That’s right. It is warm enough and dry enough to climb in January! Amazing.
One weekend we headed out with Ryan and Piotr for some climbing on the Red Wall in the Longhaven Quarries area. It’s about an hour north of the city on the coast. We arrived early and while the winter sun was up, it felt damp and quite cool, especially with the 20mph winds! Big swells were rolling in and some sea spray was coming quite high up the cliff. I admit I was a bit skeptical, but since our intended route was “easy” I was keen to go down and have a look anyway.
We rigged the abseil and headed over the side to assess conditions. On first inspection, it felt quite greasy. There was lingering damp from a previous rain, or perhaps just winter runoff. Our objective was Phaff, a three pitch rising traverse right above the sea. Abseil in and climb out.
Ryan and Pete went first out to a large ledge known as the Dias. Ryan was enthusiastic about the conditions of our line which only he could see. Pete followed and then I led over with Meme on belay. We were moving as two parties of two. Initially, I thought Meme and I might do one of the other classic traverses on the wall which take lines higher up, but upon reaching the Dias, I could clearly see that Phaff was in pristine condition while the others looked green and slimy.
From the Dias the second pitch climbs up a short ramp to a large friendly horizontal crack that stretches out on a gentle rise across the almost vertical granite wall. We’re about 15 meters from the huge seas that are pounding the cliff and about 20 meters from the top of the cliff itself. The wind is hammering the Dias so fiercely that I’m happy for the anchor so as to not blow away! Thankfully the climbing was not as exposed to the winds and the climbing was superb. The pitch is over quickly as the climbing is quite easy. I rigged the belay and Amelia came up after and then led through the final several easy meters to the top.
The following weekend we got lucky with the weather again. Even more so as the winds and the seas were calm as could be. We stole away around 11am just down to our local cliff South Cove. The sun was shining and it was warm with our down jackets and packs on. There were three other parties there that day, one of whom allowed us to use their abseil line to go over the side. We wanted to do a couple of the easier lines on the middle of the main wall which can be hard to see since it rises straight out of the sea with few places to view the wall. This part of the cliff is characterized by ramps, buttresses, grooves and ledges. It was quite hard to see our route based on the description in the book so I just went up and started climbing.
I got some gear in and climbed up into an overhanging groove whose handholds were loose chock stones. I found myself sweating in the sun and uncertain if I was going the right way. The rock looked quite loose so I down climbed and tried the groove to the right with better results. Above this however, was more rotten rock so I zigged left and around into yet another groove with better rock and nicer climbing. The top of this line was grassy and loose so I had to zig left yet again onto firmer territory. I think I must have crossed three different lines in that climb. The climbing felt quite adventurous.
Our second climb of the day was harder but far more straightforward. Another abseil down to the water’s edge and we racked up for Insect Flake (E1 5b). Easy bulges lead to the flake which was really fun overhanging climbing on large holds and bomber gear. A quick hop up onto a ramp puts one beneath the crux groove. It was quite steep without good holds and barely enough good gear. I spent a fair amount of time scrunched awkwardly at the base of that groove working up my nerve. If only my legs would stop cramping! I placed a high cam in a deep crack and pulled through the hard moves with only a little grunt. The easy top out into the sunshine was a sweet victory. I thought it was quite hard for the grade. I’d say it was excellent value. Meme topped out just as we lost our sunshine behind the cliffs to the south so we packed up and headed home. It was 4pm. Fantastic!
Lucky again! Johannes and I went out to scope a route on a particularly adventurous coastal feature known as the Hawk’s Nest. It’s a big arch that sticks out into the sea off a tall promontory. It’s difficult to access and very adventurous to say the least. We scrambled our way into position to get a better view across the inlet. With binoculars we spotted the line and a few others, but felt they looked green and damp and combined with the swells it may not be climbable so we headed over to the neighboring Red Wall. Having just been there a couple weeks prior, I knew the approach and quickly abseiled down direct to the Dias cutting out a bit of Phaff. Johannes led the sweet middle pitch and by the time we were on top again the sun was shining. We knew we had to go to the lower wall to see what conditions were like for some harder climbing.
Everything was surprisingly clean and dry. The architecture of the place was inspiring and we got on the three star Red Cloud (HVS 5a). The pitch begins with some steep climbing in a corner flake and then surmounts a bulge to a big ledge (crux). From there it’s easy climbing on big holds for the next 30 meters to the top of the cliff. So fun! Can’t wait to get back there.