Crushers in Cornwall: BMC International Meet 2017

Posted by Peter Burnside on 04/06/2017
Miha Kern on pitch two of Vulcan (E5 6b) at Bosigran. Photo: Wojciech Szymanowicz
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Many international climbers, an avalanche of E-Points, and a mountain of cream teas: that's right, it was the return of the BMC International Meet and this time it was headed to the golden granite cliffs of Cornwall. Paul Seabrook, a host on the meet, tells us what went down.

It's a long drive down to West Penwith, the last bit of Cornwall before the land runs out. It's a long way, but it's always worth the effort when you take the final few turns in the road and see the Count House poised above the sea, with the top ramparts of Bosigran just visible in the middle distance.

I was travelling to join the BMC International summer meet as a host climber and was full of anticipation, looking forward to being part of a climbing melting pot, with hosts and overseas guests building new friendships and enjoying the excellent trad climbing that Cornwall has to offer.

I had arrived early, and as hosts and guest arrived during the afternoon and early evening it was good to renew old acquaintances and meet new climbers from all over the world. In all, 29 guests from 25 countries were being hosted by 30 UK based climbers supported by the BMC staff and Catering team.

The weather however was posing an unwelcome challenge – after weeks of almost perfect dry conditions the gods had decided that a little storm system would be amusing. Muttered talks amongst the hosts included surfing as a wet weather option along with the hidden delights of the local tin mine, telegraph museum and other tourist venues. Probably not what was front of mind for climbing guests from far distant shores, but

After dinner, Becky from the BMC provided an overview of the week's plan, and guests and hosts teamed up to plan their assault on the cliffs for the following morning.

After a blustery night, Sunday dawned dry and sunny – immediately tricking the international guests into believing that climbing in Cornwall is always done under a cloudless blue sky.... We'll see how long that impression lasts!

Our choice for the day was the classic climbs of Chair Ladder, so Marcin, Malwina, Matthew, Saulius, Liz and myself headed off and had a great day climbing various combinations of Ariel, Buccaneer, Pendulum Chimney, Seal Slab and Kittiwake amongst others. The crux traverse of Ariel, high above a pounding sea, brought back fond memories of a previous visit where the waves were so strong it felt the whole cliff was vibrating under the assault.

Several attendees had unplanned aquatic encounters, including one team taking a tandem swim in full climbing kit, but fortunately these all ended well with little but wet clothes and damp phones to worry about.

Returning to the Count House for a marvellous dinner we then enjoyed a stirring presentation from Jerry Gore about his life, times, and dealing with type-1 diabetes in extremis. Apparently climbers are world class at finding excuses for failing on routes (guilty as charged), but for Jerry, making up excuses is a treasonable offence – apparently "if you want it enough you will do it, if you don't, you won't!"

Sunday night the good weather broke, with rain and strong wind. Monday morning my guest was not enthusiastic about a wet weather climb, and nor was I, so we resolved to do a tourist day and I spent some time in the Tate St Ives, where, for me, the building was more interesting than the art inside. In the evening, hopes were high for a return to blue skies for Tuesday.

Hope was dashed... Tuesday morning dawned wetter than before, and the night had been cruel, bringing the demise of several host tents in the campground. One tent owner even started to build a memorial cairn in the centre of their downed/drowned tent. Despite dampened climbing spirits, plans were hatched for surfing, so by mid-morning the sea at Sennen was hosting the unofficial BMC International Surf festival, with representatives from Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, UK and others. After surfing, a group headed to Treen Beach bouldering with Wojciech, and I took a small group walking along the headlands from Sennen to an agreed pickup at Porthgwara, pointing out where all the good climbing and great views would be if only we could see them. Tuesday evening was a great success, starting with a fish and chip supper, followed by a pint of Tribute in the Star, and then a return to the Count House for the band night.

The bands were great, and the dancing from the assembled, exercise starved climbers was spectacular, culminating in a mass display of muscled torsos and tattoos in a Cornish/Polish warrior dance which may never be bettered!

