David Coley and friends are in the process of putting up a traverse of the Boulder Ruckle in Dorset, England. If they succeed it will be about 70 pitches; they plan to call the route Wonderland. See here for Part I.
We’ve spent most of the day pulling rocks off. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes the rock just crumbles when we stand on it, but we keep on fighting – pushing the route forward for no reason except that we know we can’t stop until we reach Subluminal and the end. This is pure ego; we have started an itch and it won’t be scratched until we place the final cam. We could just give up and go bouldering, or visit Portland and its thousands of bolts. But we don’t. We just keep going.
I extract a series of pancakes of rock from the bowels of a horizontal crack, remove some mud and dust and place three cams for a belay. Pete comes across. He looks worried. I continue cleaning and climbing sideways, only to be stopped by a block bigger than me that forms an arête. I kick it. It doesn’t sound solid, but it doesn’t move. The question is not so much how good is it, but what is it holding up? Just itself? Or a hundred tonnes of cliff? If I don’t clean it I will have to swing around the arête with all my weight on it. Ego says get on with it. Common sense says the tea shop is closing in an hour, so please give up. I’m married. I’ve got kids. I don’t need to do this any more. At times like this I really hate climbing, but I hate myself more.
We give up. It’s all got stupid. We are traversing a line just below the cliff top because the waves wouldn’t let us play any lower, and if you have climbed in the Ruckle you will know this is where the worst rock hangs out. We knew it wasn’t sensible, but it’s a two-hour drive. A tottering pile of blocks stuck together by mud. Another day wasted. No one is going to want to repeat this pile of choss. Time to find another line.
Next weekend we’re back again and armed with egos that have been itching all week. We backtrack along the cliff to where we were a month ago. This time we set off low below the main faultline and traverse out from Ximenes, beneath its roof. Solid rock. We pass through a wonderland of square-cut roofs, jugs and bomber gear. The climbing is fantastic. What looks like E2 (5.10c), turns out to be VS (5.7). I’d take my kids up this. The sun is out, the sea is calm and we are back in love with the Ruckle, our egos sleeping gently in our untouched chalk bags.
We have all been there. We have all climbed on when we should have run/stayed in the car/abseiled off. We know the weather isn’t right, or that we have gone off route. Or our partner isn’t capable. Or worse: they are, but we aren’t. The route becomes a mission. Every alarm bell is ignored. I guess it’s because we are so used to having to give ourselves the occasional talking to in order to move above the gear, or pull through the crux, that we get used to believing our own lies, but sometimes back down is the best call. Especially when it’s got to the point where you might miss the tea shop.