We had made plans throughout the evening - Tim Fred and I was now going to start getting in to cave diving starting with a free dive attempt all the way into Swildons Hole. Fred was even going to get Theresa to bring three mini oxygen bottles from the States to bring just in case. It always happens when we get the beers in - there is no limits to what we are going to do - and usually we are going to do it the next morning. :-)
Well we woke up reasonably early and as we had told everybody at the pub last night we were heading off to Pembroke for some sun and seacliffs. But as we made breakfast and got rid of the worst hangovers we rethought our ambitious strategy and slowly accepted that the weather probably was going to be bad even out in Pembroke. We could be lucky and have half a day of climbing Saturday but it looked like Sunday was going to be a restday no matter what.
So as we munched our way through a couple of egg and bacon sarnies at the local caf', we decided to trash the Pembroke plans and instead pay a visit to the closer Wintour's Leap over in the Wye Valley. We finished our breakfast, fired up the racks and headed off to the Valley. Excellent - this would be the first British climb of 1999 and the first Willerup Brothers ascent on English Soil since the infamous Coronation Street ascent back in '95. We arrived at the Heap half an hour later, got The Book out and flicked through our possible objectives. We wanted to climbed some threestared stuff - not that this is a usual criteria, I have climbed several brilliant nonstared routes in the Leap - but we had a handful of routes which had been on the ticklist for quite some time and this seemed as good a time as ever to tick a few classics.
We decided on three routes: Zelda HS (easy); Cheeta VS (fairly easy) and King Kong HVS - a grade which both Fred and I in our current state should be more than able to pull ourselves up. All in all three pleasant possibilities. There was only one questionmark - rumours had had it that the start of King Kong had fallen down last season and indeed I was there with Martin in the autumn and although I hadn't seen the route myself, Tom and Craig who was with us that day had had a look at it and decided that it would need some cleaning up before they would attempt it. They had been on about that the cleaning could be done by mounting a toiletbrush on a pole thereby enabling the aspiring leader to clean the crack from its muddy, dusty and mungy state. I had actually considered following there advice but then again - could it really be that bad? We were soon to find out.
We located the GO wall where all the three climbs are situated and there was already a team on Zelda, so we turned our attention to Cheeta. We looked at the diagrams, read the description, looked at the photos but it wouldn't make any sense. Where is the rock fax when you need it :-) After several brave attempts to spot the route I suggested - let's just go for King Kong! Fred was on for it - he wasn't going to lead the first pitch anyway and would have the pleasure of watching me struggeling up the unknown territory. I was on for it as well although I could still just feel the affects of changing from beers to Mule (a Vodka hybrid) yesterday night at the Frog and Toad. We found the route easily and we were looking up this obvious line that was just crying out to be climbed. The start had indeed fallen down - the more we looked the more we realized how much had fallen down. All the big sharp boulders that was now lying around the bottom of the crack providing a potentially very nasty landing was all part of a great big bulge which used to be the start of this limestone classic. Now it was instead a thin 4 meters of slab up to a well defined roof which was also the start of a crack going 5 meters up a steep corner to another roof which was part of the original route. The bottom part of the crack had indeed mud and stuff in it, but it looked like it could go.
I geared up and took good time preparing myself for this uncertain bit of climbing that we were about to indulge in. I got my UK outdoor Sportiva shoes on - they still seemed moist from when I last used them on Moonraker 5 months earlier! Never mind, I got my big comfy Petzl harness on as well - still with a bit of dusty desert sand from Joshua Tree where I had used it two months ago. Fred had expanded his rack a bit most notably with a Metolius Friend 1 which completed a serious set of friends on our shared rack - you do feel much less vulnerable with these little beauties on your side - especially when preparing for crack climbing. At last I tied myself on to another of Fred's new investments - two brand new 8.8 meter Mammut lines - pure confidence in rope form. I was well and truly wearing the rack of dreams and there would be no excuses but my own lack of talent should I not complete this monster of rock. The least I could do was to give it a valiant try.
I set of in the direct line and was soon under the big roof. My initial investigation of the crack discovered quite a substantial amount of munge but it looked like the camelot 2 that I managed to place high and deep in the crack would hold a bus. Although I was very happy about the placement I placed a flexible friend two next to it - not so much for the added protection but more for the mental confidence I knew it would give me when hanging on the lip of the roof possibly having to make committing moves before the next bit of gear could be put safely in place.
Anyway - I took my time feeling my way in the crack and trying to decide whether a jam or a layback would be the most suitable for the dirty crack. It seemed like an initial layback with the right hand could gain me sufficient height to reach further up with my left hand which was likely to stick in a jam, and getting the feet fairly high up (thank you Bob - our Yoga teacher), would then enable the right hand to do a very long reach up on the right wall where it looked like a narrow ledge could give enough room for a crimp and a pull up and past the roof. This was the theory. And as I was trying to reach up for the ledge on the right the words from the guidebook was flashing through my mind: "... a determined and dynamic approach is called for". I was already pumped as f*ck as I was pulling hard on my right hand which had just reached the crimp in time before my right foot slipped of the dusty wall below. I thought at that time - this is it, I am off, but Fred came with a perfectly timed encouraging comment and instead of backing out I managed to pull up, get my feet up on the roof and slowly sort out some gear higher up. This new start was negotiated in slightly desperate style but never mind at least it went free.
I now had about five meters of crack and corner climbing up to the next roof and unfortunately it didn't look like a relaxed bridging exercise but more like a pump-fest until after the roof. The gear was immaculate though and after such a exciting start I was really fired up. I took me a while to get up to the roof - shaking out constantly to try to regain some of the lost strength but never really being able to rest. Eventually I was underneath the second roof and although it looked more friendly than the new one beneath me it still didn't look like a giveaway. I got my second Cam2 in plus a Cam3 and after some bad attempts to get a decent rest before negotiating the roof, I just had to go for it still quite pumped. There are some massive hold above this roof and once you commit to getting out and around it it is reasonably okay. But with the added pump factor I felt it quite serious. When I eventually got established on top of the roof with my feet planted firmly on two big ledgy holds the first "Yoooor" of the day was cried out in the Valley below me. Boy was I glad to be above those two monsters King and Kong. Now all that remained was supposively pleasant steep crack and wall climbing in spectacular positions and indeed it was really excellent though still really hard in places and even the second pitch (which I also happened to lead) had a big and very awkward roof to be negotiated. We topped out some 2.5 hours later and was more than content with calling this a days work. What a tremendous route. We discussed the grade and concluded that it was more of an E2 5c than the HVS 5b which the official guidebook suggests.