How to stay safe on the North Devon coast

Posted by Rich Mayfield on 17/12/2009
Would you trust this? Photo: Rich Mayfield.

Rotting fixed gear, missing pegs, guide books out of date, no stakes to be found for belay stations and dirty routes that no one wants to climb anymore. Not the conditions I've been used too after living on the Costa Blanca for eight years. Just what has happened to one of the most spectacular areas of climbing Britain has to offer?

On Saturday the 6th September, the Old Smithy Inn hosted the BMC area meet for the South West. It soon became apparent after the minutes of the last meeting were discussed that we had a few problems with this beautiful area of the country. One of the main concerns of the people present was based on the safety of climbers visiting this area and trying to stop the rot in more ways than one. Problems highlighted were these:

• Rotting and missing gear, especially if guide book indicates pegs as main points of protection
• The state of abseil and belay stations
• The amount of people climbing the routes seems to be dropping which results in routes become even dirtier and less appealing

After light discussion and most people getting involved the general consensus was:

• That bolts should not be used without exception
• That like for like should be the way forward
• A chain to be placed at the top of the rabbits ears at Sharpnose

I suggested that perhaps education and knowledge would provide a better and more accurate picture of the coasts climbing. A guide book which gets rewritten and updated every 10 to 15 years can never be accurate in regards to the state of fixed protection, which degrades over a much shorter time period. So thanks to Martin Kocsis I find myself writing this article.

Having spoken to some avid North Coasteerers, my plan was to highlight some dodgy areas and some areas with good gear. I’ve climbed extensively on the coast but not in the last ten years. I was a little surprised to see that almost no fix gear has been replaced during this time!

This is alarming given that some classics like Crimtyphon and Tydomin at Compass Point rely so heavily on pegs, and perhaps would gain some serious E points if the pegs just rusted out. Baggy Point is in a similar state. Rick Abbot has replaced the abseil stakes at Baggy point with Galvanized Steel and was later asked by the National Trust to paint them green, claiming them to be an eye sore, which he did.

Eroica replies upon a peg for direct aid, with it gone ascents would drop dramatically, very soon the route would become out of condition and un-climbable, and a gem of a route would be lost.

The top of Journey to Ixtlan, had rusty marks where the stakes had been ten years ago, threading a rabbit warren makes for a good story but not something that you want to be doing everyday! I could continue with nightmare stories, but the aim of this is to encourage not discourage and attempt to rectify the years of neglect.

Given recent events on the North Coast, James’s Pearson´s new line The Walk of Life, a super pure ascent with most of the pegs removed from Dyer Straits is a fantastic achievement. But what does this mean to Joe public? How many people at VS to E2 level would actually apply headpointing style ethics to a day on the North Coast? My guess would be virtually none.

Here are some easy to follow guide lines to help keep yourself safe on the North Coast:

• Abseil to inspect a route if you are unsure of the fixed gear, better safe than sorry!
• Check for excessive rust on pegs, metal flakes on the surface of the peg
• Pegs may appear relatively rust free, but the blade maybe very weak
• Any movement of the peg
• The peg bending under light loads
• If other pegs in the area have failed than be very cautious of remaining ones they won´t be far behind
• Check the area of rock the peg is in
• Check tat and replace if necessary, remove the old stuff, UV´s bleach out the dyes so any white tat is suspect.
• Too much tat can be very dangerous because you can´t see what it´s all attached to
• Replace abseil stakes if in any doubt
• If you have had a nightmare let me know perhaps we can do something about

Keep yourself safe and maybe change your normal tactics! On-sighting hard and well-protected routes is all well and good, but perhaps not for the North coast of Devon and Cornwall. Abseil inspection of your route will ensure your safety, giving you all the information for an informed decision, whether to climb the route or not. Taking your brain out and leaving it with your belayer will probably end in tears sooner or later.

No definitive BMC policy was established at the meeting, but the general consensus was a like for like policy would be the best way forward. Keeping the feel and quality of the routes similar to that of the first ascent.

So with the help of Mark Glaister, Ken Palmer and Mark Stevenson I will apply for funds from the access committee to start re-equipping the North Coast. For up to date information about this re-equipping check out http://www.orangehouseclimbing.blogspot.com

Please get in touch if you have further information or would like to get involved – rich@theorangehouse.net.



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