The VS Challenge – By Dave Talbot

Someone…probably someone important that I can’t remember, said that “you can only be brave when you are scared” and this is true. This is especially true when climbing at Avon Gorge!!

Wobbly pegs and wobbly legs are the order of the day here. Yes going indoor climbing gets you strong but here at Avon you gotta have some balls. Thinking about it, you have to have more then that, you need skill. You need a rack too and that can be expensive unless you steal your mate’s? Technique is useful and so are climbing shoes. Especially climbing shoes that can stick on mirror polish that Mr Tesco would be happy fixing his comb over before heading out for lunch with big boy Branson.
Yes that’s right, we have all heard the rumours, ‘Avon Gorge is polished‘ but it’s not that bad really and you can always say ‘that’s right you big girl it is, but have you ever climbed at Stoney?‘ Anyway, it’s character building. Avon hasn’t got any man eating off-widths or chimneys of doom, so we need a bit of spice, something for the weekend and all that. Something to get your teeth into and tell tales of in the pub. “Snapped that peg off with my hands the other day, yeah E5 now”. That’s all changing by the fantastic work of many and soon all of the routes will have a little scrub up, a touch of paint and a tightening of the loose bolts and holds.

Avon’Gorge is great, it’s in Bristol for a start, and Bristol’s great so it just gets better and better. I just want to add this little glint, something to keep you guessing, something hard but do-able, something Alpine!!?? Well maybe not something Alpine but here goes anyway….

The ‘Avon Gorge VS challenge’ – it’s Biblicaly brilliant, great for the visiting climber to get to know the different areas and primed for all those that think speed climbing ‘Gronk’ is easy.
Simple – climb all the 2 star VS’s in the gorge, back to back, with no other transport other than left foot – right foot – repeat, quickly to shave off those all important seconds.

  • Unknown Wall
  • Gronk
  • Clarion
  • Piton Route
  • Giants Cave Buttress

Some say that ‘Clarion’ might spoil the flow because it’s not a multi-pitch and doesn’t finish at the top but it doesn’t really matter, it’s just a challenge of which there are many. If you like you can go to the top after “clarion” and do “Petros”, a great climb that starts by climbing up a large tree and then stepping out onto the rock face and scaling to the top in fine style.

Firstly there is ‘Unknown Wall’. A fantastic route that weaves around finding reasonable ground and great climbing up an exposed wall. Top out of this one – now you face the biggest test. Do you eat an ice cream from the ice cream van (which will slow you down when speed climbing)? I think it would be fun to add it in for all the teams up to the task of chinning a 99 while descending through the trees to the start of ‘Gronk’ which is the next route.

I am going to stop at this point and say that I know those people with a hearty merit could solo these routes and blast a time Buzz Light Year would be proud of but I want this challenge to be for everyone and whatever time you clock gets a double thumbs up from me.
I can then add if you would like a benchmark, try doing ‘Unknown Wall’, roped up and in pitches, car to car in under 22 minutes and that is a good pace to be going at for the day.

Gronk is long and winding and has balancy climbing with much traversing that makes this route hard to go fast on but an absolute Avon Gorge rock climbing classic. After this one heading away from Sea Walls running with gusto and brute (or walking casually eating a kebab, whatever takes your fancy). You will arrive at Main Wall and it’s about time too.

Clarion is next on the list – a fine single pitch that climbs with style up the right hand side of Morning Slab to a small forked tree. Descent now is the only option for the speeding climbing teams and sitting on a skate board with a bouncy castle at the bottom is almost certainly the fast way off. Others may choose to abseil. The alternative is to carry on climbing and do “Petros” off of Lunch Time ledge, which will deposit you on the top of the gorge again making a grand total of 5 multi-pitch routes – lovely stuff.

Cleaning and shining your shoes to a ‘Daz’ clean finish is what you need to do to match some of the footholds on the next route. Piton Route is in the bed-time reading novel ‘Classic Rock‘ and because of this popular series, this route has seen its fair share of ascents, epics, arguments and entertainment for car drivers clogged on their way to work. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an Avon Gorge slippery slide but its still good and tests your balance and careful placing of your feet. Once at the top deciding how to get to the start of ‘Giants Cave Buttress’ is the next task. If the bouncy castle is still there consider this a quick descent option for achieving a very quick time!!

Disclaimer – use of bouncy castles at Main Wall is strictly prohibited and jumping off the top of any rock climb is considered dangerous.

The last route climbs the arete known as “Giants Cave Buttress” to the observatory tower on the amphitheatre walls next to the iconic suspension bridge. You start with a scramble to get you going, then 2 more pitches that lands you with the ‘move around the arete’ to the surprise of the onlookers standing on the viewing platform. A nipper up the wall and you’re on the top and bravo for finishing.

Admire the view and take your breath because you’ve just done something great, something different, something Avon Gorge has to offer us, covering some of Avon’s climbing history and soaking up the atmosphere of its different walls. How did you get on with the VS challenge? I would love to know.

P.S. Many people I know could get some very fast times at doing this challenge but speed climbing is dangerous and I don’t recommend it and anyway I am a mountaineering instructor and I should teach you how to equalise anchors. 🙂