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Climbing: Heart of the Sun E2 5b,5b,5a,4a

Date:November 14, 1999
Climbers:Mathias & Martin
Climbing:Thin slab
Area
:Baggy Point, North Devon, 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

I was fairly surprised that Mathias was tying on to the sharp end of the rope at the bottom of Slab Cove. On previous forays to Baggy Point, Mathias didn’t seem quite sure what to make of the medium (though he always pulled out the stops when it counted). I was glad he was on for the lead — it showed that he is becoming happier with what has to be one of the finest media in Devon, if not the world.

Mathias climbed to the initial overlap. This overlap is only around 10ft off the floor of the cove, but the crux of Heart of the Sun is hereabouts. I remembered a camalot 4 placement under the overlap. Mathias was adamant that it wasn’t on for it. It was pretty obvious to me upon further inspection that the space under the overlap was wider than before. In a few more years the sea will have it’s wicked way and Heart of the Sun will change once more - it looks like we got there just in time. Mathias fiddled in a friend and a small RP above the overlap as he pondered the crux.

He started out by shuffling his feet onto a little vertical feature on the right. He moved his hand up and then shuffled his left foot above the overlap. It was looking a little insecure, but good. Suddenly something gave and he was slipping down the slab. I could hardly feel a thing as the RP and ropes took his weight. It must have been somewhat unnerving. It was obvious that this route would require a little more respect. He regathered himself and then set off again. It must just have been a slip before as this time he moved quite easily up to a hold on the right. He was soon established above the overlap and got his feet onto his previous handhold. It was clear at this stage that Mathias wasn’t quite happy.

I think the problems were a mix of paltry gear and pumped calfs. The gear was 5 feet below him. His calfs were clearly suffering on the small footholds. He shuffled his feet this way and that while trying to gnarl some gear in. Then there was a shout of joy as he shuffled his right foot onto what was clearly a good foothold — relief at last! There was still the issue of how to move up from here. Mathias was trying to move up directly — he was a little right of the crack. It looked like a fairly unlikely smearing affair was going to be required. He had a couple of goes at it, but was clearly unhappy. It was time to lock the ropes off at ground control. There was talk flying around of lobs etc, but it was clear that Mathias didn’t want to succumb to a second bout of woo-li fever.

I thought Mathias had been trying to climb too far to the right. He had a go further left after a little tip. What had taken 15 minutes to the right was now executed in a matter of seconds. The line on the left had the odd hold around and he was able to work his feet onto a good hold. I know when I was later standing on this good hold looking down at where Mathias had been attempting to climb that things looked a bit of a bad job down there. At this stage Mathias was around 30ft off the deck. From here on in, Mathias climbed with greater confidence.

The next obstacle is a bulge. This is easier than it looks. Making progress through the bulge is fine as there are good little fingerlocks around. The crack even runs to some foot-pockets when they are most needed. The problem is getting over the top of the bulge when your hands are on slabby ground. There is a dicey move on poorish footholds before you are once again established in a resting position. When Mathias was in this resting position, I knew that he was really winning. After placing another piece of gear (this pitch takes a lot of gear if you feel like it!), he pulled up onto the ledge that is the belay. He shouted that he was steaming hot. It looked like it had been quite a nervous battle. I of course was freezing in the cove (as is the lot in life for the second man). Having established a belay (the importance of which I now fully understand), Mathias was soon taking in the ropes. After one final look (from 50ft back) of what I was going to be up against on pitch 2, I was climbing this fine pitch and was soon at the belay with Mathias.

Mathias: "I was pretty fired up for climbing on the English coast which had been awhile. Martin had suggested Heart of the Sun and I was on. The weather was excellent, and the spirits was high especially after having discussed a bit of bottom-business issues on the approach. So the Yoor was there as I tried to place the recommended no. 4 camelot under this flake in the start. No where it would fit. Hmm, was Martin starting to loose his abilities as a provider of perfect beta? I was getting slightly worried. Judging from the silence from the ground I realized - You are on your own. Yoor! Well, I tried my way over the flake and after a unexpected slip and woo I was searching for handholds and placements in some nasty looking territory. Still not much help from ground control, and I just found a thank God foothold in time. I could see the next superb cam3 placement just out of reach. I wasn't going to make this move without that piece in so I tried an alternative clipstick approach by attaching my nutpeg to the cam. No, it would need sportstape to work. So, after spending f*cking ages getting pump in legs and arms, I finally got a suggestion from below - Maybe try going down and up left. Hmm, anything to get out of this mess I thought and I downclimbed with Martin following me closely (big likelihood of woo on those downclimb maneuvers) and I made it over to the left and - still not easy - pulled myself up and over to the right again where I ow could pump in a beautiful camelot 3".

The start of the second pitch is a little worrying for both leader and second. There is a collection of pockets that lead rightwards and slightly downwards. These provide footholds, but there are no handholds to speak of. The idea here is to step gingerly between the pockets and to try to stay on. As I got further and further from Mathias, the arc of the ropes became more noticeable. I wanted to get some gear in to stop a large swing back below the belay in case woo-li beckoned. Some gear would also benefit Mathias when he seconded the pitch — it would stop him swinging into the right hand munge corner. With this social responsibility in mind, I plucked out my rack of RPs and gnarled some unlikely pieces in some unlikely placements. One cluster involved a rack of around 5 RPs in various formats of opposition. Mathias commented that it looked like a Hard Grit runner. He was right.

