Monday, 2 November 2015


Hanging in my harness, I felt sick.  My body was in shut down.  Sore head, sore throat, basically a little sniffle aka man flu, I should have been in my bed.  Instead I gave Strawberries an onsight/flash attempt. What a disaster.

Strawberries was already topic of conversation before Robin and I even reached the A9 (it only takes 5 minutes from the house).  When I lived in North Wales during 2012, I never quite got round to getting on the route.  Probably because climbing at Tremadog is hard.  I remember having a ‘V Day’ with Dave Rudkin and I was shocked at how hard the E4’s were.  Void warmed us up. Vulcan, I slipped off but did it ground up next go.  Vector was a welcome rest. Valor was no a push over. Vulture, how I never fell off in the fading light I will never know.  Dave kindly lead Venom and seconding that I only just managed.  After ‘V Day’, I only ever went back to Tremadog for work.

Dave Evans and Emma Tywford did Strawberries last year and that set my North Wales FOMO alarm bells off.  Convinced I would take time off work and go down, I never did and Scotland came up with the goods.  Then earlier this year, I noticed Tom Livingstone and Ed Booth ticked Strawberries and there was another resurgence in my FOMO.  I don’t know what the attraction is.  I guess its just one of these old school, hard iconic routes with lots of history for being notoriously hard to onsight that attracted me.  Binning our alpine plans for various reasons, Robin Thomas and I decided to go on a UK rock trip and cash in on the Indian summer.

Strawberries route description from the old guide.

Annoyingly, I woke up the day before our departure with a sore throat, head and body.  Anyway, I figured I would recover whilst we travelled south.  Warming up on the ‘Atomic Finger Flake/Void connection’ I was reminded of the Tremadog climbing Style.  Conveniently a climber from The Lakes was there top roping Strawberries.  I watched him for a bit.  He red pointed later with the lots of runners in place.  That played havoc with my mind.  Fuck, it must be hard.  I shied away not feeling on top form.  His comment to me was, ‘it’s hard, you just need to keep moving quickly on it’.  Robin encouraged me into having a shot.  So I did.  We rapped in and yes I kept my eyes shut. 

Leaving the belay, I could just feel the weight of the route on my shoulders.  Feeling nervous, flustered and clearing my nose; this not ideal preparation.  I fell off right at the start like a complete punter.  Just not feeling focused.  In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened.  It just blew all the nerves out of me.  Back to the belay, I pulled my ropes.  Back on,  this time I managed to get up to the top of the crack.  Looking down I had 10 runners in place.  Once I found a poor resting position, Robin commented on how pretty my quickdraw display looked.  Clawing desperately to stay on, I attempted to make the moves left.  I fell off.  I was wasted with nothing left to give.  A ground up siege was not part of my plan as a weak visiting climber on holiday.  If I lived local, things might be different.  Pulling back on, I sussed out the next few moves.  I saw a bomber walnut 1 slot but was unable to place it so I fell back onto my last piece of gear.  Sitting there, I prepared a quickdraw with a walnut 1.  Back up, eyeballing the slot I managed to get the quickdraw off my harness, place the wire then get both hands grasping the quickdraw.  There was no way I was clipping off that left arm.  It was totally fucked.  Clearly, I was at the crux of the route.  Working it out, I got to the top.  Rapping it to get the gear out, I didn’t know what to make of it.  Will I bother?

We had an active rest day bouldering in the Pass, doing ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ and walking about with a big rucksack.  Robin had been keen for Pretty Girls.  Despite telling me he was too weak and unfit, he walked up it.  Back to Tremadog the following day, Robin lowered me into Strawberries.  I had to work out the crack and decide what gear to place and not place.  It felt desperate despite managing to climb it the other day.  The sun came out, so we went off and Robin decided to battle with the ‘Groove of Horror’.  Not a route to try in the baking heat.  Back to Strawberries in the shade, I top roped it twice cleanly.  Fuck!  I might as well give it a shot.  Sitting on top of the crag whilst Robin rapped in to construct a belay, I had my head in my hands.  Sore throat, sore skin, a little cough.  I went into negative psyche.  But I had to give it a shot.

