So this was to be the first day of the trad train with Kyle and I at the controls. The original plans had been to start on the Wednesday, but sadly other events had to transpire. But this was a new day, a bright day, a day at Pigeon. Hopefully we would be joined by other parties, including Grew, Andrew, Rooney and the rare and as yet unidentified Dr Pelan. As we arose at the earliest of hours (9am) we poured a copious and most mentally lubricating quantity of the caffeinated-nectar that is, coffee. After this we got into the chariot and began the classical alpine start at the hour of 10am. And as we ascended we did dream of the mountaineering (trad climbing) glory that we would accrue (it would probably go entirely un-noticed in the grand scheme of the universe).
We had our eyes on a crag I hadn’t visited in quite a while, Pigeon. As far as the Mournes goes its practically sport, good gear and close to the road. We hiked the hike that causes great lactic burn in one’s quads, oh how I do love going up scree slopes. Some say that lactic acid in the legs is indicative of how hard you will climb that day. If that were true, I would be climbing a lot harder than I do. But soon the torment was over and we were at the base of Citroen Wall, a stunning face, which I have always wanted to be a good bit longer, for more of the quality climbing on it.
After a game of rock, paper, scissors (or some other decision making process I don’t remember at all) Kyle won the first lead of the day, and selected the classic and wondrous Phantoms. For innocents and aspiring trad climbers, it is a clean line right up the center of the face using finger pockets. The gear is all of a higher quality, but often resides in the hand holds. The choice between safety and being able to move upwards is the real crux. For young Kyle this was no issue, and he gladly devoured each and every move all the way to the top. He even protected the final traverse to the anchor for me (a lovely thing to do). After the final hard rock-over at the top and a scoot to the side to reach the anchor and Kyle reached his goal.
I soon joined him on the anchor, once again impressed by the climbing on the route (one of the very few routes I genuinely enjoy climbing each time, over and over again). We quickly abseiled off and looked to one of the routes I have been craving for a while, since last summer in fact, Yellow Brick Road. A good looking bit of rock, I was first drawn to it by one main feature. Often hard to find on granite, Yellow Brick Road has a section entirely composed of tuffas, and is a must climb as a result. The first bit is a simple diagonal movement up a crack, in which I spent all together too much time trying to place a nut (which after I moved past it immediately fell out). Now I arranged gear on the rest ledge and moved on sharpish (not to repeat my infamous event on Pilage Direct). I looked at the crux for a bit, scoping out some key gear placements and moves, then headed upwards (for downwards would not be the correct direction).
I happily shuffled up to my first cam placement, and then pulled a rare move on trad, an Egyptian drop-knee to move right and jam in the groove between two of the longest tuffas. The last bit was technically easy enough up this groove to a solid slopper and cam placement just before the mantle on to the top. However, these moves, which ever way I did them, required some muscle pulling. When I have to do something scary, I often breathe rhythmically, just like the real pros (I think I look cool, but probably look like a tool). As is much more rare to see, when I pull strengthy moves on trad I do something else entirely, I sing. Now I say sing, it’s more a poetic reading with grunting. On this particular route the song was “Would you like a sausage supper Bobby Sans”. Now I wouldn’t really say the meaning of the song is one I agree with at all (quite the opposite if I’m honest), but it is what I sang (grunted) and it was very amusing for Kyle to listen to as I hauled up to the ledge. I quickly dandered up and clipped the tat (string and spit, with some rust) anchor and after Kyle arrived we abseiled off.
Sadly after our success I gave Grew a ring, and found out that they would not be joining us at all. As it turns out, Dr Pelan had woken up in a state that would hinder his ability to drive significantly, and so they were left stranded. I sent my most sincere condolences, but alas I was powerless to change their situation from the Mournes. Determined to climb on for those who could not, I suggested to Kyle the classic Castrol-R, as I remembered it to be a grand climb in all and he racked up. The man was full of the power and psych that day, surely, for he did climb this one with no bother, even when challenged by the top out. He glided through the weaknesses in the rock like some sort of….thing that glides though climbs and routes. We shall call it a punkle, yea that should do. As he punkled up the route, he atop the anchor I followed this man. A final bit of abseil faff and we were back on the solid ground and I looked to another of my routes-to-do, Rosa Parks.
We reached the bottom to a strange sight, other climbers, and ever rarer, one’s we didn’t know. After pleasantries we assaulted the route. A lovely start, finding low gear I moved to the horrizontal break in the wall, and fiddled with a tri-cam, bomber. After a couple of scouting reaches, for it is the sort of break which has jugs but only in certain spots, I moved out to the vertical crack on the left. Standing up I neared the top, though spotted a great pink tri-cam placement. Abiding by the laws of old, as an owner of tri-cams I was duty bound to place it. With terminal pump fast approaching I finally seated it and went on, thinking to myself “I wish I could punkle as well as Kyle”. I finished by making an anchor from the solid tat on the top. As Kyle seconded and criticized/appraised my ability to place the tri-cam, we thought to the final climb of the day. Hangman’s Break.
I thought this would be a good route, graded to suggest hard moves but with good gear. Perfect. I had recently tried to make myself fall on trad (because I need to trust my gear) by trying these sorts of routes. So far I had been equal to the routes I tried, but maybe this would be the one. As we could see it, the crux was the second roof, with good gear (probably) at the break, then some beefy moves up to a good vertical layback (maybe), with likely cam placements inside it (possibly). Then just a saunter to the top (hopefully). Now, I say all of this because I never got there so I don’t know. I made it up to the top of the slab at the bottom, placing a good black tri-cam and a VERY psychological micro-nut (but it was the biggest one). The next move was tough, and I could only just conceive how to do it, but with no promise of holds after it, I backed off, prizing my ankles more than I trusted the micro.
Now, Mr Kyle (complete with huge dangling nads, and psych) waddled up to the route and had a crack at it. Never had I seen the man so keen, as he headed up and got to the hard move. Now to cut a long but boring bit short, he tried a great deal of moves and then settled on one sequence. He moved through his sequence to what we thought at the time was a jug. Brilliant, now he could haul up to the good gear at the break. Bad news came through, these were not jugs at all (oh dear). Kyle used all of his stunning reserves of strength to reach for a cam placement to the side and tried to clip it. Sadly even this beast of a man had his limits, and could only hold on so long, he leapt to the side, and began to fall. As he came down (and I tried to remember the mountain rescue number) a miraculous thing happened, the micro held. He came to a stop not two feet above me, quickly I asked if he was alive and after an affirmative answer was given we burst into nervous laughter.
Now Kyle, already braver than I, put me to more shame as he went for round two, and managed to clip the cam, though had to rest on to it. He backed it up with another red and yellow cam (no sense not to) and then tried to move on, but fell back and the first silver cam ripped. More nervous laughter, though to be fair he did say it was a bad cam, so his knowledge of gear quality is accurate. Deciding to back off the route, he removed the cams and climbed down the gully-like thing beside the route quickly, so as not to tempt fate. After feeling very lucky, we removed the micro (which came out far too easily) and the tri-cam. We headed back to Newcastle for a VERY well deserved take-away and some coffee.
Good routes got climbed, and (more importantly) nobody was injured or dead. A very good day in my books.
The micro-nut Kyle fell on to, rated to 4kN, keys added for scale.