Extreme Rock: Void, Cream and Strawberries
- Wednesday 16th March 2016
Andy Pollitt on Strawberries. Photo: Glenn Robbins.
Ahead of the release of Punk in the Gym – the no-holds-barred autobiography by Andy Pollitt – we've got something a bit special to share: an extract from Ken Wilson's highly prized Extreme Rock. Here, Andy describes some of his early adventures at Tremadog with Jerry Moffatt as the two 'dynamo kids' face up to some of the crag's most notorious test pieces.
Flitting through the hand-written pages of my climbing diary brings innumerable memories of past adventures flooding back. With these come moments of sentimentality and reflection. Good thoughts, few regrets, and above all an inner feeling of warmth only gained from reminiscence.
From my first V. Diff in July 1978, I have kept my diary up to date. Sections of it are often tiresome to re-read due to their lack of content, but these are more than compensated for by other adoring references to Jimmy Jewel, Jim Moran or Ron Fawcett being ‘at the crag today’. My 1980 pages in particular are bursting with documentation and anecdotes. For that was the time when Jerry Moffatt and I – both aged sixteen – dossed in the barn under Bwlch y Moch for five weeks over our school holidays. Not the barn we know now, but the ‘old’ barn, with its decade-old hay floor and nocturnal rat population. Creepy-crawlies, dust, filth, and our poverty. This was not our first visit to Tremadog. It had been a favourite area of mine for some time, the whole aspect of the place being most inspiring. Set back a mile or so from the sea by a wide, pancake-flat, flood plain, the cliffs rise majestically from dense vegetation, clean and almost plant-like in their quest for the sun.
We had climbed a fair bit together at Craig y Forwyn and on The Ormes and were close in both friendship and climbing ability. We spent days on end bouldering at Carreg Hyll Drem, trekking there often twice a day. We worked our way through the easier Extremes like Vector and Pincushion, but Void seemed like pushing our luck a bit too far. We thought of the Vector headwall as the preserve of the ‘real’ climbers, the ‘hard men’ so often referred to in the magazines. So it was with a certain degree of trepidation that we found ourselves back at the foot of Tremadog’s most exposed face – the towering, leaning headwall of Vector Buttress. This buttress, the showpiece of Tremadog, once containing such artificial climbs as Via Nimbus and Tiros, was now thoroughly transformed into a modern rock-gymnasium for the Extreme climber. Those old aid lines are now regularly followed free and go by the names of Void and Cream.
Any nagging doubts we had were in our minds justified, as the routes above us certainly are steep and look so improbable from below – especially when viewed through the eyes of inexperience. We uncoiled our ropes and chalked up for a crack at Void anyway.
Jerry led the first pitch, kicking his runners out as he passed them. I got the middle pitch because he’d had it when we did Vector. And what a pitch too! The Ochre Slab was one of the many features we’d seen in books and magazines that inspired us. It passed only with much effort and, pumped solid, my skinny body was seen thrutching rightwards along a hideous sloping ledge to the base of the final bulging crack. I recall as if it were yesterday frantically throwing in a large hex and just managing to clip the rope in to it before peeling off backwards. Our high-pitched adolescent banter must have been comical: ‘Just having a rest, Jes ... ’ (on the rope, which we genuinely thought was a legitimate practice).
The sloping stance above was reached, and Jerry was soon climbing. Hot on his heels was a guy called Dougie. He cruised the pitch, so he must be famous. Jerry asked him his surname. ‘Hall’, was the reply. God! We’re sharing a belay with Dougie Hall. Whispering to Jerry I begged him to have a long rest and not to fall off the pitch. Shakily he entered the pod, and bridged up it tentatively to the slot at its top. In with his new Friend 2, followed by a swing out left on to the jug. His feet are pedalling like crazy on the steep slab and both Dougie and I are encouraging him to go for it. He clips a quick-draw into the peg and promptly reverses to the Friend for a rest. Dougie angrily tells us to stick to routes we can do and not hold others up on belays. We don’t need this flak and it fires us both up. Jerry clips the rope in, but is forced to rest almost straight away. Dougie sighs and I start humming as if nothing had happened.
After another twenty minutes or so he’d topped out and it was my turn to follow. At the top Jerry asked me what I’d thought. ‘Strenuous 5c’ was my answer (I had not rested). Jerry seethed and muttered something. Silently we crossed to the top of Meshach to see Dougie floating up the top crack. Back at the cafe Eric gave us both a free brew for our efforts. We felt like stars but looking back I guess it must have been a right laugh – these two frigging schoolies. ‘The Dynamo Kids’ (as Eric nicknamed me and my pal).
Those were the days all right.
Page spread from Extreme Rock.