Ali last met Mike, Paul and Chris in March 2012 when they booked on a Learn to Lead Trad Course. They have been busy since then, mainly in Avon gorge, developing their confidence and experience. Mike is definitely the driving force of the team, and is supportive and encouraging at all times. Paul – newly engaged didn’t make it this time but Rich joined the team to make up the New Look Musketeers. Both Chris and Rich are pilots with Ryanair, but Ali didn’t hold this against them and just treated them like regular guys!
Day 1 was a bit of a refresher looking at placing gear, rope management and lead belaying. Rich, the least experienced, led the 1st pitch of Right Hand Route at Wintours Leap, with Ali alongside him secured on an abseil rope. With a few suggestions his top rope belaying improved and he brought Mike and Chris up on the two half ropes in parallel – the two climbers moving about 10 feet apart. Chris led the 2nd pitch, he found the route tricky in a couple of places but Ali was on hand to place gear above and give Chris the confidence to make the moves which he did easily.
Again Chris improved his top rope belaying and learnt more about stance management. Mike, the most experienced led the bold 3rd pitch – only 2 pegs, but the second peg you can back up with a cam, and found it ‘thrilling’. The team set up the ab and did their first ‘BIG’ abseil. Strangely Mike and Rich don’t like abseiling but Chris loves it. At this point the heavens opened and they looked at assisted hoists under cover of the trees before calling it a day.
The weather was much kinder on Day 2. They arrived at the base of Central Rib Route 1, decided on who was leading pitch 1, organised the ropes and gear without any faffing and Rich set off. He found the first move the crux, but was encouraged and spotted from below and soon reached the stance 24m up. A long pitch. Although there is a nice big tree on the stance Rich was ‘discouraged’ from using it and built a belay from 3 cams!! equalising them into a central point. He then brought Mike and Chris up in parallel.
The advantage with climbing in parallel is the whole process takes less time and if the more confident second climbs first he can help the other climber over the difficult moves. Mike climbed the 2nd, corner pitch (Chris didn’t fancy it), but once Mike had set up the belay Ali gave him her guide plate and showed him how to use it; taking in on either or both ropes, how it locks off if someone falls off with all the weight going onto the belay, and how to lower one or both off. He thought it was amazing and was going to buy one immediately. Rich obligingly fell off a couple of times to give Mike the confidence to use the device effectively. Mike even lowered Rich a couple of feet, much to Rich’s disgust. ‘Don’t lower me too far, I don’t want to climb it again’ was his retort.
The final pitch of the day was down to Chris, a reluctant leader who prefers to second.
They all gave him the choice but encouraged him to lead and once he’d made his decision, he rose to the challenge. He led the pitch in good style with only a small helping hand over the crux, a delicate traverse in quite an exposed position. As he topped out he was also ‘discouraged’ from using the tree as a belay by Ali and excelled himself with a belay a long way back, but brought himself back to the edge to belay, by tying off through his rope loops without any prompting. He was very pleased with himself and was proud of his achievements as was Ali with all of them. ‘Thank you very much, it was a fantastic few days. Chris text me last night assuring me he had a really good time and he wants to keep going….Just have to convince him to keep leading.’ Michael King