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Climbing: Midnight Cowboy HVS 5a

Date: September 5, 1998
Climbers: Mathias & Martin
Clibing: Sea Cliff Traverse
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

It was getting on a bit, but the tide was in and the sea was high. These were the perfect conditions for Midnight Cowboy. The plan was that I would lead the first pitch and Mathias would lead the second. If we got on with it, we should top out before 8.30pm and nightfall.

The Kinkyboots start is more intimidating than hard. It was all wet with sea spray, but the hand holds were positive. A stiff pull later and I was established on Long Rock Slab. It is getting out from under the overlap and onto the true slab that I find to be the hard part of Kinkyboots. The holds slope the wrong way and unless you hit on things exactly right (an egyptian seem to help), it can end up being a bit of a whale-like experience. It seems to be a good idea to move up and left once this crux move through the overlap has been done. This allows good gear to be placed right above the crux. This will help protect the second and reduce what can be quite horrendous rope drag (if the rope gets caught in the wrong little crack). You have to move right after this so that you can belay on that little ledge with the sea slopping around beneath you.

Mathias led on from here in the failing light. Up and right he went. The friction was exemplary. Long Rock seems quite different to the Promontory - more rounded holds, but better friction. The downwards crack took a little finding (one downwards leading crack looks very much like another in the twilight). Mathias climbed down confidently and then slammed his foot in underneath the overlap. This is the trick here. Getting over the overlap would be really quite nasty if you had to work your way down from a small crimp onto a holdless slab. As it is, the foothold that you reach is excellent.

It took quite a lot of gesticulating above the sea noise to explain to Mathias that he should traverse under the overlaps. He seemed to have a magnetic attraction to underclinging any overlap he came across. Hold on viking boy - the low road is easier. I could hardly see Mathias by the time he was at the belay - the light was fading badly now.

The downwards crack of the second pitch is most certainly harder in the fading light. I felt I had done it enough times to feel confident about it, but it still felt tricky. Thankfully Mathias had protected this section well which gave me the confidence to carry on to the belay (actually, by this stage, up is the only option).

The final pitch is easy, but slightly loose. My main concern was not being able to see any loose material lying around and sending it hurtling down onto Mathias. I could see and feel enough. I knew the lie of the land and I pushed on to the top without a problem. It was so dark by the time that Mathias was climbing that I could only see him for the last 30ft. It was a shame that the clouds were out as there was a full moon and it looked as though the slab would have been possible in the moonlight. Anyway it was time to go home. We'd had a full day.

On the way back to the car, we walked the clifftop path in the dark. Around a corner there were lights in the sky and the roar of a Sea King helicopter. I felt quite helpless. Maybe there were people down there in the thundering sea who needed help; we had no way of knowing. Hopefully there wasn't a report of two people stranded on Baggy Point with night beckoning.

We only feel stranded when we are without rock.


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