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The Quarry Man - Steve McClure

 
The Quarry Man - Steve McClure
 
May 30, 2011 - 
 

This route is the stuff of legends! And climbed by the legend Johnny Dawes. Blasted into fame in the film Stone Monkey with a Zappa sound track that elevated the route above every other in the quarries. Even the simple name blatantly indicates that this isn’t just another slab or wall. This is THE masterpiece, climbing out from the biggest hole via the biggest challenges.

 

This route is the stuff of legends! And climbed by the legend Johnny Dawes. Blasted into fame in the film Stone Monkey with a Zappa sound track that elevated the route above every other in the quarries. Even the simple name blatantly indicates that this isn’t just another slab or wall. This is THE masterpiece, climbing out from the biggest hole via the biggest challenges.

I’ve wanted to try it for years, but it’s not something to casually walk up to. For a start there needs to be a willing partner, someone with the same desire. And the weather needs to be right; slate is instantly wet with a drop of rain and good edges become useless in the sun. With 6 days in Llanberis with Neil Mawson on the Marmot Rock Trip this was my chance.

Climbing the route in a day was something we dreamt up just recently, an extension of just climbing it in any style. Maybe that was just because no one had yet managed it, with most people going back to finish off individual pitches on separate days. Pete Robins was really close but the weather was against him, and he returned for just the top pitch, though I have no doubt he, and others, could have climbed the whole thing in a day if they could be bothered.

The real challenge, which is still to be done, is to climb the whole thing in a SINGLE day. In retrospect we foolishly dismissed this as unfeasible, we never really considered it, and our attack on the route was rather feeble, starting late, not viewing the video and getting almost no advice. It was also baking in the sun, so a late start, or more professionally, a super early start was really essential. Our main mistake was totally underestimating the first pitch. Both of us for some reason just thought it would be a warm up! My flash go was rubbish, and continuing up placing RP’s with long run-outs took ages, especially with that ‘first go’ fire totally extinguished! We had both abbed into the bottom of the route at 1pm, and we were both still there, with no pitch ticked, at 4.30pm!

Looking up the groove pitch at nearly 7pm was pretty intimidating. We knew we were out of time, but in a day was never really the objective. Really, we just wanted to get it sorted for a lead today, and already that was not gonna happen. After sketching up the first pitch at solid E6 6c (7c+) I wasn’t even sure I could do that again!

The Quarryman is really all about the famous groove pitch. An incredible natural feature; huge in both stature and status. Intimidating as hell! Entering the groove is the easy bit, but requires faith in poor footholds and contortionist moves. Then it all starts, or ends! The holds certainly end. Slate is famously smooth but the side walls of this groove seem to have been buffed to a sheen. Upward progress is the same as on a diff chimney, but somewhat harder! It’s all pushing, all of it. Within seconds the whole body is sweating and breathing sounds like you’ve sprinted the 200m. Then some holds come, all kind of in the wrong place, and actually barely any really, but at least it’s a chance to pull!

We both thrutched our way up the groove. A lead looked very unlikely. But I went for it and somehow made it past all the pushing expending all my energy in about 3 minutes. Breathing hard before the last hard move I realised I had no sequence, I hadn’t done this bit! Making it up as I went I seemed to be sliding down more than going up. Then an unlikely sequence started to come together, all bridging, smearing and palming right on the limit of friction. The finish hold was in reach. But the rule of slate is never over-stretch, keep it together. I over-stretched and my body collapsed out of the groove as contact from every limb disappeared.

Neil had a thorough go too, breaking triceps and legs, but we were out of time, darkness requiring a rapid jug up the abseil rope. Thank God it was there!

So, close. Maybe. But actually failing on the groove was only a good thing. I was out of time for the last pitch regardless, but if I’d been left with only this one I’d probably have come back for only this. Now, with the groove and the top still to do, it made sense to go for the whole route in a day, both leading every pitch from ground to top. So we set off amongst showers at a more considered time, and were both back again, staring up the groove pitch earlier than we’d even started the first pitch on our first effort! It was still equally desperate though. I went straight for it, and expended an entire fried breakfast before getting my feet too high and actually pushing myself downwards! I flopped off. Anyway, I needed to know what to do at the top of this pitch, because if I ever made it through the start again I definitely didn’t want to fluff the top! Next go was just as desperate, but somehow the belay appeared. I don’t think it ever gets easy! I’ve climbed 8c in shorter time and with less effort!

Neil needed a bunch of goes, the initial moves harder for him being taller. But eventually he nailed it but would have probably needed a few breakfasts for the amount of effort! I appreciated the rest! And the last pitch, famously desperate, UK 7a and described as ‘your mates big lead’, was almost a disappointment as I flashed it first go, making up a sequence on the spot. But that took nothing away from the elation. This is more than a route. I’d become a quarryman!

All that was left was for Neil to bang it out too. But it was not to be. Another short persons move, and by the time he’d figured the sequence his skin was gone. With one last shot he set off from the belay crimping and stretching on the wafer holds to within inches of glory, but only to be stopped by a flapper. A very definite end for sure! I owe him a belay. On a route like that there is no worries about going back!

 

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