The VS Challenge is a challenge by two South Wales Climbers to try to climb all of the very severe graded climbs in the Gower and South East Wales guide book to raise money and awareness for two charities. Tenovus is a Cancer charity that helps to raise awareness of cancer and to provide care and advice for patients and families who are suffering from cancer. The WISCM Trust Provides grants for young people to experience outdoor activities that they may otherwise be unable to afford as well as offering the chance for a small number of individuals to take part in the planning and execution of an expedition.
What a two weeks. From the initial launch, meeting Roy Noble at BBC Wales and taking publicity pictures for Tenovus we haven’t had much time to do any climbing!
The first week started of quite well with many of the climbs in Morlais Quarry completed quickly. Confidence was high and we seemed to be moving through the routes nicely. Cue one 5m fall onto the smallest piece of protection we have and things slowed down a little. The No 1 nut, the smallest we have, stopped the fall but was permanently deformed by the shock of the fall. It took a couple of climbs before I got back into the swing of things but I’m slightly more cautious with my gear placement now! We also spent an afternoon with Marks Wife and Rhi, a close friend, taking photos for the up coming Tenovus Breast Cancer awareness month. Dressed in Tenovus T-shirts they abseiled of the Great Wall at Morlais Quarry while Mark ran around pretending to be David Bailey. Tenovus seemed happy with our efforts so Marks photography can’t have been that bad!!
The start of the second week was at Penalta. Nice sandstone climbing or so we believed. Mark struggled on the first route, and I tore myself to shreds fighting ivy and brambles on the second and took a couple of falls. Not a good start. Then came probably two of the best routes we had climbed so far. Nice well protected consistent climbing by Mark and the confidence was back up.
Then it was on to a one move wonder called Bold Finger, VS 5b. After about 8 attempts and falls it was done although removing the piece of protection again proved to be slightly tricky! As a result of almost making that final move several time but slipping and falling off I had sandpapered the underneath of my arm from armpit most of the way down to my wrist, and this was particularly uncomfortable!
The following day at the Gap proved to be very tough indeed. Not only were we extremely tired from the “Very Severe” climbing the day before but the scratches and cuts were all adding to the misery. Fortunately Mark breezed the first route and we moved a little happier onto the second. Despite the guidebooks description and about ½ hour scrambling around the bushes at the base of the crag we were unable to locate the second climb. The third proved to be extremely tiring and it was only due to some much needed backup that we managed the fourth. My lack of foot placing skill and Marks slightly portly frame were beginning to show there effects.
The end of the week started badly and not just because of the weather. Once again Tenovus had requested some photographs and Mark was only too happy to oblige. This time they wanted us climbing in a pink feather boa and pink sparkling cowboy hats! Whilst it drizzled we did our best to produce the goods but unfortunately this time we have to try again. Since the news Mark has been walking around with a big smile on his face, I think he wants to keep the feather boa!! Once the pictures were done the weather looked like improving and as it did the climbing got better and better. From the fantastic climbing at Tyle-y-Coch to Llanbradach’s swampy base the climbs were excellent. Unfortunately we were unable to do any of the climbs at Cross keys Quarry as it is completely overgrown.
The third week has started well so far. 12 climbs completed at Trebanog. Despite my initial worry about more sandstone, the climbing proved to be quite good. Although some areas were pretty ropey the vast majority were nice climbs. We were also incredibly lucky with the weather as heavy showers had been predicted but nothing more than the odd bit of drizzle materialised.
We moved on to try and eliminate some of the Crags that only have a single VS climb in them which meant a lot of driving around and arguing over whether we had actually arrived at the right place. Many of the descriptions on access in the guide book are not that great and we would definitely advise taking an OS map of the area to help. Part of our problem may be that being from South Wales we expect to find these areas with ease and profess to have some local knowledge which never seems to help!!
The Climb at Ferndale was a really nice climb, the view from the top is excellent and the sun was falling on the face to help keep us warm on the first really autumnal day. Although the route was a little vague once identified the moves and holds were good. We moved on from here to a quarry we could see across the valley and after initial access troubles we abseiled into one end of the quarry. The route here had a dagger next to its description in the guide book meaning that not enough people had climbed the route for its grade to be substantiated. Mark started off and found that the climbing was probably of a HS level although many of the holds were loose. Once more climbs have been made on this wall and the loose stuff has come away he thinks the final grading will be HS but whilst it is still covered in very loose rock it should maintain its VS grading.
