Rope, rack, quickdraws, brush, extra rope for rigging, chorizo, rice, paella pan… I carefully packed my bag. I couldn’t believe I was finally going to do it!
In almost 20 years of climbing, one thing I’d never ticked off the list was doing a new route. It’s difficult in England; most of the good rock is climbed out, so you either push the limits or literally unearth a tiny pile of choss. I’m no choss climber and the limits are way beyond my limits… But here in Scotland you can still find good rock that’s unclimbed, and that’s exactly what Ant and I had done a few weeks earlier when we used a free sunny afternoon to explore the beach south of the Souter. Now we were going to attempt the face we had found.
I’d also never made a proper paella, despite having an old paella pan that my dad had brought with him from Spain two decades before. So I decided to make it a doubly exciting day and cook the traditional rice dish on the beach, over a driftwood fire. It would make a suitable celebration of our new route glory – but first, we had work to do.
The face we had found was a beauty: 30 feet of smooth, barrelling rock above a freshwater pool under the picturesque waterfall that flows out of Dowlaw Dean. Fortunately, we were able to get round to the top along the jutting seaward arête and rig a top rope, and excitedly I abseiled down to take a closer look at my chosen line. In preparation for the big day, we had bought a brush appropriately labelled “Victory Scrub” in a hardware store, but I was delighted to see it needed little cleaning. The question was, would the climb work as I had envisioned it?
At the base of the crag, a ramp allowed an easy traverse in over the pool, and – joy of joys – some gear. The upper half was split by a thin vertical crack, and I was delighted to find it solid and full of potential for small nuts and cams. The tricky bit would be linking the two: standing on the upper half of the ramp, barely in balance due to the leaning wall above, I was a few feet short of the start of the crack. It had the makings of a great little climb, but would all the ingredients come together?
In between plays on a top rope, and while Ant cleaned his line which was somewhat grubbier, I gathered driftwood on the beach. The tide was coming in, the crystal clear water playing over the pebbles, and the sun was shining. More friends joined us, taking up position on a natural viewing platform across the cleave from the crag. That made me a tad nervous – would my paella work out alright?
Soon I had a sequence on the middle wall – a definite crux to add spice to the route. Sensing it could all come together and not wanting to miss my moment, I pulled the rope and went for the lead. Would I flow up it like a smooth blend of rice, meat and fish in the perfect paella, or would I get stuck, end up soggy or even burn my bottom?
Up the ramp and seat the gear... it would hardly keep you out of the pool. Deep breaths, then up, crimp, dammit. Not that one! Find the right crimp, pull. Feet skitter on the slick blank wall out right: no backing down now. High foot finds the lowest edge just where the steepness eases, get your weight over...
I'm in a sort of balance, the hard part done, but it's precarious and I want to get the gear in. Small wires slot home and I'm breathing again. The upper crack, well protected and no more than 5c, can be enjoyed, savoured. I sit in the sun and belay, content. It's the perfect day.
While Ant climbs his route, I make a fire and cook the paella. There are a few more heart-stopping moments as I struggle to regulate the heat of the driftwood – it burns so well – and then a great cry goes out – Ant is in a death-struggle with the final, wider crack on his route! He grasps at the grass and hauls over. The paella is a triumph too.
Waterfall Wall, E5 6a, is the best route ever. It still awaits a repeat...
"Dominic's Climbing Paella"
About 300g paella rice, or arborio at a push
1 ring chorizo
1 tin of tomatoes Some frozen peas, defrosting in your bag
A wide iron pan
Optional Extra: some white, non-oily fish, squid rings or prawns
Method: Make a fire, let it die back a little and prop your pan over it with a few stones. Peel and chop the chorizo and put it in the pan - it will release lots of oil as it cooks. Add the rice and stir well to coat in chorizo oil, then add the tomatoes and cover the rice mix with water. Cook until the water is mostly absorbed and the rice cooked (you may have to add more water). Keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally and checking the rice - you may need to adjust the height of the pan, or add a few twigs to the fire to generate more heat. If you are using seafood, add after about ten minutes, along with the peas. Season to taste, give everyone a fork and eat out of the pan.
If you fancy giving these route a go – here’s Dominic’s own description and a link to the UKC logbook: http://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/
The following two climbs are on a short south-facing wall above the pool at the base of the waterfall flowing out of Dowlaw Dean, halfway between the Souter and the Brander.
Waterfall Wall 10m E5 6a: Scramble up the ramp above the pool to wires in good jugs, then climb the wall up and right on crimps to gain a thin seam, which is followed to the top.
Witness the Whiteness 10m E2 5b: Climb the right hand side of the wall, staying left of the more broken ground on the arête, to gain a crack starting at two thirds height, leading to the top.