The Quest for the Best VS in the Mournes

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There is a story.  Not one of heroes and heroins, nor one with a higher meaning.  It does not long linger in the mind of the reader, or lie in the great annuls of history.  It isn’t a very grand tale, and it certainly isn’t true.  But a story is still a story, and isn’t that reason enough to tell it?

There is a story, of one of the truly great routes.  The sort of route which REALLY deserves those stars beside it’s name in the guidebook.  The sort of route which one only climbs once in an entire lifetime.  One which requires finesse and skill to navigate, but rewards the brave with a sense of freedom and achievement.  This is the story of Meanstreak

This is not that story.  This is the story, of three men who heard that story and were stupid enough to believe it.
Strangely this story actually begins with a man, looking at a screen in utter bewilderment.  Before him lay a website, which contained a forecast that foretold……..SUN.  Never before had this man seen such a thing, but somewhere deep in his reptile brain was a mechanism designed to deal with this scenario.  A part which was an evolutionary dead end, but had somehow been passed on, from a time when Ireland had good weather (scientists believe this was during the late Devonian period, roughly 360 million years ago).  He picked up his phone, and he called his friend to organised a climbing trip.  This man, was called Henry Brett.

Henry invited Andrew, and Andrew invited me.  Soon we were a three, a team prepared to do the unthinkable, WALK UP BINNIAN TO CLIMB.  Almost unheard of in more recent times, but we were determined and naive, never the less walk we did.  The walk was filled with the usual shit talking, however we began to find ourselves exhausting our shit reserves on such a long walk, though we just made it to the top before we were on empty.  Base camp was quickly constructed behind a boulder, and Andrew set about trying to fit his entire body inside the small hollow at the foot of the route.  Succeeding in all but his head, mandatory photos were taken and Andrew quickly failed at leaving this hollow with dignity (a video does exist, ask him nicely).  Once young Woods had mastered the basics of off-width climbing, we began to rack up for the route.

I drew the short straw, and was selected for the lead attempt.  Arguments were had, and after lengthy discussion it was reasoned that I was most expendable, being of least use to society (Andrew capable of computerizing, and Henry being a Durham University student, that’t the one which all the Oxbridge failures land at, it is to Oxbridge as Biomed is to Medicine).  Aside from being more useful to society, Henry also had the fabled cams which I long for, so I commandeered them and went on my merry way.  The first third was a breeze, the starter of the meal.  About 3m of easy scramble with a solid cam at the end.  The middle third is the main course, the sort of meal where you have to unbutton your trousers to finish it all.  3-4m of small off-width, but off-width all the same (for those not masochistic enough to yet know, an off-width is too big to hand-jam but too small to fit your body into, the effect is that of violently shuffling anything and everything get traction, and that’s only if you want to stay in the same place).  Only two large cams would go in this section, so through a pact with the devil, I began shuffling these up with me about a foot after the first placement of each in the crack.  Using foot jams, a bleeding fist jam, and then an elbow jam followed by loud shouts and swears, I was able to throw my leg into the top of the crack and place a size 4 (big) cam into the top and slither my way on to the ledge two thirds up the route.

This now leaves the last third of the route, 3m only in height, but the true dessert of the meal.  The sort of dessert you know you can’t finish, but try anyway and end up being violently sick after, but it was still worth it for the taste.  Describing the shape of the rock is hard here, but I will go into great detail of my movements for the readers benefit.  I step forward into the crack, ducking slightly to fit into the hollow behind the face opening.  Back flat against the wall, there is about 30cm of space between my chest and the opposing wall.  There are no usable footholds, so I place a large nut at the back of the crack.  I then jump up and to my right, breathing in sharply to wedge myself in the thinner opening of the crack, at this point my feet dangle 6 inches off the ledge, then smear (in truth I never saw my feet so these footholds may have been a large cluster of Higgs boson particles) against the inner of the crack while palming down on a slanted ledge inside the crack.  Through……shuffling and shimmying I gained a precious few inches of height to lift my left leg high enough to put a knee on the palm ledge, once this was done a quick and easy bit of shuffling allowed me to reach a jug at the far left crack and haul myself out onto the top of the route.

After a quick anchor set-up, the ever optimistic Henry began to follow up.  Valiant efforts rewarded him quickly with a rest on the ledge two thirds up, a total cruse of the lower sections.  He then challenged the gaping maw before him.  After a valiant and credible 15-ish minutes he begrudgingly gave in, stony silence gave way to discussions of which way to finish was least shameful (options discussed were lower off or go off route).  A decision was reached, to use combined tactics.  So I tied a knot in the dead end, just for extra safety in case the advanced techniques required too much of my concentration, but still kept a proper belay through the process.  I then lowered my leg to Henry (I only had to shuffle forward a few inches and was attached properly to the anchor), which he then proceeded to haul from, and gain those vital inches required for success.

Again more rope faff, the brave Andrew was adamant that he too would go for a lead, as the gear was solid and mostly at your face through the difficult part of the route.  Yet the great forecast we were promised was all a lie, and soon the clouds were about us.  Andrew gained the first third, and the first few moves of the second third, alas heavy rain forced a speedy retreat, the crack left pouring rainwater down like a spout (dissolving the friction as it went).  After an hour or so of huddling under various boulders, each time being flooded out by small streams and ponds forming, we were defeated, and so our slow, wet plod down to the car began.

There is a story, of one of the truly awful routes.  The sort of route which REALLY DOESN’T deserve those stars beside it’s name in the guidebook.  The sort of route which one should only climb once in an entire lifetime.  One which requires anger and black magic to navigate, but rewards the idiotic with a sense of relief and claustrophobia.  This is the story of Meanstreak.