Sometimes things fall together and we can either achieve great things ourselves, or if you are like me and teach then occasionally we can succeed through others achievements. Yesterday was one of those days, the evening before I met my regular client Simon. We had planned for me to guide him up Grooved Arete, so that he could get some classic mountain rock mileage.
At some point Si had asked me what I thought about Dream of White Horses, as he had seen Coast. I tried to explain that it is a traverse, and very hard to protect him with just me. I have guided five people across it over the years but I have insisted that we do at least a day together first and I have the right to say no if I don’t think they are up for it.
Some people in my line of work might think it a step too far because in the words of a guide who was filmed on coast when asked about what might happen if the second falls, as apparently “you’ve got big problems”. I have heard this from many people, but I always ask them what you think would happen if someone fell off.
Nearly everyone thinks you’ll be hanging a space, which if this was the case would be a ‘big problem’. However no one I ask has ever seen someone fall off, the thought is so horrible that most people hang on and don’t fall off. The legend of the ‘big problem’ and the free hanging climber theory continues.
However years ago stood on the prow looking back at the last pitch, I saw someone on the crux, shaking like the preverbal dog having a dump. In my mind was don’t fall off, you’ll be hanging in space, as he leader had barely placed any runners after the crux. He fell off, it wasn’t pleasant to watch, he pendulumed like a sack of spuds, he came to rest and was conscious, uninjured and not hanging in space. Despite the 30ft swing to hell and back he quickly climbed back to the route. As such I believe with good protection the traverse can be made safe and having safely guided around five climbers across the route over the years, as well has helped friends it seems possible to manage. It is still extremely serious and I don’t take it lightly taking someone on this journey.
During our chat over a pint a friend came in, a very good friend who had the day off the following day and an idea came to me. Put my client Simon between me and Llion and what we have is the most extreme baby bouncer in the world. I asked and he agreed to the scheme.
About half an hour later Simon came round from the shock and asked whether we were serious. Which unfortunately for him we were and the following day we headed down to Wen Zawn and set to work. This is by far the best work I have ever had, although it is also the most extreme in terms of management.
Managing this route requires every skill I have as a MIA and coach. I have to short rope Simon round the top of the crag to the descent gully and down to the abseil. We then abseil in to a small ledge where we all clip ourselves to the belay and sit back in comfort. Before placing enough gear usually just after any hard climbing to reduce the swing potential, rather than to protect yourself that much.
I then set off and did what I call the Wen/Dream Link, this is far easier to managed and meant I can climb in one very long pitch to belay in the concrete chimney, the joys of 60m ropes. The pitch is a steadily rising traverse and it is damp in Wen, and Simon finds the 60m pitch rather tiring, but he plugs away with all the encouragement we can give him and he joins me soon enough.
Simon looks left, and I can sense a little apprehension in his voice when he asked where the last pitch goes. We point it out as Llion racks up and leads us out. As LIion leaves I can feel Simon trembling slightly through the belay, I am pretty sure I was trembling the first time I looked across at that last pitch too. One that I once described as having the ‘utmost cheek’ to traverse such ground and such a low grade! I turned and talk to him and can see from looking at his eyes that he is actually OK.
Llion talks Simon through the crux as he climbs it and then makes the rest of the pitch look easy. As Simon prepares to leave I nonchalantly talk through the baby bouncer scenario. Explain that he won’t be left hanging in space, how he is in good hands and really not to worry too much about falling off.
Simon makes it through the crux, he climbs it really well when he gets his feet sorted and pushes on to the rest and the runner just beyond it. With a rope coming back to me he was pretty much on top rope from me rather than Llion as he did the crux. He carried on and made it round two grooves, as he got to the last groove before stepping down on the slab he got flustered, stepped through too far and fell off.
Anyway the baby bouncer worked and he barely went ten feet, he climbed back to his high point and re-climbed it without tying himself in a knot. He then pretty much walked across the final slab and groove.
The grin on his face said it all, although later he said it was “The best route I have ever climbed!”. Like many people he had seen Leo Dickinson’s classic shot of the route and was hooked, that was around seven years ago and had want to climb the route ever since, but like so many people he felt it might never happen. It was really great to help someone realise their ‘dream….’.
Some marketeering guru recommends you sell dreams not products. This is hard to put across in a few words, a sentence or even a small piece of writing on this site or Snowdonia Mountain Guides. It is part of why I like to coach, instruct, guide or whatever you want to call the job that I do. Helping someone realise their dreams is a privilege, I am occasionally helping people gain memories that can last a lifetime.
Anyway after Coast I have had one request for guiding on “A Dream of White Horses” which I turned down as I think you need to know that the person can climb first. But after this experience, I might think about setting up a ‘Dream of White Courses Guiding Course’, with a ratio of 2 guides to 1 or 2 clients. As it is a much better way to manage the route, and one where it feels far more controlled than with just one guide.
What do you dream of climbing, maybe there is a climbing course for you, or maybe I could design one for your specific needs?