Now to Wednesday morning, and to accommodate the revised weather forecast the day was rearranged to ensure that climbers had the opportunity to climb later in the day. I was planning to go to Chair Ladder to take advantage of the low afternoon tide, and the promise of SUNSHINE! But before that, the rescheduled evenings talk about road trips in Southern Africa was presented by Odette, who wowed us with stunning images and interesting tales of climbing trips in Namibia and RSA. My highlight of the day however was the return of the sun, and a return visit to Chair Ladder with Boel from Sweden. The Zawn Rinny approach to Pegasus, crossing the jammed boulder with a big sea running, is always exciting and the route is fantastic, and later South Face Direct in the sunshine was as delightful as ever. Cornish climbing can definitely be harder, but I know it doesn't get better than this.

The sunshine returned unabated, and for the final few days I was paired with Sandra from Lithuania, who was keen to climb some multi pitch routes, so we spent Thursday at Bosigran, just a short walk away, swinging leads up classic VS's from dawn till dusk, followed by a Curry evening at the North Inn. On Friday we ventured to the 'alternative classic' Cornish venue that is Kenidjack with its Killas Slate offering a contrast to the Granite. Together we enjoyed the famous Saxon and Rock Dancer, and then I teamed up with Sayaka from Japan for her to lead The Shield.

Alice Fuller, a host on the BMC International Meet, said: “I did two days of extreme hosting. First with Coco, who I think understated her ability, or learnt very quickly as a graceful gungho French girl with a big Lead urge. She mastered her nuts and cruised Terrier’s Tooth, Demo Route and Seal slab, bringing up her lumbering, talkative, tea-drinking hosts. After, on the last day, I chewed my nails above Wolf at the Door (E4 6a) as Keita Kurakami went for an onsight solo – gosh, such a brave warrior, calmly back-climbing the high crux and admitting defeat. Then Miha – so strong hanging about on the low crux of Grand Plage (the new version around E5 6b) putting in gear working out how to hold the non-holds as he onsighted what he described as a great route without a disappointing move in it. Meanwhile, Cornwall’s own Pole, Wojciech, showed these young pups how to cruise a new version of Golden Brown – leaving Keita to comment ‘I have a lot to learn’.”

That evening the trip was rounded off with a fantastic BBQ and disco which extended to the small hours of the morning. I decided it was time for bed when the 'traverse of the table' challenge was only part way through – for those without prior knowledge of this extreme sport, you start on top, end on top, but have to travel from side to side, or end to end, underneath the table without, obviously, touching the floor or tipping the table on to yourself. Core abdominal and arm strength, sucker like hands and a good sense of balance seemed to be the keys to success, along with limited alcohol consumption, this last being the downfall of many a competitor!

Anyone who has read this far will now understand that the BMC International meets are not exclusively for the super star climbers... I certainly cannot claim to be anything more than a 'lifer', fully committed to climbing in all its forms, but not spectacularly good or outstanding. By volunteering to support the event however, you do get the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world climbing elite, so interspersed across the week were tales of top end climbers achieving, trying and even (shock) failing on routes. Looking at the daily route recording sheets completed by the attendees, there are many many parties who had great days out climbing in the HS-E1 grade band, and along with that, others had equally good days at higher grades, doing multiple E2 & E3 routes for 10-12 E-point days, but interspersed into the record are some spectacular days out. Miha from Slovinia, hosted by Wojciech climbed "International Kidney Dealer" E7, 6c and Keita from Japan climbed the E8 "Wall of Spirits" at Pentire in addition to having repeated "The Walk Of Life" E9 6c just prior to the meet officially starting.

Additionally, climbers reported climbing "Evil Eye" E5, "Darkinbad" E5, "Black Magic" E5 and an arête to the left at E8, "The West Face" E5, "Grand Plage" E5 and "Wild at Heart" E6.... the list goes on. It seems that trad climbing is well-supported and well-practiced by many of our international guests at a very high standard indeed, and everyone I spoke to, whatever their leading limit, enjoyed the additional challenges of using leader placed protection and route-finding without a line of bolts to follow.

Lastly, I'd like to make a special note of thanks to both the catering team and the BMC organising team. Daisy, with chef Tommy and crew kept us well fed and watered, and provided a great range of foods to keep the assembled teams focused and ready for action, whilst Becky assisted by Peter and the BMC managed the event with great professionalism and humour. It was a pleasure to be a small part of it, and I hope to be back soon!


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