Sat 16th Oct - Sun 17th Oct, 1999

"Ice" Climbing at Dover

Present: Rick Davies, Elaine Beaulieu, Dave Lygate, Al Metelko.


Only one member committed himself to the trip and those who said maybe, there weren't many, said no in the end. A big turnout was not expected, but I did get some strange looks when asked if they would like to come on the meet, some seemed to take offence. Answers ranged from 'no' to 'NO' to 'p**s off'. No one really had anything positive to say about the meet and I was disappointed.

We headed south around 8pm Friday, from my final pickup in Stockport and even after a few stops, one for supper, we where setting up camp on top of the White Cliffs of Dover at around half past midnight near the town of St Margaret's at Cliffe

I awoke to the sound of cars arriving at the car park and owners taking dogs for a walk. The weather was good as it nearly always is in the south, blue skies but with a cool easterly but even so it was quite warm whilst climbing.

We left the car park around 11am after breaking camp, breakfasting, sorting gear and letting the coastguard know what we where up to. Elaine's enthusiasm saw her doing the first route of the weekend I told her not to do the overhang (she failed on it last year and I didn't want her demoralised this early in the weekend). She came up a corner system to the left she said it was harder then she remembered it. I went down next to do the same route, nothing seemed have changed from last year. The corner is slightly past vertical.(grade 5) and I also found it hard, but I was real happy when memories of how to use axe and crampon and body position came rushing back and I thoroughly enjoyed the climb. Dave and Rick where next to climb, I abseiled down to the beach and had a look at The Great Escape 120 feet grade III which climbs a steep slab diagonally rightwards on the best plastic chalk. From the beach the route is visible as a line of small holes but you have to know where the route is to see them. This was the route I chose for Rick and Dave's first chalk climb.

Dave, has climbed many Munro's winter and summer and has only recently started rock climbing. He was lowered off next but couldn't stay to the left and so was lowered down to the beach, this was going to be his first serious experience of front pointing with a rather tricky start to get off the beach. I was glad I was there to show him the moves to get him off the ground. With axes flailing everywhere he headed straight up, away from the route. When he was 10 feet to his right I shouted MOVE RIGHT. His right hand axe was put in a couple of inches to the right then his left a little to the right and then went straight on up at high speed moving further from the route while I was still shouting up to him to move off to the right. Unfortunately the chalk here is superb, it's difficult to make a bad placement but luckily he made four and he came off and took a small swingette rightwards and downwards and he was back on route. So the climb continued, he climbing upwards me shouting up that he ought to move rightwards (I'll have to bring him to Hobby Moor) and little swingettes to put him back on route. After completing two thirds of the route he started to tire, I told him to stop and have a rest and I was able to point out to him a large ledge that he should be heading for, and yes it was off to his right. He made it to the ledge in control and finished the climb easily.

Rick was next, he has been rock climbing for years and he has done some winter routes with Dave Bone. He made it down to the starting ledge easily. He also started straight up but once I had pointed out that route went off to right I didn't need to say a thing and his technique was excellent.

It was time for me to get off the beach as the tide was coming in. I felt quit alone down here wondering if a rope was going to be thrown down. I also wondered if I could get out of this situation without getting wet so I started up The Great Escape. I got to an insitu metal rod, I could see the next one some 15 feet above and to the right and in order to get to it I had to climb over a bulge, nothing like a slab. I was starting to down-climb when the ropes came down. I tied on and climbed a vertical wall to well over to the right. Later I was told off for trying to solo the route.

Elaine went down next, I didn't say anything but I knew she was going for that overhang. The big smile on her face as she topped out said it all. I did an overhang a little further to the right which Elaine also did later. Dave repeated his route came off only once and said he was in far more control and that his brand new Charlet Mosser axes where better then mine. Rick did the wall to the right and said it was pumpy. The days climbing ended with a marvellous sunset and got surprisingly chilly quite quickly.

I must mention that durring the afternoon we had a close display of a yellow Sea King helicopter as it made two very close passes to where we where climbing, in fact you could almost make out the colour of the crews eyes. They couldn't be looking for us could they! we had informed the coast guard that morning that we would be climbing till dark. When I informed them that the days climbing had ended there was no mention of the helicopter.

That evening we visited most of the pubs in St Margaret on the pretence of finding a suitable eating establishment (I recommend the Spitfire if you're ever down there). So after a good meal, a month's worth of beer and good company it was back to the cliff tops for a spot of wild camping.

Sunday saw a leisurely start to the day, and we decided to try the cliffs to the west of St Margaret's. we informed the coast guard of our intentions and headed for the front. As the tide was out we took the opportunity to walk underneath the cliffs, this was Rick's and Dave's first view of them from below. They are an absolutely spectacular sight. Rick commented 'if only they where limestone!'. After having a good look around we built marker on the beach so that we could locate the area of cliff that interested us from the top.

I was the first to be lowered off, the chalk here was completely different from yesterday, it was hard. I got a little anxious as the front points of my crampons where not penetrating much just scratching the surface really. I stopped at around 50 feet from the top. Steepness was about grade 4 but the climbing was like climbing thin ice, small gentle taps to make a hole gave the best results yet hitting this stuff hard had the axes bouncing off. I made slow upward progress and after about 20 feet I noticed some old axe holes and these I used for the rest of the climb. The top was amazingly steep and loose I didn't trust any of the points and the wind was blowing chalk up my nose and into my eyes, I topped out blind. It reminded me of a route I did in the Cairngorms before I wore contacts, I popped my head above a cornice to be blasted by a hellish wind and within milliseconds the space between glasses and eyes was filled with snow.

Elaine went next and started the climb much further down. Rick and Dave had a go and thought it was tough going, Dave did a good demolition job of the top section with chalk flying up rather then down (the wind was coming off the sea). I went down a second time as I hadn't gone down very far on my first go. After topping out interest in climbing fell and the cold easterly had us remove the belays and head for the car.

We probably had a couple of hours daylight left and I was thinking about maybe bouldering on the beach but on getting back to the car one of the side windows was smashed in, the only item not recovered was Elaine's bag containing money credit cards and keys. Climbing! HA! went out of the window and we where 300 miles from home. Surprisingly the drive home wasn't that bad, with the heating on full in the front, sleeping bags in the back plus Elaine's loud music made for quite a comfortable journey home. Thank god it didn't rain.

For a couple of days after the trip both Dave and myself suffered from red eye. Next time I'll bring goggles.

Al Metelko

Meet Promo:

This is a meet for beginners as well as expert to practise "Ice Climbing" in relative comfort, short walk-ins and well last year it was sunny and we where climbing in T-shirts.

I don't recommend you using your brand new Charlet Moser technical axes but do bring your old ones, crampons with mono points are best. Basically bring whatever you use to climb winter routes and the only essential equipment are helmet, plastic or stiff leather boots and harness. I will be bringing a couple of pairs of axes and set of crampons for general use.

I expect to only top rope routes, get the feel of the place, on the Saturday and those wishing to lead a route later in the weekend do so at their own risk. Chances are we will be top roping all weekend and it does give you a chance to do those overhangs you never dared do on the Ben.

I would like to make a request to club members (whether they are coming or not) to lend the meet Warthogs or similar drive in gear. This gear should be clearly marked so that it can be returned.

Numbers will determine whether a caravan should be hired for the weekend. Remember: no interest no meet.

After practising ice climbing at Dover it seems only sensible to organise a session, in November, at a Lancashire quarry and try out some dry tooling (hooking and torqueing). This should cover most of the techniques required for a good winter season to come!!

Al Metelko

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