Robin bouldering at the Cromlech Boulders

Robin cruising up Pretty Girls Make Graves

Leaving the belay, I was instantly pumped and a shaking mess.  I seriously did not want to be there.  I got some gear sorted then reversed to the belay.  Then off I went, the whole way up I was shaking, messing hand sequences, I could hear the advice from the Lakes bloke ‘….. you just need to keep moving quickly on it’.  So I did.  What a mistake.  An absolute mistake!  I kept moving, never shaking out.  This is not how I climb.  I managed to climb up the crack, move left do the crux and chuck with my left hand for the edge and off I went.  Airborne, I greeted Robin who was suddenly next to me.  Ripping a flapper out of my finger and darkness just round the corner, enough was enough.  Rain all day on Wednesday meant an enforced rest day.  We had a cup of tea in the Caban which shafted my bank account.  But that’s another blog post in itself.

Robin on 'Groove of Horror'


Thursday, I felt better.  Fresh skin, good sleep and my little sniffle on its way out.  What could go wrong?  Everything was wet.  Lowering into Strawberries, the whole crux was soaking.  My heart sank.  Chalking and brushing the holds, I just made a mess.  However, feeling fresh I climbed the crux each time despite wet holds.  Then I top roped it from the start and it felt fine.  Psychologically I just couldn't get on it with a soaking crux.  Robin suggest stuffing my t shirt somewhere to absorb the moisture.  So I did. Thankfully my cold meant my pockets were filled with tissues for blowing my nose.  So they got stuffed into all the little cracks.  A bit more chalking and a bit more brushing, things suddenly began to improve.  Then the sun appeared.  For once I worshipped the sun.  However, this was not helping Robin and his attempt at Vulture.

Sub- optimal conditions on Vulture

Being lowered in, the crux had dried.  A flicker of psyche was ignited in me.  This time I had the pressure of an audience, Tim Neill and his clients.  Oh well.  At the belay I went through the routine of going up, placed some kit and reversed.  I suddenly felt too warm and sweaty.  I had a thin base layer on as a replacement for my t shirt.  I had to take it off.  I hate climbing with my top off.  It just feels wrong.  I only have water pistols to show off.  No guns, but needs must.  So off I went, this time a steady approach.  Doing what I'm good at, moving steady, placing good gear rather than chucking it in, chalking up and shaking out.  At the top of the crack, I paused, slowed things down.  Listening to myself rather than advice was key.  The crux felt piss.  I topped out and looked round.  I could see Tim and his group sat there shielding their eyes.  I was blinding them as the sun was reflecting off my white Scottish tan.  I think there was a comment made somewhere that I was a week early for Halloween.  We decided to finish the day off with ‘Venom’.  I followed Robin who casually walked up it... I still found it desperate.

Me gaining the good edge after the crux (Photo: Tim Neill)

...on the easy ground.  (Photo: Tim Neill)

I’m pretty happy with what happened.  I gave Strawberries a good onsight/flash attempt, took the whipper and then dispatched it.  So it came pretty quickly.  I got my money’s worth.  Onsighting it would have been crap as you wouldn’t get the full value of the route.  The lob was better than topping out.  What a ride!  Thanks to big Tim for the photo's.  Whilst writing this post, I came across this UKC article by Jack Geldard and an interview with Steve McClure by Duncan Campbell.  Worth a read if you're bored.  But if you can't be arsed reading, Here is a video of Steve McClure discussing the route after his onsight of the route.

This is my account of Strawberries.  That was only one route out of many others which Robin and I did on our trip.  What a laugh we had.  I like to see I'm not the only one that grumbles about the price of going to cafe's and what a waste of money it is.  I can’t thank him enough for his patience in belaying me as trad climbing can be a bit off a faff sometimes.