In May 2019, Climb Cornwall Director, Jay, was involved in a film project with Bristol-based drone pilot and film producer David Linnett, of Bald Eagle Productions.
The idea was to make a film about A Dream of White Horses (HVS 5a), a classic route on one of the UK's most famous crags, but with a special twist.
Skip to the bottom of the page if you want to watch the video before reading on!
Gogarth, in North Wales, is a big and serious sea cliff venue. The proposed route, colloquially known just as Dream, takes a subtle line of weakness through Wen Zawn, crossing a huge slab, then weaving it's way through outrageously overhanging terrain.
However impressive the route is, the film isn't about the route. The film is about Andrew. Andrew has a long and mixed history with Gogarth, having spent many happy days there in his youth, but also being present at the tragic loss of a friend in Wen Zawn itself.
Revisiting after so many years was a dream he hadn't thought would become a reality.
Oh, and the twist? Andrew only has one arm.
Seconding (following another climber on a route) is safe. As long as the rock is good, the route is straight, and the terrain is slabby or vertical.
The rock quality on Dream is actually pretty good. It is not, however, straight. Nor is it vertical or slabby, with the exception of the start.
In fact, it covers as much distance sideways as it does upwards.
The final pitch crosses such outrageously overhanging terrain that the entire route appears utterly unfeasible.
On the day, Andrew was eager to get on, having put significant effort into his training regime of "booze and fags" in preparation. He confidently informed us that although he had tweaked his left shoulder recently, his right was in tip top condition.
There were several issues we had to consider for this ascent. Issue 1: Falling off. When traversing (climbing sideways) you can't rest on the rope. If you do, you will swing like a pendulum until you either hit something or come to rest beneath the last place the rope is attached to the cliff. For Andrew, this meant little to no assistance from the rope. It would keep him safe, without aiding his climbing.
There would be times when Andrew moved his only hand, and only his feet would be in contact with the rock.
Issue 2: Gear. Normally, a climber would put in a lot of gear when traversing in order to minimise the potential swing distance of the follower.
At least Andrew didn't have to fully remove any gear. As James was coming up behind him, the gear would still be necessary to protect James' climb, so Andrew would only need to un-clip my rope, and re-clip James' behind him. Usually a climber will hold on with one hand, and navigate ropes and gear with the other, you might get pumped, but no big deal. Of course for Andrew, this presented a fairly obvious problem.
Issue 3: Falling off on the third pitch. The third pitch is massively overhung. A fall would be completely safe, with nothing to hit and good gear, but it would leave the second free-hanging at the end of a tight rope with nothing to hold onto.
David left all technical considerations for Andrew's safety and potential rescue in my hands, promising only to film everything in glorius detail.
In preparation for the ascent, I spent a lot of time running through various scenarios, both in my head and in discussion with other professionals.
In the end, I came up with a simple system, requiring little specialist adaption, and only a little extra equipment.
It helped that Andrew was, and is, a highly skilful climber!
Andrew would be 'back roped'. I would belay him from above, taking rope in as he moved towards me, and James would belay from behind, paying out as he moved away. If Andrew fell, both ropes would be locked off to prevent a big pendulum swing across the crag.
The system would also reduce the distance Andrew would go if he did fall off, hopefully this would be enough to allow him to regain the climb and continue.
If it didn’t (most likely on that overhanging third pitch) James would pay out slack, controlling Andrew's swing until he was beneath the gear on my side. I could then use a system of pulleys and clamps to bodily haul him back up and onto the rock.
At least the missing arm would make him a little bit lighter...
As I was leading the route, therefore responsible for placing the gear, I would try to do so in places where I could stand in balance, so hopefully Andrew could too.
Where this wasn't possible, we'd devised a system to provide Andrew support, allowing him to take out the gear.
· Andrew would get his weight below the gear.
· I would then hold my rope tight, and he would clip into the gear with an adjustable lanyard. · He would then un-clip my rope from the gear, and re-clip James' · James would then hold him tight, whilst Andrew un-clipped his lanyard and continued climbing. ...we all hoped he wouldn't have to do that too much.
It was a delicate balance - too little gear and the climb became unsafe for me, Andrew, and James. Too much gear, and Andrew would spend more time mucking about with gear than he did climbing!
In the end, he didn’t fall off. We all got a little bit cold, had a great time, and almost lost David’s drone forever when the wind picked up. Andrew and I both felt that it had been a fantastic adventure, and whilst we were looking forward to seeing the film, we were mostly just overwhelmed by the experience of Andrew returning to such an important place, that he never thought he'd see in this way again.
The original video and all photos are the property of David Linnett, Bald Eagle Productions, unless otherwise stated. Reproduced here with kind permission.