The Red Zone – T minus 12 hours

For six months of the year we can only marvel at its splendor, crisp red rock punctuated by soft sandy lines of weakness. For the devotee this is where Gogarth climbing its at. Steep and sustain climbing with just enough gear to keep you going, the climbing is rarely ever desperate, but the sustain nature of the routes both physically and psychologically make this a place that I have been drawn to for sometime.

It is no sweet shop down there, the routes are never easily won, as you do battle with soft sandy rock and harder red rock, the moving in and out of the mediums make it a difficult place to adjust to.

For those six months we are barred from entering this arena of the unwell, the cliffs are home to a menagerie of sea birds, birds that only return to land for those months to raise a brood and help them fledge before they head to the skies and the sea one more time.

Internationally it is one of the largest known breeding sites of sea birds in Europe, and twitcher’s come from all over to marvel in the natural wonder of thousands of birds lining every available perch. The rock is turned white with guano, the air filled with the cacophony of calls, and then like clockwork at the end of July the birds fledge and the site is left abandoned.

In a form of vertical hot desking as one tenant moves out another moves in, the climbers who dare to play there bizarre and risky game move onto the walls and start to add there own sharp calls that break through the sound of the waves and wind.

Climbing here is nothing if not adventurous, there is gear, but how good it is one would not like to find out. The routes have reputations, and like the supporters of various football clubs, some are more notorious than others. Abseiling into the red zone is like teleporting yourself into the thick of it, on the top of the cliff is life and all the worries of existence, below is a world where the next 6ft are all that matters.

Some love the place, others will never get to grips with the style of climbing, as adventure climbing is a strange world, where all the skills of a climber come into play, the belays are hard to arrange, gear can be a joke and the climbing so delicate and absorbing that like Alice you can lose yourself down there. It is another roadside attraction for the brave, whilst holiday-makers and bird lovers watch from Ellen’s Tower with their ice creams you are locked in a battle that can feel like life and death.

As you descend the abseil rope to the base, the gravity of the place take shape as you hang in space feet from the wall watching the holds pass you by. By the bottom your pulse is racing and the excitement is starting to reach fever pitch, as you wait for the whistle to blow and the game to start.

Bring on the Red!


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