Hen Gives, and Hen Takes

After the brilliant day on Pigeon, Kyle and I had taken a rest day.  This largely consisted of waking up late, and drinking coffee.  A lot of coffee.  Between us we managed through (struggled really, but we managed, fear not) three full french-presses, and two or three aero-press cups each.  The other main activities were cooking a huge amount of Kung-Pao chicken, and watching streams of computer games and youtube videos.  The sort that are entertaining, but you question why you watch a man make a kettle that runs on thermite (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg3bFxdAZsY).  Any how, this day we would head to Hen for a threesome of climbing with the young Master Prebble, and hopefully get revenge on some hard routes, which had previously eluded our grasp.


As much as I do like Hen, it is not because the routes are all easy.  In fact many of the climbs I have the best memories of there are the ones which were hard, either mentally or physically.  While this is hardly on the scale of professional climbers, it is great to have something challenging to jump on.  Be it the ever classic Jump Route, or the bold and technical Crystal Maze (totally not biased in my choice of routes), there are always more routes to kick your ass on Hen.  Today I sought to gain revenge on one such route, which I had timidly run away from, Little One.

This I had previously attempted with the ever majestic and banter-full Toby Vye holding my strings.  On that previous attempt I had stood about for a ridiculous time (sorry Toby) and backed off before the hard top moves.  “Not today” I thought, as we death-marched up the steep hill.  We arrived in good time, and had a good rest to regain oxygen lost to the altitude.  We sat below the thing, and drew lots for the first crack.  I got lucky (or unlucky, depending on your view) and prepared for the struggle above.  With Kyle holding the rope I mounted the corner and was soon at the rest spot.  I placed the required gear; two black tricams, and a small red cam in the break below the crux.  I spent a good while figuring the move out, but this time I was determined to stick it or fall trying (we shall see…).

The gear was good, and the sequence was mapped out in my mind, time to move, lest the night fall on us.  Pulling through on a mono (what kind of E1 has a bloody mono?) to get to an alright two-finger pocket, I raised my left hand the the least-shit part of the rounded top-out.  Finding the critical ridge, and thanking the gods of the cosmos that it was cold (for the friction) I lifted my foot and rocked over to the horrible, panic-enduing top-out.  An equal to a Peak top-out, I slapped angrily (fearfully) down on the slab and mantled for all I was worth.  Despite being worthless, this seemed enough to get up, and I wandered to the top and ran around to the crew at the bottom victorious.

Now it fell to Kyle to repeat the feat, as he had been leading astoundingly well the last week and was up for the challenge.  Kyle did very much the same as myself, cruse up the corner, arrange gear, and on to the crux.  Now he spent a while figuring out the puzzle, though in all fairness I had tried this all once before.  That being said, he still spent less time than I did on my first attempt, and I didn’t even get to the top on that one.  Kyle pulled though the section, having a spot of bother with feet, but sorting it quickly, and finding the good spot on the rounded top.  This man mantled like a king, and with not nearly as much panicked breathing as I had (likely as he has no fear).  Soon we recovered the gear which was now redundant, and we urged Prebble to try King of the Mountain.

A tricky but safe little test piece, I had claimed this route before, and it is surely one of my proudest climbs to date.  Master Thomas arranged gear on his harness and began the route in earnest.  He sauntered up the corner (for it shared the start with Little One) and made some solid placements, moving right along the break to the jugs and created a second bomber nest.  A quick couple of scouting moves allowed him to spy the potential moves, and the critical crimp for his left hand to move around the corner of the traverse.  He stepped out and moved on to the flat spots in the break, and reached for the good hand jam on the right.  He then commenced the slightly panicked mantle into standing on the break, for the feet are not the best until they are in said break.  He then easily glided along to the final vertical section, which lead him to glory atop the buttress.

Kyle continued his amazing rise through the ranks of trad climbers when he declared his intentions to lead the route himself.  Prebble and I were both delighted to see the man in such a state of psych, and as Prebble abseiled in to get photos, I took up the strands for Kyle and he started off.  After reaching the gear nest and constructing if once again at the top of the corner, he stepped right on the slopped holds in the break.  He struggled with his feet, and slipped on to his gear after a small slip.  I lowered him to the ground, at the prompt of Prebs.  This would allow him to have done the route clean if he sent it from the bottom to top in one go.  So he repeated the corner, this time finding some extra purchase from another dimension, and was now at the good holds before the corner.  He built the well repeated procedure of making a nest, and similarly to preceding climbers, he scouted the moves.  Soon he too rounded the corner, and reached the good jam.  I waited for the panic scramble, and held the rope nervously, though this man pulled through no great difficulty, and he too reached the promised land of the top-out.

