‘Keep Portland weird’, the bumper sticker says it all really.
It had only been a couple of weeks since the successful Craggers family trip to the Isle and here I was again, this time camping in the grounds of the YHA.
When you are invited to an AGM your first reaction is probably not to shout with excitement and punch the air for joy even if it is the 70th. Anniversary year of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). So it was probably with this in mind that the BMC were offering the chance for members to climb with the UK’s top climbers, Steve McClure and James McHaffie.
Craggers is a member of the BMC and it is important that we provide both support and input to the organisation.
I arrived late Friday afternoon, pitched my tent and walked up to the Heights Hotel for the welcome speech delivered by the BMC president, Scot Titt. This was followed by a Portland briefing by Neal Heames, the access rep for Portland, which covered history, geology restrictions on certain crags because of bird nesting and the damage done by the recent storms.
The evening concluded with illustrated talks, by Steve McClure and James McHaffie. The talks were really inspirational and made us all want to get out on the rock. I walked back with a couple of fellow campers and tried to sleep as gale force winds shook my tent.
The next morning we walked up to the hotel for registration followed by a Q and A with the BMC executive. Then the serious part of the weekend, the AGM. It all went smoothly, elections, accepting minutes and accounts etc. until it came to the proposed increase in membership fees, which caused plenty of debate. On behalf of Craggers I asked why, although there were discounts for students and under 18’s, there were no discounts for unemployed/unwaged people. They said there was for individual members but they could not give an acceptable reply as to why there was no discount for club members.
I had made a packed lunch and ate it while watching a fascinating demonstration on the art of bolting climbing routes.
Some people went for a walk around the island and I wandered off to the meeting point at the museum and then to the Cuttings for my masterclass. The Cuttings are actually that - the walls had been cut to allow a train line to pass underneath; white rock on one side and a drop to the sea on the other.
The climbs are immediately intimidating, huge white overhanging walls, three times higher than the ones I had done with the group a couple of weeks earlier and much steeper and harder. We split into two groups of six and I did my climbs under the guidance of James. It was great but very cold and the wind forced us to wear every item of clothing we had brought with us. We all climbed as hard as we could and I was surprised that I could climb harder than I thought I could. After three hours we were all tired and as we started to pack up at 5.30 a couple of flakes of snow melted on my hand.
We were all ravenously hungry but had to wait at the hotel until 7.30 and the presentation of the George Band Award for Outstanding Voluntary Contribution, before we could dive into the free buffet. This year's award recipient was John Innerdale OBE, for his services to the BMC and mountain heritage. John made a short speech recollecting his time with George Band and the work of the Mountain Heritage Trust (MHT).
Satisfied after the meal and the conversation, I left shortly after 9pm missing out on ‘The Devils Rejects’ a ‘pirate, punk, folk’ band which was providing the evenings entertainment.
At the door of the hotel I almost regretted my decision to leave as the rain hammered down. The downpour had washed white mud onto the very steep footpath and transformed it into a waterfall of what looked like fast flowing milk.
It rained heavily throughout the night and although the intensity and frequency of the showers had lessened by the morning, we were not hopeful about getting any climbing in. By the time we had scrambled down to the west coast venue, under the guidance of Steve we were all caked in mud. This part of the coast had been devastated by the winter’s storms. We could see huge landslips and the base of many of the climbs were three metres lower now.
It was all rather distracting, balancing on a steep muddy slope, making sure that our kit and ourselves did not tumble down to the rocks below or into the sea.
My first, warm up, climb was actually a grade harder than I had been climbing the day before. It was overhanging all the way which had kept the first half of the climb dry but as the rain blew onto the rock the good holds became rather soapy. The ropes became muddier and heavier and out clothes wetter and filthier as the day went on but we had all had a fantastic time, a great day and a wonderful weekend.
Everything had been free except the accommodation (I chose the cheapest option – camping), so thank you and happy anniversary BMC, long may you continue.