As I sit here and write this, the first of the big Autumn storms is skittering through the Devon countryside, indiscriminately battering everything in its path and reminding us of the long winter months and the probable frustrations ahead. I suppose we’re better off than the surfers, but in terms of having our (outside) fun stymied, South Western climbers have to put up with more than our fair share of annoyances. The moorland granite is pretty hopeless in the heat, yet is blustery and exposed when it cools down, often painfully so. The woodland bouldering, in contrast, is very sheltered but can get so humid if the Atlantic is feeding our air, that it can take a while to dry out.
Our limestone, is generally not steep enough to offer shelter from the rain (Chudleigh, Daddyhole, Long Quarry Point) or, if it is, it invariably seeps through the Winter months (Torbryan, Empire Wall, Sanctuary Wall, The Great Cave on The Old Redoubt). Hazard Quarry used to offer a good alternative as it is sheltered and rarely seeps but then some bright spark decided to sue the landowner and, unsurprisingly, climbing is no longer permitted there. Nice one mate! Until recently, that has left just a small part of Anstey’s as a wet weather alternative but, seeing as most of what is suitable is on the Ferocity Wall, only superheroes can take full advantage. In the past, the best advice would have been to bite the bullet and get yourselves indoors whilst simultaneously buying your ticket to Kalymnos.
It turns out, though, that there was an alternative all along….
Last December I hooked up with Toby Dunn for a day’s climbing. He was keen to go to Torbryan but I was dubious that it would be in condition given the amount of wet weather we had recently had to endure. As I am lucky enough to live only a couple of minutes away, I popped down to take a butchers and, sure enough, the crag was sodden. Water was running off the flowstone in places and the entire wall was glistening or worse. However, all was not lost! I managed to persuade Toby to head to Churston instead…and we had a very enjoyable day climbing on bone dry rock. I would have been very surprised if our other options that day had extended much beyond La Creme or More Steam, Bigger Women. However, somehow (despite being only slightly overhanging), the crags in Churston seem to be remarkably well protected from the rain. I was there only last Saturday in steady drizzle, getting pretty damp on the belay admittedly, yet Krushmi Chheda was dry enough to get all the moves (re)sorted. As it takes no significant seepage either, it has become evident over the course of the last year that Churston may be what Devon has needed all along – a dry option in the winter. It is the crag that just keeps on giving, maybe someday soon it will spin round 180 degrees and face South!
On that day with Toby we started off at Sugar Mountain but quickly scooted round to the Supercaloric Quarry as I wanted to show him the recently climbed See-Saw Sundays (on the Redstone Cliff) and I was keen to check out a new line to its left. We had a play on a top rope and through the mud, sand and dust the makings of another (admittedly rough) diamond began to shine through. It was hard to ascertain exactly how the route would eventually climb as there was so much cleaning that still needed to be done on the line, but it was evident that it would not be easy. The lower crux involved matching a very unhelpful sloper through slightly overhanging rock and launching to a distant and slopey edged pocket. Movement needed to be precise yet dynamic – something I am not particularly adept at doing! Beyond this a larger bulge loomed but the holds were relatively helpful and although this section too was somewhat dynamic in nature, it was clear that the line was feasible. A further tricky boulder problem led to the top but, as there was a rest prior to doing this part, the upper section was unlikely to get in the way of a potential ascent!
I left that day feeling excited that See-Saw Sundays would be gaining a companion of similar quality in the not too distant future and soon returned to give the route a proper clean. A couple more top-ropes and with the positioning of the bolts worked out I was feeling more and more confident that the line would go pretty quickly…and then I pulled the right hand hold off the bulge on the upper crux. I was gutted. What had previously been a nice positive gaston was now a rounded, slopey edge – still technically a gaston but only if you used your imagination! The route now seemed miles away (just like the hold you need to latch from the gaston!). I tried the move maybe a dozen times on the top-rope and managed it on one occasion but I knew that I had had a significant amount of tension in the rope and that I hadn’t really been close.
But, unusually for me, I didn’t give up on the route and gradually, over a few sessions, I began to get the move to work. I could hit the hold maybe once out of every four or five goes and admittedly, that was straight off the rope, but there was hope at least! And as my muscle memory kicked in, my success rate increased to maybe one in three and I began piecing together the redpoint…the problem being that I now had to do the move having done about 15ft of hard climbing below it. However, as is so often the case, the little refinements and adjustments you make as you get to know a route well (and just feeling comfortable and calm in what becomes familiar surroundings) makes such a difference that it wasn’t all that long before I was through the crux and excitedly pulling the (still demanding) last few moves to the lower off. With a whoop of delight, Salami Wall came into being and, although I initially gave the route 7c+ (limited) consensus seems to be that it’s nearer to 8a…I still have my doubts but the grade will settle down with repeat ascents and, regardless, it’s a fine piece of climbing and a worthy neighbour to See-Saw Sundays.
Whilst Salami Wall has been the undoubted highlight of the year’s climbing at Churston, a few other pitches have also been added, the best of which is the R side of the arete of Aretez-Vous on a new cliff in the Jungleland Quarry to the east of Sugar Mountain. Metalwasp (6c+) is a fine addition to the climbing at Churston and heralds the opening of another sector. Churston now has 21 sports routes (not including Roar Like Sushi, Warpath, The Invisible Man, Aretez Vous, There She Blows and A Moment Spent Talking – these all currently have ancient fixed gear but are all ostensibly sports climbs already and will all, hopefully, be restored to their former glory in the not too distant future, although the first two may have to wait a little longer due to a pair of nesting peregrines setting up camp just above the wall).
The climbing developments at Churston have been hugely exciting to be part of over the last year and a half, but the renaissance of the Seven Quarries does not end there! Duncan Kenny has recently taken over the role of custodian of the quarries and his tireless and visionary approach has begun to transform the place. Alongside Colin Pottinger, Adam Kent and, no doubt, a band of others, ivy has been stripped off some of the other cliffs and trees, litter has been removed, designated fire areas have been set up and a shelter has been built complete with solar lighting and, to cap it all, a pizza oven made the very finest Torbay mud and stone. The Tide project as it is known is a really positive initiative and will lead to a managed, clean and safe (but still wild) environment which everyone can enjoy and, hopefully, respect! Amen to that!