'TAN?' - E6 6b Biscuit

Biscuit Scenes. Photo: John Orr


Thursday, 20 November 2014

I recently read Murdo Jamieson’s blog on his stunning new E8 in Carnmore, North West Scotland. The climbing looked superb but the true delight was his writing - it really made me laugh. Very blunt, entertaining and ‘Scottish.’


Here’s my account of a route on the Lleyn Peninsula and an attempt to convey the light-hearted psyche.


5th November - Taking the Biscuit


John Orr and I sped west towards the Lleyn Peninsula. Sunlight strobed on the windscreen, flickering brightly as we drove through the trees. I pushed the little Peugeot, engine roaring, anxious to get to our destination: Craig Doris, the infamous crag made of weetabix and crumbly biscuit. Although I was terrified, I couldn’t wait to arrive.


We finally parked in the farmyard near the crag, a fresh breeze blowing in from the ocean. I jumped out of the car, bouncing with energy. The sun shone, the arms felt fresh, I was going to send! Words became a jumbled mess in my excitement: ‘psyche, psyche, psyche! Mucho bueno!’ 


John just shook his head: the keenness of youth. I slung on my pack and started jogging towards the sea.


Each time I walk towards Doris, part of me wonders if this entire choss-fest has finally collapsed into the sea. I could picture it clearly: peering over the edge, expecting to see the cliffs towering to my left, but instead there would only be mud, grass and boulders: a glorious landslide wiping out the weetabix and biscuit. What a relief that would be!


Unfortunately, Doris still stood. John warmed us up on Direct Hit (E4 5c), after a particularly hard and snappy start. Cautiously he crept upwards, gently testing each hold. The top came as a relief, a freedom, released from the danger and fear below. I’m glad we didn’t hear about Tim’s ride down the slab before we did the route. ‘Direct shit,’ I said, topping out on second.


Adrenaline made my heart buzz as I racked up beneath Tonight at Noon (E6 6b), preparing for the onsight. This was the route I’d been looking forward to: The Last Big Climb of The Summer. I wanted to end the season on a high, and I knew TAN could provide my fix.


The start was steep and crumbly, requiring several up-down-up-downs just to get some kit in. You know it’s serious when your belayer wears his helmet, despite being well back from the crag. It overhung deceptively but I finally reached the semi-ledge and sat down for a semi-rest. Weetabix Part One complete.


Above, the bad biscuit had been eroded to leave the stronger stuff poking out in big pockets and jugs (think of a wall of ginger nuts, with some digestives stacked in between). More overhangs, followed by a rest, and I was actually starting to enjoy this. Biscuit Part Two was easier than expected. I could see the difficulties easing, I could control the pump, I was Jerry Moffatt on a choss-pile. But Dave Rudkin’s words still rung in the back of my mind… ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over!’


I launched into the final groove but the jugs disappeared, replaced by slopey-bastard laybacks and crimps. The panic set in, elbows began to rise and suddenly I was hit by Mr Lactic and all his friends. This was not good: Biscuit Part Three, prepare for take off.


I fought upwards, fingers uncurling. Everything had been going so right - what did I miss? In a last-ditch effort I began slapping upwards, clawing at anything in a ‘One Last Go’ attempt. I think this happened about four times before I finally hit the red and, with a shout, I was off. After some considerable airtime I came to a stop many metres lower.


Finally pulling over the top was disappointing, but I knew I had given everything on my onsight attempt. I learnt from my mistakes and was soon eager for a rematch. I think I spent between two and three hours on the route in total - and owed John a considerable belay in return - so felt very guilty when I text him a week later asking if he was psyched for the Lleyn. I think I had to persuade him a bit...



14th November - Eating the Biscuit


Our return drive to the Lleyn felt all too familiar, only this time with torrential rain. The wipers worked in super-speed, swishing a waterfall from the windscreen. Village after village passed in a blur, despite my instances that it never rains on the Lleyn. Tremadog, Porthmadog, Cricceth; Hmmm… still rain.Pwllheli, Llanbedrog, Abersoch; What? How is it still bloody raining? I crossed my fingers and hoped our trip wasn’t wasted, feeling guilty for dragging John with me.


Thankfully, the sun returned as we reached the farmer’s yard. I breathed a sigh of relief, watching the damp grass ripple in the strong sou-westerly.


Without properly warming up, I scrambled to the base of the route, ready to smash or be smashed. I felt confident - but it’s never in the bag until you’ve pulled over the top. I broke the route down into small deteriorating sections, biting off a chunk at a time. 


Weetabix Part One was a cruise, Biscuit Part Two flowed well and I felt relaxed at the base of the final groove: Biscuit Part Three. No up-down-up-downs required, just waiting for the golden opportunity when the arms have recovered enough, but haven’t started to fade.


The crux went smoothly, as I knew where all the good holds were and could yard quickly through the steepness. I gave a little ‘woop’ when I reached the big flattie in the groove, before topping out into the wind. Ground up, second go always feels like a bittersweet success.


I took off my boots and helmet as I pulled up the ropes. Hearing a rattle, I span round to see my prized Petzl helmet rolling across the grass, blown by a gust of wind, heading for the cliff edge.


I considered a running dive, but visions of over-cooking it made me think twice. The helmet toppled over the edge and hovered, taunting me, caught in the updraft. I desperately reached for it, furious with my luck. Seconds later, the wind suddenly dropped and my helmet plummeted, smashing into the ground 40 metres below. It rolled into the sea, instantly taken by the white Atlantic rollers and lost to the Lleyn. ‘Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Bastard!’ I screamed at the wind.


As it whistled past John, all he thought was, ‘dick!’ 


You win some and lose some, I suppose. 




Afterwards, we nipped up Path to Rome (E3 5c) in wild seas, with just enough time to spare. It was pure and simple fun. On the walk back to the car, John received a text from Tim Neill simply saying: “TAN?” These guys sure are quick with their news! I text back with “TAN + PTR!”


Cheers for the belays John.



I met Murdo and Tony Stone in the Spanish sport climbing mecca of Rodellar in 2013. They were only out for a week, nonchalantly smashing routes, downgrading everything and telling great stories. It was both an inspiration and a pleasure to meet them both, and - despite Murdo’s blog - they don’t actually complain that much! Read his blog piece here.

Tom LivingstoneComment