Wednesday, 25 August 2021

The Tosheroon


This is my phone. I've had this wall paper for about 7 years, passing from phone to phone.

The picture was taken on this trip in 2015, however, my first discovery of this special sea cave was in 2010, I think on new years day, when a man mate took me out for some Anglesey sport climbing. The climbing turned out to be a little too chilly to be enjoyable, but a gentle wander at low tide with a much needed flask of coffee led to its fortuitous discovery.

Put off by... Well everything really, it took 4 years almost to the day for a return inspection. That first trip I had campused the entrance to the cave and looked at the exit. I was sufficiently excited to return that I talked some friends into returning later that month. The climbing deep in the cave turned out to be really interesting, possibly fun even. Accepting the nature of the challenge was key, it was never going to dry out, chalk was pointless. Barnacles added to the 'fun' adding much needed friction, until you applied too much pressure and they dissolved to slippy paste. The high point of this initial session turned out to be a familiar one. Boxed and flailing at the end of the constricted section.

Some time in 2014 two things were decided.. 

Firstly, that trips should be undertook in the warmer months, as the cold trip meant major gashes off the barnacles due to lack of sensitivity in the hands. This also led to myself almost breaking my hand squeezing the life out of a jam I couldn't feel for fear it would slip.

Denizens of the Tosheroon cave.. 

Secondly, the name of this project. As a keen new router, I often find a name presents itself well before eventual success. Furthermore, it often helps to spur me on to greater efforts. The Tosheroon was a term appropriated by Terry Pratchett in his

 book 'The Truth'. Officially an old English name for a half crown, in the Pratchett universe it is defined as:

"a lump of debris and rubbish made of the mud and gunk found clogged in drains. While they appear worthless, tosheroons can contain valuable items, such as old coins, lost rings and alike." 

It seemed fitting, as while this project on first appearence should on paper be everything we run away from, it contains treasure.

So first trip back after that was in April 2015 during an unfavourable tide. I took the opportunity to scare myself and SWS down the crack reversing the (thankfully dry) HVS ground deep into the wider squeeze section. This left me with only 2m of uncovered ground.

Looking back, I was still doing a lot of bold trad at the time (I'd climbed Twll Love, a bold E5 in Twll Mawr the previous autumn) and attempts this year to repeat this feat resulted in whimpering retreat.

Next proper attempt was that May. Once more I failed to clear the constriction. That September Seren my daughter was born and thoughts of offwidth fitness were put to bed for a while. I visited in 2016, but only to shoot some beta footage. 

Fast forward to Father's day 2019, and one of my son's Ethan, having flicked through the pics on my phone, decided I should go back to Benllech. It got me re-energised for the project, especially as the pebble level had risen and evened out making it feel more boulder and less intimidating.

Returning at the end of the month, it was the old team again. Back with some form of fitness, and having a couple of years of digesting tactics and possible options off all the previous decades footage, I felt hopeful. However, the crux exit of the constriction still eluded me, as the previous 4m was knackering me too much to try a whole lot of things before I plopped off. Another issue was the narrow tide window which only allowed 3-4 goes before retreat became necessary.

Another year and covid came along, the Mountain volume of NWB took my time and attention and The Tosheroon bubbled away at the back of my mind. It had been suggested that my ground up approach might be supplemented by a step ladder, that opened my eyes a bit. With the coming of the summer and the coastal NWB looming, I was keen to put this monster to bed, and with a favourable tide window for 16th July 2021 it was scribbled on the calendar. Post covid, the old team had gone their separate ways and I was given the challenge of enticing new faces to the project.

Fortunately for this opening salvo the reliable Mark Reeves was willing to come and heckle. We were also joined at short notice by that lover of all things niche; the Fiend. Needless to say the session was banter heavy, and I somehow managed to get out of the construction into the wider squeeze. However, in my 1000 yard stare state I'd become fixated on the right wall of the cave (possibly due to the extensive examination of it from the step ladder - didn't bring it again). The video is a bit long, but worth it for the running commentary :

At about midnight that same evening I came to the realisation that I should have switched to face the other way. Picture Dr Emmet Brown exclaiming "Great Scott!" and you get the idea.

