Back to Basics – Operation Shambolic – Bats Head

I’ve just been down to the south coast of England to attempt a new route on a cliff of chalk called Bats Head. I first heard about Bats Head when I was chatting to legendary climber, alpinist and choss monster Mick Fowler in a pub. He sent me some photos, but the best images were to be found on the Southampton University Website.

Anyway, Mick climbed the alpine-esque ridge line, but we (knowing nothing about Chalk) preferred the look of a steep overhanging groove in the middle of the face, rising vertically up from a cool looking sea arch. A preposterous line on a preposterous cliff. A chance meeting in the pub the night prior to leaving saw us chatting with Adam Wainwright, who had partnered Mick Fowler on the ridge. He said our chances were slim. We were psyched.

To cut a long story short, Rob Greenwood, George Ullrich and myself faffed around on this disintegrating choss pile for a day and a half, and in retrospect we had seriously underestimated the medium of chalk. All three of us are experienced choss climbers, having done between us I would say literally hundreds of routes on the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales. Bats Head was in a different league. This was the first time I have been on a ledge, with every item of climbing hardware in production strapped to my harness, and been unable to build a body-weight belay.

Anyway, we had a brilliant laugh. George slept in a cabbage patch. We all got drunk. We ripped off huge pieces of chalk. Rob learnt how to row. George punctured our rubber dingy with a warthog. We all fell in the sea.  And we failed to climb any part of the route, in any style.

After getting back to Llanberis at 4am, having driven the length of the country for no good reason, pretty damn tired, we all vowed to return. But perhaps not for a while.

What did strike me as quite interesting about this trip was how it showed me that rock climbing is a fundamentally ridiculous and pointless pastime. And climbing chalk is on the very fringe of this pastime. There are no grades to describe the route we attempted, and there are no ethics or styles to consider here. There’s no beta. There’s no rehearsal. There’s just a cliff, and three men in a boat. And then the boat sank.

Rob Greenwood getting ready to not climb anything

Bats Head. We attempted to climb the vertical groove coming out of the small sea cave on the left of the cliff.
After falling in the sea with all your rack on, it’s best to rinse it off. And give yourself a cold shower as well, just in case.

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