Chicama, E9 6c, second ascent

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Returning back to the UK after two months in Spain I was greeted with beautiful sunshine. Getting a sun tan at Gogarth with Callum got my hopes up that March would be the UKs 2013 summer and I would get to try all the trad projects I was keen for. That isn’t exactly how things have turned out. And now, 3 weeks later, sat looking out at a blizzard, it certainly doesn’t feel like summer.

Gogarth, early March - why couldn't it have stayed like this!

Main Cliff, Gogarth, early March – why couldn’t it have stayed like this!

A fun day with Calum Muskett on Eraser Head, E5

A fun day with Calum Muskett on Eraser Head, E5

Winter returned! (The slate quarries)

Winter returned! (The slate quarries)

But despite the bad weather I’ve managed to get one project done. Chicama is an unrepeated Tim Emmett route, 10 years old, at Treaddur Bay, Holyhead. The route is ridiculously steep – 45 degrees overhanging. Therefore working the moves proved to be very difficult. Since there are quite big spaces between the geer, lowering in from the top means that a toprope fall sends you a good couple of metres out from the rock, with no means of getting back in. It’s also really difficult to reach the base of the route at anything but low tide since the route comes straight out of the sea. You might think that it would make a great DWS, but there is an unfortunately positioned boulder right in the landing zone. All these things make this route an absolute mission to check out, belay and lead. The other thing about the route, is that there isn’t really a wealth of natural gear. There are a few cams and wires, but apart from that the route is largely peg protected. Whilst working the route, 3 pegs fell out spontaneously, without much force, and two of them snapped. This meant that I didn’t really trust any of the 10-year old pegs and was therefore inclined to bash some more in. Being in-experienced in the art of pegging I asked my boyfriend Peter to take a look. Mr patience spent a good few hours teasing some pegs out and putting new ones in, which gave me much more confidence when going for the lead.

Thanks Peter!

Thanks Peter!

So why get so psyched for a route that is such a mission to try, and is very peg-reliant? Because it’s a really cool route. The climbing is amazing. It starts off with small crimps, luckily there are enough of them in such steep ground, for it to be possible. Then the holds get bigger and the angle even steeper, before it eases off at the top. There are wild heel hooks, egyptians and knee bars – not your standard trad affair. It probably gets about F8a+, but its hardly one you want to lob off, with long run outs and reasonably sketch gear.

What happens at low tide... no more water and a nice belay spot! Neil Dyer

What happens at low tide… no more water and a nice belay spot! Neil Dyer

I worked the route for 3 days. Which sounds like a lot, but most of that time was spent faffing with ropes and gear in attempt to touch the rock. The second day down there Neil Dyer and myself successfully managed to set up a tensioned rope between the pieces of gear, which we could then clip in to and work the moves. But this took us the majority of the day – I don’t think Neil even put his rock shoes on! The third day was more productive and I finally worked out all the sequences. None of the moves are that hard, but all together – they surely induce a healthy dose of lactic acid.

Day 1 - can we touch some rock? Caff trying

Day 1 – can we touch some rock? Caff trying

When it finally came to tying on the sharp end, the faff continued. Whilst warming up another peg fell out when I weighted it, and I had to get the hammer from the car and bang it back it. Not a good start. With bad weather coming in, I was eager to get it done, but unfortunately the tides were bad – with high tide at 2.30pm. Not to worry – we can make a belay for Peter above the sea! I had the idea that Peter could ab down, clipping into the old pegs of ‘Treacherous Under Foot’ an old E6, make a belay, then I could join him down there and start rock climbing. 2 hours later, Peter was in a precarious positions, only a foot above the sea, and one wire-popping incident away from being totally submerged. Luckily Peter managed to make it down without getting too wet, and I joined him.

Peter down-aiding

Peter trying not to get wet (matt pycroft)

Banging pegs back in (Matt Pycroft)

Banging pegs back in (Matt Pycroft)

The morning was a bit of a stress, with pegs falling out, high tides and even a bit of rain added to the mix, so when I actually set off from the belay I was feeling tired, cold and anything from composed. Images of decking off Impact Day a year previous came flooding back… but at the same time, I was keen to go climbing, get my weight off the rope and do the route unhindered by fixed lines and top ropes. It went without a hitch. I was quite pumped at the top, but two months in Spain helped massively and the lactic-acid levels didn’t feel too disastrous.  There are a few places on the route, where it would be ill-advised to fall off, and whilst climbing, although I was aware of those spots, I’d rehearsed the route enough, and was fit enough for it to go smoothly. I learnt from Impact Day, that I shouldn’t expect the climbing to feel easy on the lead, and as a result – I didn’t make the same mistake again! (of falling off where I shouldn’t.. and hitting things I shouldn’t)

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Pumped on the upper wall (Matt Pycroft)

I love little missions like this – that require a bit more from you than sport climbing arms, with swinging around on ropes trying not to get wet. It would be a lot easier to go to Spain and climb some 8a+ there, but I’ll certainly remember this 8a+ more than those. One problem with missions like this though, is that often they rely on the good-will of others. I couldn’t have done this route without help from my friends. Caff, Neil and Emma (Twyford) all kindly came down with me, to hold my string, faff with ropes and have a play themselves. Levels of faff-psyche permitting I’m sure we could see some more ascents of Chicama, especially since all of them are complete wads. But an extra special thanks goes to Peter, because without him and his Cumbrian pegging skills, the route would be a lot less safe. And not many people would have had his patience to down-aid the steepest cliff in Wales, belay me and then jug back out. So thanks!

Dave Birkett's Once Upon a Time in the South West, my first E9 (Dave Pickford)

Dave Birkett’s Once Upon a Time in the South West, my first E9 (Dave Pickford)

This is my second E9, the other being Once Upon a Time in the Southwest, in Devon. They are both sea cliffs, but that’s about where there similarities end. Once, is a technically difficult slab on a monster of a wall with 30 odd pieces of gear. Where Chicama is a full endurance battle with a few cams! Are they E9? Which one is harder? I have no idea, and I don’t really care much about answering these questions. They are both great routes, and I won’t forget them.

Thanks to Dom Bush and Matt Pycroft for filming and donating a lot of these photos.

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