This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of The Mynydd Climbing Club Journal.
M.S. Oldenburg cast off her mooring lines and quietly slipped into the main flow of the Bideford estuary, bound for the Atlantic. A fuzzy smudge on the horizon, the granite island of Lundy bounced in and out of view as the North Devon coastline fell away behind us. We motored, frothing and foaming, into the rolling ocean. The Mynydd climbing club meet had begun.
The Oldenburg has quite a reputation: what appears to be a poorly-designed ship (long, squat and narrow), it is the lifeline that connects Lundy to the rest of the world. Climbers, day-trippers, luggage, food, sheep - even Land Rovers - ride the ‘Vomit Comet’ over the ocean blue, bound for the sunshine isle.
The night before I had dossed in a car park with only a one-eyed cat for company. It stared menacingly at me all night, sitting under a street lamp. It wasn’t very good at conversation. I slept badly, nervous of being woken by an angry local. Dossing in car parks sucks.
I had come to Lundy on a bit of a whim. Dan Lane, a good friend from North Wales, mentioned the Mynydd’s approaching trip to Lundy - and an available space. My brief research gave snippets of very positive reviews and, without even seeing the guidebook, I booked a place. Next thing I knew, I was a Mynydd CC member was and stumbling on the decks of the Oldenburg.
Lundy seems to be the one climbing destination in the U.K. that everybody has heard of, but nobody knows anything about. Let me shed some light.
The climbing ranges from Moderate to E9, on generally very good granite. The island runs from north to south, is 3 miles long and 1/2 a mile wide, and has a small ‘village’ on the southern end. The crags are all on the western side, and are typically around 30 to 40 metres high - although there are a number of exceptions. The majority of routes are around E1/E2, but there is enough climbing at almost every grade for an entire summer’s worth of climbing. The typical style - slabby and technical - is a delight once you get used to it.
Many of the crags are tidal and require an abseil approach, and a static rope longer than 70m is useful. The rock architecture and scenery of the west coast is particularly spectacular: the grassy plateau of the island plummets dramatically down into the sea, forming chaotic caves, zawns and bays.
It was an interesting experience to join the Mynydd without any prior knowledge of the club, nor it’s members. Although I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘baptism of fire’, the frequent fire alarms blaring from the kitchen gives an indication of the wild times we had throughout the week.
Each morning the Mynydd members - staying in the sparsely-furnished but pleasant ‘Barn’ - would rise and congregate around the dining table, sunshine gleaming through the windows. Many were essentially asleep over their breakfast until injected with dangerously strong doses of coffee, but Team Youth (myself and Dan, who significantly lowered the average age) often chose to lie in; that is, until the dreaded fire alarm sounded!
I quickly learnt that morning was a time to be savoured, enjoyed, without rushing to the crags. We passed guidebooks round endlessly, debating and heckling over everyone’s plans for the day. Every route was scrutinised, every scrap of beta eagerly absorbed. ‘Have you done this one? What’s it like?’ I quickly learnt that these ‘guidebook shenanigans,’ were an integral part of the club - obviously not extensive ‘faffing!’
Once a few routes had been selected, we began the lunch-making ritual. These ranged from chunks of bread with just a hint of butter right through to delicious-looking gourmet feasts with luxury fillings, often laboured over for half an hour, created with pride on a production line and carefully packed into sandwich bags.
Finally, after all these performances had run their course, did we begin to file out of the door in clusters of twos and threes. The rush of wind and a slamming door would signal another group’s departure, heads bowed into the wind and eager to test ourselves against the day’s routes. It should be noted that Team Youth found this relaxing, ‘late start’ tradition so enjoyable that one day they didn’t even leave The Barn until 2pm! Although they did need afternoon tides for the day’s objectives, they were a little slack and suitably scolded by the rest of the group.
The granite on Lundy is predominately of exceptional quality and incredibly featured, even on a minute scale; this often gives superb friction and plenty of small holds to choose from. Many routes tiptoe through impressive territory, be it on giant blank slabs or through steep, tumbling walls and roofs. The ominously-named cliffs add to the intimidating nature of the climbing, particularly since they often only became visible once you’ve abseiled to the base of them - and by then, you’re committed. The Devil’s Slide, Devil’s Chimney Cliff and The Devil’s Limekiln did little to calm my nerves as we trudged across the island, bound for another adventure.
At the end of the week I was told that the club had climbed approximately 200 routes in seven full days, over a wide range of grades, and throughout the length of the island. I am sure that each member’s experience of the island was unique, such was the variety of partners and routes climbed. Each evening was a celebration of the day’s haul, swapping stories and tales of daring leads.
Several things, however, must have been experienced by everyone. The relentless slog up endless grassy slopes at the end of the day must have surely been loathed by every climber on Lundy. With a full pack and tired limbs, I preferred to keep my head down and plod on. The slopes were particularly treacherous when wet with morning dew - another solid argument for Team Youth and their late starts!
An abseil rope is invaluable in order to reach the base of most crags. The best tactic seemed to be stashing it at the north end of the island at the start of the week, before slowly working further south each day. Invariably, people arrived with many variable lengths of static (and non-static) abseil ropes and they were dutifully traded with other teams depending on their plans for the day. Backwards and forwards, coiled and uncoiled, these ropes continuously toured the island. Team Youth almost got the short straw, however, since their rope was nearly abandoned halfway up the island.
There are particular moments worthy of special mention. Richard - El Capitan for the week - must have climbed every starred route on the island before our visit, and deserves a medal for searching out the esoteric or simply ‘out of the way’ routes. A vast proportion of visiting teams will only climb the classic routes on the island; thus, exploratory exploits and making an effort to maintain the other routes must be commended.
Team Health & No Safety did a stirling job throughout the week. Climbing as a three with their own in-house MET Office advisor, they ticked plenty of classic routes in fine style and were often one of the last teams back each evening. We understand that this team’s ascent of Immaculate Slab involved the only fall of the week, blamed on an incomplete risk assessment. Due to the shape of the rock there were no eye witnesses but it seems their forecaster was leading the very steep last moves of the route in a commendably gung-ho style when something made him let go. We imagine that he fell onto the slab below and landed, cat-like, on all fours before sliding over the lip of the steeper initial wall. As he finished eye-to-eye with his surprised belayer it was clear that things had not gone entirely smoothly above, and perhaps a higher runner would have been handy.
The ‘Lads’ was the largest group in our party, and consisted of most of the men. Although they were not particularly laddish, they were usually responsible for the fire alarms. They also appeared to enjoy the pub more than the climbing. Popular antics included abseiling on numerous stretchy ropes - tied together in order to reach the base of the crag - ‘to make it more interesting.’ They also got a good soaking from the sea when a massive dislodged block landed in the water right beside their belay - yikes!
Dan (the other member of Team Youth) must have a mention for allowing me to drag him to some of the harder routes on the island, but he can’t have found it too taxing - I particularly enjoyed hearing him describe The Cullinan (E5 6a) as ‘well easy!’.
Although it would be impossible to select one favourite route, I throughly enjoyed Olympica, a three-pitch E5 on the southern end of the island. It felt like an adventure just to get to the base, and the rock quality and climbing on the first and second pitches was brilliant. Dan still managed to break a foothold, but thankfully it was steep enough that it didn’t hit anything on the way down!
Thanks to the Mynydd for a fantastic week’s climbing. I’m sure everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves with the fine company and glorious weather. I look forward to the next one.
Thanks to the Mynydd Climbing Club for organising the trip in September 2014.
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