Sea cliffs succumb to super storms

Posted by Rob Dyer on 27/02/2014
Sophie Nunn exploring the new bouldering area uncovered by storms at Peveril Point, Swanage
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Across the UK, the cost of the winter storms is being counted. But the super storms haven't just affected roads and houses - it's bad news for sea-cliff climbers across the UK. We take a look at punished Portland, battered Stackpole and more.

With a seemingly never-ending deluge of heavy rain and storms rolling in off the Altantic this winter, we're starting to see the results of this sustained barrage of weathering on our coastline.

This is hardly surprising given the size of the waves that have been hitting the coast, but it’s still sad to see some classic climbing and walking routes disappearing into Davy Jones’ Locker. So far, we’ve heard of the following:

Large scale rockfalls and landslides on sea cliffs:

  • Neddyfields Cliff, Portland
    The grassy earth slope below the crag has slid away in a number of places, meaning the ground level at the bottom of the crag is now 10-15 feet lower than it was at some points. There are also sections where the flat terrace at the bottom where climbers belayed previously has now been replaced by a loose earth and rubble slope. The slides that have occurred may not have fully stabilised yet, and it's likely that a number of routes will now have their first bolts considerably higher than they were previously as a result of the ground level dropping. Extreme caution should be exercised if attempting to access this crag. See photo gallery above.
     
  • Blacknor-Battleship, Portland
    A lot of landslide activity has occurred along this part of the island. The most significant of which is disappearance of the huge spoil heap that used to exist between Blacknor South and Far South crags, and down which the access path ran. This whole grass-covered slope has now slid away, leaving a newly-unearthed cliff in its place, meaning the previous access route isn't safely possible without using ropes. Battleship Block is also seemingly tilting more that it was previously, so this section of crag may potentially be unstable as well as the ground around it.

    Elsewhere in this sector, from the edge of Blacknor South through to Battleship, there are many smaller slides that have taken out the terrace and footpath that ran along the bottom of the crag and in other places large cracks have begun to form in the slope indicating instability and the possibility of a slide in the future.

    As at Neddyfields Cliff, all of this has dropped the ground level at the base of the crag in several places by 10-15ft, meaning that the first bolts of some routes will now be much higher than before. There will be new first bolts placed to protect these routes, however there is quite a bit of work to be done and this won't start until the ground has settled, so if you're planning on visiting these areas, it would be worth taking a long clipstick for the time being as well as a brush to clean off the earth covering the rock. There are many sections of the crag path that look very unstable at the moment and it is probably best avoided, but anyone who does decide to visit this area should be extremely cautious. See photo gallery above.

  • Ceredigion coast
    Landslides have closed the Wales coastal path between Llangrannog and Cwm Tydu
     
  • Chapel Head, Pembroke:
    The two classic E3's Blow Up and Blow Out have fallen down
     
  • Gower
    There are no known rockfalls on the crags as yet, however landslides have affected the access path to Rhossilli Beach and the nearby climbing areas.
     
  • North Pembrokeshire:
    Several routes have been destroyed at Square Bay (near St Davids).
     
  • Stackpole Head, Pembroke:
    A huge rockfall extending 2/3 of the way up the crag has taken out the routes The Power of Laughter (E5), Not quite Plain Sailing (E3), The Ostritch (E3), and has possibly affected Condor (E3) too.
     
  • Swanage:
    The large block that formed the left side of the starting sentry box on the Boulder Ruckle classic Tatra (VS) has fallen down. This has meant the flake on this block that was previously climbed is now gone and the route is more like E1. Tatra Direct has also gone up in grade from HVS to around E2.
  • Chair Ladder, West Penwith:
    The Classic Rock route Terriers Tooth (VDiff/VS) has lost it's first pitch, meaning the belay ledge at the top of the first pitch has dissapeared and the first pitch has changed considerably to a smooth slab of rock, leaving what looks to be harder and more run out climbing.
     
  • Carn Barra, West Penwith:
    The top crack for Crack In The Sky (E1) has fallen down and the track above Grand Plage is reportedly very unstable.
  • Pordenack Point, West Penwith:
    A block is now missing from the traverse on the first pitch of Stone Boom. Other routes seem intact.
  • Fox Promontory, West Penwith:
    Octopus and Disappointment Arete have fallen down. Second Class Slab is also affected. All other routes seem ok for the timebeing.
     
  • Nash Point, S Wales:
    All the bouldering has completely collapsed and the first 20 feet of the routes are totally covered in boulders and pebbles.

Inland crags

Inland crags haven't been without losses either, with a big rockfall reported in November which took out several routes in Vivian Quarry back and last week the 'bridge of death'  was reported collapsed. This formed the final, scary part of the classic "Snakes & Ladders" adventure in the slate quarries.

New boulders?

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as these big waves have actually created a new bouldering area at Peveril Point (next to Swanage beach), by moving a pile of large boulders out of the way of a previously buried craglet. What has been unearthed is said to be some very good quality limestone bouldering.

Scott Titt, BMC President and Swanage local, commented: “a really good lowball bouldering area has been uncovered with plenty of sit start problems through stepped overhangs on good quality limestone. This is a great unexpected win from such a stormy period!”

Undoubtedly there will be other rockfalls that either have yet to happen or just haven’t been discovered yet, given that the terrible weather probably hasn’t encouraged too many people to get out walking or climbing recently.

It may seem obvious but be particularly careful once the crags dry out. Further rockfalls are clearly possible so be aware of potential instabilities. Smaller scale erosion is also likely with snappy holds or loose blocks potentially on routes not normally known to be loose.

Fingers crossed for some more settled weather ahead and good spring climbing and walking conditions!

Know of any more cliffs or paths affected by rockfall this season?

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1) Anonymous (staff comment)
27/02/2014
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
2) Anonymous User
27/02/2014
At Cattle troughs there is evidence at the east end of achangel forming the top of the hobbit has suffered damage. Further west in the promenade the big pinacle before long johns is no more. This had Eastward Ho and Matt wild hairy frog on it.
3) Anonymous User
27/02/2014
The Darren (S Wales inland sandstone) was another casualty.
4) Anonymous User
12/03/2014
At Chair Ladder, Terrier's Tooth can be climbed via the rockfall scar at Severe / Hard Severe. The newly exposed rock is solid and clean, but the climbing is a bit bold.
At Carn Barra, the track above Grande Plage is as stable as it ever was - nothing's changed here.
5) Anonymous User
09/04/2014
The top section of Forbidden Head at Pembroke containing Firestreak and Sidewinder has gone. Sidewinder's resting break is now a ledge.
6) Anonymous User
30/08/2014
A substantial section of Old Harry( Ballard Down Dorset) has also fallen, changing the profile of the 1st sea stack. Further investigation, has revealed that there have been a series of rock falls on the cliffs which run from Old Harry to Swanage & include the Pinnacles. These falls have created a number of fracture lines which will create many more rock falls, kyackers take care!

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