After this, however, the rock bites back. It gets steeper. The footholds disappear. Handholds become handjams. Bridging does it, but it is tiring - the familiar leg-wobbling could start any time now. A second and larger overhang comes up that can be tackled on its left side where the crack continues upwards. Now it becomes technical and tough on the arms. Luckily, the protection is still excellent. I pull up in jams trying desperately to get the feet right, but it does not work. Reversing the move proves complicated as well, because the rope is jammed in the crack at waist-height. Damn. I waste lots of precious energy getting it free and finally re-establish the awkward bridging position below the overhang. I look down: suddenly 200ft above the car- park the whole thing feels pretty damn serious. The other parties are moving towards the second stance now. "Maybe I should come down from this shit!". Mathias mumbles something in reply. Some tense moments pass, and I make up my mind: another focused attempt reveals some finger pockets out left and some better footwork sees me through the crux. It's not over yet, though. Another 20 or 30 ft with not much in terms of resting spots finally gets me to a relatively good stance on top of a pillar. I express the relief with a deep and sincere "yoooor!" - the viking cry trademark of the Willerup Brothers. It is possible to fight through the 5b stuff, so there is a chance we can make it. The gloomy mood from the second stance is changed significantly. Mathias puts on the backpack and climbs the pitch. It turns out to be really tricky to negotiate the overhangs with the heavy load on the back but he makes it, and joins me on the pillar.

At this point, a handful of our friends from Bristol arrive at the bottom. Many "yooors!" etc. are exchanged and we feel energised by the company 200ft below. The next pitch is "The Shield" - a vertical crack is stopped at about 30ft by a humongus roof. The route traverses left under the overhang and past The Shield, a big block suspended on the wall and blocking the way to the hanging stance further left. To get past The Shield you have to hand-traverse in an extremely exposed position. Getting a hand free to place protection will be difficult and we discuss the size of the cam that might slot into a crack behind The Shield and the wall. Mathias takes the lead and climbs up the crack to the overhang. He is about to traverse left as a light drizzle starts over the gorge. He were are, beyond the point of no return, and the route is getting rained on! Luckily, we are under the roof so the current part of the climb is not exposed to the rain. However, we wonder how the following pitch, a very steep 5b, is going to be - water and limestone is not a pleasant combination for climbing. Mathias takes a few moves to the left, places a cam or two in the crack under the roof, and steps back right. The section is difficult because there are no footholds on the wall below the roof. He has to commit himself to step left, make a few moves to the Shield and then make a truly scary move around it.

We are of roughly the same technical ability. However, on any given day we climb one of us tends to climb with more attitude, more determination, more "yoooor!". We feel this pretty early when spending a day at a crag. Today was my day, probably because I have been wanting to do the climb for so long. Mathias knew this and decided than instead of committing himself to the left, he backs and lets me do it.

I am sitting in an awkward position with the left foot on The Shield. It is not a resting position...

It took a lot of fiddling with the ropes to put me at the sharp end, but as I set off I can enjoy the placements that Mathias had left on the first part of the pitch. At the roof I start traversing left towards The Shield. A handful of quick exposed moves and I am sitting in an awkward position with the left foot on The Shield and the right foot somewhere else. It is not a resting position, however: I hang from the left arm, shake out the right, change arms, and repeat the process. If I am going to make it I have to the the next moves over with. So I go out on The Shield, hands on the top, feet scraping on the slimestone trying to get some friction. A few more desperate and extremely exposed moves finally gets me into the groove behind The Shield. I am shaking all over from fear and tense muscles, but I made it. The hanging stance a bit further left is "interesting" - a handful of rusty pegs and only a loose block to place pro. As you are hanging there, you can see your car and some spectators 300ft directly below. What an awesome place to be! I take in the rope and Mathias sets off once again on the difficult section. Being the second on a traverse can be more terrifying than leading it, because the leader tends to place protection before difficult sections, not afterwards. Out of my sight, he goes left to The Shield, takes out the camming device that I put in just before it. He can only see the rope going around to the left - not where the next piece of protection is. If he falls, he will swing hard left and against the rock below. Once again, the backpack wasn't making things any easier. He goes for it, makes the desperate moves and arrives at the corner, shaking like I was.

The next pitch is according to the local folklore, the hardest. The rain, which had now stopped, was not going to make it easier. Psyched up from the wild traverse, I set off on the steep pitch. Lots of bridging, handjamming, and a couple of small strenuous roofs makes it an absolutely brilliant pitch. The line follows a wide crack which swallows our complete arsenal of camming devices. I arrive at the stance, a wide pillar, after enjoyable climbing but feeling that the traverse was definitely harder. We exchange the usual climbing commands "standplads!", "det er mig!", "du er sikret!", "jeg kommer!" and Mathias attacks the steep pitch. We have now been on the route for perhaps more than six hours and we are getting tired. Mathias arrives at the stance exhausted, shaking his head in disbelief and grunts "f***ing hard...".

The last pitch is a short 5a slab but a formality compared to the three pitches below. We arrive at the top of the gorge, relieved and with a great sense of accomplishment. We hike across the edge of the gorge and descent a gully full of loose rocks. Below, we are greeted by our friends who followed our progress the last four pitches of the climb.

And then we went to the pub.

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