Saturday, October 4, 2008

Perfectly imperfect

I got my sweaty paws on a copy of the new Southern Sandstone guide today. Its another in the line of superb new Climbers Club guidebooks. Now I'm not a regular fan of southern sandstone, although I love the idea of the UK's most used popular climbs being on these tiny rocks, sugarlump-like in size and fragility. What I was most excited about was the back quarter of the guide which detailed the various versions of the climbing game played out on the chalk cliffs of Southern England. Ive only been down 4 times but each time was "emotional!"

Pitch 3 of Great White Fright, Dover. photo Sandy Ogilvie

The first few times was to the 100m cliffs of Beachy Head. First Monster Crack, of which the guide has a great photo, which I don't hesitate to call one the great adventure routes of the world, and then to almost climb Sunday Sport, which is barely mentioned in the guide as it fell down shortly after our attempt. My most recent visit was to the white cliffs of Dover a couple of years ago with Chris Cubitt when we climbed Great White Fright. This gets two photos and a bit of a write up in the guide. There are actually a few mistakes in the guidebook information. Firstly the implication is that we made the second ascent, we didn't. Infact I think its had a fair few, one from Andy Perkins, one from Kenton Cool and one from Dave Wills that I know of. Secondly that by implication we upgraded it to an unprecendented (on chalk) grade of VIII. I can't remember offering a grade although I might have babbled something out in my excitement after the ascent. These grades are supposed to be ice grades - although with Roman numerals perhaps are Scottish winter grades? The Great White is certainly worth Scottish VIII but definately not WI8 (the proper way of writing ice grades). The final thing is that while we set out to make an free ascent (placing gear without clipping into our axes which is the norm) we failed 30ft from the top when I pumped out and rested. I then abseiled down the next day and pre-placed two warthogs before redpointing the top pitch clean. So our all free climb was flawed.

Chris topping out on pitch 3 of Great White Fright, Dover. photo Sandy Ogilvie

Which is why I'm writing. Partly to set the record straight but also to rejoice in the perfection found in imperfect climbs. Chris and my ascent of Great White despite its little faux pas was one of the best adventures we've ever had. And that often seems to be the case. You almost need to push things a little past the edge for those climbing experiences to become truely memorable. So here's to the wildest lead of your life even if it did need a rest point or sneaky pull on a piece of gear.

PS. If you want to see more of Great White Fright our ascent was captured by Sandy Ogilvie for the film Hard XS by Slackjaw films.

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