We had had three weekly training sessions at the huge new climbing walls of Withdean Sport Centre in October before we left on Saturday the 25th, traveling all day to Gunnislake, Cornwall, very near Devon where in fact we did most of the climbing.
Tony had already advice us to watch some getting to climb basics on http://tv.thebmc.co.uk/ .
In Withdean Centre, Becci and Alice taught us under Tony’s supervision and we were teaching and checking each others in the Craggers’ way to enhance your learning by teaching others.
The first thing was to learn how to belay a climber, in other terms assure the safety of a climbing climber. The key steps are:
1-Both climber and belayer put their harness on (a quick way to remember where we put our legs is to make sure that the name of the harness’ make on the waist’s and legs’ loops is on the backside).
2-The climber attaches the rope to the harness (Making a figure-of-eight+ passing the end of the rope in the waist belt and the leg loops+rethreading it along the figure-of-eight knot+ finishing it off with a stop-a-knot).
3-The belayer threads the loop of rope through a belay device making sure to understand its shape when passing the rope over the grooves+ pass the loop into a carabiner carefully closed.
4-The belayer asks the climber “Climb when ready” and the climber answers “Climbing!”. 5-The belayer has both hands on the rope while accompanying the move of the rope upwards with the external hand directed towards the ground in order to avoid a sudden move caused by a fall. The belayer pays constant attention to the moves of the climber, making sure the rope is tensed as a slight smile to support an eventual short fall rather than too tight and preventing the climber to move easily.
On the side of the climber, a key point I understood in the training is that we climb with our legs pushing and our arms stretching under the weight of our body -and quickly pulling- rather than always pulling with tensed muscles. Climbing felt much less tiring after that. I really identified with monkeys!
A part from that we learnt how to tie a clove hitch to anchors attached to the wall by a previous climber. You are supposed to undo them as you are climbing and after attaching to the next anchor.
Abseiling is going down after a climb. The belayer asks again “Ready” and the climber says “ready”. When abseiling we need to stay face to the wall and push it gently with our legs in a regular bouncing way.
At Becci’s one evening, we learned how to make out of a piece of ordinary cord a little accessory that can be useful on different occasions: it is called a Prussik loop and is made with a double fisherman’s knot.
We also discovered there was a self-belaying rope (only one) in the Withdean Sport Centre with which you can climb alone as it is constantly pulling under the ground mechanically with a kind of elasticity. It is fun!
On the Saturday evening, our little group (Tony, Becci, Malcolm, my daughter Juline -7 and the only child of the group!- and me) spoke about hypothermia in relation to the need to wear under wears (in wool or breathing synthetic material) that don’t stay wet when we sweat, like cotton. This danger of the body getting too cold leading to dysfunctions of the brain and possibly to death made me anxious and troubled my sleep. I realised afterwards that I didn’t need to be so worried as finally we had a mixture of underwears -not all in cotton!-. I was also used to listen to my body and play with different layers to monitor the passage of air so that the first layers dry easily. I could pass that onto my daughter. I paid more attention that we listen to our thirst and bring and drink enough water.
Sunday the 26th
Our driver Becci needed to rest after the long drive of the day before. So it was decided to take it easy as it was also quite misty.
In the morning we discovered the colourful climbing wall of the Delaware Outdoor Education Centre (where we slept on comfy mattress 1 or 2 per dormitories of 8 people), specially designed for children.
We trained in climbing, belaying, coiling a rope and taking care of the precious tool (not to say being) by checking the smoothness of its sheathes (rolling it all along between our fingers), using special bags to carry them and putting them on the ground to prevent mud, sand, water to damage it.
In the afternoon, we had a fantastic walk in the local wood though the mist was still there. We discovered wild plants we could eat, like navel wart, hairy bittercress (I put some in the salad in the evening), fuschia fruits, wood sorrel…
We found a pixy head shaped geo-cache hidden at the basis of a trunk and wrote in it the date of the day on a little list following the example of previous people. A geo-cache is a small waterproof treasure box hidden and normally locatable through a GPS enabled device.
All along the walk, we collected so many chestnuts besides noticing various kinds of mushrooms that Juline called the walk the Chestnuts walk and we had a chestnuts diner.
Monday the 27th
It is in a surrealist way that after half-an-hour car ride we discovered the Sheep’s Tor where we were supposed to experience a first climb.
Not only a thick fog surrounded the van but it had started to rain. It was particularly dramatic, following leaders regularly disappearing, to climb a flat slope making sure not to fall on one of the numerous grey little rocks. They were though surrounded by an also visible (from the height of our head) attractively green comfy moth you would dream of for a hut carpet. We could also feel as in a dream when the silhouette of a sheep or a pony showed as still as the stones between two veils of mist. It made huge the sudden appearing of the Sheep’s Tor out of the fog all the more impressive it seemed to surge out of nowhere. It looked as solid as ancient with its roundish square angles.
The rain stopped then came back and pour more and more water over our waterproof suits which were also making a crumpling noise under the pressure of a regular wind getting stronger and stronger.
I really understood then the need of waterproof suits, shoes and gaiters to cope with any weather British conditions.
Because of the rain making the rock slippery, instead of climbing we trained in placing gears in the cracks of a rock and taking them off. We learned about nuts, hexes, cam, spring loading (a caming device), nut keys, slings, bandoulieres, quick draw…
On our way back home early in the afternoon, we took the opportunity to visit Tavistock, birth place of Francis Drake, with its famous canal and abbey.
