Nesscliffe: flashing, onsighting , flonsighting and head-pointing!

Hans left us, which was very sad, but we did smash Nescliffe. We went there for a day, but it felt like a year. We were there for 12 hours, filmed 9 attempts on different routes, racked up 63 E points and all in rather sweaty conditions. I had to hand it to the film crew (Matt, Dom, Diff, Dave) who worked super hard all day and our lovely chef Jon and driver Andy who brought us up soup and tea at 5 o’clock, nice!

Me on Tombola, E7, photo: Sean Grady

I didn’t really feel like I got to climb much in Pembroke, so when I got to Nesscliffe I was psyched to climb something hard, perhaps a headpoint. But I abbed down a few E8s and they all seemed too hard. My Piano is one of the coolest looking lines, but I found that I could only do the starting moves in a really sketchy style, using the worst smears on rock. The sandy nature of the sandstone means that poor smears do not stick like granite or grit. Since the start is unprotected, and above some boulders, I decided to think first of my ankles and second of the route. Caro, however, utilising her longer legs did the start nicely and kept a cool head on the run out at the top. She also checked out another E8 Gathering Sun, which even she – with her longer legs – found a move that was too reachy. Knowing James was taller, she suggested ‘the method’ and the gear, so that James could flash it, which he did, making it look about VS.

Disappointed at not doing My Piano I looked for other impressive lines, and was drawn to Crispin Waddy’s E7 Tombola, named after his children Tom and Lola. Last time I was at Nescliffe, 5 years ago, I did the line to the left (a Johhny Dawes special 10’o clock Saturday Morning, E7) and had always fancied this beautiful looking corner, but I’d been too scared. There is a peg at 2/3 height, and a break at half height but below that it looked like you would have to be very creative with the gear, on sketchy rock. The line also didn’t seem to have had many ascents for quite some time. Abandoning routes at Nesscliffe can turn big jugs into sand-filled horror shows and good footholds into leg-shaking sandy nightmares. I also know Crispin quite well as he is a good friend of my Dads, so I also know that he can be a cheeky ****er, perhaps placing crucial pegs in awkward places, he is also not shit at funky corners, nor a scaredy cat. All this combined left me feeling quite worried about the prospect of breaking my legs. So Caro offered to go down on an ab rope to give it a clean and check that the gear wasn’t so bad I would die. She came down with encouraging comments, so I went for it.

The climbing below the break was easy enough not to worry about the fact that I had only a tri cam and a cam shoved into rotten sandy pockets. There was just one tricky move to the break, which I laced with gear when I got there and felt pretty happy about it. Knowing I only had the peg to the top I left the rest of my rack there, minus a quick draw. This was a good thing indeed, when I realised that I could not reach the peg, like everyone else, with my foot in the break. Whilst doing some of the hardest moves on the route, staring at the peg, that I then had to clip from a horribly awkward position, I was cursing Crispin Waddy for not being smaller, nor caring about those that are. Anyway, I can’t complain because I clipped the peg, did the crux – which is a series of weird palming, shuffling, bridging moves that felt very nice – and pushed on to the top.

It’s sort of annoying that it wasn’t a true onsight, given that Caro cleaned the route, and suggested I take tri cams, but I felt like it was pretty close and a good effort. What I have learnt from this trip is that ‘flashing’ is a very strange and complicated thing in deed. James and Caro have mastered the art of flashing, given that they work as a team, going on routes and telling each other the exact gear, movements and holds. James’ attempted flash at Mui Caliente took flahing to a whole new level, seeing as James trained with the idea in mind for several months. James’ attempt was an awesome effort, and moreover, an awesome idea, showing that given enough fitness, talent and effort, routes this hard and bold can be done without top roping. But this idea of a ‘flash’ is quite different from your mate suggesting you take tri cams, a piece of information that one with tri cams might guess from the ground, given that there are pockets in view. I don’t really know either way, flash or onsight, and it makes me a little tired to have to think about it. Sometimes, I think that climbing is a very silly sport given all these labels we use to name certain efforts. We try to label routes definitively with grades, and then styles of ascent with ‘onsight’ or ‘flash’ or ‘headpoint’, but often these labels really detract from what’s going on, and it all begins to feel like a silly game.

So, my first E7 onsight? First flash. Perhaps I’ll settle for a ‘Flonsight’ and be happy to have done a cool route.


I’ll move onto the rest of the day, and it was a BIG day. Caro tried to onsight Yukan 2, a beautiful line in the main quarry, and one I tried 5 years ago, but never got. She fell in the awkward crux low down, but managed it second go. I threw down a top rope, worked out what I wanted to do and then also did it. I really love that route the climbing on it is very special I think. Then it was James’ time to shine, onsighting My Piano, despite fluffing up a lot of the sequences. He then repeated Nick Dixon’s new E9 A Thousand Setting Suns. What a day! I was especially impressed with James, seeing as he seemed to tick a lot of the hard routes at the crag in a single day.




One response to “Nesscliffe: flashing, onsighting , flonsighting and head-pointing!

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