The turn to lead had once again fallen to me, so I spied a route I had yet to do, but relished the thought of trying, Dreams of Distance.  This was a fun looking route, following a crack under two roofs, with the crux being a mantle over the second and a short walk to the top.  I began the start, with Kyle on ropes and Prebble on the camera.  I soon realised the start was to be a struggle, as after placing a bomber off-set nut I seated a hand-jam of the highest pain threshold.  I requested some tape, and Prebs obliged, and after some on-route taping I was ready to move.  After a couple of runs reaching further along, I had a yellow cam in and went for the hard moves left.  High feet and painful pulling on my jam and I forced my way through the roof sequence.  Fantastic climbing, I now placed a black tricam and a small yellow cam of Prebble’s (remember this one).  “Cool, only the mantle to think about now”, the young man thought naively.

I reached confidently, but VERY tiredly, to the two small crimps under the next roof.  These were far too small and sloped for my liking, but I couldn’t change that now.  I had already used a good portion of my strength through the first roof, things were not optimal.  I spotted a small slot and searched for a micro-cam and reached up to place it to my left.  A close call, I clipped it, and then saw a marginal spot for another one to my right.  Even more grunting allowed me to clip it and begin the mantle.  I stood off the small but good footholds, leaned hard from the small crimps, and reached the jug-like (though only by comparison) under-cling and tried to swing my foot over.  No dice, panic, fear, sweat, thoughts of falling, thoughts of blowing the on-sight.  I shouted “TAKE!” and rested on to my gear.  Failure, shame, sadness.  I sighed, and was congratulated by my refusal to give in on the route, though I didn’t feel I deserved it as I had rested not fallen.  I pulled back on, and tried plan B, throw hard for what could be a small crystal over the bulging roof, which could allow me to put my foot up.  I gave it a good couple of tries, like really threw for the thing, but either it didn’t exist or I missed it.  And then I slipped off into the unknown, oblivion, my first trad lead fall ever.

I thought it would feel slow, though I don’t know why.  I also didn’t think it would be that far, I mean the gear was at waist height and it held me on the rest.  Wrong again sir.  The previous rest had unzipped my first nut, so on the real fall the unzipping went further.  Between this and the two micro-cams being shit, it all ripped, except for that one yellow micro-cam after the traverse.  Out of the six pieces I placed, only one held when I took my fall.  As I slipped off I felt a short and surprisingly weak tug at the ropes, accompanied by popping noises.  Quickly after I felt a far more solid tug as the cam held me, and I was immediately was hit in the face and head by all my gear which had ripped.  Surprisingly, this was not pleasant.  I then turned to see Kyle beside me, who kindly offered to lower me off the final meter that I was from the ground.  I spent the first few seconds stunned, then a significant number after that thanking Kyle for the quick reactions and the prevention of my frame merging with the floor.

I decided I had my desire to climb sated that day, and so lay back and began taking photos of the aspirant Prebble, as he prepared for Journey into Life.  He spent a while placing the first pieces of gear up to half height of the main climbing.  This was critical, as the route was sparsely protected and every piece had to be good.  Prebble spent a while doing this, though I would have given as much if not more time to such a task.  He managed to climb slightly higher than required for the crux moves left to the peg.  After several readings of the description as he stood there, we collectively decided he would have to down climb slightly.  Thankfully, for the sake of Prebble, and for Kyle and I’s nerves, this was in fact correct.  The skillful man made moves left confidently on good holds, but far from gear, and reached the peg, clipping it gratefully.  He placed a back-up tricam and looked to the last hard moves.  He was to mantle up onto a bulge, though found out his good tricam was in the handhold, and tried to punch it out.  Failing he moved up anyway, and thankfully it was not called upon to hold him.  Prebs gunned to the top of the route, after a long battle and cried “safe” in an exhausted manner, and belayed Kyle up on the second the retrieve gear.

Prebble had to dash on to do his car MOT, so Kyle and I were left to the last climb of the day, the bold and brave (death route) Quare Crack.  Master Kyle laughed in the face of this scary route (we forgot to tell him it was a death route), and hopped on with gusto.  He sauntered through the section shared with Yeni Gol rather easily, and then placed some good gear.  He then moved into the route proper, which is sparse when looking for gear.  He moved to just below the crux and began placing all gear available, which sadly was all quite poor.  This was made all the more difficult as the position he was in would not allow a proper search of his rack, without doing a backflip off the route.  He called down that he was ready (had written his will) and pulled on to the crux.  Thankfully for him, he had no bother, and I imagine, wondered what he was ever worried about in the first place.  I seconded up as the light faded into the clouds, creating a beautiful purple pool in the sky.  We walked off in quick order, while Kyle made a fuss about not knowing the routes reputation until I was telling him about it on the way down.

So there it was, revenge had on one route, revenge planned on another, Kyle was getting far too good for his own health, and Prebble remains too good for his own health.  Once again, no serious injuries and no deaths.  A brilliant day out all together.

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