Alice and Andrew arrived at the train station in the evening and we had a nice diner all together.
Tuesday the 28th
We came back to the Sheep’s Tor where we spent the day. This time we could see it when we came out of the van but the mist was still there and played all around hide-and-seek with us, the sheep, the ponies, the rocks and even some cows.
Every one had a climb except Juline who played jumping on rocks and building imaginary houses… Some people made trad lead routes. I did my first climb on a really big rock and my first undoing of gears along a trad lead route.
We came back home in a dense mist.
In the evening, we learned how to apply something that we discussed the previous evening: when poor Alice cut her finger with a blender to make a nice soup, Tony repaired the skin with super glue under the approval and control of mum and nurse Becci. We learned that it was safe as soon as the super glue (which was created for this purpose at the origin) was no more than one year old and that it doesn’t hurt at all (!).
Wednesday the 29th
Fourth day of mist with a bit of sun rays. It was decided it will be a calm one with Alice needing to rest and study.
In the morning, some training on the indoor climbing wall around Juline.
We did some warming exercises (stretching the neck muscles, making circles around the articulations, swinging arms across the chest, running around and knees up) then Juline belayed her bear before climbing herself.
We also studied seriously navigation around Tony.
In the afternoon, Tony, Andrew and Malcolm did some navigation in a local walk while I went to Tavistock with Juline to do some shopping and more visiting.
Thursday the 30th
Another full day of mist. Direction the Dartmoor for a big walk in the bog. We would not be defeated by this apparently fatal weather as the light hearted ambiance showed.
This was the perfect condition to apply what we had learnt with Tony about navigation, the art to take information in order to go where we want to go.
Things we had learnt:
-There are three North(!): The true one (direction of a Meridian of longitude converging on the North Pole), the grid North (on the 2 dimensional maps generally orientated vertically towards the North) and the changing magnetic one (direction the compass red hand points), which is linked with the changing distribution of water and ice on Earth (I made my research here). The declination angle between the true North and the magnetic one is such at the moment that we need to adjust between 1°16’ and 1°19’ to add “from the grid to the mag” or to get rid “from the mag to the grid” (it rimes).
-England is divided by the Ordnance survey into 10km2 squares designated by 2 letters. They are called grid squares and appear on maps in dotted lines.
-The standard speed of someone walking with a small backbag at a normal pace is 5km per hour or 10m per mn. Knowing our personal pace (the number of steps we need to make 10m) allows us to measure distances with our steps. It’s like a personal meter! Unfortunately right now I don’t remember mine now! Just need more experience.
-Ticking features is essential to visualize our way with orientating the map in the direction corresponding to our position.
-The best compass is a flat bearing compass includes other features like a rule and a cord-which combined help to measure the length of an itinerary.
Everyone left the parking with a compass and a map of the Great Staple Tor and the Middle Staple Tor surroundings under waterproof cover.
Split in two teams (female and male) we searched for stone huts or their remainings in the middle of beautiful landscape where wandered sheep, ponies and cows here and there. The sun rays went through the mist one or twice in a beautiful way. The quiet race (that the women won) ended with the founding of half-a-dozen of large edible mushrooms that Tony cooked for us in the evening with garlic. The second team was welcome at the van on the front window by the skull of a young sheep we had found on the way back near scattered sheep bones, large bits of fur and… some fox pooh. All the ingredients for an animal detective story.
I really felt warmth in the group all along the walk despite Alice and Juline got wet feet. On the way to a local pub to warm up, we even stopped and visit a possibly mystic pre-roman misty place made out of stone rows and standing stones that Becci had located in the region in advance.
The day ended in watching the film called The Wild Project, that aims to promote Nature in all possible ways through the action of a father of 2 young children.
Friday the 31st
The most beautiful sunny day despite being the Halloween one. It was fortunately a climbing one in the most enchanted surrounding of a Dewerstone forest crossed by a dynamic river.
A bunch of cut flowers showed us first that the huge vertical rocks were not without danger. While Tony led a trad route, we carved a beautiful pumpkin for the Halloween evening and had our picnic.
We ended in climbing 50m vertical rocks with Juline at the head of a team of three with Becci and me. After experiencing several hours like deer the forest from inside filtering the sun rays, we attended from the top of the rock bird view a beautiful whitish sunset above an ocean of red- brown trees.
In the evening, we had the Halloween evening party Juline was looking forward, with candles, soup, handmade potatoes crips, blueberry cake and Clairette de Die (for the grown-ups). We played the game Intuition that Alice and Andrew won in an incredible way and told a spooky story by improvising in turn in a circle. It ended with the Mushroom song, that Juline had made up during the Thursday walk with Becci and that she sang loudly not on but under the table and that says:
“There was 4 little mushrooms sitting on a tree
One fell off and bumped his knee
And then the other ones said: “Hi,hi,hi…”
And there was only 3 little mushromms.
3 little mushroom sitting on a tree
2 jumped off with lots of glee
Then the other one said ‘Be careful there!’
Ad fell off by his chair, yeah!”
The 1st of November was the day of the ride back home that Becci did in a record time.
We left at 8.30am and arrived at 3pm.
Hélène -3rd of March 2015