One I had stepped across to the last pocket, easier climbing awaited me above. There were holds around here and some real gear placements. I rocked over between holds and enjoyed the feeling of being high up on that immense ocean of Culm. I was soon standing on a good foothold with just another 40ft of finger crack between the belay and myself. The next 40ft were to prove to be absolutely brilliant climbing.

The finger crack starts off by being really positive. I laced this section with gear and moved a little further up the crack to a good foothold. Things looked a little blank hereabouts. I could see the crack starting up again a little way to my left and there was a poor foothold out right. The question was just how to use these paltry features to make upwards progress. I stuffed a foot in the crack, locked high and smeared out with my right foot. I reached high and left for that good looking hold at the base of the continuation crack. I caught it, but it wasn’t that good. I thought about things for a moment and then moved down again. It was obvious that this little section would go. Above the good looking sloper, there was a nice finger eating crack. Once I had my digits in there, I knew that I’d be OK.

I checked that Mathias was still awake down there and I committed myself. With my feet on the slab and my hand on the sloper, I moved up. I got the good lock and moved my left foot close to my hand and onto the sloper. It felt like I had done it — I was not far from the peg now (a peg that had been more than clipped on previous ascents!). After arranging some more sinking gear in the crack, I reached the good holds beneath the peg. These holds were just begging to be stood on. One more rockover and I was there. Two more good holds then saw me to the belay.

The second belay on Heart of the Sun is really just a couple of old pegs bashed in above two footholds. I backed the pegs up with some other gear, but I still felt a bit out there as I was standing on two footholds with a 150ft slab falling away below me, the ropes arching down to the right to Mathias. I was soon taking the ropes in for Mathias. He climbed the lower traverse easily, but looked a little more unsure of himself on the upper finger crack. With a little encouragement, he was soon tied into the belay next to me and sorting the rack out for the third pitch.

Mathias: "That middle pitch of Heart of the Sun was really fucking desperate I thought. Martin was in his greatest element, and I got reminded of all the slabby routes we'd done together. I just can't really get myself to love that sort of climbing the way Martin can. I love it when I am finished with it. I was very happy not to have been on the sharp end on that extremely marginal and quite strenous middle pitch".

I really like the third (variation) pitch of Heart of the Sun. After a rightwards diagonal crack, a leftwards diagonal crack kicks back into Pink Void. You climb this leftwards diagonal crack both as a hand traverse and a foot traverse. By some freak of nature, you seem to be able to get both sets of limbs in contact with the crack. I really like this peculiar style of climbing. It was because I knew how to climb this pitch that I could sense something was seriously wrong when Mathias stepped into a pocket above the crack. I knew from experience that there was little succour to be had up there — there are neither holds nor gear. Mathias was clearly unhappy. There were various calls of "I don’t lie this", "I’m coming down", "Watch me". It was as though I had seen this all before…

The last route I had done with a Willerup was Goddess of Gloom. I had belayed beneath Fred who was well above his gear when I was belayed on something not above suspicion. It was all too familiar. I was ready to catch Mathias as he downclimbed back to the crack. I willed him to stay in contact with the rock as he eased his foot onto the crack : "go on Boreal Ninja : do your stuff". I was well relieved when he was in the crack again. After a couple of anxious moves, he had traversed the crack, clipped the peg and was standing in the munge corner of Pink Void — it was all over bar the shouting. Mathias set up the belay on the arete and I then seconded the pitch with relish — it was a little pokey in parts I have to admit. There are delicate moves to be executed in a pretty exposed and worrying position.

The fourth pitch looks worse than it is. There is a long grassy groove above. This is the obvious line. Surprisingly, when you are up there, you find that the climbing is easier on the rock on the right arete of this groove. I pottered up the arete to the finishing rubble. After paying my respects to the heap of jammed stones that is the top, I was soon ensconced on the lush grass at the top — belayed to a National Trust sign, watching the sun go down by Lundy — that granite bastion of the west.

As I took the ropes in, disaster nearly struck. The rope pulled a rock out of the rubble top. I was sure Mathias would be OK — he was well off to the right of the expected trajectory of the rock. I shouted "below" several times and watched Mathias duck for cover. I was surprised to hear Mathias shout "yikes" (or similar) — it must have hit him. "Don’t worry, it only hit my neck", I heard. Mathias seconded the pitch and when he got to the top, I asked him how his neck was. "Fine, but that rock really hurt when it hit my lap". Something had obviously been lost in the translation. I was really glad that we had both survived unscathed.

Mathias: "I shouted: Don't worry, it only hit my leg! I didn't wear a helmet so it could have been really nasty. A good reminder to always wear that bloody thing - especially in places like those".

We left the sunshine of Baggy and drove back to Bristol in the rain. Our thoughts turned to a good stodging session at the Hope and Anchor that evening and the threatened battle with Coronation Street the next day. Despite the pleasure of the ploughman’s lunch that evening, I would gladly have stayed down in Devon that evening — the land of Culm.


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