Next visit (25th July) was with a mutual acquaintance  of Fiend and myself, who Mr F thought would be keen. He wasn't wrong - Rafe turned out to be a power house of enthusiasm and encouragement. The ladder was left at home, and instead a rather large stack of pads was bundled to the beach. Once more I'd cleared the constriction, but by then the barnacles had managed to rip both my tape gloves off:

Rafe giving it some 

For the next trip (10th August) I was to be joined by both Fiend and Rafe, and I set about retiring my old foamies and traced some new 2mm foam rubber templates. I've been building my tape gloves around these foam pads for about 18 months now and I'm finding they give a good compromise between the efficiency of a pure tape and the convenience, and let's face it bulk, of a jamming glove (I have small fists).

Once again Fiend bought the banter, but I was still unsure of the exact sequence of circus tricks required to establish me firmly on the left wall. I also prevented an early ejection from the roof with a dyno-bar of my right knee.

The aftermath 

After that I was running somewhat on fumes. Good laugh though:

The next available tide window was the 23rd of August. Unfortunately nobody could come with me that date. I felt quite nervous about this as the tide window is narrow. A low spring tide is needed which gives about 3 hours of access before completely submerging the cave again. Not somewhere to have an accident. However with only about 2 tide windows a month being available to me, and winter looming, I needed every session. 

I set about finding as many things that could provide an edge as possible. MMA knee sleeves under my trousers, a slimmer £3 headtorch off ebay to stop it catching. Hell, I even bought an led dog collar (not useful in actual action unfortunately). I also flicked through P-Widdy's crack book and set about converting my foamies to a vedauwoo wrap. 

I had some kind words of encouragement from fellow jam heads and general deviants, and although still nervous, I stumbled onto the beach to find a lone fisherman toying with his rod. Although I left him to his practice and scuttled into my cave. Knowing that he was there had a calming effect. 

Once the four pads I managed to Sherpa down were in place, I did a bit of pilates and a couple of pull ups, and set about the rigmarole of taping up. After this I did a bit more pilates and reacquainted myself with the technicalities. This basically meant bashing a few bits with a towel and adding some tick marks with a fat stick of Chalk I'd nicked off of Seren.

First go. First meter felt really good, once into the kneebar pivot from feet first to burying myself head first horizontal in the roof.. Well the pump and scrabble kicked in a bit. However, I got to the crux and had a bash until the wheels came off and I dabbed while suspended by a solitary teacup jam.

The first go had done its job and the blood was pumping into all the nooks and crannies. I lay on the pads and thought about all the peeps who believed I could do this. I waited for the heavy breathing to subside, and then waited some more. 

This is an unabridged video of the second go. It's very long, and there is no Fiend to liven it with commentary. Also the lighting was a bit poor so you can't make out loads of the initial bit. However, here it is :

Arghh it's not embedding, the link is here

I wasn't smooth in starting and almost lost my kneebars getting into the roof. The jams through this bit are hard won and I kept slithering onward, expecting them to rip. Getting to the end of the constriction I was on two teacups bumping my left kneebar forward and it slid out. 

Slight wolverine moment, primal driving rage. Not sure how but next thing I know my right kneebar is buried in the roof and I feel solid. I can bump the right teacup to a high fist and twist out onto the left wall. 

My foot is on the first tick mark. Please don't skid off the barnacles. Next thing I'm extending into the rafters, open barring and feeling for help. Holds appear, I can pull into an upright squeeze position. The balcony at the end of the horizon is near. Slowly deliberately, I slide on a bum cheek. I'm there. 

Having a moment just to be happy I took in my surroundings. It was a still and humid day, the crag above was still wet from sea spray, not the dry hvs I soloed 6 years before. I could just plop of the ledge and call it done. The Tosheroon I had envisioned was a crack climb, pulling off the deck and climbing until at the top of the crack, or at least the crag. I probed out, up and further outwards trying to breach the soggy defences. A stretch off a fist gave a dry jug and I swam back into the crack where I could bridge and get some more jams (best weapons against the sogg).

A whimper and a grunt and it was over. The memories remain. 

The Tosheroon 7A+! 

(could be MXS 6b, might be easier although my support team scoff at this. Let's just say Hard Very Marvellous) 

Benllech hidden wall beach, around the corner. Needs a tide window based around a sub 2m low tide. No Chalk required, maximum skin protection advised. 

Start 8m in at a chockstone in the roof. Leave the ground and battle bravely to the light and the jutting balcony. If you get here, pat yourself on the back and feel free to hop down. Those mad enough may, like the first ascentionist, want to battle to the top of the crack, but unlike him, please have someone to rearrange your pads. 

Mark Dicken (23/8/21)

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