Having spent most of the morning and achieved only a couple of climbs we then moved to The Darren in Pontypridd to get our tally up. A nice leafy wooded area provided the backdrop for this quarry which unfortunately meant the first route was very dirty and a little overgrown. After a little gardening and me covered in leaf mould and ivy the climb was completed. The next climb was really good fun although the base was protected by a rather large bramble bush. A slightly overhanging corner made for some interesting moves to reach the top!! The next two routes were very similar having the same start and splitting at a tree half way up. Again a bramble bush is trying to make the crack at the start its home but as these are more popular routes it is clear where it has been beaten back! The guide book describes one of these as the best for its grade in sandstone in South Wales. Whilst I agree that it is an excellent climb I am not sure that I agree with the statement, and only by completing the Challenge will we find out.
Confidence is improving and we are constantly working on our techniques so that hopefully we will be able to climb for more sustained periods without fatigue!
The end of Sandstone
Since the last update the climbing has been a little bit more sporadic. Some days we have gone out and had some very successful climbing, other days we have gone out and climbed little or nothing. Part of this is due to the weather which has often frustrated us and part of this has been due to sickness and injury.
This next instalment began in Coedely where despite the poor weather we managed to get out late in the afternoon and nail the climbs that are there. We spent a little while as usual cruising round in Marks Landrover before we eventually found the place. Being male obviously asking for directions is out of the question!! The routes themselves were pretty good although there is quite a lot of lose rock and some areas have fallen away. The area is quite good although there is some rubbish and old beer tins. Joshua and Elizabeth came out to join us and Joshua seemed to enjoy himself.
We tried to tackle Cefn Coed but here we came unstuck. We started looking at the left hand end as you look at the cliffs and everything down to the bridge is overgrown. We did however have a stroke of luck as we bumped into Richard Davies the outdoor learning coordinator for Merthyr and Gary Lewis one of the founders of modern South Wales Climbing, (and still going strong). We were informed that the area up to the fence has now been made into a nature reserve so it was a good job we didn’t try to clear ant of the climbs!! Richard Davies did say he was in talks to try to get some of the area opened up for more climbing as it has the potential to be excellent.
After a few areas that had plenty of climbs we were now down to isolated crags with one or two climbs on them. Many were in a poor condition on loose rock with little chance of topping out or placing protection if lead. Mark made the call on a few days so many were top or bottom roped. There are a couple of areas that I would high light though. Dimbath is an extraordinary area. Both Mark and I think it would be a great place to explore further and I’m sure in good weather would be great for climbing clubs despite its slightly more remote area. The guide book does warn of midges although we didn’t see any whilst we were there (cold wet day). Mark climbed the first route at Dimbath and squealed all the way up for the rope to be tight. When I went second he took great pleasure, as usual, in keeping the rope slack and looking at the sceanary!
At the Upper Mountain Ash there is a good little chimney which offers a good chance to practice skills that are not often used. The approach to the crag is pretty cheeky but funny if you have a chubbier climbing partner (!!) and the rock is a little lose in places. Some of the rock is a little abrasive so watch your arms!!.
In the Secret Trebanog Upper Tier there is a short overhang where the highest grade is HVS. For anyone wanting to have a go at overhangs who only climbs in the lower grades then this is ideal. You will however need a long rigging rope as there is little protection for the belayer!
Further to the climbing we have a new sponsor on board in the form of DB Outdoors who distribute Madrock, Eldrid and Hi Five. We have also had the first video diary on ITV Local (which if nothing else is quite amusing to watch) and are working on the second! We are also working on the short film for the Sky info channel on all the South Wales Sandstone.
We are always interested to hear from people with any information that will update the climbs we have done or with information on climbs we are yet to do, or if any one has been to the climbs and found our information useful.
As we continue with the challenge I will add further updates.
I am new to SP and would be interested on any comments on our climbing or how we can improve the information we are trying to get across.