The parents are visiting for the weekend but since the seventies, Saturday evening for them has always been about TV talent shows – New Faces, Opportunity Knocks, Stars in Their Eyes and this evening it’s Strictly and X-Factor. My TV set has never been so abused. I’ve had to look away, despite all the glamorous ladies in gorgeous dresses.
The La Sportiva beginners shoe that I’ve been climbing in this year finally procured a hole in it’s rand, courtesy of the roughly textured paint at the Pinnacle climbing centre, 4×4 training and my flawFUL footwork. A quick scout around the centre and it quickly became apparent that the Bandits are popular, both in the bouldering room and on the competition wall. Nothing’s easy however and I fall between sizes stocked and have to wait a couple of days for Simon’s next delivery. Pinnacle are an Evolv Performance Specialist centre and whilst the Shamen may suit Sharma, I’ve a feeling that the Bandits are more than good enough for the climbing I do.
A couple of boulder problems and it was obvious that they fit – pain. Being maybe 20mm smaller than the Sportivas, my toes are always going to feel cramped. I was liking the stable platform mind, edging felt way easier and in my mind I was dreaming of slate routes again. A few NLMC members were off to the cottage for what looked like a decent weekend weatherwise and I ask Dale if he fancies coming along for a bit of trad. Now Dale climbs way harder than me, even when he had a broken leg last year and he’s been big wall climbing in Yosemite – he’s also seen my poor attempts at Pinnacle. We’ll make a great team obviously. The others decide to head to the Pass with it’s history and mountain routes whilst Dale and I, Team Northampton, head to Gogarth, ignoring possible rain forecasts in return for seacliffs and quartzite. Anglesey isn’t new to me, I’ve climbed on Holyhead Mountain more than once and I actually like the rock, however sea cliff climbing would be new to me. I’d once abbed down to the start of Commando Ridge at Bosigran with my lad but he got nervous and we scrambled back up.
My turn to be nervous as Dale fixed the abseil rope and I stuck the velcro down on the new Bandits. ‘Man, they hurt’ and then it was my turn to follow Dale over the edge. The nerves washed away as the sea came nearer and the odd splashes of rain we’d felt in the car park disappear along with the cliff top. This was Gogarth South Stack and the first climb was to be Lighthouse Arete VS 4c – Dale asked if I wanted to lead the first pitch, a traverse of Severe grade but having never seen a traverse pitched properly, I felt I might learn more from seconding. Soon we were stood at the top, drinking water and having a few bites to eat and I was enjoying Gogarth. Atlantis was next, or rather the first pitch and this was a whole step up in climbing trad for me. HVS 5a, a corner that was vertical and the sea was coming in, utterly oblivious to my existence and it added a touch of spice to the climb. Dale had made it to about halfway and someone decided to abb down the route, no dramas, they couldn’t see him from their position and a few shouts and gestures soon sorted the situation. My turn. I was glad of the Bandits, the footholds seemed small, as did the holds. I had disco leg. A word with myself, sort the foot position and it was gone, crisis over. At the belay ledge I breathed deeply and felt like I’d actually climbed properly for the first time, in control and never wondering what the hell was I doing there. At that moment nothing else mattered, just me, my new shoes, a new climbing partner in Dale and of course the star of the show… Gogarth.
Abbing back down from the halfway belay ledge to do the first pitch of Northwest Passage, I leant out to abb down and realised someone was getting onto the top of the rope – the cliff was getting busier and it was wise to keep your eye on the ball. Down I went, up Dale went and I followed. It was about now that I realised I may have struggled with the climbing if I’d have been using my old shoes, as they were too soft and flexible to grip to the, at times, tiny edges I was trusting my feet on. The Evolvs are meant to be a fairly comfortable shoe in Bandit style and whilst they were causing more pain than I was used to, the gains to be had more than made up for any discomfort. The red matched the zips on my trousers, style to outstrip Westwood.
We sat on the belay ledge holding conversations with randoms and Gogarth captured my heart. I used to surf a few years back, and spent more than a while playing on a jetski and following a motorboat on a ski or two. Water meant a lot to me in those days and here I was, waves crashing, sun shining, chatting climbing. Content? Never more so. I did wonder how little old me, the young lad from Oldham who dreamt of being an astronaut and climbing Everest had ended up here. Content I was. My feet however were not. Ouch.
I watched a climber head out on an E2 traverse, sketchy it looked and Dale said he fancied climbing that one day as he’d not been on that route. Quickly, now the climber had moved off, we set the belay up and Dale lead cleanly across and then up the E1 5b pitch of NW Passage. Now, I’ve been on and followed on E1 before but this was vertical and had a bit of a traverse, in other words it wasn’t a soft touch with me not being the stongest of climbers. In my head I repeated over and over to myself ‘trust the feet and climb with them’. Some of the gear took an age and an effort to remove, DMM offsets are not a second’s best friends. but I never sat on the rope, pulled on the gear, slipped or felt out of my depth. The hand traverse was dispatched without fear and tiny foot placements felt as secure as a step. Thank you Evolv, my new Bandits cut the mustard.
Dale was happy enough, happy with the weather, the climbing and me I guess. Enough to ask if I fancied seconding the E2 and whilst I knew I was climbing well enough, we’d climbed maybe 180m of mostly vertical quartzite and I was pushing my limits, not knackered yet but I couldn’t be far off. The offer was declined but it won’t be forgotten. We wandered round to have a look at Dream of White Horses, a classic climb if ever there was and it looked every bit a 3* route.
My Bandits? They’re still a torture instrument but are wearing well at the wall despite my shoddy footwork and even tho I’ve had the Sportivas resoled, I won’t be going backwards. More on the Evolvs as the time passes.